Real Madrid served up the perfect starter ahead of next week’s Catalan main course by crushing Athletic Bilbao 5-1 on Saturday night.
The victory ensured Los Blancos remain top of the La Liga table with a one point advantage over timeless rivals Barcelona, who themselves desecrated lowly Almeria in a stunning 8-0 thrashing two hours before Madrid’s romp.
Next weekend’s El Clasico meeting is set to be one of the most important clashes between Spain’s top two in recent years, as both teams almost seamless roll of honour this season (Real Madrid are the only side in Spain to remain unbeaten this term) will have to be thwarted or broken one way or another as Barcelona look to wrestle a firm hand on La Liga and retain their title, while Jose Mourinho’s meticulous construction of a new and improved Real Madrid suggest they seek an instant mark of approval stamped on their credentials this campaign.
Three more goals for Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo, a penalty from defensive stalwart Sergio Ramos and an opening strike for Argentine predator Gonzalo Higuain were more than enough to sink Los Leones, as they travelled back to the Basque country reeling from yet another capital day hiding. Bilbao from the outset never really looked liked ending their poor record against Madrid as they suffered their twelfth loss out of thirteen in opposition to the Santiago Bernabeu outfit. Los Blancos’ incessant, quick and eye-catching football, combined with the clubs embodiment of two newly found attributes – work rate and commitment – sees Mourinho’s finely oiled side motionlessly speeding through the gears, but the real acid test waits temptingly on the horizon. Nevertheless, the club have one more diary arrangement prior to their Barcelona engagement.
The timing of Real Madrid’s next fixture, a midweek venture to the Netherlands to take on Ajax, may provide a distraction before the club pits its abilities at the Nou Camp, but more worryingly the injuries picked up by leading front man and German central midfield enforcer, Gonzalo Higuain and Sami Khedira, respectively in Saturday’s win mean they will both miss the Champions League fixture and face a race beside the clock to be fit for next weekend.
Though, such is the depth in Los Blancos’ quality ridden squad and the good fortune Madrid have already qualified for the next round of European football’s most prestigious bout means Mourinho – who now has served his two-game touchline ban – can shuffle his pack and reimburse squad energy levels by giving opportunity to the likes of French duo Karim Benzema and Lassana Diarra to enter the first team fray.
In the post match press de-brief, Assistant Coach Aitor Karanka saluted the club’s fan base following the victory, but remained tight lipped on the Barcelona match. He said: “Our