Ninety seconds into Sunday night’s fixture at Cornellá - El Prat, it seemed Madrid were destined to not take advantage of Barcelona’s draw from a day before. Iker Casillas was unjustifiably sent off on two minutes after a slight collision at the edge of the area. Warranted or not, the Spanish number one was shown a straight red, and Los Blancos were ordained to play a hostile away fixture with only ten men. Jose Mourinho improvised, sending on the Madrid number two in place of Argentina winger Angel di Maria, and his side responded resoundingly. Considering the circumstances, it was one of the best displays of football from Los Blancos this campaign. Through Marcelo, Madrid took an early lead on twenty-four minutes and, despite the numerical disadvantage, never looked back. Monday morning, the papers throughout the capital proclaimed that Madrid had reasserted their claim for the domestic title. Is that fair to say? Football is a game of momentum as is the favour of the pundits and it usually only takes a match or two to drastically sway opinions. Gaining two points may not seem like an achievement worthy of too many accolades; however, every point in the title race (as trite as it may be to say) will matter come May.
Madrid’s dominance on the ball has been unquestionable throughout the season, even throughout goal draughts; there have been few matches (save the debacle in Barcelona) in which Los Blancos have not completely dominated. The same was the case on Saturday, despite playing essentially the entire game at a man disadvantage. Despite Espanyol’s quality, the Catalan side was unable to mount a formidable counter to the visiting onslaught. Although unable to etch his name on the score sheet, Emmanual Adebayor continued his positive form since his arrival from Northern England, a constant threat at the top of the Madrid attack. The Togolese striker international has looked much more like the striker who gained international fame in North London than that of the overpriced transfer he was at Manchester City. With two veritable striking options (Benzema is slowly growing into a more consistent attacker. He scored on international duty against Brazil, although it may have been just a tap in, goals are goals), Madrid seem to be in a fine position as European play resumes next week for the Spanish giants.
A Saturday fixture against bottom feeders Levante is all that stands between Los Blancos and their last-16 first leg against Lyon. Jose Mourinho, who was in London Monday night for the Fulham-Chelsea fixture, (does this add anymore intrigue to the Mourinho quit rumours? Chelsea sit outside a European position and it would be hard to imagine Ancelotti remaining as boss if the Blues were to miss out on a Champions League spot) will have to like where his team sit entering European competition. Madridistas across the Iberian Peninsula will have to hope, momentum on the side of the capital club, that Europe has more of a strain on holders Barcelona then themselves. To Pique’s point, prior to their fixture in Barcelona last weekend, Madrid cannot afford to lose any more ground on leaders. Five points is an improvement but Los Blancos are still chasing Barcelona, the best team of recent history.
Levante should not be over looked at the weekend either. Although the Valencians are in the bottom quarter of the table, the newly promoted side has already taken points from Los Blancos once this year. And with revenge to be had in the South of France only a few days later, it would be very easy to come out flat in their 24th league fixture of the campaign. Possible, yes? Likely? Based on Madrid’s performance Saturday, I would say unlikely. Madridistas should not be overly concerned with the aforementioned prospect of a flat Madrid Saturday; it seems as if Los Blancos are hitting top form in excellent time for both a domestic and European push.
*As a side note, one of football's most iconic figures stepped away from the game this week. Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima played for, what seems like, every major European club throughout his eighteen year career. Making 127 appearances in Madrid's white shirt, Ronaldo's career may have seen its fair share of tumultuous times (1998 World Cup) as pure footballing brilliance (2002 World Cup Final, beating the world's best keeper at the time twice to bring the trophy back to Brazil for the 5th time); however, the game will miss one of the most colourful strikers of recent history. To echo what Kaka said in a press conference yesterday, "Ronaldo, gracias por lo que has hecho por el deporte, por el fútbol, por Brasil y por miles de personas."
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