Real Madrid Back to Full Strength: Are They the Favorites to Win It All in UCL?
The second leg of the quarterfinals of Champions League resumes this week and things couldn't be going any better for Real Madrid. For the first time this season, their players are all healthy and they are showing signs of playing up to their potential.
Are they now the favorites to win it all?
Real's biggest struggle throughout the season was the lack of consistent scoring ability by any player not named Ronaldo. Last season Gonzalo Higuain was a scoring machine for Real, but he suffered an early season injury and was sidelined for the last few months.
Higuain's injury to the team was a major blow as Real didn't really have any other scoring options besides Ronaldo. Other players would contribute, but none on a consistent basis. Karim Benzema was signed a couple years ago to be part of the scoring tandem with Ronaldo, but he never looked comfortable with the team. Everyone hoped he would finally step up when Higuain got hurt, but he continued to struggle. Real was forced to look to the transfer market and picked up the aging Adebayor.
It's unclear what exactly happened, but soon after the transfer, Benzema found his form and began scoring goals and Adebayor has had a resurrection of his career. Granted, he still isn't the dominant goal scorer he was three years ago, but he is clearly rejuvenated by the change of scenery and exit from Manchester City.
The soccer gods are clearly smiling down on Jose Mourinho as not only are Benzema and Adebayor playing well, but Higuain has fully recovered from his injury. Mourinho has three quality strikers at his disposal. All seemed lost when Higuain was sidelined. There was a rough patch after the injury and before the Adebayor transfer, but everything seems right on track at the most important time of the season.
As if the improvements at striker weren't good enough, there have been a few Kaka sightings at the Bernabeau recently.
Most Madrid fans thought that Kaka was just a myth or a thing of the AC Milan past. They figured the next they would ever hear about him was the train he was on that was leaving Madrid at the end of the season.
Kaka's season has been plagued with injury. But even when healthy, he has been a shell of his former self. Be it the bright lights of the Bernabeau or the massive arrogance of Ronaldo, but he has never seemed to find his form with Madrid. He seemed timid and to be lacking confidence. Most Madrid fans had written him off for the season and knew that we would have to win without his contributions.
Then suddenly, there were two Kaka sightings in consecutive games. He came in off the bench against Tottenham and provided a quality assist to Ronaldo of all players.
And this past weekend he scored two goals against Atletico Bilbao. Granted, both goals were penalties, but nonetheless, still require confidence and help boost a player's confidence.
Kaka, like Higuain, adds to Mourinho's arsenal. It's unclear if either player will start any of the upcoming games. Real has been playing well without either player and Mourinho doesn't need to throw either one into the starting lineup.
But that is exactly what makes Real so dangerous at the moment. They struggled for a bit in the middle of the season playing as a team and finding their chemistry. They still have some weaknesses at defense and don't possess the ball as well as Barcelona.
But they have managed to survive without two of their best players and in the process of surviving, the entire team has gained confidence.
Mourinho may not want to disrupt the chemistry and may just want to use Kaka and Higuain off the bench. It is amazing that he has players of that quality at his disposal for substitutions.
Regardless of what he decides to do, he has a laundry list of quality players at his disposal, any combination of which have the ability to beat any team.
I realize that Real hasn't won anything yet and that Barcelona still looms as the odds on favorite in the Champions League. Inter Milan is the defending champion, but they never looked like they were strong enough to defend their title—even before they were embarrassed by Schalke 04.
Barcelona has always been the team to beat and everyone knows they have the ability to embarrass Real or any other team left in the competition.
But Mourinho doesn't fear Barcelona and this isn't the same Real team that Barcelona has dominated the past few seasons or even earlier this season.
Does that mean Real is good enough to actually beat the Catalan Giants? That remains to be determined. But between El Clasico, the Copa del Rey final and the Champions League, Real could play Barcelona four times in the span of a month.
Could they beat Barcelona all four times? I'm not sure if any team in any generation could beat this Barcelona team four consecutive times.
One thing is for sure. Mourinho won't let Real lose four consecutive times to Barcelona. Real has all the necessary players playing their best football of the season. They are peaking at the right time. Maybe they aren't the favorites yet, but don't be surprised if they are the team still standing in May.
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