As the tipping point reaches, as nails give way to nailbeds, as the season draws to a close, nothing captivates more than a nervy finale. The Bundesliga got wrapped up by Bayern a month ago; they’ll probably dispense with the services of their rear-view mirror next season onward. Juventus are on a records’ trail; they’ll see off fierce rivals Inter’s 06-07 record of 97 points if they win the season out. Juventus’s steamroller has rendered Serie A uninteresting, at least to the less-frequent observers. What better than having a 10-point lead at the top going into the last five games of the season? Nothing probably, just ask PSG. Europe’s top-five leagues are on a dominion mission, save but for the top two.
Comparisons galore between the Liga in Spain and its English variant, perhaps these two leagues have witnessed one of the closest, most congested run-ins in recent history. Congested because of the numbers in the party. Atletico Madrid are the surprise leaders in Spain, while Liverpool are the surprise leaders in England. Notions flying around about fairy tales might just be true at the season close, but could also turn around to be cases of agonizing what-could-have-beens. What if the best tips at the start of the season snatch the crown at the end? Neutrals and fans just would not want to hear of parallel prospects and would happily confine them to another, parallel universe.
Between now and the end is barely a month. Title races have turned heels in time shorter than what remains, league table positions have exchanged hands in double-quick time. What happens between now and a certain day in May is a crystal ball’s to guess, but whatever the two leaders in Atletico and Liverpool end up with, could it be any worse than these worst case scenarios?
Without letting you glance at Atleti’s remaining games and without chipping in with biased-unbiased permutations, the least positive spin on their most positive season for years is that they will play Champions League football again next season. Probably they had some doubts about it as they are already on the way to winning this season’s competition outright (they are in the semis mind, just three games away).
It would be damning if they finish behind local rivals Real Madrid, that’s how the script is normally written in Spain but it would be an immensely proud moment for the Colchonero faithful to have those bragging rights over their opposite, more-fashionisto numbers. It could be a possibility that Atleti fold and fall like the nine pins and the season could end in something of a wreckage, but the fact that they have kept Real at an arm’s length for the entire season could be motivation enough to keep on continuing.
And Atleti travel to the impressive Camp Nou in the season’s last matchday, probably in hope of a guard of honor by the defending champions. That would be the perfect fairy tale, only that Atletico will need to conjure up something other than extraordinary in the final laps of the season.
Liverpool are on a win-spree; I’ve long been a fan of the club but this winning streak of 10 has them on the brink of an silverware. And that’s not any other silverware, but one that comes in Steven Gerrard’s dreams every other night. The Premier League title was Liverpool’s longest shot last August; how they have managed to rise the ranks in all these months is a story to fascinate. And Liverpool are so close to the title now that everyone seems to have got carried away.
Champions League qualification was the hope at the season kick-off, and they still haven’t got their objective rubber-stamped as yet. Should they comically implode to lose all their games from now until the end, they could still miss the coveted top-four trophy (hyperbole, you know!).
Liverpool should do their job; a job that would make their ground staff work on weekdays next season. They still shouldn’t win the title, but it would be the English football’s Boston Red Sox equivalent of an exercise in patience. After all, 24 years isn’t that short a time (Wayne Rooney went full bald at 24, remember?).
2013-14 has been a season of bonafide success for both Atletico and Liverpool, regardless of how well they bottle it. Playstation and Heineken adverts will once again grace the Anfield touchlines next season, while cash-strapped Atletico will receive another welcome boost of the Champions League cash. Two big-small clubs, two clubs that defied all logic and sense throughout the season, two clubs providing neutrals another outlet to low-key tribalism, two clubs setting precedents for the future. Going back in time and memories of the Monaco-Porto final of 2004 still echoes in the obsolete corridors of romantic football; how both Atletico and Liverpool have brought back those memories is hard to explain, but it nevertheless has provided a breath of fresh air in Europe’s top two leagues.