La Liga Weekly

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Simon Heptinstall On December - 16 - 2011

Where Does The La Liga Title Race Stand Now?

On Saturday night Barcelona once again stood at the top of world football. Once again they went toe to toe with their greatest advisory and once again they come out victorious, standing tall above the rest of world football. This was more than just another El Classico. This seemed different, a genuine turning point in modern Spanish football. Real Madrid went into this match on top of the league and for the first time too, on top psychologically. Cracks has started to show in Barcelona’s away form, Real Madrid had been near perfect in recent weeks and Jose Mourinho had finally looked in place to record his first El Classico victory in the league.

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And instantly that momentum showed. Madrid chased and harried their Catalan rivals like men possessed. Right from the kick off Madrid forced Barcelona back and ultimately into a mistake. A mistake that led to the quickest El Classico goal of all time. With the ball at the feet of Victor Valdes and Madrid players narrowing down angles for his escape root, the goalkeeper was pressured into an uncharacteristic mistake, passing the ball straight to Di Maria whose attempted pass was cut out only to fall to Ozil. The Germans scuffed shot was deflected up in the air and fell to Benzema who coolly tucked away the chance with aplomb. Thirty seconds in and Madrid were one up. Pandemonium erupted throughout the stadium and indeed the footballing world. Surely this isn’t happening, surely Barcelona aren’t losing already? What does this mean? Can Madrid actually win? There was a genuine sense that they could. But of course we now know it wasn’t to be.

Much is made about the goals that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo score and the incredible rate at which they do it. Saturday night proved once and for all who the best player in the world was. On a night without either scoring it would be the contribution of the little Argentinian and not the cocky Portugian that would prove to be the game changer. Barcelona had to respond. And thanks to Messi they did. His almost supernatural ability to glide past defenders as if not they’re not there instantly stabbed a moment of doubt into the Madrid players that burst their bubble of euphoria. His first surge forward caused alarm in the Madrid defence and around the stadium .He moved at pace and with determination bustling his way past Sergio Ramos but his low shot was well saved by Casillas.

Barcelona were back in the game and everyone knew it. His second masterful dribble led to the equaliser and what a goal it was too. Messi picked the ball up in his own half and dribbled. And dribbled. He just kept on dribbling, past one, past two, past three and before a successful tackle was made on him he released the pass perfectly to Alexis Sanchez who used his pace to get away from his marker and slide the ball under Casillas. Suddenly everything seemed to change and a sense of inevitability struck the Bernabeu. Of course they scored against us, they always score against us. From then on Barcelona were the better team. Yes Madrid made chances that they should have taken and yes Barcelona got very lucky on their second goal but when Cesc Fabregas nodded in their third goal to complete a beautiful Barcelona move there was a sense that once again this was deserved. For whatever reason, this Madrid team simply can’t Barcelona in the league.

For Ronaldo it was a night to forget. His misses and overall lack of involvement in the game cost Madrid dearly and as Iniesta and Messi continued to grow into the match, Ronaldo if anything only got worse. The reaction after the match was unfair, especially considering how many times Ronaldo has dug Real out of a hole over the past two and a bit seasons. Saturday was not his night but Madrid might yet prove their metal. For Barcelona it was more than a victory, it was a statement from the best team in the world. We will win and we will our way. No compromise, no half measures. If Barcelona are to win it all again this season then they will do it their way. And if that means passing it back to the goalkeeper to start play all over again then so be it.

So how does the league look now after the events of Saturday night? The major difference of course is that Barcelona are back on top of the league, at least for now. While they play in the Club World Cup in Japan, Real Madrid play their game in hand and can go back to the top of La Liga.

For Madrid they can still win the league and lose in the Nou Camp. Their form has been so alarmingly good in La Liga that they could conceivably lose both El Classico’s and still win the league this season. They have both a larger squad than Barcelona and less to focus on. While their rivals travel around the world competing in meaningless FIFA tournaments, Madrid can get back to the business that matters, winning in the league. Should Barcelona struggle away from home like they had been doing before Saturday, then Madrid simply just have to keep beating all the other teams and let the El Classico take care of its self. It is perhaps unkind to say that beating all the other teams in Spain is simple but when you consider most of their results this season you would have to say that it is. Madrid might not be a match for Barcelona but they are simply too good for the rest of Spain. The biggest problem they face now is a mental one. How will they cope knowing that once again they lost to Barcelona? They couldn’t have been in better shape to beat Barcelona and yet they didn’t. The coming weeks will show what this team is made of and if Mourinho can fire his squad up again to go on another long winning run.

For Barcelona they are already suffering from their exhausting schedule. Having to play in Japan is not what was wanted just as they regained top spot in the league and now losing David Villa for the rest of the season has put extra strain on the squad. While Villa has perhaps struggled to become a key first team player this season there is no doubt that having a player of his quality in the team to add goals and assists would help the frontline greatly, especially when they are competing on so many different fronts. Barcelona still face a big challenge to retain both the Spanish title and The Champions League. Avoiding any more injuries is crucial and later on in the season Guardiola may have to make a choice. Concentrate on the league or on Europe, this season it might not be possible for both.

So for now Barcelona are top but Madrid have a game in hand. How will Real react in the league after such a crushing defeat? Only time will tell but one thing is for sure, the La Liga title has a very long way to go. This could be the season where Barcelona win both El Classico’s but lose out on the title. Or it could be the season where once again they win it all. Making predictions in life is hard, in football it can be near impossible.

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