Four rounds remaining, four teams involved, and just six points to separate them.

The end of the LaLiga title race looks to be the most gripping to any of the top five European leagues this term, and almost certainly the least predictable finish in Spain since 2006-07.

Back then, there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season: Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

For the first time since then, Sevilla are again in with a shout of upsetting established order – albeit they trail the leaders by six points – though on this occasion Atletico Madrid are most prominently in the mix.

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but they've won only seven of their 15 league games since, including a defeat to Sevilla in early April.

Yet, remarkably, it's still in Atletico's hands thanks to Barca's surprise loss at home to Granada last week.

 

What made that defeat even more incredible was the fact Granada had just 18 per cent of the ball and scored twice from an xG (expected goals) value of just 0.69. This means they netted more than two times as many as they should have, which speaks to how stunningly clinical they were.

Interestingly – or, infuriatingly, if you're a fan – it was Barcelona's second-highest share of the ball in a league game this season, behind only 82.1 per cent against Cadiz. They lost both games.

It's all shaping up for potentially decisive blows to be struck across May 8 and 9, when the top four all play each other – Barca host Atletico on Saturday, with Sevilla going to Madrid the next day.

But what does our prediction model say about the most likely outcome in the title race?

How does the predictor work?

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Let's say how the model now predicts the final league table will look...

 

Atletico take the crown

Atletico Madrid are now given a 40.6 per cent probability of winning the title, up from 38 per cent a week ago.

It essentially looks like it will come down to their showdown with Barca. Atletico hold a slight advantage, having beaten the Catalans 1-0 in Madrid in the reverse fixture, and our predictor seemingly doesn't expect Ronald Koeman's men to overturn that at Camp Nou, as the model sees Atletico winning the title by virtue of their head-to-head record.

Barcelona's chances have increased from 32.6 per cent to 35.1, with that surprise defeat to Granada preventing any bigger jump despite their 3-2 win at Valencia.

After drawing 0-0 twice in three games, Madrid's chances dropped from 34.4 per cent to 26.6 per cent last week, and they now sit at 24.3 per cent despite their most recent 2-0 win over Osasuna.

Sevilla, who conceded an injury-time winner to Athletic Bilbao last time out, remain distant outsiders. Our prediction model only gives them a 0.1 per cent probability of winning their first league title since 1946.

Lionel Messi will remain at Barcelona until the end of his career after president Joan Laporta's efforts in revitalising the club.

That is the view of former Barca full-back Gianluca Zambrotta, who believes the Messi transfer saga will be laid to rest once and for all.

It had looked likely Messi would leave, probably for Manchester City, at the start of this campaign but a dispute over the terms of his contract at Camp Nou proved a stumbling block too far.

The Argentina star has since helped Ronald Koeman's side win the Copa del Rey and they remain in the battle for LaLiga, sitting two points behind leaders Atletico Madrid, who they face on Saturday. 

And Zambrotta, who played for the club between 2006 and 2008, feels Barca now represent a more attractive proposition for Messi since Laporta's election as president for a second time in March.

"They won already an important title in Spain and this is already something," the former Italy international told Stats Perform.

"They are in contention for La Liga title. On Saturday there will be the game versus Atletico Madrid, they are just two points down with Real Madrid, so Barcelona are a team that's still up there regardless of any problem.

"They have the chance to win La Liga too, although it will be a fight until the end.

"I see Barcelona as an improved team in recent months. Laporta has brought enthusiasm and made the place a bit more serene with the aim of keeping their most important player, Messi."

Asked if Barca will achieve that aim, he replied: "I guess so, Messi will never leave Barcelona unless in a distant future he will like to go back to Argentina, but I doubt it.

"I think he will stay at Barcelona until the end of his career."

Ronald Koeman believes there is something personal behind the decision to hand him a touchline ban.

Barcelona confirmed this week they are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Koeman's ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for the massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful, prompting the club to try again with TAD.

"Yes, I think it was personal," said Koeman.

"Because saying 'what a character' in Spanish or 'what a person' in English is not insulting. 

"It is not a reason to sanction. So yes, there is something else behind it.

"Better not talk about the referees because, in general, the RFEF puts one of the best referees in for these games. 

"It is hoped that he [Mateu Lahoz] gets his decisions right, but you don't have to think about the referees. You have to think about yourself and plan.

"Hopefully the decisions of the VAR are fair for us and for Atletico."

Barca go into the match at Camp Nou two points behind leaders Atletico, with Real Madrid also trailing Diego Simeone's men by that margin in a thrilling title race.

Ahead of the crunch clash, Barca confirmed Ansu Fati's injury comeback has hit another setback, as the Spain forward had to undergo another knee operation, his fourth procedure.

Fati suffered a serious meniscus injury in November, having scored five goals across 10 appearances for Barca across all competitions.

The 18-year-old was initially forecast to return in March, but his long spell on the sidelines and problems with his injury had even led some to question whether Fati would be able to have a long career in the game.

"Poor kid," said Koeman. "I have not yet spoken with Ansu. I did speak with him before his trip to Porto [for the operation].

"It takes a long time and there are things that have not gone well with his recovery - I don't want to go into that anymore, but five or six months is a long time.

"Now the most important thing is that he is going to recover, he is going to get well and that he will be with us. Too bad it is for next season.

"It has been important that we missed a player like him, but the most important thing is that he recovers well to continue playing."

 

Koeman knows the stakes are high in the title race and Barcelona have a good record against their opponents, losing just one of their 21 previous LaLiga games against Atletico, winning 14.

"I have not changed my mind; if we win every game we will be champions," he said of the four remaining league fixtures.

"I don't think it [this result] is decisive because there will be three games left, but of course it is important. It is not decisive.

"They are both very good teams and we are fighting with two more teams as well [Real Madrid and Sevilla]. 

"We have to be good with the ball because Atletico closes well and defends well. We have to be good with the ball to create opportunities and be effective."

Barca are looking to avoid losing home and away in the league against Atleti for the first time since 2005-06, Simeone's men having won 1-0 in the last meeting in November.

But aside from that rare blip against Granada, Koeman's side have the momentum. They have collected a league-high 49 points in 2021 (W16 D1 L2), eight more than Atletico in this period.

Lionel Messi has scored 20 goals (excluding penalties) in LaLiga in 2021, vastly outperforming an expected goals figure of 11.

Opta data shows he has the biggest positive differential (nine) for any player in the top five European leagues since the start of year.

So we come to it: the biggest LaLiga game between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid for seven years.

Forget the Champions League disappointments, the off-the-field murmurings about money problems and the lingering toxic cloud of the Super League, and get ready for a title showdown.

League leaders Atletico are two points clear of Real Madrid and Barca with four games to go. If the match produces a winner, that team will have the power to decide their own fate. A draw could be enough for Atleti. A defeat for either may prove fatal to their chances.

The last time these two teams met this late in the season with the title still on the line for both was on that famous final day in 2013-14, when Atleti went to Camp Nou knowing they would win the league if they did not lose the match. Alexis Sanchez broke the deadlock, Diego Godin equalised, and Atleti were crowned kings of Spain for the first time in 18 years.

Nothing will be decided this season on Saturday, of course, and as any LaLiga coach will tell the media at any given opportunity, "every game is a final". But this one feels a bit different. With Madrid and fourth-place Sevilla meeting this weekend, too, Barca and Atleti must sense this is a massive chance to get a hand on the trophy.

 

FORM IS TEMPORARY...

For the neutral, the fact we even have a title race in early May is something to celebrate. So dominant were Atleti in the first half of the season – 16 wins, two draws and one defeat from their first 19 games – that the rest were struggling to keep up.

In fact, according to Stats Perform AI, on January 22 Atleti had a 75.1 per cent chance of winning the title based on predicted results, while Barca's chances were just 12.4 per cent. As of April 30, however, that same predictor model gave Atleti a 38 per cent chance of winning the league, with Barca just behind on 32.6.

While Atleti have won only half of their past 16 league games, Barca have been one of Europe's most in-form sides in 2021, winning all but three of their 19 league matches since the turn of the year – and lifting the Copa del Rey. They have collected 49 points in 2021, the most in the division and eight more than the leaders.

History is also on their side in this fixture: the 1-0 defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano in the reverse game, when Yannick Carrasco grabbed a first-half winner, was their only league loss to Atleti in their most recent 21 meetings. They have not lost at home to them since Pepe Murcia's side ran out 3-1 winners in February 2006. Diego Simeone has drawn three and lost five of his league games in charge of Atleti at Camp Nou, making it his least favourite opposition ground as well as the scene of arguably his greatest coaching achievement.

 

OUTPERFORMING

This weekend's game is also the meeting of the best defence and attack in the division. Barca have scored 80 league goals, at least 19 more than anyone else, but Atleti have conceded a miserly 22. Attacks win games, defences win titles, as the adage goes.

Barca have actually faced the fewest shots (280) of any team in LaLiga this season, 40 fewer than Atleti, who are sixth best. However, the Blaugrana have conceded 33 goals from an Expected Goals Against figure of 37.0, whereas Atleti's 22 have come from an xGA of 33.7.

That highlights perhaps Atleti's greatest asset: based on Expected Goals on Target – an indicator of the quality of shots faced by a goalkeeper – Jan Oblak has prevented 7.1 goals this season, the highest figure in LaLiga. For teams in Europe's top-five leagues, no goalkeeper who has played more than 10 games this season has a better save percentage (79.1) than Atleti's Slovenian sensation.

 

MESSI V SUAREZ: BEST OF ENEMIES

Having missed the reverse fixture, this will be the first time Luis Suarez has faced Barca since his rather acrimonious departure at the end of last season. To date, the Uruguay striker – who has 166 career goals in LaLiga – has scored against all 30 of the teams he has faced in Spain's top flight.

Suarez has been a driving force of Atleti's title charge, even though he has only managed three goals in his most recent 11 games. With 19 goals in 28 league appearances overall in 2020-21, Suarez is averaging 0.79 per 90 minutes. Only one player has a better rate: Lionel Messi (0.92), the top scorer in the league with 28 and perhaps the most in-form player since the turn of the year.

Since January 1, Messi has scored 21 goals in 18 games, more than anyone else in Europe's top five leagues. Excluding one penalty scored, he has plundered 20 from an xG of just 11, giving him the biggest positive differential for anyone in those top five leagues in 2021. He is a man on a mission – perhaps his final mission for the club, if he doesn't agree to extend his contract.

Prevailing wisdom would suggest one of these former team-mates will decide this contest and, in turn, the fate of the title race. Barca and Atleti have waited seven years for a battle like this – who will hold their nerve?

 

Jose Mourinho is already plotting his moves in his first transfer window at Roma, where he will take charge at the end of the season.

The Portuguese reportedly is hoping to bring players he already knows to Serie A.

Could a pair of Red Devils and Spurs be headed to the Italian capital? 

 

TOP STORY – MOURINHO EYES FAMILIAR FACES

Jose Mourinho may turn to his Premier League connections to bolster his first Roma side. 

Manchester United pair Nemanja Matic and David de Gea are among the players with Old Trafford legacies on Mourinho's wish list, according to the Daily Mirror and Todofichajes. 

Among more recent Mourinho pupils, Eric Dier and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg are among the Spurs players who stand as possibilities, says Corriere dello Sport. 

Football London also linked Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura with possible Roma moves as former Tottenham head coach Mourinho prepares to replace Paulo Fonseca ahead of the 2021-22 season.

 

ROUND-UP  

- Corriere dello Sport reports Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain are eyeing Napoli star Fabian Ruiz and Lazio's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Spain international Fabian has been heavily linked with Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Fellow midfielder Milinkovic-Savic, meanwhile, continues to be linked with the likes of Inter, Juventus, United and PSG.

Yves Bissouma could be headed to Manchester City as a replacement for Fernandinho, the Daily Star claims. City are said to be confident they can strike a £30million deal for the 24-year-old Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder. The Daily Express, however, has Arsenal leading the fight for the Mali international, with TottenhamWest Ham and Everton also potential landing spots. 

Chelsea may bring back striker Armando Broja on a lucrative contract after loaning the 19-year-old to Eredivisie outfit Vitesse Arnhem this term, Fabrizio Romano says, but other big clubs are circling as well.

- Juventus centre-back Giorgio Chiellini is considering a move to MLS after his contract ends in June, Calciomercato reports. 

Miralem Pjanic could leave Barcelona as Sport claims the midfield outcast attracts interest from the likes of Chelsea and Inter

- Barca are considering the idea of allowing Francisco Trincao to leave on loan amid interest from Milan and Roma, according to Calciomercato. 

- RMC Sport says Milan have reached an agreement in principle to sign Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan at the end of the season. It comes amid doubts over the future of star Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is set to become a free agent. Yet to renew, Donnarumma has been linked with Juve, Tottenham, Chelsea and United.

Barcelona are to appeal to Spain's Administrative Court of Sport (TAD) after head coach Ronald Koeman's touchline ban for Saturday's potential LaLiga title decider with Atletico Madrid was upheld.

Koeman was hit with a two-match suspension after being shown a red card for comments he supposedly made to the fourth official during his side's shock 2-1 home loss to Granada last Thursday.

The 58-year-old sat out Sunday's 3-2 win against Valencia, with assistant coach Alfred Schreuder placed in charge for the win that leaves Barca two points behind leaders Atletico ahead of this weekend's showdown.

Barcelona had hoped to have Koeman back for that massive game at Camp Nou, but it was announced on Wednesday that their appeal was not successful.

However, the Catalan giants will now take their case to TAD and have requested a temporary suspension of the ban which will allow the Dutchman to be on the touchline against Atletico.

Barca are also behind second-placed Real Madrid by virtue of an inferior head-to-head record and face Levante, Celta Vigo and Eibar after the visit of Atleti.

Lionel Messi scored the 50th free-kick goal of his Barcelona career to fuel hopes of a stunning LaLiga title triumph.

Messi's two goals in a 3-2 victory at Valencia on Sunday took him to 28 league strikes for the season, and that also meant the record six-time Ballon d'Or winner stayed ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo in their friendly long-distance rivalry.

Barca captain Messi's seasonal tally is one more than Juventus' former Real Madrid talisman Ronaldo has managed in the current Serie A campaign, after the Portuguese netted twice in a win at Udinese earlier on Sunday.

Both are leading the way in their respective leagues, and only 36-goal Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski has scored more times than Messi in the top five European leagues in the current campaign.

Of Messi's stunning set-piece career haul, 39 of his free-kicks have come in LaLiga but few will have been as important as the curling strike that ultimately made sure of the points at Mestalla, giving Barcelona a 3-1 lead that was trimmed when Carlos Soler hit an excellent consolation.

Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman was a free-kick specialist himself, but he was absent from the touchline against Valencia.

That was because Koeman received a two-match touchline ban for the remonstrations during Thursday's shock defeat to Granada that saw him sent off.

In his place, Koeman's assistant Alfred Schreuder led the team, and it was down to the former Hoffenheim boss to dampen down excitement about this coming Saturday's clash between Barcelona and current leaders Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou.

Barcelona would go top of LaLiga by one point, for a little over 24 hours at least, should they win that game.

There are just four rounds of fixtures to come, and next week's games appear highly significant, given Real Madrid and Sevilla, the other two teams in title contention, also go head-to-head.

"We are all close," said Schreuder. "But we are there. We don't look at other teams, only at ourselves. Next week isn't a final, we have four matchdays in which we have to try to win.

"Yes, we trust our players to win LaLiga. We have reduced the gap to Atletico since January. We have competed well in these last three months."

The loss to Granada was a juddering result for Barcelona, but they had enough to fend off Valencia.

Messi missed a penalty but scored seconds later as the ball pinged around the Valencia 18-yard box, while Antoine Griezmann was also on target as Barcelona reacted positively to going behind early in the second half.

"We have shown character," Schreuder said. "We believed in what we were doing."

Marcos Llorente dismissed the suggestion of luck being on Atletico Madrid's side in their LaLiga title bid after their close-fought win over Elche.

Llorente scored the only goal of the game in the 23rd minute, moments after Luis Suarez had a goal disallowed by VAR for offside.

However, Llorente seemed set to go from hero to zero for LaLiga leaders Atleti when he conceded a late penalty for handball.

Yet Atleti came away unscathed, Elche captain Fidel hitting the post with his spot-kick. Atleti have now not conceded from the previous three penalties they have faced.

The victory lifted Atleti five points clear in a four-way title tussle, albeit that gap will be closed should Real Madrid beat Osasuna in Saturday's late game.

With Barcelona having lost their game in hand on Thursday, Atleti would be crowned champions should they win all of their four remaining matches – including a huge game against the Blaugrana at Camp Nou next week.

"It was an obligation to win, it was very important for everyone," Llorente told Movistar.

"The team knew how to carry out the game. All the rivals are at the top and Elche are a great team. We take all three points and it gives us great satisfaction."

Asked if luck was on Atleti's side, Llorente replied: "Starting from the fact that I don't believe in luck, in the end, if [the penalty] got to the goal, [Jan] Oblak had guessed the right way. 

"We got the points and it gives us a lot of strength for what remains.

"Winning is always positive, confidence increases, and today is one of those days."

It was a sentiment echoed by Simeone, who told a news conference: "It is time to work. The facts must be demonstrated on the pitch: that the team improves, plays with enthusiasm, is fierce and what I imagined and dreamed of when I arrived at Atletico."

Asked if Atleti must be considered favourites, Simeone said: "We are not in the moment to think; we are in the moment to do."

Simeone has now coached in 360 LaLiga games, surpassing Helenio Herrera as the Argentine to have managed the most matches in the competition.

Elche captain Fidel missed a stoppage-time penalty as Atletico Madrid picked up a narrow 1-0 win to tighten their grip on top spot in LaLiga ahead of next week's huge showdown with Barcelona.

Diego Simeone's side lost 2-1 to Athletic Bilbao last weekend and were fortunate to avoid another slip-up against relegation-threatened Elche in Saturday's contest at Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero.

Marcos Llorente scored what proved to be the all important goal for Atleti with his 12th league strike of the campaign in the 23rd minute after Luis Suarez had one chalked off for a marginal offside.

However, Elche wasted a glorious chance to snatch a share of the spoils in the 91st minute as Fidel fired a penalty against the post, meaning Atletico move ​five points clear of Real Madrid and Barca, who both have a game in hand to play.

Ronald Koeman remains convinced Barcelona can still win LaLiga, even though they have left themselves with little margin for error during the run-in.

Barca missed the chance to take over at the top of the table on Thursday, letting slip a one-goal lead to surprisingly lose 2-1 at home to Granada.

The unexpected defeat means Koeman's side instead sit third with just five games to play in the top-flight campaign, starting with Sunday's tricky trip to Valencia.

Yet with Atleti still to visit Camp Nou, a defiant Koeman insists maximum points will be enough to pip both Diego Simeone's side and Real Madrid, who are second in the standings, to the title.

"It is true that we were very disappointed because it was a very great opportunity to get to the top, but there is no more time to be sad because we are fighting with the top three teams," Koeman told the media on Saturday.

"In all the games we have a lot of possession, we create opportunities. It is true that defensively we have to improve things.

"We expect a difficult game [against Valencia], where we are going to have a lot of possession, we have to create, be better defensively.

"It is a great opportunity that we have missed, but I am convinced that if we win the last five games we will be champions."

Sevilla are also firmly in the title race too, sitting just a point behind Barca, while Granada's midweek win provided a further example of why there are no certainties in a highly competitive league, according to Koeman.

"It is a strong championship, with very good teams. There are four teams fighting for LaLiga," he said.

"If you are not well, if you lack things, then you pay dearly. That is the beauty of this season. There is no team superior to the rest. That shows that it is a very strong championship."

Koeman was sent off after Granada's equaliser and is set to serve a two-game touchline ban, though Barcelona have appealed against the punishment.

The Dutchman will watch on from the stands for the game against Valencia, but a reduced suspension would allow him to be back in the technical area for the crucial clash with Atleti on May 8.

"We are going to appeal because I think it is a very exaggerated sanction for saying 'what a character', you wear two games, if you really insult, they give you 20 games," Koeman said. 

"Tomorrow I will not be able to be on the bench, but we have technical staff and we are going to overcome it."

Barcelona have launched an appeal against the two-match touchline ban handed to Ronald Koeman following his dismissal during the shock 2-1 LaLiga loss to Granada.

Koeman was shown a red card for comments he supposedly made to the fourth official not long after Granada had drawn level at Camp Nou on Thursday.

The Dutchman then watched on from the stands as the home side conceded again in the 79th minute, substitute Jorge Molina heading home to provide a further twist in the title race.

"I don't understand why they have sent me off. They [said I] have disrespected the fourth official," Koeman said after Thursday's match, according to Marca.

"I don't understand the red. According to the delegate, it was a lack of respect for the fourth official. I haven't said anything. I haven't insulted him or anything. But hey, if the fourth official wants to be the star of the night ... thank you."

Barcelona had appeared set to take over at the top of the table but now sit two points behind LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid with five games remaining.

One of those matches sees Barca host Atleti on May 8, which will be covered by Koeman's suspension unless his appeal is successful. The other fixture will be Sunday's trip to Valencia.

In confirming the appeal, the club referenced that their head coach had not previously been sent off since taking charge.

Meanwhile, Barca have extended Oscar Mingueza's contract.

The defender, who made his first-team debut in a Champions League fixture against Dynamo Kiev in November, is now tied down until June 2023 with a release clause of €100million.

"It's a dream come true. I've been working for many years for this objective, to sign a contract with the first team," Mingueza said in an official club interview.

"I'm really happy, really proud to have this chance after all the support that I have received."

Mingueza has made 36 appearances in all competitions this season since his promotion from the B team.  

Diego Simeone believes LaLiga's engrossing four-way title race is good for Spanish football and insists leaders Atletico Madrid are only focusing on themselves following Barcelona's slip-up.

Barca missed the chance to go top of LaLiga on Thursday as they slipped to a stunning 2-1 home defeat against Granada, with coach Ronald Koeman sent off prior to Jorge Molina's 79th-minute winner.

It means Atletico lead Real Madrid and Barca by two points, with Sevilla just a point further back with five games to play.

Atletico visit Elche on Saturday prior to Madrid's clash with Osasuna. Barca face Valencia at Mestalla on Sunday and Sevilla host Athletic Bilbao on Monday.

But Simeone is solely concentrated on what his side do, rather than the fortunes of others in a title race that is a welcome tonic to the Barca-Madrid duopoly that has long since dominated LaLiga.

"It is novel and does good to Spanish football," Simeone told a pre-match media conference of the four-team battle.

"The possibility that several teams can win is good. We are in a four-way fight in which match by match takes on a more important value.

"With four teams so tight I can only think about the next game. Trust the players who have been having a very good season."

Asked about Barca's defeat, Koeman replied: "I saw the end of the match. A competitive match. But I was only thinking about the only thing that matters to us, which is Elche. A team that has changed and competes very well since [head coach Fran] Escriba's arrival.

"The pressure is always there. If you play second and the rivals have won, you have pressure, but if you play before you also have it. You have to focus on what depends on you and nothing else."

If LaLiga's title race wasn't tantalising enough already, Barcelona's shock defeat to Granada on Thursday really threw a spanner in the works.

It looks set to be the most gripping end to any of the top five European leagues this term, and almost certainly the least predictable finish to LaLiga since 2006-07.

Back then there were three teams in with a chance of taking home the title on the final day of the season – Real Madrid and Barcelona, of course, plus Juande Ramos' Sevilla.

As it was, Madrid and Barca won on the last day whereas Sevilla – who needed a win and for the other two to lose – lost at home to Villarreal.

Madrid finished top by virtue of a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were essentially denied the title by their local rivals Espanyol, slumping to a 2-2 draw with them on the penultimate day to hand Los Blancos the initiative.

For the first time since then, Sevilla are again in with a shout of upsetting established order, though on this occasion Atletico Madrid are in the mix as well.

In fact, with just three points separating first from fourth with five games left, it's the closest title race LaLiga has ever seen in a 20-team campaign (1987-1995, 1997-present).

Diego Simeone's side looked certainties for the title not too long ago: at the start of February, they were 11 points clear, but they've won only six of their 14 league games since, including a defeat to Sevilla in early April.

Yet, remarkably, it's still in Atletico's hands thanks to Barca's surprise loss at home to Granada on Thursday.

 

What made that defeat even more incredible was the fact Granada had just 18 per cent of the ball and scored twice from an xG (expected goals) value of just 0.69. This means they netted more than two times as many as they should have, which speaks to how stunningly clinical they were.

Interestingly – or, infuriatingly, if you're a fan – it was Barcelona's second-highest share of the ball in a league game this season, behind only 82.1 per cent against Cadiz. They lost both games.

It's all shaping up for potentially decisive blows to be struck across May 8 and 9, when the top four all play each other – Barca host Atletico on the Saturday, with Sevilla going to Madrid the next day.

But what does our prediction model say about the most likely outcome in the title race?

How does the predictor work?

The data model estimates the probability of each match outcome – either a win, draw or loss – based on each team's attacking and defensive quality. Those ratings are allocated based on four years' worth of comprehensive historic data points and results, with more weighting given to recent matches to account for improvements or declines in form and performance trends.

The AI simulation takes into account the quality of the opposition that a team scores or concedes goals against and rewards them accordingly. All that data is used to simulate upcoming matches using goal predictions from the Poisson distribution – a detailed mathematical model – with the two teams' attacking and defending ratings used as inputs.

The outcome of the season is then simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in their ultimate league position.

Without further ado, let's have a good look at the results of the simulation with the predicted final league table…

 

Atletico take the crown

There we have it… The AI predictor still sees Atletico as the likely champions, with a 38 per cent probability.

It essentially looks like it will come down to their showdown with Barca next Saturday. Atletico hold a slight advantage having beaten Barcelona 1-0 in Madrid earlier this season, and our predictor seemingly doesn't expect Ronald Koeman's men to overturn that at Camp Nou, as the model sees Atletico winning the title by virtue of their head-to-head record.

Nevertheless, Barcelona's outlook is almost identical to just a few weeks ago when the data suggested they had a 32.8 per cent chance, that now dropping ever so slightly to 32.6 – but you can't help but wonder what it would have been had they beaten Granada.

Madrid have drawn two of their previous three games 0-0, and so their chances have dropped from 34.4 per cent to a 26.6 per cent likelihood of winning the title.

Sevilla, perhaps unsurprisingly, remain the outsiders and our prediction model still only gives them a 2.8 per cent probability of winning their first league title since 1946.

However, that's 28 times more likely than just 18 days ago when the data gave them a 0.1 per cent chance of finishing top.

Everything seemingly hinges on next weekend…

Neymar's future at Paris Saint-Germain remains strangely undecided.

The 29-year-old Brazilian has said he is happy in Paris but speculation continues to bubble away.

Neymar is out of contract in 2022 and is reportedly discussing a renewal with PSG until 2026.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR TEMPTED BY BARCELONA RETURN

Neymar continues to flirt privately with a return to Barcelona, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Publicly, the Brazil star has declared he is happy with PSG but in no rush to re-sign, yet there are behind-the-scenes rumblings, potentially part of contract manoeuvring.

Neymar is reportedly obsessed with playing alongside Lionel Messi again at Camp Nou and continues to keep that option open.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United are still in the market for a right-winger with Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho top of their list, according to 90 Min.

- The Sun reports that Chelsea are preparing to launch a £90million-plus offer to bring Romelu Lukaku back to the club from Inter.

- Chelsea are also open to offers for forward Tammy Abraham this off-season, with an asking price of £40m, claims The Telegraph.

- Arsenal wants to sign Norwich City full-back Max Aarons as a replacement for Hector Bellerin, whom they are prepared to offload, reports 90 Min.

- Juventus' Turkish defender Merih Demiral is in the sights of Everton, according to Calciomercato.

- AS claims that Atletico Madrid may ask Juventus to swap Paulo Dybala as compensation to permanently sign on-loan forward Alvaro Morata.

Does a Premier League switch beckon for Raphael Varane?

Varane has starred for Real Madrid, winning LaLiga and Champions League titles.

But Varane could be sacrificed in the Spanish capital, with Chelsea reportedly interested.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA FRONTRUNNERS FOR VARANE

Chelsea are ahead of Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain in the race to sign Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, according to Mundo Deportivo.

Varane has been linked with a move away from Madrid, who are looking to raise funds as they target PSG star Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

United have reportedly emerged as strong suitors but Chelsea are believed to be at the front of the queue to land the France international.

 

ROUND-UP

- Goal, Sport1 and other outlets report Bayern Munich have opened talks with RB Leipzig to hire head coach Julian Nagelsmann. With Hansi Flick set to depart at season's end, Nagelsmann is wanted in Munich.

Jose Mourinho is ready to return to Inter should Nerazzurri boss Antonio Conte exit, claims Calciomercato. Conte is poised to lead Inter to their first Scudetto since 2009-10, when Mourinho oversaw a treble, but the former Italy coach's future is far from certain. Mourinho is available after he was sacked by Tottenham.

- According to Gol Digital, Atletico Madrid are considering a move for Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta.

Roma are targeting Maurizio Sarri as their next head coach, says Corriere dello Sport. Paulo Fonseca is currently at the helm but he is under pressure in the Italian capital. Roma have reportedly already met with ex-Chelsea, Juventus and Napoli coach Sarri to discuss finer details.

Milan have given star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma one month to decide on a contract extension, reports Tuttosport. Donnarumma is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and the Italy international is yet to re-sign. The likes of United, Chelsea, Juventus, PSG and Madrid have been linked. Milan are reportedly eyeing Lille's Mike Maignan as a possible replacement.

- Bild claims Arsenal are lining up a move for Dortmund's Julian Brandt as a replacement for loanee Martin Odegaard, who is attracting interest from elsewhere. Brandt could be one of many Dortmund players to leave in the off-season as clubs circle Haaland, including Manchester City, Liverpool, Barcelona, United, Chelsea, PSG and Bayern.

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