Sky Sports News' David Garrido gives his views on Europe's top leagues
David Garrido is urging fans to 'strap themselves in' as leagues across Europe reach a thrilling climax.
Last Updated: 28/03/14 11:23am
Breathless, frenetic, controversial. There are any number of words you could choose to describe last Sunday's El Clasico, but perhaps you're better off saving your superlatives for the end of the current La Liga campaign.
"Thrilling" doesn't even begin to cover what the next eight rounds of games could provide, and it could go any one of three ways.
Barcelona will certainly be hoping the 4-3 victory at the Estadio Bernabeu, along with Wednesday's 3-0 win over Celta Vigo, has breathed into them a new lease of life, even if their coach appears to be feeling the effects of a draining season, constantly under the microscope. Tata Martino has looked beleaguered at Barca having to justify his every move to the media, and the pressure may force him to move on in the summer.
Still, Lionel Messi showed hints of getting back towards his best in Madrid - the disarray he caused in the Real defence for his goal from open play, the clinical way in which he dispatched his two penalties... another against Celta makes it eight goals in four games for him now. Cristiano who?
Barca's real concern has been Neymar, but hopefully now the Brazilian can put behind him the lingering controversy surrounding his summer transfer to the Nou Camp, especially the exact details of how much the club paid, to whom, and president Sandro Rosell falling on his sword as a result. Two goals on Wednesday night might just provide the tonic he needs.
Overall, the triumph over Ronaldo, Bale and co. last Sunday should have given everyone in the Catalan capital that kick up the backside to push on and finally show the desire they've been accused of lacking up until now, as had been suggested by the 1-0 defeat at Real Valladolid earlier this month. Barcelona go to neighbours Espanyol this weekend: a short trip, but rarely a comfortable one.
For Real Madrid, the Clasico result was a brutal reminder that you can never rest easy in this division... a three-point lead is now a three-point deficit to the leaders, because that result was followed by Wednesday's 2-1 defeat at Sevilla. It's a devastating one-two combination... question is, is it the knockout blow, or can Carlo Ancelotti pick his side up off the canvas?
At the Bernabeu, Angel di Maria and Karim Benzema came to the fore - both have been linked with moves away from the club. Now, more than ever, the support cast have to keep delivering, alongside their more heralded team-mates. For now, they'll have to cope without Sergio Ramos, sent off for his challenge on Neymar last Sunday. His 19th red card, a record in La Liga, could derail Real.
And who is top of the pile? While the world's attention was firmly fixed on the Bernabeu, Atletico Madrid quietly went about their business, beating Real Betis 2-0 away and then staying top with a 1-0 home defeat of Granada - new Spanish international Diego Costa on the scoresheet in both matches.
Diego Simeone has said all season that his team aren't title contenders, à la Jose Mourinho - the difference is, we probably believed Diego more than Jose!
However, the fixture list hasn't been kind to Simeone, and what comes next is a huge test.
As well as league games against fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal in seventh, they've got a two-legged European Cup quarter-final against Barcelona to contend with. 'Season-defining' doesn't come close. Real Madrid meanwhile face Borussia Dortmund in the last eight of the Champions League, a side who've crumbled from the heights they reached last season.
That's one of the reasons Bayern Munich have had it so easy in the Bundesliga this time around. Don't get me wrong, their squad is frighteningly strong, talented and driven... but they just haven't had the same competition.
Jurgen Klopp's Dortmund were trading a distant second place with Bayer Leverkusen for a while, but Sami Hyypia's boys recently have only just ended a winless streak of nine games, losing eight - a run triggered by their German Cup exit to Kaiserslautern and which could even ultimately result in them missing out altogether on European football next season.
It's now Schalke who are breathing down Dortmund's neck after drawing at Signal-Iduna Park in midweek. Jens Keller's side, fuelled by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's scoring spree, are building momentum nicely, but Bayern can now take their foot off the gas, having clinched the title in record time.
With their 3-1 success at Hertha Berlin, Pep Guardiola has managed to at least better one of Jupp Heynckes' achievements from last season: Heynckes secured the Bundesliga with six games to spare, and Pep's done it with seven to go.
Guardiola has also overseen 19 consecutive league wins, and the two of them have been responsible for a 52-match unbeaten run in Germany's top flight.
Should Bayern overcome Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-finals, then Guardiola is potentially just 270 minutes away from doing what Mourinho, Ancelotti and even Sir Alex Ferguson have never managed to do - winning European club football's biggest prize two years in a row.
Mourinho is the man who likes making history, and he's desperate to become the first to lift that trophy with three different clubs, but that means disposing of Paris Saint-Germain, many people's dark horses this year.
PSG have found the perfect time to go on a winning run - eight on the spin in all competitions with six clean sheets, scoring 21 and conceding just three. Laurent Blanc now has all of his marquee signings from the last few transfer windows contributing - Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, despite suggestions earlier in the season that those latter two were unsettled.
Qatar-backed PSG are easily ruling the roost in Ligue 1, triumphing in the battle of riyals versus roubles; Monaco, bankrolled by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, are all of 10 points behind with eight games left.
For the principality side, Eric Abidal had a minor diva moment last Sunday, choosing to leave the Stade Louis II once he had realised he wasn't part of Claudio Ranieri's matchday squad for the draw against Lille, but that's all cleared up now.
Monaco still have a nine-points advantage over Rene Girard's men - that should be enough to secure their passage straight into next season's Champions League group stage, with the third-placed side having to qualify.
The championship is also there for the taking in Serie A. Juventus have not dropped points in Italy's top division since early February, grinding out narrow victory after narrow victory.
Andrea Pirlo just keeps proving his worth with winning goals at Genoa and then Fiorentina, while top scorer Carlos Tevez chipped in with another couple to end Parma's 17-match unbeaten league run. 14 points clear, a 30th Scudetto should be a formality for Juve.
But there'll be no domestic double for Antonio Conte, out of the Coppa Italia. Still, Conte could do Roma a favour this weekend by winning at Napoli on Sunday - Rafa Benitez's men trail Rudi Garcia's by eight points, and any more ground lost would more or less mean they'd have to play-off for the Champions League proper next season.
Napoli's focus would then shift to the Coppa Italia final against Fiorentina, while Juventus' other commitment is the Europa League - Lyon stand between them and the semis.
So it looks like game over in the title race in all of Europe's top leagues, minus of course Spain and England, and if El Clasico hasn't left you utterly shattered, here's something else to bear in mind: Real Madrid play Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final on Tuesday 15th April, live on Sky. It's bound to be breathless, frenetic, controversial. Strap yourselves in.