Real Madrid: Why La Liga Was Lost Almost Before It Started

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Real Madrid: Why La Liga Was Lost Almost Before It Started
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Barcelona may have only clinched their 22nd league title this past Saturday when Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Espanyol, but it had already been clear for quite some time that Barcelona were going to win.  

In fact, soon after 2013 rolled around, the race for first place in La Liga was essentially already over. At the halfway point of the season, Real Madrid were 15 points behind their Catalan rivals, and a comeback seemed very unlikely.

So where did it all go wrong for Real?

Well, it all went wrong rather quickly—within the first four games of the season.

Real tied Valencia in the opening match, 1-1, then lost to Getafe, 2-1; they beat Granada 3-0 and lost to Sevilla 1-0. On the other hand, Barcelona won all of their first four games.  

So by the middle of September, Barcelona already held an eight-point advantage.  

Ordinarily, this kind of start wouldn't be the end of the world, because there are still plenty of games left to be played—34, to be exact—and still plenty of points on the line.

But the trouble is that Barcelona weren’t exactly ordinary. They may seem so now after recently losing to Bayern Munich 7-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-finals, but in the first half of the season in La Liga, they were simply impeccable. Maybe they weren’t as glamorous as they used to be under the high-pressing game of Pep Guardiola, but they were deadlier than ever.

After the slow start to the season in the first four games, Madrid started to play like the Spanish champions they were from the previous season and went on to win seven of the next eight games, only drawing one match to Barcelona, 2-2, at the Camp Nou.

Normally, this kind of streak would have helped reduce Barcelona’s eight-point lead at the top, but that wasn’t the case, as Barcelona just kept on winning.

And for a time, they didn’t stop winning.

In the first half of the seasonled by Lionel Messi, who would score in every matchBarcelona won 18 games out of 19. The only game in which they lost points was the draw against Madrid at home—but that wasn't really losing points, because no ground in the standings was lost.

Barcelona’s nearly perfect record would only magnify Madrid’s hiccups.

At the end of November, Los Blancos lost to Betis, 1-0, and suddenly were 11 points behind. They drew 2-2 with Espanyol a month later and were 13 points behind. On the 19th matchday in the middle of January, they tied Ossasuna 0-0 and Barcelona were a whopping 15 points ahead.

By the end of the month, four months before the end of the season, Jose Mourinho had already conceded defeat.

“The La Liga title is impossible now; there is too big a gap. We have to focus on other goals like the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League,” Mourinho said.

Maybe Madrid weren’t as solid defensively as they had been in the previous season. Maybe Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema could have been more prolific in front of goal.

The fact that Real’s biggest offseason signing, Luka Modric, turned out to be, for the most part, a flop didn’t help either.

There were also divisions in the locker room, especially after Mourinho decided to bench captain Iker Casillas, but that was all just a consequence of having already lost.  

When Barcelona finally sealed the title on Saturday, Mourinho even went on to congratulate the Catalans for their achievement. Uncharacteristically, the Portuguese manager didn’t have any excuses to mention. 

Ultimately, that’s because Barcelona never gave Madrid any chance to begin with.

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