Fútbol Focus: Iniesta presence could well tip La Liga race scales

Robbie Dunne reports from Spain as Barcelona and Real Madrid enter a decisive month

Barcelona, Sevilla, Andres Iniesta, La Liga,

ANDRES INIESTA of FC Barcelona during the Spanish championship Liga football match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC on April 5, 2017 at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain. (Credit Image: © Manuel Blondeau via ZUMA Wire)

And just like that, it becomes a war of attrition. Or maybe more importantly, those who are smart enough to avoid what has become a war of attrition.

There is not one game in the month of April where Real Madrid or Barcelona have a full week to prepare. The longest gap Real Madrid have is five days before the Barcelona game and just three days after that, they travel to La Coruña to face an improving Depor.

Barcelona have just four days off before they face Madrid but face a much easier proposition in welcoming Osasuna, who could be officially relegated at that point. You could tell last night against Sevilla that the Barcelona players were trying to clear their yellow card accounts when Pique picked up a silly yellow and Rakitic tried, tried and tried again to pick up a booking before one of his jersey pulls finally did the trick. Both players will miss the game against Málaga at the weekend.

As the season progresses, you would expect to have answers, or getting closer to answers, to many of the questions that filled our minds before and in the earlier stages of the season. That is simply not the case in LaLiga as both Barcelona and Real Madrid refuse to conform to any type of trend or form.

You could argue that Barcelona put in their best performance of the year against Sevilla on Wednesday night but Jorge Sampaoli's men have fallen so far off the pace that Atletico Madrid are losing sight of them in their rear view mirror.

 

Real Madrid continue to win but have failed to truly convince since a 4-1 victory over Eibar up north. That was with what they call their "second unit" but there are some convinced that Real's second unit is creeping closer to becoming the first one after a solid win over Leganés last night that yielded four goals and a clatter of close calls.

And so a season long battle between Spain's heavyweights will be boiled down to a few key events in the coming weeks to see who comes out on top.

Real Madrid face Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday against a more 2013-14 style Diego Simeone side than we have seen in years. Atletico have found a formula that works, even though it it not always entertaining. Koke has shifted out wide - to the right most recently - and Fernando Torres thinks it's 2007 with his form. They have the band back together with Juanfran and Filipe Luis showing signs of their best and that balance Los Rojiblancos lacked in the opening stages is back.

The second game that will decide the title is obviously El Clasico and given the form of Neymar, Luis Suarez and the solutions to some of Luis Enrique's problems being found in the form of a more functional 3-4-3 that accentuates Lionel Messi's all-encompassing ability to score and create, expect Barcelona to be feeling confident when they head for Madrid for that clash.

The third thing that could well decide the league title is Luis Enrique's handling of Andres Iniesta's minutes.

Much was made of Iniesta's lack of gametime during the season and there were, and possibly still are, concerns over his future at the club. Luis Enrique told reporters that he had suffered two unfortunate injuries during the season and that he was not able to train at his "unique level" until recently, meaning only now can he get back to the same "unique level" that he also plays at. He said "it is important to be able to count on him" once again. The manager was true to his word and on Wednesday night, Iniesta started and starred against Sevilla.

After the game, Luis Enrique said "he is an artist of football. A genius. Like a painter working on his canvas."

His absence did not have a nuclear effect on Barca's title challenge but his presence in the final month could win it for them.