Madrid - La Liga is set for one of the most exciting
finishes in years after Barcelona blew the title race wide open with a win at
Real Madrid in Sunday's 'Clasico' that left Atletico Madrid the masters of
their own destiny.
Not since Real and Barca finished tied on 76 points in
2006-07, with Real crowned champions by virtue of a superior head-to-head
record, and Sevilla stayed in the hunt down to the wire has there been such a
close three-way fight for the title.
Barca's 4-3 victory at the Bernabeu means Real and Atletico
both have 70 points with nine games left, with champions Barca, chasing a fifth
La Liga crown in six years, a point behind.
Atletico's impressive achievements under Argentine coach
Diego Simeone have shaken up a league increasingly dominated by Barca and Real,
the world's richest clubs by income.
Atletico have about a fifth of their wealthier rivals'
resources but the inspirational Simeone has managed to mould his unfancied
squad into genuine contenders in Spain and on the European stage.
If they finish level on points with Real, Atletico will win
the title, their first since 1996 when Simeone was a player there, as they have
a better head-to-head record thanks to this month's 2-2 draw at the Calderon
and a 1-0 win at the Bernabeu in September.
Likewise, Barca have a superior head-to-head over Real after
beating them 2-1 at the Nou Camp in October, the last time the Madrid club lost
Atletico and Barca drew 0-0 at the Calderon in Madrid in
January and play each other at the Nou Camp on the final day in what could turn
out to be a nail-biting climax to the campaign.
In the next round of matches, Real face a potentially tricky
game at Sevilla on Wednesday (2100 GMT), when Barca host Celta Vigo (1900) and
Atletico are at home to Granada (2100).
"The league is starting again from scratch and we are
back in the battle for the title," Barca coach Gerardo Martino told a news
conference after his side's success at Real, the Madrid club's first defeat in
32 matches in all competitions.
"I always thought the three teams would be up there
until the end and that's how it has turned out," added the Argentine.
"Today was our last chance and we did not want to be
knocked out of the race."
A win for Real on Sunday would have restored their
three-point lead over Atletico and all-but killed off Barca's challenge but
instead they are licking their wounds after suffering only their second home
defeat this term.
Captain Sergio Ramos was sent off in the 63rd minute for
tripping Neymar when he was through on goal and the centre back and his team
mates criticised referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco, suggesting he had not been
For the latest on
national news, politics, sport, entertainment and more follow us on Twitter and
like our Facebookpage.