LaLiga finely poised after Bellingham decides El Clasico

La Liga title race state 2023/24

Real Madrid are now 13/20 favourites to win LaLiga with the latest bet9ja betting offers, ahead of Barcelona at 9/4 and Atletico Madrid at 19/4. It’s shaping up to be one of the closest title races in years featuring three or even four clubs should Girona (60/1) continue their flying start.

Nobody is seriously talking about Michel’s free-flowing team as serious title contenders just yet, but they are currently sitting pretty in 2nd place, level on points with Real Madrid who cemented their status as the team to beat with a Jude Bellingham inspired 2-1 comeback win at Barcelona in El Clasico on Saturday afternoon.

Questions for both Barcelona & Real Madrid after El Clasico

The first competitive meeting of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the 2023/24 season left us with as many questions as it did answers. Not just about the true level of LaLiga’s big two, but perhaps even the overall health of an iconic fixture which has produced some titanic tussles down the years.

The venue, Barcelona’s tired looking Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, didn’t help, but it was a match that somehow failed to evoke the intensity of clashes in years gone by, a reality that was seemingly not lost on Ilkay Gundogan whose post-match comments were quite telling.

“I wish for more frustration, more anger and more disappointment” claimed the midfielder reflecting on the post-match atmosphere in the home dressing room. 

“This is a little bit the problem. There has to be more emotion, especially when you lose and when you know you can perform better, do better in certain situations and you just don’t react.

“It transfers to the pitch at the end of the day. We need to make a huge step in that because otherwise Real Madrid or even Girona are going to run away. I didn’t come here to lose this type of game or to let a gap create.”

While those kinds of comments may have been music to the ears of those of a Real Madrid persuasion, Saturday’s win was more the result of yet more individual brilliance from Jude Bellingham, who scored both goals, than it was some kind of carefully crafted plan or all-round team performance.

Truth be told, Real Madrid were second best against an injury-ravaged Barcelona side for much of the game. Had they been more ruthless, the hosts could have been out of sight before Bellingham’s blistering long-range effort levelled the scores in the 68th minute with a strike that changed the course of the game.

Where does the result leave the title race?

On only matchday 11 and with just one point separating the clubs heading into the match, this was never going to be a truly defining day in the 2023/24 title race but with their victory, Real Madrid underlined their status as worthy favourites to win LaLiga.

Their record this season is very much an impressive one with 12 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat from their 14 matches in all competitions. That’s certainly good going for a team that was rocked by a double blow in the opening week of the season with ACL injuries suffered by both Thibaut Courtois and Eder Militao.

To an extent, Carlo Ancelotti deserves credit for steadying the ship and despite some notable absentees, not letting last season’s lacklustre league campaign roll over into this one. However their reliance on late strikes and particularly their dependence on Bellingham, who has scored 45% of his team’s goals in all competitions this term, cannot be a long-term solution.

That fact gives hope to the chasing pack which is currently headed by Girona who continue to entertain and churn out the victories. Yangel Herrera’s 91st minute strike made it 9 wins out of 11 for the Catalans on Friday night but even the most optimistic of Girona supporters are not seriously contemplating a possible title challenge just yet from a club that has never previously finished higher than 10th in the top flight.

That’s not to say that Michel’s side can’t continue to operate in and around the top four and potentially have a big say in who ends up winning the league. They travel to Barcelona in early December for what’s shaping up to be the most eagerly awaited Catalan derby the two clubs have contested.

Barcelona are 4 points back on their much smaller neighbours as it stands, but are about to be boosted by the return of a host of key players.

Robert Lewandowski was fit enough to feature from the bench in El Clasico. With Jules Kounde, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong all nearing fitness and youngsters Fermin Lopez and Lamine Yamal continuing to shine, it’s by no means all doom and gloom for Xavi, but he’ll know that his team now needs to put a winning run together to keep on the tails and ultimately close the gap on the top two.

Griezmann-inspired Atleti a serious threat

Atletico Madrid stadium

Perhaps the only player who even comes close to rivalling Jude Bellingham as LaLiga’s standout player right now is Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman has been one of the division’s stars for more than a decade but he has never won LaLiga and is intent on ending that wait this year.

Griezmann has netted 7 league goals so far this season, a tally only bettered by Bellingham and with a fit and firing Alvaro Morata alongside him and on 6 goals, Atletico Madrid’s front two look capable of pushing Los Rojiblancos onto a more serious title challenge this time around.

There is more balance in midfield too this term with Saul playing some of his best football in several years while Rodrigo De Paul is looking more like the player Atleti thought they were getting when they paid €35m to Udinese in the summer of 2021.

If there’s a doubt about Atletico Madrid, it’s perhaps in defence with Diego Simeone’s side looking vulnerable at times this season in domestic and European action with a recurring inability to keep key centre-back Jose Maria Gimenez fit, continuing to frustrate Atleti fans.

Diego Simeone’s side are 3 points off the top, but with a game in hand after their early season fixture at home to Sevilla was postponed due to heavy rain. They have trips to the Estadi Olímpic and San Mames to come before that game is finally played in December though, while Atleti visit Girona in their first game of 2024, meaning we should soon have a pretty clear idea of just how much of a threat Los Rojiblancos are going to be in this season’s title race.

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About Mark Sochon 2035 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid. He has been writing about Spanish football since 2014 and regularly attends and covers matches across Spain. His work has also been published by various newspapers and websites including These Football Times, World Soccer and Guardian Sport. Available for freelance work: marksochon (at) hotmail.co.uk