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...
Most adverts crowbarring their product onto the sizzling concept of football, whether it be beer, cheese or sofas, have got it all wrong. The TV spots routinely show groups of scarf-clad, clear-faced buffoons cheering at the screen and leaping in unison at the moment a goal is scored. All before returning to whatever air-stuffed, bacon-related snack they are supposed to be persuading us to guzzle. They may even be sitting alongside supporters of the opposing team and getting on with them in a jovial manner. Quite frankly it's all a lot of tosh.
Football is not about celebrating your own victories before dealing with snacks. It's all about the giant F.U. to rival supporters along with screaming and taunting. And by jove, Atlético Madrid are two matches away from being able to hoist a middle finger into the air the size of the Eiffel Tower and have it on a permanent revolving spin for the rest of time, or until it screws itself into the soil after 10,000 years. Heck, supporters will even pay for the running costs, such will be the joy of picking up the league title and Champions League in the space of a week.
Of course, there is an awful lot of work to be done to reach this moment of pure, unbridled ecstasy, starting with getting a point out of Barcelona to win the league title. The Rojiblancos are currently three points ahead in the league table but a Barcelona victory would give the Catalan club an advantage on head-to-head, the chosen method of dividing teams in Spain that avoids outrageous, dodgy 10-0 scorelines on the last day of the campaign.
The direction of the tie is 50-50-Trevor-Brooking-on-the-fence. Barcelona have failed to beat Atlético in five previous encounters this season in three competitions. However, Barça have had so many let-offs in a league title chase that should have been over, there is a sense that the reigning champions may be the jammiest winners ever. What's more, Atlético must be running out of a little bit of steam and confidence having also stumbled by picking up just one point from six in the last two league games.
But, as one keen Barcelona fan pointed out to your correspondent, Tata Martino's side are no great shakes at the moment, with a wobbly back four marshaled by José Pinto. A Diego Costa barge into the box, followed by a rearguard defence, a specialty of Atlético, should be more than enough to do the business. Matters would then turn to ruining the world of Real Madrid in Lisbon next Saturday, in a victory that would be so sweet the club may well dissolve itself and turn its attentions to new pursuits with sporting life literally getting no better.
No matter what happens to Atlético, the die-hards will have had some fun along the way and will party hard noneth less. The same cannot be said for a couple of clubs who are destined to join Betis in the Segunda next season. Five could go down, with Valladolid, Osasuna, Granada, Getafe and Almería in the mix, but it is likely to be a match-up between Valladolid and Granada.
The former are second-from-bottom on 36 points, two below Granada, who are in 17th. Osasuna, one spot above Valladolid, are at home to Betis in what should be a fine chance for a great escape. This would leave three points for Valladolid as enough to keep them up and send Granada down. That's a bit of a shame as the city is a lot of fun with fine crowds. Unlike Getafe, for example.
Still, such matters are a mere trifle compared to the monster battle in Barcelona in a 'winner/drawer takes it all' end to La Liga to top off a majestic season.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter