BLOG ESPANA
Monday November 26 2012
Madrid need a Christmas miracle

A dreadful weekend for Real Madrid saw their title challenge stumble again in Seville, as rivals and neighbours extended the advantage, writes Kieran Canning.

‘They’ve escaped’, was the worried, almost hysterical headline, that read from Marca’s front pages on Monday morning, as if Madrid’s streets were roaming with a handful of deadly criminals.

Instead it was just one half of the city being left with embarrassed faces as Atletico Madrid and Barcelona shot over the hill and far away from Real Madrid, with the champions looking out of the title race before December hits.

Seville was the scene of Los Blancos’ downfall for the second time this season as in a remarkably similar game to the one they lost 1-0 to Sevilla in September, Jose Mourinho’s men huffed and puffed but had little penetration in a 1-0 defeat to Real Betis.

As was the case at the Sanchez Pizjuan, the visitors conceded early as Benat rattled in a shot from the edge of the area and thereafter struggled to pick the lock of a Betis defence that didn't allow them their favoured option of the counter-attack, although Karim Benzema was right to feel aggrieved at seeing a pair of perfectly good goals called back for offside.

Again, as against Sevilla, with his side in need of goals and creation, Mourinho took the bizarre decision to substitute his most potent creator in the final third in Mesut Ozil. The German now appears to be his boss’ chief scapegoat but Mourinho has surprisingly rarely been questioned on his readiness to withdraw Ozil when the results haven’t borne a turnaround.

Within 24 hours Real's worst fears had been realised. On paper all the top three faced tricky tests this weekend, but Barcelona and Atletico answered emphatically on Sunday night with 4-0 wins against Levante and Sevilla respectively.

Barca, and in particular Andres Iniesta, were majestic. Their numbers continue to amaze, this was their 12th victory in 13 League games, scoring 43 goals in the process and 14 of the 15 players involved on Sunday received some part of their footballing education in La Masia. Perhaps the most worrying statistic for their future opponents though was there were no goals conceded for only the third time in the League this season, with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique back together they will only get better.

Atleti meanwhile will head into next week's Madrid derby as not only the top dog in the city but with a whopping eight point advantage. Many have decried their ability to maintain that advantage let alone stay with Barcelona over the course of 38 games and despite a fine performance their reasoning was in evidence again against Sevilla. In contrast to Real, Atleti have got the breaks against the Seville sides. Away to Betis a questionable penalty and two red cards for Los Verdiblancos helped Diego Simeone's men twice come from behind. This time around there was no way back for Sevilla once Federico Fazio had seen red and conceded a penalty for felling Koke just 20 minutes in.

At home there is no doubt Atleti are a potent force. Sunday's victory was their 10th in 10 games at the Calderon this season, but hard-fought 1-0 wins away at Real Sociedad, Espanyol and Granada added to a 2-0 defeat in their biggest test on the road at Valencia leave questions unanswered. Questions that would be blown away by a first victory over Real since 1999 next weekend.

Elsewhere, another defeat for Espanyol, this time 2-0 at home to Getafe, proved the final straw for the Mauricio Pochettino and the club's newly elected President as the Argentine was sacked on Monday morning. The only positive for Los Pericos is that despite their dreadful start to the campaign they are not isolated due to those around them also struggling. Osasuna and Depor did at least manage useful draws on the road at Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao, but with Zaragoza and Celta still to play this evening, no-one in the bottom-half managed a win.

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