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Why Real Madrid Are the Team to Beat in the Champions League and La Liga

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Why Real Madrid Are the Team to Beat in the Champions League and La Liga
Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

More than half of the La Liga season is complete and the race to the top is closer than anybody could have imagined. While Barcelona and Los Blancos are dueling for the title once again, surprise contenders Atletico Madrid find themselves level at the top of the table.

Despite their three-point lead over Real Madrid, it is Ronaldo and Co. who are the team to beat. With a favorable draw in the Champions League and the resurgence of Karim Benzema, Madrid must be considered favorites to win La Decima and reclaim the domestic crown.

The capital club have hit a rich vein of form in the winter months. Their streak of five straight league victories was the best in the division until the draw with Bilbao. In fact, the club had won their last 10 matches in all competitions. Regardless of venue, the team has been able to find a way to get a result.

Even including yesterday's hiccup, Madrid are unbeaten in their last 21 games.

What makes that streak more impressive? Nine of the last 11 games have been shutouts. While the team's defense was questioned early on, the side has looked unstoppable of late.

While Jose Mourinho helped develop a counter-attacking threat during his time at the Bernabeu, things have changed under Carlo Ancelotti. With a full 60.4 percent of possession, the club are a far more confident side on the ball, via Whoscored.com. That total puts them second-best in La Liga, behind only their Catalan rivals.

Yet there is a category in which Madrid cannot be beaten. The team averages more than 20 shots per game, three shots more than the second-best club. Between players like Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale, there is plenty of firepower in the final third.

Madrid are equally impressive in the Champions League. The team is among the leaders in shots yet again, and no other side has scored more goals from open play than Los Blancos, via Whoscored.com.

Schalke 04 should not be taken lightly, but admittedly the side is no match for Real Madrid. The German club sits fourth place in the Bundesliga, but Madrid should enjoy a strong result in their knockout-round matchup.

Madrid have faltered in the semifinals for two straight seasons, but they must remain favorites to succeed. The team is a careful balance of experienced veterans and youthful athleticism. Sergio Ramos just celebrated a decade in La Liga—at just 27 years of age.

Regardless of statistical evidence, Real Madrid have something—or someone—no other side has.

Ronaldo.

After scooping up the coveted Ballon d'Or trophy, the 28-year-old is realizing the form of his life. The forward has 22 league goals in just 21 appearances. A blistering rate, made more impressive when admiring his five assists.

Those numbers are only bested by his Champions League form. The Portuguese man has scored nine goals and recorded two assists in a mere five outings.

Without Ronaldo, the team is capable of contending domestically and in Europe. But with their star man, the team must be considered favorites. He has proven time and time again he is able to perform when the stakes are high, and his clutch characteristics will be crucial in the latter stages of the season.

It is a long campaign, but Real Madrid are in prime position to make a run at both the La Liga and the Champions League crowns.

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