Real Madrid is good, very good, and the 1-0 win over Mallorca at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday has taken the club within four points of Barcelona in La Liga. It leaves Los Blancos with 51 points from 20 games. In any other European league that would put them comfortably at the top of the table. At the same time Real has progressed serenely through the Champions League and last week beat city rivals Atletico to move into the semi finals of the Copa del Rey.
The club has the most expensive – and some might consider best player – in the world, headlining what is arguably the best squad in the world, marshalled by probably the best coach in the world. In all competitions in his first season, Jose Mourinho has won almost 80% of his games, with his side scoring 79 goals in just 32 outings and conceding only 23. Los Blancos is that good – just not as good as Barcelona, a nigh on impossible task.
In Sunday’s match-up a solitary strike on the hour from the previously out-of-favour Karim Benzema was enough to nudge past the Mallorcans who had held Real to a goalless draw on the opening weekend.
For the first 45 minutes Michael Laudrup’s side were the more impressive, easily stifling Real’s over emphasised attacks through Cristiano Ronaldo and with Kaka off the pace following his return from injury. Indeed the Islanders had the better of the early chances with Emilio Nsue’s cracking shot off the inside of the post in the 13th minute. Laudrup’s men continually looked lively on the counter through the mobile Pierre Webo, in contrast to the cumbersome play of their more distinguished hosts.
At half time Real departed to a chorus of disapproval from the 74,000 strong crowd but returned with more vigour for the second half after Mourinho substituted the ineffectual Kaka for Mesut Ozil and the ponderous Fernando Gago for Xabi Alonso.
It has been a recurring theme so far this term that Los Meringues have flattered to deceive in the first period before upping the ante after resumption. Real stand only 5th in the ‘half-time’ league in La Liga, a chart unsurprisingly headed by the Catalan champions.
The deciding incident came after 61 minutes when maligned French striker Benzema briskly worked a shot on the edge of the area and drilled a low left foot strike past Israeli keeper Dudu Aouate for only his second league goal this term. Benzema then went on to spurn a trio of chances to make the game safe, and Ronaldo headed onto the bar before Webo almost stole an unlikely point for the visitors with an injury time effort saved by the feet of Real keeper Iker Casillas.
In any other league the ability to accumulate wins when playing below par is considered a trait of champions, but on a weekend when Barcelona sauntered past similarly placed mid-table opposition, Real’s performance failed to appease fans and critics.
Herein lies the problem. Despite being on course to post well over 90 points this season, Real Madrid still find themselves adrift of Barcelona who has won an incredible 18 of 20 league outings. Lacking the style and substance of their only rival in a two-horse race means there is little solace when things fail to go well. Perversely, Real may end up being the best team in Europe, but not the best team in Spain.
17 Arbeloa – 4 Ramos – 2 Carvalho – 12 Marcelo
11 Granero – 5 Gago – 8 Kaka
7 Ronaldo – 9 Benzema – 22 Di Maria
46 – 23 M Ozil on for 8 Kaka
46 – 14 X Alonso on for 5 F Gago
64 – 10 L Diarra on for 11 E Granero