Nerve-racking race: Barcelona tries to take the lead again
MADRID (AP) — Atlético Madrid coach Diego Simeone planned to have dinner with his family to avoid watching the match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, which could have dropped his team out of first place in the Spanish league with three matches to go.
Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said Monday he preferred to watch the Italian league instead because he would have gotten “a bit nervous” knowing that the result could have affected his team’s title hopes.
It turned out that Madrid became the latest club to miss a chance to take the lead after being held to a 2-2 draw at home on Sunday.
With none of the top teams winning over the weekend, Atlético kept hold of a two-point lead over both rivals. Sevilla also stayed in contention even though it was six points off the lead.
Barcelona, which drew 0-0 at home with Atlético on Saturday, had already squandered its own chance to take the lead two weeks ago, losing at home to Granada. But the Catalan club will get another opportunity on Tuesday when it visits Levante.
“We can become leaders and put pressure on the others,” Koeman said. “But it will depend on the result. We have to be prepared. Sometimes we were first to play and sometimes we were last. It depends on what result you can get.”
Atlético will host fifth-place Real Sociedad on Wednesday in what should be its most difficult match. It then hosts 12th-place Osasuna and visits relegation-threatened Valladolid in its final match.
Seeking its first league title since 2014, Atlético held a comfortable lead for most of the competition. It was on pace for a 100-point season before a series of poor results allowed Madrid and Barcelona to close in.
Barcelona, meanwhile, started poorly but has been the hottest team recently. After the match against 14th-place Levante, when it can take the lead for the first time this season, it will host eighth-place Celta Vigo and then visit last-place Eibar.
Defending champion Madrid, unbeaten in 15 straight league games, has perhaps the most difficult schedule. It has away games against midtable clubs Granada and Athletic Bilbao before finishing at home against sixth-place Villarreal. It will play Granada on Thursday already knowing the results of its opponents.
“The league isn’t in our hands right now, but we’ll fight to death until the end,” said Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane, who loudly complained of the officiating crew on Sunday after video review turned a penalty kick for his team into one for Sevilla with the game tied 1-1 in the second half.
The referee had called a penalty for a foul on Karim Benzema but VAR went back to find a controversial handball by Madrid defender Éder Militão a few seconds earlier in the other area.
Koeman, who could not be on the bench in the match against Atlético because of a suspension for complaining against a referee, weighed in on Monday, saying these days “it’s hard to know when it should be a handball or not.”
The Dutch coach said he watched the first 20 minutes of the Madrid match on Sunday before switching to the Italian league game between Juventus and AC Milan.
“I prefer to watch a different match and find out the result when it’s over,” he said.
Barcelona, seeking its third league title in four seasons, is tied on points with Madrid but trails its rival on the head-to-head tiebreaker. It also loses the head-to-head tiebreaker with Atlético Madrid.
“We still believe (we can) win the championship,” Koeman said. “And we will fight for that until the last second. We’ll see what will be the result tomorrow night. We still have our options to win it.”
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