After all that, it comes to this. Three hundred and sixty games, 221 shots against the post and 968 goals later, 31 of them for Leo Messi, 26 for Gonzalo Higuaín, 25 for Cristiano Ronaldo, 21 for David Villa and one for Duda straight from a corner but only four for Manucho, the man who promised 40, we're still none the wiser. There are more questions than answers and the more we find out the less we know. Can Marca stoop any lower? Can Javier Clemente get any angrier? Has there ever been a mullet as magnificent as Nestor Gorostio's? Who's going to be celebrating come the final day? And when will the final day actually be?

After eight months, everything comes down to eight days in La Liga. Or seven days, depending on when La Liga decides to schedule judgement day. As for the title itself, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that it comes down to one solitary summer evening in Seville.

It really is all to play for. Well, almost all. When week 36 closed just before midnight last night, one or two minor issues had been sorted out, like Osasuna clinching survival or Villarreal and Getafe seeing any mathematical chance of a Champions League place finally desert them, but most were left hanging as precariously as a baby over a Berlin balcony. Yet again, the results resolved little, prolonging the agony or keeping the dream alive, depending on the colour of your shirt. The big two continued their simultaneously fascinating and yet oddly tedious head to head, Barça beating Tenerife 4-1 and Madrid beating Mallorca 4-1 back; Almería finally won after seven games; Zaragoza got a vital penalty; and Sevilla smashed five past Racing Santander, the side who sold their soul the day they sold Sergio Canales – from six unbeaten, they've won just two in 16 since his transfer to Real Madrid.

All of which mattered; none of which actually settled anything. Mostly, it served to leave things as they were, only tighter and tenser. A season that has often felt flat has, almost by inertia, bequeathed a final two weeks that promise to be ridiculously dramatic. Earlier this season, Athletic Bilbao coach Joaquín Caparrós agreed to get wired-up to a heart-rate monitor during a match. By the end, the needle was shooting beyond 170 beats per minute, almost double the norm, and Caparrós was screaming: "It's screwed! I'm going to break the bloody thing!" Over the next week, he won't be the only one. Nor will heart-rate monitors be the only piece of additional equipment needed on the bench: as teams all over the country depend on each other, sub goalies and Royston Drenthes everywhere will finally have a role to play – listening to the radio.

In 48 hours' time, La Liga heads into the final two rounds of games and only one thing is definite: Valencia will finish third, clinching an automatic Champions League place. Everything else is still up for grabs and a bewildering number of permutations are still possible. In fact, according to one particularly clever man in a white coat, Spanish football's premier number-cruncher Alexis Martín Tamayo, there are 3,486,784,401 potential combinations. When week 37 kicks off at 9pm on Saturday night, every single game will have something riding on it. Not least a maletín or two. Depending on how the results fall, the same could yet be true of the final day.

On Saturday night, only three teams will have nothing to play for: Atlético Madrid, Osasuna and Deportivo de la Coruña. Everyone else has. Espanyol, Almería, Zaragoza and Sporting should be safe but could still go down; Xérez are almost certainly doomed but could yet survive. All three relegation spots remain unresolved and nine teams could still mathematically occupy them – Espanyol on 41 points, Almería (41), Zaragoza (40), Sporting (39), Málaga (36), Racing (36), Tenerife (35), Valladolid (33), and Xérez (30). Eight of the nine have their future in their own hands; winning both games, they would be safe. But Málaga face Real Madrid on the final day while Valladolid go to Camp Nou, Racing face Valladolid and Sporting, and Tenerife play Almería. As for Xérez, they were beaten 3-1 by Valencia on Tuesday and have to win both matches – against Almería and Valencia – and hope that results go their way.

Ultimately, Xérez were too late. Late building their squad, late getting a manager, late getting rid of him, late getting new owners, and late paying Inland Revenue. Hell, their former president was even late when he turned up at that brothel – even if he was so reluctant to accept the fact that he got into a fight with a bouncer and came back an hour later, with a gun. When they began pre-season training, Xérez had only 13 players, their coach had kept them waiting for a month, and they begged and borrowed to complete the squad – only two players have a contract for next season, only one of their normal starting XI cost any money. When the new owner arrived in the winter and looked at the accounts he admitted no one had paid any tax for "years", and immediately changed the coach. Cuco Ziganda departed in week 19. Xérez had eight points, had won once, and scored eight goals. 17 weeks later, they have 30 points, 34 goals and a rumba in honour of their new, miracle-working coach. But they also have virtually no chance of survival.

At the other end, the final Champions League place will be between Sevilla – who have 60 points and play Barcelona on Saturday and Almería on the final day – and this season's revelation Mallorca, who have 59 points but a better run-in, facing nothing-to-play-for Depor and probably-nothing-to-play-for-by-then Espanyol. One of those two will get the first Europa League slot, with Getafe (52 points), Villarreal (52), and Athletic (51) fighting for the other one. Or two if Sevilla make it to the Champions League and win the Copa del Rey final against Atlético Madrid on 19 May – which, thanks to more genius from the Spanish Football Federation, is an official international rest day and one for which Uruguay have called up Diego Forlán and Brazil have called up Luís Fabiano.

Then there's the title itself. Last night was another successful tightrope walk, yet another one of those games that was going to finally end the title race but didn't – just like the clásico didn't, just like Barcelona's visit to Villarreal didn't. Mallorca dominated Madrid and took the lead but all they had done was awaken the man Marca calls a "beast" this morning and has been trying to beatify all season. If Madrid did virtually nothing, Cristiano Ronaldo did virtually everything, scoring a hat-trick, producing what he described as "possibly the best performance of my career" and leading Madrid to a sixth comeback in 10 games. The parallels to the season when they somehow won the league under Fabio Capello get stronger.

If matches were settled by the first goal, Barcelona would be 24 points ahead of Real Madrid. Instead, they are a solitary point behind with two games to play. But most think it's just one game really. After all, between them Madrid and Barcelona have won 24 and drawn two of the past 26, they have both already broken the wins record (Madrid have 30, Barcelona 29), and have pulverised the points records, beating the former best set in 1996-97 – a campaign with 42 games rather than 38. Barcelona have 93 points, Madrid 92, totals that Pep Guardiola rightly described as "fucking barbaric" and Jorge Valdano insisted meant there should be "two champions' medals handed out". Not surprising then that few expect them to drop points on the final day: Barcelona face Valladolid at home, Madrid go to Málaga.

This weekend, though, is a different matter. On Saturday night, Real Madrid face Athletic Bilbao at home, one of only two sides apart from Barça to have beaten them this season; Barça travel to Sevilla, the only other side to have done so – and the side that knocked them out of the Copa del Rey. And even a draw would hand the title to Madrid.

All season long Barcelona have racked up points, twice they have beaten Real Madrid, and 90 minutes in Seville could ruin it all. Back in October, 90 minutes seemed to have ruined Madrid too and made the league title more than just a two-horse race. But it didn't. All season, Madrid have appeared on the verge of a breakdown, all season Marca have called for Manuel Pellegrini's head – they've even taken to giving Guardiola three out of three on the manager's ratings to ensure he overtakes the Chilean in the manager-of-the-year awards – and yet he may win the league. Barcelona have lost four times in all competitions and may finish empty-handed; Atlético Madrid have lost 22 times and may win a cup double. Fifty-five games, 52 wins, nine draws, and four defeats. All that and it comes to this.

Week 36 results: Getafe 1-1 Sporting Gijon, Barcelona 4-1 Tenerife, Almería 4-2 Villarreal, Valencia 3-1 Xérez, Atlético 3-1 Valladolid, Racing 1-5 Sevilla, Zaragoza 1-0 Espanyol, Osasuna 3-1 Deportivo, Athletic 1-1 Málaga, Mallorca 1-4 Madrid.

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Sid Lowe

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