As the tipping point reaches, as nails give way to nailbeds, as the season draws to a close, nothing captivates more than a nervy finale. The Bundesliga got wrapped up by Bayern Munich a month ago; they’ll probably dispense with the services of their rear-view mirror next season onward. Juventus are on a records trail; they’ll see off fierce rivals Inter Milan’s 06-07 record of 97 points if they win the season out. Juventus’ steamroller has rendered Serie A uninteresting, at least to the league’s less-frequent observers. What is better than having a ten-point lead at the top going into the last five games of the season? Nothing probably; just ask Paris Saint-Germain. Europe’s top-five leagues are on a dominion mission, save but for the top two.
Comparisons galore between La Liga in Spain and its English counterpart; perhaps these two leagues have witnessed one of the closest, most congested-run run-ins in recent history. Congested because of the number of teams in the party. Atletico Madrid are the surprise league leaders in Spain, while Liverpool are their equivalent in England. Notions flying around about fairy tales might just be true at the season’s close, but it could also turn out to be cases of agonizing what-could-have-beens. What if the best tips at the start of the season snatch the crown at the end? Neutrals and fans just would not want to read about parallel prospects and would happily confine them to another, parallel universe.
Between now and the end of the season is barely a month. Title races have turned heels in time shorter than what remains. League table positions have exchanged hands in double-quick time. What happens between now and a certain day in May is a crystal ball’s to guess, but whatever Atletico and Liverpool end up with, could it be any worse than these worst case scenarios?
Without letting you glance at their remaining games and chip in with biased-unbiased permutations, the least positive spin on Atleti’s most positive season for years is they will play Champions League football again next season. Probably they’ve had some doubts about that as they are already on the way to winning this season’s competition outright. (They are in the semis mind, just three games away!)
It would be damning if they finish behind local rivals Real Madrid; that’s how the script is normally written in Spain but it would be an immensely proud moment for the Colchoneros faithful to have, for once, the bragging rights over their opposite, more-fashionisto numbers. It is also a possibility that Atleti fold and fall like nine pins and their season could end in something of a wreckage, but the fact that they have kept Real at an arm’s length for the entire season now could be motivation enough for them to keep on continuing.
And Atleti travel to the impressive Camp Nou on the season’s last matchday, probably in hope of a guard of honor by the defending champions. That would be the perfect fairy tale, only that Atletico will need to conjure up something close to extraordinary in the final stages of the season.
Liverpool are on a winning spree. I’ve long been a fan of the club but this winning streak of ten has the Reds on the brink of a silverware. And that is not any other silverware, but one that comes in Steven Gerrard’s dreams every other night. The Premier League title was Liverpool’s longest shot last August; how they have managed to rise the ranks in all the while is a story to fascinate. Now, Liverpool are so close to the title that everyone seems to have got carried away.
Champions League qualification was the aim/hope at the season’s kick-off, and they still haven’t got their objective rubber-stamped yet. Should they comically implode to lose all their games from now until the end, the Reds could still miss the coveted top four place. And to add some salt, it will be Everton whom they’ll lose out that fourth spot to if they conjure up such level-infinity-trick-extraordinaire.
Liverpool should do their job, one that would make their groundstaff work on weekdays next season. They still shouldn’t win the title, but it would be the English football’s Boston Red Sox equivalent of an exercise in patience. After all, 24 years isn’t that short a time (Wayne Rooney went full bald at 24, remember?).
2013-14 has been a season of bonafide success for both Atletico and Liverpool, regardless of how well they bottle it. Playstation and Heineken adverts will once again grace Anfield’s tpuchline fences next season, while cash-strapped Atletico will receive a welcome boost of the Champions League’s money.
They are two big-small clubs, two clubs that defied logic and sense throughout the season, two clubs providing neutrals another outlet to low-key tribalism, two clubs setting precedents for the future. Going back in time and the memories of the Monaco-Porto final of 2004 still echo in the obsolete corridors of romantic football; how both Atletico and Liverpool have brought back those memories is hard to explain, but it nevertheless has provided a breath of fresh air in Europe’s top two leagues.