Yesterday, prior to their respective La Liga clashes today, Real Madrid, CF Barcelona, and Atletico de Madrid, put their cards on the table in their three-way fight for the Champions League and La Liga trophies.
Real Madrid will play their match away to Celta de Vigo without Pepe, Angel di Maria, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Dani Carvajal, among others. This did not mean they were conceding their mathematical shot at the La Liga title, but that instead, with a pretty strong roster to draw on for domestic play, they were going to focus on the Champions League as the bigger of their year's objectives.
For that final, it is likely Pepe, with a calf tear, will not play. Similarly Xabi Alonso is already out of the final due to accumulated yellow cards. While Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel di Maria are not quite yet recovered from their injuries, both should be ready in two weeks' time.
Carlo Ancelotti said, at yesterday's press conference in Madrid, that he would "Not risk playing either of them [di Maria and Ronaldo] until they are fit to play at their best."
Meanwhile, Tata Martino was making no bones about the fact that Barcelona have been given a reprieve in what just a couple of weeks ago seemed a year destined for the trash bin by Barca standards. Now, with the La Liga title in play, should they win their last two games, Martino is planning on playing, not resting, his World Cup bound stars in an all-out bid to at least salvage the domestic season.
Martino, at yesterday's pre-game press conference said: "Just a week or so ago, the players were already talking about the future, about next year. I was feeling like I did not deserve my job because we had not won anything during my tenure. Now we have a chance to rewrite that [script]. We will seize it."
Atletico Madrid find themselves at a historic crossroads. In a matter of two weeks they will play three matches that will determine whether their magical year bears fruit or falls agonizingly short of the tantalizing summits they could attain.
If the Colchoneros can win all three matches they would be crowned La Liga and Champions League champions. To accomplish this, they must beat the two strongest Spanish Football teams at a time when they are both vying for titles that have great import for each of them. The Decima has been the Holy Grail for Madrid since before Jose Mourinho was in charge and reaching the finals is what Ancelotti has been gunning for since his arrival. Ronaldo and company see it as their club's marker. At the Camp Nou, Lionel Messi and company do not want to go into the Brazilian summer on a downer and nothing would revive their moribund demeanors of late more than two back-to-back La Liga wins.
Atletico's talisman, Diego Costa, is still fighting for fitness due to a hamstring problem. But Atletico coach Diego Simeone does not have the luxury to chose not to play his star, unless Costa is truly unable, so he will wait until the last possible moment to make his call. "We will have some tests before Sunday's game and we will know then," he said.
So how does Simeone see his team's next two weeks? "There is no pressure, only responsibility. This is a great moment. All of us who work in football want to reach important situations like this one. We need to keep going, without looking ahead and hoping. That is the best way to prepare for this period. Our future and destiny is marked out for us moving forward. We just need to do what we have to do."
According to ESPN's Sid Lowe "There are 243 combinations of results involving the three teams in the final two weeks. In 177 of them, Atletico will be champions; Barcelona emerge victorious in 59 and there are only seven combinations by which Real Madrid can win the title." But it would seem that for Diego, Tata, and Carlo those combinations are reduced to three, two, and one, respectively.