BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — With five games to go, there are four teams separated by three points at the top of Spanish league.
Repeated stumbles by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid have let Sevilla join the most wide-open title race in recent years.
After Barcelona wasted a chance to replace Atlético as leader when it lost on Thursday, the four challengers are separated by only three points with five matches remaining.
“It’s new and I believe very good for Spanish soccer,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said Friday. “I have no doubt the boost in competitiveness and the possibility for more teams to win it all makes the national league that much more important.”
Atlético has 73 points, Madrid and Barcelona have 71 — with the team led by Zinedine Zidane ahead on a head-to-head tiebreaker — and Sevilla has 70.
Atlético had a stellar first half of the season while seeking its first league title since 2014, opening up double-digit gaps over Madrid and Barcelona. But it has squandered what looked like an insurmountable advantage after only winning six of its last 14 league games.
On Saturday, the team has an excellent chance to recover momentum for the final stretch when it visits relegation-threatened Elche. To do so, Atlético will have a break a run of four away matches without a victory.
“With Sevilla, Real Madrid, Barcelona and ourselves all with options, going forward game by game is even more important,” Simeone said. “We must completely focus on the next game. And that is what we are doing, searching for how we can be the best prepared emotionally and mentally, and above all believe in these players who are having a very good season.”
Madrid’s home match against Osasuna on Saturday comes in between the two legs of the Champions League semifinals against Chelsea. Next Wednesday, Madrid travels to London after being held to a 1-1 draw at home.
After Madrid beat Barcelona last month, the defending champions appeared to be have the upper hand in the title race. Then came two scoreless draws in its last three games, and Barcelona looked ready to take command until it was upset by Granada 2-1.
“I don’t laugh at my rivals’ losses,” Zidane said about Barcelona’s latest defeat. “What we have to do is to concentrate on what we have ahead of us.”
Barcelona visits Valencia on Sunday, when it must regroup after defensive errors allowed Granada to win for the first time at Camp Nou. Lionel Messi put Barcelona ahead with his league-leading 26th goal, only for Granada to score on its only two shots on target.
“This is a very big blow,” said Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman, who won’t be in the dugout at Mestalla Stadium after he was shown a red card for inappropriate language. “We have to accept this loss and think what we did wrong so we can improve. Sunday’s game is crucial for us.”
Sevilla’s objective had been to finish in the top four and lock up a Champions League berth. Now, the team can aspire to its first league title since 1946.
Sevilla is the hottest of the bunch. It will play for a sixth consecutive win when it hosts Athletic Bilbao on Monday.
The following weekend there will be head-to-head clashes among the quartet. Barcelona hosts Atlético on May 8, a day before Madrid welcomes Sevilla.
“This is going to go to the wire,” Zidane said.
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