Is This Real Madrid’s Year?

After a 7-1 hammering of CA Osasuna yesterday Real Madrid remained top of the pack in Spain’s premier division, and currently have a 100% record in their Champions League group.

Is 2011/2012 the year that the most successful team on the planet regain their place at the top of Spain and Europe?

The Madristas would certainly love to think exactly that.  They have had to stand by and watch as their biggest rivals FC Barcelona wipe the floor both domestically and to an extent on the continent, winning three La Liga titles since Real Madrid’s last triumph in the 2007-2008 season.  The Catalonians have lifted the famous European trophy two times in the last three seasons.  Real Madrid are Spain’s most successful side with 31 La Liga titles and hold the record for most European Cups, with nine in total.

Rampant Ronaldo

Jose Mourinho’s side recorded a tenth consecutive victory in all competitions with the league win at the Santiago Bernabeu, with £80million signing Cristiano Ronaldo bagging a hat-trick in the game, with Karim Benzema (2), Pepe and Gonzalo Higuain adding to the emphatic scoreline.  Portuguese forward Ronaldo did no harm in putting himself forward for next year’s Golden Boot award having just won last year’s award for his amazing 53 goals in 54 appearances in a white shirt last season.  His treble yesterday took his tally to 103 goals in 106 appearances for the Madrid club.

The win put them four points clear of champions Barcelona who visited Athletic Bilbao later on in the evening.  They twice came from behind, including a 90th-minute Lionel Messi equaliser, to draw 2-2 and reduce the gap to three points.  It could be said that this lead is extremely slender considering how many games have actually been played in the season, but it gives Real a mental superiority and belief that they have lacked so dearly in the three seasons Barcelona have dominated in Spain.

“First is everything, second is nothing.”

The last time they won the championship, back in 2008, they finished a whopping 18 points ahead of the Nou Camp outfit (they finished third) and eight points in front of Villarreal.  And since that following season when Barca won the league by nine, Los Blancos have finished three or four points away from Pep Guardiola’s side.  In many Real Madrid supporter’s eyes that is still not acceptable, “first is everything, second is nothing” a common belief.

But they can have a faith in what has happened so far this season.  They sit three points clear at the top of La Liga and have won every game in their Champions League group consisting of Olympique Lyonnais, AFC Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb.

Madrid have been banging in the goals this season.  In La Liga alone they have breached the opposition’s defence a staggering 39 times (with a goal difference of +32) and in their four European fixtures they have scored ten and conceded a grand total of zero.  Forward Ronaldo has bagged himself 17 goals in 17 appearances already, while the team’s main striker Higuain has scored 11 in 17.  The French international striker Benzema has notched nine goals in 15 starts.

With the Spanish league being somewhat of a two-horse race between Real Madrid and Barcelona, it seems Mourinho’s men will prove a formidable force to Barcelona in the hunt for the Spanish league championship.

Another gripe for Madridistas, arguably their biggest gripe, is their failure to win another Champions League.  The record nine-time European kings last won the prestigious tournament in May 2002, defeating Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 at Hampden Park in Glasgow.  Goals from two living footballing legends Raul Gonzalez and Zinedine Zidane landed the side with their ninth European Cup.  But it is the tenth triumph that the fans desperately want to see.  Their 12 points from a possible 12 this season in Group D has ensured they have already qualified for the last sixteen knockout stage, just like last term.  That led to a semi-final appearance for Real where they were knocked out by, you guessed it, Barcelona.

The Barcelona factor

Real Madrid will have to overcome their ‘El Clasico’ blues to taste league success again, having failed to win a league encounter since May 2008.  They will still be reeling over two heavy defeats since then; the 6-2 humiliation at the Bernabeu in May 2009 and last November’s 5-0 drubbing at the Nou Camp.

Many have asked: how do you overcome a team like Barca? There is no answer to that question, but Real may not need an answer of such.  Barcelona have drawn four games already in the campaign and even though they remain unbeaten, it is a major worry for Barcelona’s fans.  A factor in these results could be linked to the fact that the Nou Camp treatment table has been busier than a Glasgow hospital on a Saturday night, with injuries to key players affecting Guardiola’s team sheet every week.

If Real Madrid are still ahead of Barcelona come the first league ‘El Clasico’ of the season on 11th of December, it will be interesting to see how the game pans out with the tables turned.  Madrid would be at home and on top of their rivals knowing a win could damage Barcelona psychologically and obviously in terms of the league table.

Roll on December.

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