By Tim Stannard
Level playing field in LaLiga has Atletico settle on six point lead over Barcelona and eight over Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid's squeaked 2-1 win over Athletic Club on Wednesday set the standings straight in LaLiga with the top three title-chasers having all played 26 games. The Rojiblancos now have a six-point lead over Barcelona and eight on Real Madrid, thanks in part from some penalty box 'guile' from Luis Suarez.
Seeing as there are still 12 games to be played in LaLiga - 36 points at stake - and Atletico's comfy cushion at the top is not in the region of the high-twenties or early-thirties - the swift answer to whether Atletico's lead is big enough is 'no'.
But it's not bad.
On a basic level, Atletico has some wiggle room for error. Real Madrid back in third place have next-to-nothing, and that's not great considering the team has picked up just two points from the past six but might at least get Sergio Ramos and Eden Hazard back on the pitch in time for Saturday's match over Elche - live on beIN SPORTS from 10:05AM ET.
Barcelona have been hot to trot in LaLiga and top the form charts with five wins and a draw from the team's past six games. What's more, the side have been relieved of their Champions League duties - not that it's a particularly good boasting point. But more on that in a second.
Ronald Koeman's men even have five days free to prep for the team's next league encounter which is on Monday against the side rock bottom of the table, Huesca. Meanwhile Atletico Madrid have another city derby - on a smaller scale one last week - with a visit to Getafe on Saturday live on beIN SPORTS at 2:30PM ET.
The Sports Burst live show on beIN XTRA at 11AM ET will look at how everything feels on an equal playing field for once in LaLiga.
Barca take positives of not conceding eight to Champions League opponents
Now, Sports Burst doesn't want to be a party-pooper but the vibe in the Catalan capital on Wednesday after an early elimination from the Champions League by PSG was "hey, it could have been worse!"
Which is basically Sports Burst's feeling every time the 'send' button is hit on the daily column to the beIN SPORTS bosses.
Barcelona managed to get a 1-1 draw in Paris on Wednesday, but that followed a hammering in the first leg to leave an aggregate score of 5-2. And yes, Ronald Koeman was technically right when he 'glass half-full-ed' Barca's result by noting that "we are departing this Champions League in a very different manner from the way we did last season."
Basically - 'at least we didn't concede eight and Messi was not psychologically traumatized. Again.'
Koeman was also pinning Barca's failure to reach the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2006-7 as a sign of a rosy path in the years to come to attract Lionel Messi to stay at the club - "we've got a great future ahead. Leo can't have any doubts about what the future holds for this team."
Whether Messi having no doubts about Barcelona's future matches those of Ronald Koeman is set to be quite the talking point in the final 12 match days of LaLiga.
Real Madrid could be three defenders down
Lionel Messi is not the only LaLiga superstar to have a few doubts over his future - Sergio Ramos is up there too.
The Real Madrid captain is also out of contract this summer, and it seems to be 50-50 on whether the club will offer the 34-year-old an acceptable reason to sign a new one.
So that means that the club might well lose one big defender this season. Actually, it could be two. In another 'reportedly' story, Raphael Varane has told his Real Madrid bosses that he wants out this summer and to find the French stopper a new club.
Make that two defenders down. Actually, it could be three. A theoretical one.
One of the reasons why Madrid might be playing hardball with Sergio Ramos was the thought that David Alaba would be arriving for free from Bayern Munich. Apparently not, says the rumor mill with the Austrian stopper apparently tempted by a Barcelona team owing $1.5 billion dollars and going further and further back in the Champions League.