Barcelona may be lucky Real Madrid has loftier goals than trying to mount a desperate comeback in the Spanish league.
If not, then Barcelona would face Sunday’s game against Atletico Madrid with the added pressure of ending its scoring drought to ensure it doesn’t get mired in a late-season slump.
Barcelona still has a healthy lead of 11 points over Madrid with nine games remaining. But the team hasn't scored in three straight games after being beaten by Madrid 4-0 in the Copa del Rey and being held to scoreless draws against modest league opponents in Girona and Getafe.
So a loss to Atletico combined with a win the previous night by Madrid when it hosts Celta Vigo could stir up fears of a meltdown as Barcelona tries to win its first league title since the departure of Lionel Messi two seasons ago.
Madrid, however, has two other titles almost in its grasp. The team will play Osasuna in the Copa del Rey final in Seville on May 6, and three days later it will host Manchester City in the Champions League semifinals. After brushing aside Chelsea this week, Madrid is now only three games away from defending its title and adding to its record 14 European Cups.
That alone should mean Barcelona won't face a serious challenge from its top rival as Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti rests his top players — but just to be sure it better beat Atletico.
The other Madrid team struggled early in the season, quickly falling out of contention for the league title and finishing its Champions League group in last place. But Atletico has been the hottest team in Spain in 2023. It is unbeaten in 13 matches and takes a six-game winning streak to Barcelona.
Barcelona dealt Atletico its last loss back on Jan. 8 when it won 1-0 in the capital. That was João Félix’s last game for Atletico before he joined Chelsea on loan.
Since the Portugal forward left, Antoine Griezmann has been playing like he did in his very best seasons during his first stint at Atletico before he spent 2019-21 at Barcelona, where he never fit in.
The France forward is now leading his team in scoring with 11 league goals and leading the league with eight assists. Griezmann scored twice in the last match to secure at 2-1 win over Almeria.
Atletico is in third place, two points behind Madrid. And while overtaking its crosstown rival won’t add any titles to its collection, it would be a great finish to the season.
“We are on a good run and we want to keep it up,” Atletico midfielder Axel Witsel said Thursday. “We are going to be strong defensively just like in recent games, and if we do that, we will surely have a chance to score."