It has not been a good week for Madridistas. There was outrage following the 1-1 draw away to Manchester City. Of course, it was not the result that was the main issue per se, but, rather the man in the middle – Gianluca Rocchi – who awarded the English champions a late penalty and sent Alvaro Arbeloa for an early shower. Not holding back in the slightest, Marca’s Thursday headline read: ‘Against 12’.
The only thing that halted the public slaying of Rocchi in the Spanish capital was the champion’s trip south to play Real Betis.
But, this time the result is the main issue. The shock 1-0 defeat leaves Jose Mourinho’s side eight points behind Barcelona, and should the League leaders claim all three points away to Levante tonight it will be 11. Mundo Deportivo describes it as a ‘golden chance’ for Tito Vilanova’s charges, and it certainly is. Given the Blaugrana’s record-breaking form this season and their rather favourable record against the Granotes – winning six of the last seven games – few will be betting against the Catalans doing the job.
Typically, Mourinho whinged and whined and was in no doubt as to who was culpable. “Betis aren’t to blame for Benzema’s goal being ruled out or the clear penalty in the last minutes of the match,” the Portuguese told the Press after the match, but he didn’t stop there. “Obviously a team that played on Wednesday should not have to play today. There are other teams that have control of the match calendar, which we don't have.”
To his credit, Mourinho went on to admit that his side were not at their best and were outdone by a team playing without three of their four regular defenders.
“I congratulated the Betis players because they gave it their all and fought from the first minute to the last with a great spirit of sacrifice.”
While Los Blancos had been in good form heading into this tie – winning six from seven – Mourinho has to admit that his men have fallen short a few too many times this season. Compared to their title-winning form of last season, they certainly have not been on the same level. This time last term they were eight points better off, had scored 14 more goals and had only lost once.
Key protagonists in that successful campaign were Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria, who accumulated 32 assists throughout the season between them. This season they have managed only three thus far.
With Barca excelling under the stewardship of new boss Vilanova, Madrid have a mountain to climb if they are to retain their league crown. And, history is against them – only one time in the last nine campaigns has the team leading the table after 13 rounds not gone on to win the league.
In a title race where every dropped point – or three – can be crucial, at this stage it is definitely advantage Barcelona.