With their recent win at Bernabeu against Real Zaragoza, Real Madrid maintain their 7-point lead against arch rivals Barcelona. This will mainly have to be owed to Barcelona's lacklustre away form this season, dropping points on the road against lesser opponents when 3 points seemed to be in the bag. My question now is, will Real maintain their form and go on to defend the La Liga?
Remember last season in the La Liga. I sure as hell did. By the winter break, Real Madrid was 2 points adrift of Barca, who led the table with 34 points. With Beckham falling out with Capello, Real seemed certain to miss out on the title again. But then the crucial turning point came: Real started an amazing comeback, with Capello 'defrosting' Beckham and playing him on the right wing to deadly effect. His dead ball abilities brought on the tightest title race I have seen, with Real finally winning by goal difference.
In my opinion, Real are going to win the title again, the turning point being when they beat Barcelona 2-0 at Camp Nou, Barcelona's home stadium. People will argue that Barcelona at that time was not at its best, due to the internal conflict between Ronaldinho and coach Frank Rijkaard. To make matters worse, youngster Messi was out injured. Having watched the match myself, I remember this very well. For once, Real's defence was solid, with Pepe at the back dominating presence in the air. The midfield was abuzz with activity. The workrate was surprising as well; Real always had troubles with big name signings. However, during that match, they finally lived up to their price tag and reputation. Whereas Barca’s big name Ronaldinho missed the clearest chance with a shot screwed wide from twelve yards out.
It is important to analyze their respective summer signings. In the summer, the major signings for Barcelona were Thierry Henry from Arsenal and Yaya Toure from Monaco, the brother of Kolo Toure. For the majority of the first half of the season, Henry was confined to the bench, being not very effective on the attack, as he had difficulties adapting to the offensive tactics of Barcelona. Yaya Toure has been quite a presence in the midfield, fitting into the quick transition from defense to attack and the precise ball into the final third which is a trademark of Barcelona’s attack that providing a raw strength in midfield. As for Real Madrid, the major signings were Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben in midfield and Pepe and Christoph Metzelder as center backs. Wesley Sneijder was extremely effective in the Real midfield, posing a threat with his effective set pieces and being the fulcrum of all of Real’s attacks. Pepe has also formed a solid partnership with Cannavaro, having a noticeable physical presence at the back. With Cannavaro regaining 80% of his form at the World Cup in Germany, the defence was fantastic. In terms of the effectiveness of summer signings, Real seems to win the round.
But the main factor must be down to the loss of form of Barca star Ronaldinho. So far, he has only started 10 games in the Primera, out of a total of 18. That is barely more than half, and compared to his regular starts last season, that certainly has had an effect on Barca’s performance. He has lost his flair at set pieces, and suddenly there seemed to be an invisible wall between him and the goal. Last season, he scored 21 goals; an impressive figure, ending up as the top scorer for Barcelona. However, this season, it is Leo Messi in the lead with 8 goals in 14 starts in La Liga. His pace down the flanks combined with his blistering pace, the ability delivering either inch perfect balls or opting to score himself has been consistently shown when he has played. So is Barca’s over dependent on the wonderkid? With Eto’o out injured, he is becoming more and more of an icon of Barcelona, slowing replacing the declining Ronaldinho.
Firing Fabio Capello on the grounds for more exciting attacking football was not necessarily the best reason for firing him, but bringing in Schuster seems to be the right one. Last season, they scored 66 goals and conceded 40 in total in comparison to Barca’s 78 and 33. Now, having played 18 games out of a total of 38 in La Liga, Real have scored 39 goals and conceded 14 while Barcelona have scored 34 and conceded 13. Schuster has certainly imposed himself at the club, and the summer signings along with Robinho and Van Nistelrooy’s outstanding form have assisted them to be the current La Liga league leaders.
With half of the season gone, if Barcelona’s woes continue and Real maintains their current impressive form, I am sure the Bernabeu will be another place for celebration for the second consecutive season.
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