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May 8, 2014

Title optimism returns to Barcelona

Barca live to fight another day. This Spanish season is going to be remembered for some time as the three challengers win, lose and draw their way to the finish line.

Real Madrid's draw in Valladolid on Wednesday night was another twist in an amazing La Liga title race, and now the baton has been handed back to Atletico Madrid and Barcelona to see which side can carry it over the finish line in 10 days' time.

- Tomas: Luis Enrique the right man for Barca - Report: Pedro urges Barca to take title chance

It all looked over for Barcelona last Saturday when they conceded a late equaliser at home to Getafe, but after three games in which Atletico dropped three points and Real four, the situation now is that wins for Barca in their final two games will mean the Blaugrana retain their title.

That final game will come at home to Atletico Madrid a week on Sunday if they manage to beat Elche this Sunday. What a title showdown that would be, but first Barca must win at Elche, another side battling relegation and who, until now, have been the thorn in the side of the big clubs in recent weeks.

The strangest stat of all is that while Barca will likely need six points, Atletico will probably require just two to win the league, which would include a draw in Camp Nou. Atletico play Malaga at home Sunday, so long as they do not lose, a draw in Barcelona would hand Los Colchoneros their first title in 18 years.

It is six points or failure for Barca, and before thinking of that huge Camp Nou final, they must dispense of Elche, who are only three points from the drop. It will not be easy.

Real suffered there early in the season and only took a late victory thanks to some highly dubious refereeing, so Barca can expect to face both a full house and a hostile reception from the home fans.

Pedro Rodriguez called it a league for 'madmen' on Thursday. And that is precisely what it has been with the three sides neck and neck for most of the season. At different stages, it has looked as though each side would march on to victory, but the demands of other competitions, injuries and suspensions has taken its toll.

There is a feeling that after a decade of domination by Barca and Madrid, this season the points have been shared around more and the lower clubs have been more competitive, and that both Real and Barca seem less invincible since the arrival of Atletico.

Pedro went on to deny on Thursday that Barca players were giving up on winning La Liga after the draw last Saturday.

"We did not get ahead of ourselves when we said the league was impossible. You could not imagine that these results would happen. Now we have a second chance and we can't let it slip."

Lionel Messi also spoke, first of all to declare that the majority of what has been written about his contract negotiations in recent days have been lies, before turning his attention to his side's new found optimism in the league.

"Things look better today than in previous weeks. We have another chance now to win it, it is in our hands and it is an important title to win. We have to take advantage of this and not let it escape." He said, perhaps stating the obvious, but for many commentators the obvious is not always enough.

If Barca do go on to take the title, it will be their fifth in six years and equally welcomed as any of those that came before. The feeling in some media, again as always mainly from the Spanish capital, is that Barca do not deserve to win La Liga after the season they have had.

Arguments can be built on how and why this Barca squad has slipped from the height of those sides that won the previous four. Key players are getting older, off-the-field tragedies and distractions that could not be blamed on the players and a failure by the technical staff to address a squad in decline just about covers those.

However, to say that Barca would not deserve a competition that is won more than 38 games and judged by points won over that time is ridiculous. If Barca do win the final two games, the season will finally be considered moderately successful. If they do not, the critics can go back to slamming the club. Until then, optimism reigns in the Camp Nou.

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