Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone said the team with the most mental strength will prevail in La Liga’s title race, which remained on a knife edge after his side were beaten 2-1 at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.
Atletico had steadied their collapsing title bid with consecutive wins over Eibar and Huesca but were outplayed by Athletic for most of the game, falling behind to an Alex Berenguer diving header.
Stefan Savic levelled with a header from a corner, only for Athletic to regain the lead late on with a thumping header from Inigo Martinez.
“People ask me what the most important factor will be and it’s obvious to me that it will be the mental factor,” Simeone told reporters after a second defeat in five league games.
“We did not play the way we wanted to in the first half, it was totally different in the second, and the team that manages that emotional balance the best will have the best chance of winning the title.”
Atletico raced 10 points clear at the top in January with a game in hand but a dismal run of form has seen their lead cut to two points and Barcelona will knock them off the summit if they beat visiting Granada on Thursday.
Real Madrid are also only two points behind Atletico while Sevilla are three back in a thrilling four-way tilt, making the Spanish title race the most compelling in Europe’s top five leagues.
Simeone did not dwell on how his side had thrown away their sizeable advantage and emphasised that they would claim the league title if they won their remaining five games.
They visit Elche next before a crunch visit to Barca, then host Real Sociedad and Osasuna before a trip to Real Valladolid.
“Real and Barca are used to winning the title. We had a big lead this year but we knew Real and Barca were not going to surrender. Now Sevilla are playing very well and we have a very exciting situation,” said Simeone.
“We still depend on ourselves and with five games to go that’s crucial. It will all come down to how mentally strong we are and how determined we are in those five games.”