The Winner Of Saturday’s El Clasico? Atletico Madrid And Valencia
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On Saturday, match week 17 in La Liga will boil down to one match and one match only: the El Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu. Though Barcelona dares not think about losing the world’s greatest rivalry game, manager Ernesto Valverde is obviously correct in saying, “I don’t think a Clasico victory will give us the title.”
With second-place Atletico Madrid six points behind the front-runners, a defeat wouldn’t doom the Blaugrana by any stretch of the imagination either. However, Atletico can put a bit of pressure on both Barcelona and Real by taking care of business against Espanyol on Friday evening.
So long as Atletico avoid a slip-up against the side in 16th, they’ll have put themselves in prime position to simply enjoy Saturday’s Clasico. A Real victory lessens Barca’s lead, a draw does the same while also damning Real and a Los Blancos defeat is always widely celebrated amongst Colchoneros. It’s a win-win-win for Diego Simeone, especially with Diego Costa’s arrival now imminent.
While Real maintain a game in hand due to their participation at the FIFA Club World Cup, the gap between themselves and the two clubs at the top makes Saturday’s occasion a must-win for Zinedine Zidane’s men.
Anything less than a victory would also probably spell Zidane’s first real shake-up at the club. The Frenchman would head into the January transfer window knowing that it’s time to move on from some of the players who’ve served him so well over the course of his two-year reign.
And although you won’t see a lot of column inches dedicated to it, third-place Valencia hosts sixth-place Villarreal at the Mestalla in a match that kicks off three hours after El Clasico. Los Che remain rooted in the title race despite having a defense anchored by Gabriel Paulista and Ezequiel Garay.
We’ll know a lot more about this Valencia side following match weeks 21 and 22 — they host Real Madrid on January 28 (match week 21) before traveling to the Wanda to play Atletico on February 4 (22).
But this weekend will go a long way toward determining who’s still competing for the title next spring, as well as who’ll be representing Spain in the Champions League next year.