After a season of grafting and largely keeping themselves under the radar, Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid find themselves firmly in the spotlight after burying the Madridista flag high at the summit of La Liga last weekend.
However, the two have stuttered during recent weeks. While the Catalans have grabbed the headlines (mainly via unwelcome accusations of tax avoidance), Atletico’s small squad are feeling the pace with just 10 points accumulated in their last six matches.
Real, who remained within striking distance of the pace-setters, have now capitalised. After 19 league games, Los Blancos were only three points behind the leaders—a substantial improvement of 10 points when compared to the same period last year.
Under the tutelege of Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane, Real have ground out wins, even when the team has appeared to be labouring, returning 26 points in the last 10 games.
On Saturday, Los Blancos beat Elche 3-0 at the Bernabeu without this season’s star performers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric. Despite a lack of fluidity, Gareth Bale further boosted his burgeoning reputation with a real thumper of a strike to make it 2-0 and triggering a comical reaction from teammate Sergio Ramos.
Having claimed the top spot domestically and ruthlessly brushing Schalke aside in the Champions League, the momentum in the La Liga title race is firmly with the white half of the Spanish capital. The timing couldn’t be better since they face both challengers during March.
The Vicente Calderon will witness another Madrid derby this weekend, with Real in confident mood, having already beaten the Rojiblancos 2-0 away during the recent Copa del Rey semi-final.
Diego Simeone’s men may privately acknowledge that their domestic season hinges on this weekend's local tussle. A defeat against their local rivals will all but end their hopes of breaking up the Real-Barca La Liga duopoly this campaign.
|Remaining Away Fixtures for La Liga's Big Three|
|Atletico—2 March||Valladolid—8 March||Celta Viga—8 March|
|Malaga—15 March||Real Madrid—23 March||Betis—23 March|
|Sevilla—26 March||Espanyol—30 March||Bilbao—30 March|
|Sociedad—6 April||Granada—13 April||Getafe—13 April|
|Valladolid—1 May||Villarreal—27 April||Valencia—27 April|
|Celta Vigo—11 May||Elche—11 May||Levante—4 May|
Three weeks later, Real host defending champions Barcelona in what should be a beautifully poised El Clasico. Since Bale failed to impress during his first match against the Catalans, the scene is set for the world's most expensive player to write himself into Real folklore.
The championship-chasing trio have displayed imperious home form this season, which has yielded a combined 32 wins from 36 La Liga games. Therefore, away form is likely to be the deciding factor.
So far this campaign, Real have rectified last season's wrongs by winning both games in unforgiving southern Spain. With this in mind, don't bet against Ancelotti's men effectively wrapping up the title race by the end of March.