Just a week ago, Real Madrid had everything within their grasp. Perched on top of the table with a four point lead and with an upcoming Clasico encounter looming, Carlo Ancelotti’s men were well positioned to cruise to the title. Fast forward a few days though, and it’s advantage Barcelona.
Los Blancos’ failure to defeat Villarreal in the previous weekend saw their rivals close to within two points after defeating Granada away before the capital club were shocked by Athletic Bilbao at San Mames, a result of which La Blaugrana took full advantage with a thumping 6-1 win over Rayo Vallecano.
And to rub salt into their wounds, as fate would have it, Lionel Messi’s 24th hat-trick saw him join his Portuguese nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the goal-scoring charts.
So while things in Catalonia have seemingly improved, they have taken a turn for the worse in Madrid. Such a scenario should come as little surprise. Madrid’s 4-0 capitulation to Atletico Madrid exactly a month prior to their latest defeat opened up cracks which, previously, had been expertly concealed.
The once sturdy and reliable Real Madrid defence now seems slow, hesitant and brittle, exemplified by the fact increasing number of goals are conceded through corners and crosses.
In addition, without Luka Modric and James Rodriguez in midfield, there seems to be a distinct lack of creativity which so often has become a feature of Ancelotti’s title-winning teams.
Most worrying of all is Madrid’s sterility in pushing forward and threatening opposition defences, and with an attacking trident of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Ronaldo, it seems ridiculous such problems would arise.
It is, however, hard to pinpoint the exact problem. Ronaldo, quite simply, has not been able to hit his stride since claiming his third Ballon d’Or earlier this year. He has failed to hit a single shot on target in four of his last eight fixtures and has only scored seven goals in 12 matches so far in 2015, a modest return for his lofty standards. In stark contrast, Messi has 18 goals in 16 games, including three hat-tricks, to his name already.
Meanwhile, Benzema, a striker who requires the necessary service from surrounding players, have been offered little opportunity to shine in light of Los Blancos’ growing concerns in midfield. Even then, when chances have arisen, his lack of killer instinct in front of goal is yet a wider reflection of their side’s woes.
But of the three, Bale has seemingly hogged the headlines the most of late as he slowly sinks under the growing cacophony of discontent. The pressure placed on his shoulders to justify his transfer fee and his inability to drift away from the shadow of Ronaldo has led to numerous sub-par performances.
After all, the Welshman is a born entertainer and finds himself in the unenviable position of either feeding his ego or deputising to Ronaldo. His hesitancy in front of goal, which has seen him fail to register a single goal in 540 minutes of play, is entirely foreign. And for the 25-year-old to be jeered by his own supporters will only serve to scupper his confidence.
Curiously, while Madrid find themselves in trouble, Barcelona’s own star trio are finally hitting their strides and fulfilling the potential that was expected of them. The understanding between Neymar, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as they majestically interchange with each other has paid the dividends as they slowly, but surely, take on the mantle as Europe’s most frightening trident.
It almost seems coincidental that two giants of world football would endure a contrasting turn of fortune at one particular time. And while there’s still so much to play for, one thing’s for sure, recent events will guarantee for yet another blockbuster Clasico showdown.