When Real Madrid and Barcelona first met this season the pattern of the year hadn’t been set. It was October, still early in La Liga, and though Madrid were victorious at the Santiago Bernabeu, at the time it meant little more than three points. That it formed part of a streak that rocketed Los Blancos to the top of the table wasn’t known then – and there would be plenty of time for La Blaugrana to make up ground.
Madrid did soar after the first Clasico, peaking with the Club World Cup success in December and then plummeting almost as fast. As Carlo Ancelotti’s team have descended, Luis Enrique’s have climbed. Barca now lead the Primera by four points and with 10 games to go, are in a commanding position. Sunday’s win over Madrid at Camp Nou doesn’t mean the title is for sure heading to Catalonia but unlike when the sides met earlier in the year, the narrative of which the result is part is there for all to see.
Ancelotti has suffered through three defeats in Madrid’s last 10 outings, with a draw against Villarreal, and six wins. Barca have slipped up only once, at home to Malaga, and were impressive in knocking Manchester City out of the Champions League while Madrid staggered through against Schalke. Star man Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, has seen better days, and his EuroFantasyLeague points tally isn’t increasing at its usual exponential rate.
The form of Ronaldo will forever be judged against that of Lionel Messi and it’s not a comparison that at the moment does the Portuguese any favours. Whereas Messi was a constant threat against Madrid, even without getting on the score sheet, Ronaldo was sluggish, booked for diving, and, having strayed offside in meeting a cross that was eventually converted by Gareth Bale, actively hurt his team. His goal was well-taken but Karim Benzema’s fabulous back-heel assist drew most of the plaudits, Ronaldo adding the finishing touch to the Frenchman’s masterpiece.
At a time when Madrid most needed him, Ronaldo wasn’t there. Luis Suarez’s winning goal came with more than 30 minutes of the match to play and, for a team that, until the dying seconds, was losing the Champions League final to Atletico Madrid, that’s plenty of time to around the score. But the fightback never came. Barca could have extended their lead, but for Neymar’s wayward finishing, while Ronaldo did little to work with his teammates. He was guilty of some wayward finishing of his own, too, hitting the bar from close range.
It’s a case of fine margins when Barca and Madrid meet and perhaps if Ronaldo had made a less emphatic contact with the cross, he could have claimed to have overshadowed Messi while helping Madrid to a vital point. But he didn’t, and he can’t. He does have the Ballon d’Or in his collection but, as it stands, that might be the only silverware Ronaldo lifts in 2015.
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