Game over for Madrid

It’s not over until it’s over, and this is always true, including when it comes to La Liga. Until a team have mathematically won the title, it’s simply not over. And this is certainly the rallying cry coming from Real Madrid Coach Zinedine Zidane who, following his side’s draw away at Malaga, told reporters, “You might think La Liga is over but I don’t, and the players don’t either… there are lots of points still to play for, so we’ll keep going.”

Zidane is right. There are a lot of points to play for; thirty-nine in total. Anything is possible. But it is nothing short of an obligation for him to keep believing. His players must also do the same, and this was evident in Sergio Ramos’ fighting words after the game too. “Until there is no champion mathematically, we’ll continue fighting”, the Madrid captain said.

If it’s not mathematically impossible for Madrid to become League champions, it certainly is impossible based on history. Los Blancos are third and trail Barca by nine points with 13 rounds remaining. No club in the 83-year history of Spain’s Primera Division has ever been able to come back from such a distance.

Yet, there was one occasion when a team did achieve the near impossible. During the 2006-07 campaign, the side that ended up winning the title were seven points behind the leaders after 25 rounds. Funnily enough, it was Madrid – then led by Fabio Capello – who became champions. The team they overcame was Sevilla.

While Los Merengues might look back upon this success as a reason to maintain their belief – and they should, given the Sevilla outfit of 2007 pales in comparison to the current Barcelona side – it’s a completely different story now; a case of apples and oranges almost.

Having claimed a treble in his first season in charge, Luis Enrique and his side have not slowed down at all this term. In fact, they arguably have become even better. It would take a spectacular collapse from the Catalans for them to allow Real Madrid the chance to play catch-up. And, even then, it’s not a guarantee that Zidane’s men can and will suddenly embark on a long winning streak, ideally one that runs up until round 38. If ever there was a reason to doubt Madrid’s capacity to do so, it was seeing them at La Rosaleda on Sunday afternoon.

The capital giants were simply horrible and didn’t deserve anything more than a point. They were nervous at the back, gifting the home side two great chances in the first half that could have seen them trailing by two goals. The visitors were lucky and even took the lead with a headed goal from Cristiano Ronaldo, albeit a wonderful one. To Malaga’s dismay, the goal – which was so clearly offside – makes one wonder what the linesman was looking at as Toni Kroos lined up to take the free kick.  

Yet, the pivotal moment in the game came minutes later. Ronaldo was felled in the box – though this is debatable as the Portuguese made the most of Weligton’s ever-so-slight contact – and stepped up to take the kick. Ronaldo’s penalty was surprisingly poor as Carlos Kameni pushed it away. In hindsight, he might think that perhaps he should have passed it to a teammate. When all is said and done in May, Ronaldo’s failure from the spot may be one of the defining moments in another unsuccessful League campaign.

Ronaldo’s miss kept Malaga in the game, and on 66 minutes, they got their deserved equaliser through Raul Albentosa. Both Madrid and Malaga went tit-for-tat from then on as they both searched for that vital winner. Neither found it and the game ended all-square. One point each – a fair outcome.

It’s a cliché but nonetheless true. The sign of champions is winning even not playing at their best. This weekend, the top three sides all were far from their best. Only one, however, still managed to claim a victory and this was Barcelona. Like Luis Suarez said after his side narrowly defeated Las Palmas the 24 hours before, “These are the games which win you titles.” Words which haunted their fiercest rivals at the final whistle in Andalusia.

The title now seems Barca’s for the taking. For Madrid, it just might be game over already. Another title tilt gone wrong; their seventh in eight years. Their one and only success during this period came during Jose Mourinho’s second season, and that was three coaches and seemingly a lifetime ago.