Mathematically, La Liga's title run remains alive as a contest but realistically it is over as Barcelona's win over Real Madrid takes it 10 points clear at the top of table. Los Blancos, meanwhile, find themselves once again in the position to win the Champions League to save a terribly disappointing season.  

By Jonathan Wilson
March 02, 2019

Mathematically, La Liga remains alive as a contest but realistically it is over. Barcelona's 1-0 win at the Bernabeu on Saturday, its second in a week, takes it 10 points clear at the top if the table and 12 ahead of Real Madrid, which finds itself once again in the position of needing to win the Champions League to save something from a desperately disappointing season.

That Madrid played quite well in losing 3-0 in the second half of the Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday was of very little consolation. It lost, and lost heavily, and the expectation now must be that Barcelona will do the double. Whether it has the capacity to do the treble by adding the Champions League is far less clear.

What was striking here was the lack of quality when compared to recent incarnations of this fixture. Neither side played with much cohesion, particularly out of possession, with the result that spaces kept opening up. It was through one of those gaps that Ivan Rakitic opened the scoring for Barcelona after 26 minutes. Unchallenged as he surged forward, his one-two with Sergi Roberto was almost laughably simple, yet resulted in him darting unchallenged into the right side of the box and casually dinking a finish over Thibaut Courtois.

Madrid, it's fair to say, even when winning the Champions League three times in a row has done so without really controlling the games in the way it's become expected the best sides will. Instead it's trusted itself to win the moments, something that is much easier with Cristiano Ronaldo in the side. It is possible, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to see this side extended the run to four in a row.

After looking like it had regained a sense if momentum under Santi Solari, Madrid's domestic season has fallen apart in the last four days. Before there was always the chance that Ronaldo would click into form and paper over the cracks; not any more. The players who should have stepped into his shoes, Gareth Bale, seems increasingly lost, his move to Madrid a strange limbo. He has good games, has a habit of scoring vital goals, and yet seems to have made virtually no impact on the affections of the fans, something made obvious again as he was booed during the second half. Nor, it seems, has Madrid made much impact on him. The expectation is that he will leave in the summer as part of a major re-jig ­but then that seems to have been true since he joined the club in 2013.

Zinedine Zidane saw how much the squad needed rejuvenating and the lack of preparedness on the part of the board to do that and that was one of his reasons for leaving. The Julen Lopetegui appointment was a mess from its ham-fisted announcement on the eve of the World Cup. Solari is not to blame for the mess at Madrid, but there is little evidence to suggest he may be the answer.

The truth is this could have been much worse for Madrid. Barcelona had chances in the break, and another referee might have deemed Sergio Ramos's elbow in Lionel Messi at the end of the first half deliberate and shown a red card. Madrid did have a lot of possession late on, but without much in the way of penetration. Barca held it at arm's length with relative ease.

Its focus can now shift to the Champions League, where recent form reflects concerns over the composition of the squad far more accurately than its habitual success in the league: assuming it does complete the job this season, that will be eight league titles in 12 years. This, though, has not been a convincing season: perhaps more than any of those other league titles, this feels like one being won by Messi and a fairly ordinary side around him.

That may be enough for European success in an era without a truly great side, but the midfield looks worrying porous when facing counters. That doesn't mean it can't win the Champions League; more flawed sides have on it in the past, but this vintage, for all its domestic domination, doesn't feel anywhere near the class of 2015, let alone the great Guardiola sides of 2009 and 2011.

You May Like