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This weekend, following a comprehensive yet slightly flattering 4-0 win over Sporting Gijon, Valencia gained three points on Barcelona after the Catalans lost 3-2 away to Osasuna.

These results followed the teams meeting at the Camp Nou a few days previous, the ground held the second leg of a Copa del Rey semi-final, one that Barcelona prevailed in against a Roberto Soldado-less Valencia, even so, the gulf in class was less evident than in previous seasons.

Of the two meetings with the Champions at the Mestalla, Valencia have taken the lead three times, only for their opponents to find equalizers on each occasion, resulting in a 2-2 draw in the league and a 1-1 in the first leg of the Copa, both times the home side felt it was two points dropped. Valencia face their final opportunity to beat Barcelona this season when the travel to the Camp Nou this weekend for a league clash that has the potential to make the La Liga title almost certainly Real Madrid’s.

Another three points would be a huge bonus for Valencia in their progression as a Primera team and would close the gap to a mere five points, a relatively small amount considering previous points differences between the top two and the rest of the league at this stage of the season. When looking at the bigger picture though; this season could be the beginning of a transition period as La Liga evolves from a two team league, the points gap may be closing but the quality is also.

On and off the pitch Valencia are improving, a soon to be built new stadium coupled with a new shirt sponsor are improving the clubs financial needs and allowing progression off the pitch, on it prize assets are signing new contracts rather than leaving, Ever Banega most recently penned a new deal, and Jordi Alba looks set to follow.

It’s not just Valencia either, Atletico Madrid’s starting eleven is without doubt one of the best in the league, the money received from the sales of Sergio Aguero and David De Gea has been invested and the club can now boast a front line that contains Falcao and Arda Turan. Dispite an on-going ownership debacle money has also been made available for and spent wisely on promising players such as Adrian, Pizzi, Silvio and Miranda. A squad is clearly being built for the future, a future that entails a brand new stadium, which much like Valencia, will help the club grow financially and commercially.

Added to these improvements, Atleti look to have found a manager in Diego Simone that could well take them forward, steadily and progressively into a brighter future.

Malaga are a team making a much more immediate progress, with their expenditure since the club was taken over approaching the €100million mark. Money has been spent well, covering all age groups and positions evenly, because of this the clubs brand new squad is struggling to find cohesion, but there is very little doubt, with the financial backing and sporting strategy it will only be a matter of time.

To a lesser extent, Athetic Bilbao and Espanyol are showing clear improvement, but both are unlikely to challenge Madrid and Barcelona. Bilbao due to appointing one of the best managers in the game are moving forward, Bielsa has created an identity for his team which has guided them to a Copa Del Rey final and enabled the opportunity to compete for Champions League qualification.

Espanyol have followed the template for success which Valencia and Atletico hope to copy with a new stadium improving on and off field success. The Catalans currently sit just outside the top four and the trust they have showed in Manuel Pochettino has reaped rewards creating a team capable of beating anyone in the league.

Currently eight points separate the top two from the rest, and by next week it could well be five. By last season’s end it was 21 and in 2009/10 it was 25. There’s no doubt the gaps closing, and Valencia, Atleti and Malaga will all be hoping they get their first.

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  1. Pingback: Sid Lowe: Madrid-Barca dispute over Spanish Cup final venue a divisive saga – SI.com

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