La Liga could be won in Barcelona on Saturday evening, and it could happen without the victorious team from the city even kicking a ball. Real Madrid are heading to Catalonia and anything other than a win against Espanyol, will see Tito Vilanova's men crowned champions before they even take to the pitch against Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon on Sunday.
It was, of course, the same situation on Wednesday night when Real Madrid took apart nine-man Malaga 6-2, in a match that presented eight different goal scorers. Few could argue, though, that it would be symbolic of the season should Los Blancos’ failure to win present La Blaugrana with their 22nd title, even more so should it happen in the city of their old rivals.
For as delightful as Barcelona were in their pre-Christmas form, Real Madrid were equally miserable. By the middle of September, after a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sevilla, they were already eight points behind Barca. “Right now, I do not have a team,” said Jose Mourinho after that loss. That theme has dominated ever since.
After dropping Iker Casillas for December's trip to Malaga, dressing room squabbles and superiority complexes have bubbled over into the public eye - dominating all that has been considered newsworthy emerging from the Bernabeu. Things escalated to the point that, in January, President Florentino Perez called a Press conference to deny a story on the front cover of Marca that stated several senior players had demanded either Mourinho goes in the summer, or they would.
Since then the cracks had been papered over, to an extent, with everyone working for the collective good of bringing La Decima to the Spanish capital. With recent elimination from the Champions League to Borussia Dortmund though, those cracks have begun to re-open, and bigger than ever.
Newspaper reports in Spain suggest that only three players remain loyal to the Portuguese Coach now - Diego Lopez, Michael Essien and Luka Modric. It's also said that the 50-year-old's interaction with the team has been cut to an absolute minimum, restricted to mere technical instructions on an 'as and when' basis. He's cut a lonely, uninterested figure in the Bernabeu bucket seats in the recent wins over Real Valladolid and Malaga.
This week, even his relationship with Pepe, his countryman, has taken an unruly twist after the 31-year-old criticised his boss for the treatment of Casillas. Mourinho hit back in his following Press conference before the Malaga game, saying Pepe has his own problem, which “has a name - Raphael Varane.” The defender was then left out of the squad for Wednesday's win and it's suggested he will not play again this season.
Around all this chaos, Madrid have actually been excelling in La Liga again. After the winter break, they've been the best team in Spain and, since losing to Granada in February, have won 12 of their last 13 matches in the League.
Yet despite that, there's still the feeling that Real Madrid's internal struggles and awful start to the season have watered down what will be a great achievement for Vilanova - all circumstances considered. Dropped points at Cornella-El Prat on Saturday night would not just reflect that, but would be the reference point in the history books for when the title was won. Who knows, the Press in Madrid may even prefer it that way.
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