Madrid, Jan 25 (IANS) La Liga takes a break next weekend ahead of a round of international games in Latin America. Here are some things we learned from Matchday 22 before the players get a well-earned rest.
1. Real Madrid clear title favourites
Real Madrid may have dropped two points at home to Elche in their 2-2 draw, but despite a poor display, they are still clear favourites to win the title, partly because none of their rivals look likely to string together a run of results that would see them leapfrog Carlo Ancelotti’s men at the top of the table.
Sevilla had a chance to close the gap, but they were held by Celta Vigo, and while Atletico Madrid, Real Betis and Barcelona all won, their form is irregular and they also look to be too far behind to mount a serious chase unless something goes very seriously wrong at the Bernabeu.
Real, though, are holding their breath over the fitness of striker Karim Benzema, after he was substituted during their draw at home to Elche. The striker, who has 24 goals and six assists in all competitions, was forced out of the game after an hour with an apparent problem in his hamstring.
The club will wait until Wednesday before carrying out tests to determine the extent of his injury, Xinhua reports. If the striker has torn his hamstring, he will miss his side’s two most important matches of the season to date. Real Madrid travel to play Athletic Bilbao in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey on February 3, and on February 15, they have the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie away to Paris Saint-Germain.
2. Betis are flying
Although the club has captured headlines for a shameful incident which saw Sevilla midfielder Joan Jordan hit by a pole thrown from the stands in the recent Seville derby, Real Betis’ form on the pitch is also worthy of comment.
Their 4-1 win away to Espanyol confirmed Manuel Pellegrini’s men in third place in La Liga, and although their defence at times looks a little shaky, players such as Borja Iglesias, Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales, Juanmi and Willian Jose give Pellegrini plenty of options looking forward, making Betis a side worth watching and with a real chance of a top-four finish.
3. Pedri key for Barcelona
FC Barcelona needed a late goal from Frenkie de Jong to get them over the line with a 1-0 win away to struggling Alaves, as the Catalans produced another disappointing performance off the back of their Copa del Rey exit against Athletic Bilbao. Barca again struggled to produce any flowing football, but all of the best things they produced came through the boots of 19-year-old Pedri.
The teenager has only just returned after struggling with injuries all season, and after he asked to be changed after 105 minutes action in Bilbao, it looked as if he suffered another muscle problem. Nevertheless, he was able to take his place in the side on Sunday for another all-action display.
With Ansu Fati out for at least two months and Ousmane Dembele likely to be moved on, Pedri is vital for the remainder of Barca’s campaign.