La Liga: This season’s title race is the best in years

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 16: Goalkeeper Jan Oblak blocks the ball during the La Liga match between Club Atletico Madrid and Malaga CF at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on September 16, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 16: Goalkeeper Jan Oblak blocks the ball during the La Liga match between Club Atletico Madrid and Malaga CF at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on September 16, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images) /

After six game weeks, the race between the top dogs in La Liga has more parity than past years had at the same point.

La Liga is a two-horse race, right? Barcelona and Real Madrid have almost all the titles, with Real holding 33 and Barcelona sitting behind them at 24. It’s also rare to find one of these clubs outside of the top two. They have 23 and 24 runner-up finishes respectively, and no other club in Spain comes close to their success.

However, this could be one of the years where the trend was broken. 2014 was one of those years, when Atletico Madrid upset the old firm and took first place, with Barcelona and Madrid finishing second and third. It came ten years after the 2003-2004 season, which at that point was the last time that a team outside of the big two won the title.

We might not have to wait another ten years to see a season like that. It’s still early, but shakeups in the transfer market have disturbed the old firm enough to allow some other teams into the hunt.

Barcelona couldn’t sign Philippe Coutinho, and young star Ousmane had a rough debut before suffering a hamstring injury that will leave him out for three months. The impact of losing a player like Neymar is also something that would be felt by any team, no matter how talented the rest of their squad is.

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They’ve won every match so far, but they only have a four point lead. It’s reasonable to think they’ll have a slump in form eventually, and if they do, they could easily give up the lead. Especially because Neymar was often the player to break Barca out of their bad stretches, something that was seen during last season’s comeback against PSG.

Real Madrid could have capitalized on their rival’s strange transfer window, but they went through with a small overhaul of their own. They finally sold Alvaro Morata to Chelsea, and they also lost two of their more polarizing players, Danilo and James Rodriguez. Big squad changes like this take some time to get used to, and their results have suffered because of that.

On the other hand, Real’s city rivals were able to take advantage of the shakeup. Atletico is in second place, with fourteen points, and they’re one of four unbeaten teams. They managed to keep superstar forward Antoine Griezmann, despite major interest from various clubs, and they splashed the cash on wide player Vitolo. They’re also ready to break their transfer record to bring back Diego Costa from Chelsea.

This may be the last year that Atletico can compete for a title with this squad. Their young core won’t stick together forever, and many exciting teams from the past have broken up under similar circumstances. Silverware keeps teams together, and that was demonstrated when players such as Kylian Mbappe decided to return to AS Monaco after winning Ligue 1.

The players seem to know that, and this looks like a year where they won’t let the pressure off of Barcelona at all. They only have a +8 goal differential compared to Barca’s +18, but that may be an advantage. Atletico doesn’t rely on flashiness and a high scoring attack to win, and that style of play is usually more sustainable over a long season.

They’re not the only team in the hunt right now. Sevilla is more known for their amazing accomplishments in the Europa League, but this year, they might just be actual title contenders. They’re a single point behind Atletico, and while they didn’t pay up for well-known superstars, they did spend some money this year.

Luis Muriel and Simon Kjaer joined them for $20,000,000 and $2,500,000 respectively, along with former Manchester City winger Nolito and Inter midfielder Ever Banega. Last season, they were the trap team for champions Real Madrid, as the team that snapped Real’s record winning streak. If they can do the same thing to Barcelona, they can make the season a lot more interesting.

Looking past Valencia in fourth place, it’s notable that Real is in fifth. Not many matches have been played yet, relatively, but most would agree that they’ve struggled so far. They might just have a case of Champions League hangover. They’re lucky to even be in fifth now, with their draws against Valencia and Levante and their loss to Betis.

Manager Zinedine Zidane is arguably the best in the world, and he’ll surely figure something out to improve Madrid’s results. But in a league like La Liga, where the top teams often dominate the rest of the competition, dropping points early on is a good way to lose the title. At the very least, their slow start will make sure that the early season is anything but boring to a neutral viewer.

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La Liga’s reputation as a two-horse race is sometimes justified, but this year, things are different. Barcelona won’t stay unbeaten forever, and Atletico looks like a team desperate to win a title and stay together. Sevilla are on the hunt for their first title in 72 years. Valencia, in the space of a few years, went from a club in the relegation zone to one that clawed its way into fourth.

There’s some storylines going on that should interest any fan, no matter what kind of narrative is interesting to you. If you’re a diehard fan of the Premier League, Bundesliga, or any other league, and you give La Liga a chance this season, you likely won’t be disappointed.