Atletico Still Going Strong, but Cristiano Ronaldo Must Step Up for Real Madrid

Guillem Balague@@GuillemBalagueFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

Atletico's Gabi, centre, celebrates his goal with teammate Filipe Luis, right, next to Real's Cristiano Ronaldo, second left,  during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, March 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki/Associated Press

I don't understand the obsession about predicting games. There are a lot of questions on Twitter and social media asking for us to guess the outcome of matches.

How can anybody know what the result is going to be? How can anybody know the accidents that can happen, such as the dismissal of Sergio Ramos in the Clasico or whatever else?

I understand even less those who, if you didn't get the prediction right, just have a go at you.

But who could have predicted the scenario where the only team out of the La Liga top three to be maximising its potential is Atletico Madrid?

In their last four league games, they went to half-time level with the opposition before going on to win in the second period.

At a time when I doubted they would be strong physically, they've proven still powerful enough to beat teams.

David Villa told me that even if they felt tired, the end of the season is so close that no one will show any signs of that.

Lalo R. Villar/Associated Press

That is what players do. They hide any fatigue behind a joke or by not referring to it. If you don't talk about being tired, it is like the situation doesn't exist.

Diego Simeone is trying to avoid any talk of the physical situation of the team and, in the meantime, they keep wining games.

You saw in the Clasico the number of mistakes being made by both teams, which reflected the way Real Madrid played against Sevilla.

Against Sevilla, Real still seemed to be playing the Clasicoplaying as a team with doubtsand the opposition just went for the kill in midweek.

It was fascinating to see not only Carlos Bacca, who is the best debutant in La Liga this season, scoring twice, but also how Sevilla pressured high and were intense defensively. Also of note was how Ivan Rakitic raised his level at the right time.

Real have a few problems. Xabi Alonso is not in his best form, and it is relatively easy at the moment to find the space behind him.

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 26: Xabi Alonso (L) of Real Madrid CF competes for the ball with Jose Antonio Reyes (R) of Sevilla FC during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on March 26, 2014 in Seville, Spai
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

The forwards are not defending and the whole team gets parted as the strikers stay up. So after a series of things they have been doing well this season, they are now showing some cracks.

There was a discussion between Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlo Ancelotti across the pitch, referring to Gareth Bale taking a free-kick. The press in general have taken that as a sign that Ronaldo wanted his own way and his relationship with the Wales international is not good.

Angel Fernandez/Associated Press

There has been a lot of criticism of Bale, but this is only a way of criticising Real president Florentino Perez. Bale is doing a lot, perhaps not enough without the ball, but he is certainly not to blame for what happened against Sevilla.

On the other hand, Ronaldo is not playing at 100 percent. However, I've been amazed that, at the end of the last two games when the team needed him, he has decided to become a No. 9 and just wait for the cross instead of being part of the move.

That's been very surprising and disappointing.

But discounting the effect he can have would be a mistake. I'm sure there are still one or two more levels for Ronaldo to move upthere have to be because he is the star of the team and needs to show it now more than ever.

This is the kind of opportunity he thrives on.

Barcelona are still a team organised around possession, but they don't have a structure around that. While they keep the ball, there is not enough movement. and too many people wait for the ball to their feet and Lionel Messi's moment.

It was pleasing to see Neymar stay as a winger. That is where he has to grow. He has to do all the things a winger has to do, forward and backward, and ensure he is disciplined on the pitch.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 26: Neymar Santos Jr (L) and Jordi Alba (R) of FC Barcelona in action beside Hugo Mallo of RC Celta de Vigo during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RC Celta de Vigo at Camp Nou on March 26, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. (Pho
Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Never mind this freedom he tries to get because he hasn't deserved that yet. As a winger, he does a lot of damage because he goes one-on-one with players, and he played well in midweek.

With that said, you can see that Barcelona are not the perfect team. Gerardo Martino has said that if they beat Espanyol on Saturday, it could mean they will win the league. It is not as easy as that, though.

Victory would certainly be a lift nonetheless. Espanyol and the final game of the season against Atletico will be Barcelona's most difficult tests remaining in the current campaign.