Euro Zone: Iniesta injury hurts Barça's push for title

In the first of a series of reports on the thrilling run-ins in Europe's top leagues, Pete Jenson explains why Messi's men still have work to do in La Liga

Barcelona and Real Madrid have turned the Spanish league into a pseudo-Scottish affair with 24 and 21 points respectively separating them from third place. Valencia are this season's Dundee United, while Mallorca and Seville are scraping for the right to be La Liga's Hibernian.

But despite the unhealthy distance that has opened up between the best and the rest, the big two go into the last seven games with just three points between them and a grandstand finish on 16 May is all but assured. Barça may well have to win all their remaining games to stay out in front and in so doing will amass an incredible 101 points.

To see their players bouncing up and down in a huddle at the Bernabeu last weekend after they won El Clasico 2-0, and to witness thousands of supporters spilling on to Las Ramblas at the final whistle, you would have thought Barça had already crossed the finish line.

They certainly have the initiative after that strangely comfortable win at the weekend but for all the fireworks and car-horn celebrations of Saturday night their players and the vast majority of their traditionally pessimistic fans know it is a long way from being over.

"Bad grass never dies," was the caption on the satirical cartoon on the back of Barça supporting paper Sport yesterday with the image of captain Xavi pushing a lawnmower over the Bernabeu playing surface only for the grass to be growing just as quickly behind him – in other words Real will never give in.

Their sporting director Jorge Valdano pointed out immediately after Saturday's defeat that Madrid had won their last seven games while Barça had dropped points on two occasions in that same run of matches.

Barça also have two draining Champions League semi-final legs against Internazionale to play between now and the last day of the campaign and they must fight on those two fronts without one of their most important players. When they needed a goal from nowhere at Chelsea last season it was Andres Iniesta who delivered it. He will be watching this season's Champions League semi-finals and the remainder of the league calender from the sidelines after tearing a thigh muscle in his right leg in training yesterday.

Even without Iniesta, Barça should win all their remaining home games starting tonight against mid-table slackers Deportivo la Coruna and then against La Liga's three worst sides, Tenerife, Xerez and Valladolid. But their three away trips, to neighbours Espanyol this weekend, and to Villarreal and Seville could see them drop points.

For Real Madrid the key will be to recover quickly from losing to Barcelona by winning their next two matches, away to Almeria tomorrow, and at home to Valencia at the weekend. Neither game will be easy with Valencia needing to secure third spot and Almeria coached by Pep Guardiola's great friend Juanma Lillo, having rested up to five key players last weekend to prepare to do his pal a favour.

Beyond those two matches Madrid's run-in looks easier than Barcelona's, although they do have to make the trip to Mallorca who have won 13 of their 15 home games this season.

If it does got down to the last weekend then it will probably be advantage Barcelona once again. Pep Guardiola's side are at home to Valladollid in their last match of the campaign – a team who have had three different managers this season, players caught out partying after heavy defeats, and who will almost certainly already by relegated by the time the match is played.

Madrid's game will be less straightforward. They will have to travel to Malaga, a side who could still need points to stay up or at the very least would be out to ruin Real's final push for the domestic crown.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms