Who will win La Liga's three-way title race?


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - La Liga Santander - Real Madrid v Villarreal - Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, Madrid, Spain - July 16, 2020 Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos and teammates celebrate with the trophy after winning La Liga REUTERS/Sergio Perez/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona are involved in a thrilling three-horse race for the La Liga crown in the closest run contest in Europe's top five leagues.

With eight games remaining, Atletico lead the standings on 67 points with city rivals Real Madrid right on their tails on 66 and Barcelona lurking with 65.

Real and Barca have won the title in 15 of the last 16 seasons, with Atletico breaking the duopoly in 2014.

WHO HAS THE MOMENTUM?

Real Madrid were 2-1 winners in Saturday's epic 'Clasico' and, although their fate is not in their own hands, they have the mental edge in the remaining games after hitting top gear.

Zinedine Zidane's side are in the same ruthless form which saw them surge to last year's title, winning their last six games in all competitions.

Karim Benzema is in prolific form with nine goals in seven games while their midfield trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos is helping them control games.

Real also have better head-to-head records than their two rivals and have an easier run-in than Barca and Atletico, who meet at the Camp Nou on May 9.

SO IT'S REAL MADRID'S TO LOSE?

Not exactly. Real are missing key figures in Raphael Varane, captain Sergio Ramos and record signing Eden Hazard, while Lucas Vazquez has been ruled out for the rest of the campaign.

Injury problems have plagued them all season, leading Zidane to say after the 'Clasico': "We're being stretched to our limits."

Real also have the strain of still being in the Champions League, where they and are on course to reach the semi-finals, while Atletico and Barca can focus all of their attention on the Spanish title race.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ATLETICO?

Atletico's lead becoming wafer thin was hard to envisage at the end of January when they moved 10 points clear of Real with a game in hand, powered by 16 wins from their first 19 matches.

Partly affected by a COVID-19 outbreak in the squad they have been on a downward spiral since, only winning four of their next 11 games while looking toothless in attack having scored twice in their last four league outings.

They have also suffered an untimely spate of injuries, leaving top scorer Luis Suarez out for three weeks while fellow attackers Joao Felix, Thomas Lemar and Moussa Dembele are also sidelined.

WHAT ABOUT BARCELONA?

A dismal start to the season left Barca coach Ronald Koeman discounting his side's chances in December but they have since staged a sensational turnaround, winning 16 of 19 games before losing to Real.

The 'Clasico' defeat may be a psychological blow but count the Catalans out at your peril. They have been out-scoring their rivals and have a determined Lionel Messi aiming to make up for last season's trophyless campaign.

WHO HAS BEEN MOST AFFECTED BY THE LACK OF FANS?

Atletico normally lean on their vociferous supporters but have the best home record of the three sides this season even as fans have had to stay away, taking 36 points from 15 home games compared to Real and Barca's 34.

Real sometimes have to contend with an impatient home support and last season benefitted from playing at the tiny Alfredo di Stefano stadium at their training centre, where they have played while the Santiago Bernabeu is being renovated.

They have suffered more there this season and endured shock defeats by minnows Cadiz, Alaves and Levante, although they have won seven of their last eight home fixtures, including beating Atalanta, Liverpool and Barca.

HAS THIS HAPPENED BEFORE?

The last time the three sides faced off for the title was in 2015/2016, when they were separated by one point heading into the penultimate game. Barca pipped Real to the crown on the final day after Atletico exited the race the week before.

The 2013/14 campaign was even more dramatic. Real bowed out with one game left while Atletico visited Barca on the final day, securing a first title in 18 years with a 1-1 draw.

(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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