The return of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo's partnership should have provided City with a huge boost on Wednesday. Instead, their title hopes are left in tatters...
Liverpool v Chelsea will be billed as the title decider but nine days later the Reds face Crystal Palace. They're undergoing a Pulis revolution, as Roberto Martinez will tell you...
The last time the title race in La Liga was this hair-blowingly good was back in the 2006/2007 season, when Barcelona and Real Madrid participated in a contest where each tried to blow their title chances in the final weeks of the campaign. Even Sevilla had a chance of putting their sticky, tapas-tinged, Andalusian hands on the prize on the last day of the season.
The drama of that contest owed much to a huge effort from Fabio Capello's Real Madrid to claw back a lead from Barcelona and pip the Catalan club at the post. The memories from that year are bountiful, including Barcelona blowing it against Betis to open the door a tiny bit to Madrid.
The difference to the current campaign is that there are currently three clubs tied on points and all with vulnerabilities. Real Madrid have a tendency to concede sloppy goals and can be bogged down by cloggers in Spain's wild provinces. Barcelona have a tendency to concede all kinds of goals, everywhere, especially if the still-collapsing Gerard Piqué is out on the pitch. For Atlético Madrid, the problem will be fatigue and injuries slowing them down over the final few months.
Tuesday saw another defeat for the Rojiblancos as a 2-0 defeat to Real saw them lose 5-0 on aggregate in the semi-final of the Copa del Rey. The final sees another Clásico contest over Easter, with Barcelona prevailing against Real Sociedad. However, as the final is set to be in the middle of battling league campaign, as well as crucial Champions League ties, the "match of the century!" scale used by the Spanish media only sees the game scraping to a 5/10 in terms of importance.
Each weekend, Primera pundits will be looking to the three games involving the top teams to see which have the best chance of dropping points, to keep the drama ticking along nicely. This time around, Real Madrid are in a danger-zone of sorts, although that is a relative concept in La Liga. Carlo Ancelotti's side are off to face Getafe, a flimsy team in terrible form, but a side that took a two-goal lead against Barcelona this year (before blowing it) and have beaten Madrid in the Coliseum twice over the past five meetings.
Barcelona have an immensely simple clash against a Rayo, an outfit that are second-bottom of the table, have conceded 52 goals, and that insist on an attacking style of football. This is despite the team proving again and again that it doesn't possess the ability to implement this strategy. Throw a Leo Messi who is nearly back to his best - not that he was ever at his worst - into the mix and the game could be a very messy one for Rayo.
"We are going to be braver than ever," predicted the bold Rayo boss, Paco Jémez, "as if we aren't then we have no options. I can't understand any other way of playing than fighting for every ball and having more possession than them."
"Paco is very brave, I have a huge admiration for him," said a sympathetic Tata Martino, in the manner of an executioner who promises to make the beheading quick and clean.
Atlético Madrid have a lull in the current storm of three consecutive victories by hosting struggling Real Valladolid in the Vicente Calderón, which provides a chance to rack up a morale-boosting win ahead of a contest against AC Milan in the Champions League.
"We need a good performance," admitted Diego Simeone, who rightfully pointed out that the recent example of Valencia beating Barcelona in the Camp Nou to shows that pretty much anything goes in this most unusual of title chases - the best La Liga has seen in years.
I wonder if the TV money will get adjusted to reflect the new order... Somehow I doubt it.- harry hotspur