Real Madrid and Barcelona are now counting on Atletico Madrid to make another mistake in order to regain care of the title chase.
Real Madrid felt both euphoria and profound sorrow after a 2-2 draw with Sevilla on Sunday night; a rare, bittersweet feeling. It took the destiny of La Liga out of their hands at the same time as ensuring they were still in the race.
Eden Hazard’s 95th-minute equalizer was already a cruel surprise at the end of a tumultuous week for the Belgian forward, who had been widely chastised by supporters and the public after joking with his former Chelsea teammates in midweek.
Madrid was known to have to take four of the four Champions League in West London, but struggled to win in the first sprint hurdle. They won 10 matches in a row last season to top Barcelona with the title like a machine, but this year they don’t have the momentum left behind.
The coronavirus pause gave Zinedine Zidane’s squad a breather, which they desperately needed right now. Hazard’s heel deflected in Toni Kroos’ low drive deep into stoppage time, keeping them in third place and relying on both Atletico Madrid and Barcelona messing up.
Not only did that goal place them back in front of the Catalans in the head-to-head, but it also ensures that Madrid would need Atletico to win rather than lose in order to surpass them.
Snatching a point from the jaws of success, La Liga was left where it was when the weekend started, with the top four squabbling.
After Barcelona and Atletico had seen their stalemate in Camp Nou, Zidane spent 24 hours dreaming of the championship before they began to play.
Sunday, Ronald Koeman did not drive Barcelona to the assault as he was supposed to have, while Atletico coach Diego Simeone took the whole draw, betting Real on one of his last four places.
Simeone’s read of the scenario was sublime, unlike his team’s finishing, and the payoff was almost instant. Real Madrid and Barcelona both have 75 points, with Los Blancos having a superior head-to-head record than each of their opponents. In the title race, Madrid passed up a ‘break point.’
In the first half at the Alfredo di Stefano, they were caught off guard by Sevilla, who were determined to remain in the chase and pressed ferociously.
Fernando Reges, a defensive midfielder from Brazil, broke the deadlock by dancing away from Casemiro in the area and drilling past Thibaut Courtois.
In his second half of the day, Madrid responded, and Marco Asensio drilled up hosts a little more than a minute after he came from the bench, but Ivan Rakitic could bring Seville on the penalty point with a timid Eder Militao handball.
It was not that easy, of course. Of course. The officers didn’t spot the offence of Militao, and Karim Benzema sped through in Seville’s box at the other end.
Madrid received a penalty, but minutes later, following the VAR study, the verdict was overturned, Rakitic stood over the ball and looked at Courtois.
The former centerfield of Barcelona stroked ice in its veins into the bottom and left Madrid to look down into its 3rd barrel with Seville just a few points behind its ear.
The interference of Hazard – though Kroos has pulled the team to one point with his neck scratching – ensures that the league is once again finely well-balanced, three games left and a fair chance of winning it, not four.
“I’m very furious,”
At the end of the game, Zidane addressed the authorities. Even the ice-man, who normally avoids talking to or about officials, is feeling the heat in a relentless, error-strewn, and yet totally exciting title chase.
Madrid is on the verge of collapse after suffering about 60 injuries this season, many more than their rivals. The champions’ shaky showing against Sevilla has only added to the questions over their ability to defend their crown.
The chase continues, with three games spread out over three nights allowing each of the three finalists an opportunity to sleep as league champions.
Barcelona will go top if they defeat Levante on Tuesday. Atletico will depose the Catalans if they draw with Real Sociedad on Wednesday. Madrid will then return to the top of the table if they beat Granada.
Still, by then, Madrid will be rubbing their wounds as they stagger across the finish line, pondering what should have been.