After the departures of Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, plenty are saying Atletico Madrid won't retain their title. Tim Stannard thinks otherwise...
Both Cesc Fabregas and Barcelona must have regrets about his three-year spell at the Nou Camp; Barca never quite gave him the chance to play in midfield...
The treble of victories for La Liga's three title-chasers were a perfect summary of how they have run their respective flags up the Primera pole this season. One was grinding and physical, one was a tad lucky and the last relied on individual power and prowess. Indeed, there are more than decent and not too tenuous comparisons to three box-office busting and very avenging superheroes.
Atlético's 1-0 over visiting Villarreal in the first of La Liga's Super Saturday back-to-back La Liga tussles was a carbon copy of pretty much every victory from the Rojiblancos this season. Diego Simeone's side rarely give the opposition a hint of a chance due to a high-pressure approach, but always manage to sneak a winning effort.
Raul García's strike saw the Atlético utility man giving an almighty shove on Villarreal's Mario Gaspar to get a head to a corner, but the physicality was just on the right side of legal - as Atleti have been for the whole campaign - and kept the league leaders at the top of the tree with six games to go. The victory showed once again that the tightest of defences is a key part of Atlético's success with Saturday's win bringing their 16th clean sheet in La Liga this season.
The scratchy win which guarantees Atlético at least third, this year, was certainly impacted by Tuesday's Champions League clash but showed that through clenching teeth and digging in, Atleti are going to be in the chase to the very end. Indeed, the match was such an effort that Simeone admitted that all he wanted to do was switch off until Sunday's training session ahead of the Barça re-match. "I have no desire to watch the Barcelona or Real Madrid games (which followed). We are not relying on anyone else, just ourselves," declared the Argentinean coach.
Simeone made the right call to miss the Barcelona clash against bottom-of-the-table Betis, as a flat, sparkle-less Camp Nou club made the game a bit of an ordeal. However, the Atleti boss would have been cheered by Barça's ongoing battles to score a 'proper' goal in La Liga. Saturday's victory owed itself to two penalties from Leo Messi and an own goal. Indeed, Barcelona's last strike from open play was Neymar's 66th-minute effort against Celta three games and 206 minutes ago.
Still, a win is a win and the victory kept Barcelona just a point behind Atlético Madrid although Tata Martino admitted that it is the Champions League double-header against the Rojiblancos that is rapidly draining culé batteries. "Tuesday's effort was enormous," admitted the Barça boss.
Real Madrid were last in the line of La Liga's title-chasers to play and were facing arguably their last dangerous clash of the season, an away trip to Anoeta to face Real Sociedad. What's more, Cristiano Ronaldo was missing, having picked up a knock in the 3-0 midweek victory over Borussia Dortmund that all but seals a semi-final berth in the Champions League for Carlo Ancelotti's side.
It was a ridiculously deep squad and the power of Real's individual strengths over the collective effort that gave Madrid an impressive, no alarms, no surprises victory over La Real. The opener saw Asier Illarramendi - a 36 million squad-filler signing from Saturday's opponents - scoring for the first time in Anoeta, even as a Real Sociedad player. Gareth Bale sealed the win after a poor clearance from the goalkeeper before Pepe and substitute Alvaro Morata added two late efforts.
The match showed that Madrid have managed to bounce back fairly swiftly from the trauma of losing back-to-back league defeats to Barcelona and then Sevilla, with 12 goals being scored to no reply in their last three matches.
If ever Real Madrid were to be compared to a superhero it would be Iron Man - flashy, enjoying the limelight, requiring enormous investment and reliant on moments of individual genius. Barça whiff of Thor - not overly intelligent, as some of their recent legal capers seem to suggest - and extremely reliant on a Messi-shaped magic hammer. Atlético Madrid are surely Captain America - on paper, not much to write home about apart from an impenetrable shield - but wholesome and very much the people's favourite. The great news is that there are six more sequels to come before this particular saga is done and dusted.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter here