MADRID: Jorge Sampaoli’s chances of landing his dream job at Barcelona may have come and gone, but he could still hand Barca the La Liga title on a plate should Sevilla shock Real Madrid on Sunday (Monday in Manila).
Madrid are in the driving seat for their first league title in five years as they also target a first La Liga and Champions League double since 1958.
Zinedine Zidane’s men are level on points with Barcelona at the top of the table, but have three games remaining to the Catalans’ two.
However, thanks to Barca’s better head-to-head record, any Real defeat will put the title race back in their rivals’ hands.
The specter of Sevilla boss Sampaoli adds an extra edge to an already vital encounter.
The Argentine has been fulsome in his praise of Barca’s Lionel Messi and Neymar since moving to Sevilla, which fuelled speculation he could take over the vacant position at the Camp Nou next season.
However, with Barca expected to turn instead to Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde, Sampaoli still looks set to fulfill his ambition of coaching Messi by taking over as Argentina boss at the end of this campaign.
And what better way to endear himself to Messi than by severely denting Real’s title challenge?
Madrid, though, are brimming with confidence after withstanding an Atletico Madrid onslaught to reach their third Champions League final in four years on Wednesday.
“La Liga is the title I have left to win, it would be a special one for me but I don’t want to have to choose between wining La Liga or the Champions League,” said Madrid defender Nacho.
“We have three finals to win in La Liga.”
Sevilla look set to finish fourth but need one more point to guarantee a return to the Champions League and to win their last two matches to have any chance of ousting Atletico for third.
“Mathematically we still have a chance,” said defender Nico Pareja.
“We know it is difficult, but we have to fight until the end.”
Sevilla haven’t won at the Bernabeu since 2008, but are one of just three sides to have beaten them already in the league this season.
However, the Andalusians do not appear the same side now as they were in scoring two late goals to beat the European champions back in January.
Sampaoli’s men have only won three of their last 12 matches and haven’t won on the road since February.
Zidane has big decisions to make over whether to heavily rotate his side as he has done to great effect in recent weeks or stick with the majority of the side that lost 2-1 at Atletico in midweek, but still progressed to next month’s final 4-2 on aggregate.
Gareth Bale and Dani Carvajal remain out injured, while center-backs Pepe and Raphael Varane are doubtful.
Barca should at least force the title race to the last day of the season by compounding more misery on the end of Quique Setien’s time at Las Palmas.
Since Setien announced he was leaving at the end of the season in March, the Canary Islanders’ form has slumped with just one win in eight games.
At the other end of the table, Sporting Gijon will be relegated if they fail to win at Eibar.