Real Madrid's Luka Modrić celebrates scoring for his team. / AFP

And so begins the second half of the crazy Spanish season

With Real Madrid destined to be champions, the question is now about who finishes behind them

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

Deep breath, here we go into the crazy second half of the Spanish football season with so many questions being asked of the top teams.

Will Real Madrid run away with the league title? Can Sevilla challenge them? Has Diego Simeone lost the plot at Atlético Madrid? Will Barcelona ever be a force again? In short: yes, not really, no way and kind of.

In my humble opinion, Real are destined to be crowned champions. Quite simply, they have the most accomplished coach, the deepest pool of talent, and a spine of players who are a class above the rest of La Liga. Carlo Ancelotti is maximising the talent he's inherited. Karim Benzema is right up there with Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland as one of Europe's deadliest strikers. Thibaut Courtois is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world and 36-year-old Luka Modrić defies science.

Their biggest challengers are Sevilla. If they'd beaten Valencia this week, the Rojiblancos would have closed the gap on the league leaders to two points. The mark of champions – or potential champions – is how they react when the going gets tough.

They headed to Mestalla on the back of a fiery Copa del Rey clash with local rivals Real Betis. The coach and players allowed the stupidity of one fan - who threw an object at a Sevilla player - to upset their equilibrium. They became engaged in a battle of words and actions which clearly distracted them. The loss of focus led to a loss of points in Valencia.

Sevilla is a club without stars. Their model is to recruit players who are underperforming elsewhere. Rafa Mir is a perfect example. He made little impression in the Premier League with Wolves. Given a little "TLC", he's now beginning to fulfil his potential. There's also talk of Anthony Martial putting his Manchester United nightmare behind him to relaunch his career in Andalucía.

The problem is that Mir is the leading scorer with only six goals and Martial isn't quite an world class player. For that reason, I think Sevilla's side is built for winning the Europa League and a top-four finish.

The dark horse in the race for the Champions League is Real Betis. They currently sit in third place ahead of Atlético and Barça. Much as I would love them to upset the establishment, I suspect they have peaked.

The Spanish media are beginning to question Simeone's future as coach at Atlético. It's true they have underperformed in the first half of the season, yet they are still in the top-four and Champions League knock-out stages. Manchester United will be in fear of the Argentinian coach, who has a few points to prove.

For Barcelona, it can only get better. Senior players will return from injury and illness, the youngsters will only get better, and Xavi's honeymoon will be extended. Yet it's not exactly a dream honeymoon.