Real Madrid now find themselves trailing La Liga leaders Barcelona by five points after a 1-0 defeat in Bilbao on Saturday night, a deficit Madrid defender Raul Albiol has voiced his concern over. Telling Marca, after the visitor’s surprise defeat that, even with a little more than half the season remaining, to fall five points behind leaders Barcelona needs to instill a sense of urgency in Real.
Madrid’s defeat, Barcelona’s thrashing of Sevilla and the subsequent gap in the standings all coming days after Barcelona defender Pique stated that Real Madrid are still not a complete enough team to win trophies this season. Highlighting Real’s limited experience with one another versus Barcelona’s veteran presence, one cannot help to wonder the validity of the Spaniard's statement.
Inconsistency has often been the theme of Real's 2009-2010 campaign while their Catalonian rivals continue to play undefeated league football. A goleado against Real Zaragoza saw Los Blancos embarrass their opponents 6-0, only to follow up the performance with a disappointing draw at Osasuna. The score of last weeks 2-0 defeat of fourth place Mallorca, a team who own a record of recent success at the Bernabeu, did not reflect Madrid's domination; nonetheless, this week saw the new-look Galacticos falling further away from the top of the table. It's no coincidence but Real's aforementioned victories both came at home, a place they have yet to lose at, while both disappointing results came on the road. Finding points away from home is never easy in any level of top flight football, but for Madrid, it could very easily be the difference between a first and second place finish.
"We deserved more," has been a phrase too often muttered by Manuel Pellegrini this season. Attacking opportunities have rarely lacked the capital side; however, it is the conversion of said chances that has feigned in some of their more disappointing results. With on form striker Gonzalo Higuain sidelined for the next three to four weeks, another striker will need to step up. Karim Benzema was back in the starting lineup Saturday night but the Frenchman was unable to make a difference, failing to convert the few chances he was afforded. Cristiano Ronaldo had one of Real's best chances turned away in the final minutes as an acrobatic save from Gorka Iraizoz denied the Portuguese International. To their credit Athletic Bilbao defended well, but the visitors outplayed their hosts. Madrid may have deserved better, and they certainly were not short of opportunities but as has been the theme too often, Madrid did not find a way to win. What separates a team from being great and greatness is the ability to earn tough points, win when the bounces are not going their way. The tight race that will surely be ahead of Los Blancos will come down, undoubtedly, to a matter of points. The team able to save tough points on the road and earn the three when they outplay their opponent will be crowned champions come May. Obvious, maybe, but chasing a team of Barcelona's quality allows little room for error.
Trite as it may be to say but a tight defence can win the title. Diarra's failed clearance lead to Fernando Llorente's third minute winner while the host's proved how a sound defensive effort can stifle even those most potent of offenses. With less than a fortnight remaining in the January transfer period, rumors continue to circulate around the Bernabeu if any additions will be made. Pepe's season ending injury raised a lot of questions about increasing defensive depth though I do not envision any drastic moves being made. Conceding only once over their past four games, the defense has improved even in the absence of the Portugal star, though, having the best keeper in the world does not hurt. Madrid, over the years, has been a team more Attackingly focused, aiming to outscore their opponents; the four major additions over the summer would only strengthen that stereotype. The problem at the Bernabeu is that the Galacticos are not scoring. One can go over Madrid's results and point to a plethora of fixtures where the score does not match Real's domination or numerous opportunities. Defense may have at first maligned the team but now it seems attacking impotence is preventing Pellegrini's men from seeing results that mirror their quality. As Gonzalo Higuain recovers from a foot injury, Real Madrid needs another striker to find his form if the boys in white want to find themselves still in contention for the league title upon the Argentine's return.