Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley / Shutterstock.com
With La Liga due to resume on Friday 6th January, clubs at the top of the table will be gearing themselves up for the second half of the season and a push towards the title. How many teams can realistically expect to challenge for the La Liga title this season and who can finish in the top four and claim an all-important Champions League place?
The favourites at this stage of the season must be Real Madrid, who sit 3 points clear of Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table, with a game in hand. Zinedine Zidane’s team lost only two matches from 53 played during the whole of 2016, which is an incredible record. There appears to be a more relaxed approach to Zidane’s management style and he allows the players to express themselves, without giving them too many instructions to follow. They have relied on late goals to win them games this season and at some stage they will find the late goal will not come, which could lead to dropped points but presently, the title is there for them to lose.
Barcelona have struggled at times this season but towards the end of 2016, there was a suggestion they were starting to control games again. Andres Iniesta has made a welcome return to the Barcelona midfield and he, along with Denis Suarez have played well in the absence of Ivan Rakitic, who has been rested on the bench. Lionel Messi, if it was possible, stepped his game up to another level towards the mid-season break and if he can continue with the sort of form he showed in the match against Espanyol, Barcelona will push Real Madrid all the way in the second half of the La Liga season.
Atletico Madrid, the third team who were expected to challenge for the title have not been at their best so far this season. The loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final seems to have hurt both Diego Simeone and the players. There are many onlookers who believe Simeone will leave in the summer and that doubt has crept into the team. The Argentine has tried to make Atletico Madrid a more offensive team but they have conceded more goals, without adding a great deal further forward and this has seen them slip to 6th in the La Liga table and out of the title race for the time being.
Atletico Madrid’s loss has been Sevilla’s gain, who have been playing superbly under Jorge Sampaoli. Steven N'Zonzi has been excellent as the holding midfielder and Samir Nasri has been great in the attacking third. Sevilla will need to hold on to these players in January, if they are to mount a serious challenge for the La Liga title.
The other surprise package at the top of the table are Villarreal, who are exceeding expectations this season. The Yellow Submarine’s good first half of the season can be put down to a solid defence, having conceded just 11 goals in sixteen league games. Players who came in during the summer, such as Roberto Soriano and Nicola Sansone have given something extra to the team and if they can keep their preferred starting XI fit, Villarreal could have another crack at the Champions League next season.
Heading into the resumption of La Liga at the weekend, it looks like being a three-horse race for the title between Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla. With Real Madrid hosting Granada and both Barcelona and Sevilla facing tough away trips to Villarreal and Real Sociedad respectively, there is every possibility Real Madrid could start 2017 with a 6-point gap and a game in hand. If that is the case, the title race could be over before February, leaving the likes of Sevilla, Villarreal, Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao battling it out for a Champions League place.