Real Madrid – La Liga Jesus Sanchez gives his opinion
Real Madrid are back in the LaLiga Santander title race. No need to kid yourself. For this to happen, the leaders, this season’s formidable Atletico Madrid, have abandoned their perfection from the first half of the season by stringing together a series of stumbles. Only two things could happen in the destination of the title: Diego Simeone’s team could win it or lose it. And it is still unclear what is actually happening.
Real Madrid have 53 points after the 24th round of fixtures. Last season they had 54 at this stage of the campaign and went on to become champions after their extraordinary performances post-lockdown. They can fight for this season’s league title just fine. A perfect February in terms of results, the security of Thibaut Courtois (because great goalkeepers make good saves like Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jan Oblak, although only for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid this is not a defect but a virtue) and the reliability of their midfield trio of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric has allowed them to set themselves up as legitimate contenders.
Real Madrid have got back into the title race in a very difficult situation: eight key absentees, not fringe players, against Huesca, Getafe and Real Valladolid, and seven against Valencia. There were games in which Vinicius Junior ended up at right-back, in which Mariano Diaz started and was replaced by Hugo Duro, in which Marvin Park made his debut, Sergio Arribas became the 12th player, and Lucas Vazquez has been reconverted to full-back. They have lost Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, Eden Hazard, Fede Valverde, Marcelo, Rodrygo Goes and Karim Benzema to injury. All of them could have been in the starting eleven at the same time. Eder Militao and Alvaro Odriozola also went down.
Zidane also decided to trim down his squad, as both Martin Odegaard and Luka Jovic departed. He did not manage the Norwegian’s case well, although he also has his part to play. His mental strength may not be adequate to play for the most self-demanding club in existence. Jovic didn’t give his boss any reason to give him more opportunities when he played. It is easy, with hindsight, to underline the work of loan players when they stand out. We journalists often do it because it makes the criticism more interesting. But maybe on a day-to-day basis you can see that neither Odegaard nor Jovic are shining as brightly at Arsenal and Eintracht Frankfurt, while James Rodriguez is still inconsistent and Gareth Bale is out of contention.
In these circumstances, the Real Madrid of Mariano, Hugo Duro and Arribas, as well as Mendy, who became Fabian Orellana’s assistant, are asked to play well in Valladolid. Then, they are criticised for having two shots on target (when they lost to Alaves they took 20, but at the time that fact was not taken into account as a mitigating factor). The team are predicted to sink because the level of play is what it is, yet it is worth remembering that Real Madrid have already beaten Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla, who are with them in the fight for the title. The Real Madrid supporters, who could always be the happiest fans in the world, never have reason to be happy. Will this team ever get any credit?
PS Since the Clasico on October 24, with Clement Lenglet’s penalty on Ramos, and Koeman’s complaints together with the previous chant of VAR as a great white signing (the successes were annoying because there is a confusion with the concept of justice in Spanish football and it does not consist of harming a team but in getting it right), Real Madrid have not been awarded a penalty in their favour. That’s 17 matchdays playing a league without penalties. There were some. They suffered them against them. They are the leaders in this regard in LaLiga Santander, together with Osasuna (seven). Seen in this light, Real Madrid‘s instinct to overcome is admirable.