Real Madrid visit Athletic Bilbao today knowing a win would give them their first La Liga title in four years, breaking the domination of Barcelona forged by the departing Pep Guardiola.
With three games remaining, Madrid’s seven-point lead over the Catalans means one more win is all they require and the trophy would go some way to make up for the disappointment of losing last week’s Champions League semi-final to Bayern Munich.
For Madrid coach Jose Mourinho it would be the fourth country in which he has achieved such a feat, he is currently level on three with Louis van Gaal, who includes two titles in Spain with Barca in his personal haul.
It would also be an incredible seventh championship in 10 seasons for the Portuguese coach, who started with two titles in his native country with Porto, before going on to win two at both Chelsea and Inter in Italy.
To add to the growing list of achievements, Madrid need to win their three remaining games to reach 100 points and break the record set by Guardiola’s Barca in 2009-2010 when they got 99 points to beat Madrid by three, then led by Manuel Pelligrini.
Mourinho continued his boycott of the Spanish media after Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Sevilla, but his assistant Aitor Karanka talked of potentially winning the league at his former club.
“It would be nice to become champions at the San Mames [Bilbao’s stadium], to win the Spanish league is important because it has taken a huge effort to achieve it and it was a big objective of ours, but it does not make up for missing out in the Champions League,” Karanka said.
For their part, Barcelona kickoff against fourth-placed Malaga two hours before the Real match and a defeat for Guardiola’s side would hand the title to Madrid before a ball is kicked.
The same scenario was the case on Sunday, before Barcelona showed no signs of nerves and recorded a 7-0 away victory at Rayo Vallecano de Madrid.
Lionel Messi grabbed two goals to go level with Cristiano Ronaldo on 43 league goals, meaning the world’s best two players will take their own particular contest to finish as La Liga’s top scorer to the very end.
Messi also has another prize in sight as he currently has 65 in all competitions, just two short of Gerd Muller’s 67-goal record set in the 1972-1973 season for Bayern Munich.
Other issues to be resolved include the two remaining Champions League and Europa League places.
Valencia and Malaga are in the driving seat for the bigger prize, on 55 points they are both three ahead of Levante UD.
Any slipup for Malaga at Barca or Valencia at home to CA Osasuna, themselves only a point from a Europa League place, could be capitalized on by Levante, who go to relegation-threatened Real Zaragoza.
The side from Aragon are facing the drop along with Sporting de Gijon, both teams are on 34 points, four from Villarreal and five from Granada, with bottom club Real Racing Club de Santander already relegated.
Villarreal were the visitors to Sporting de Gijon yesterday for a decisive clash neither team can afford to lose.
Sporting’s Croatian centerforward Mate Bilic, a key player in their revival of recent weeks, is under no illusions as to the importance of the game.
“It’s been a difficult year, but all that matters now is survival. It’s complicated, but if we beat Villarreal we’ll have a chance. They have World Cup winners in their team, so it will be difficult, but our fans will play a big part and we owe it to them to get the win,” Bilic said.