Real Madrid’s latest win (4-2 over Levante) gave Jose Mourinho’s squad a 10 point lead (and a comfortable margin of error) over Barcelona in the race for the La Liga title. It would fair to say that Los Blancos are nearing on the league title after years of dominance by their bitter rivals from Catalonia. In recent years, almost every match between those two sides has ended in Barca’s favor and, in some cases, embarrassed the Madrid side.
The start of the season has not seen any changes in this dynamic with the Catalans winning the Spanish Super Cup then triumphing in league play in Madrid (3-1 after trailing 1-0 early on) and eliminating Los Blancos in Copa del Rey. However, it appears the Madrid side will win what matters most for the capital side’s supporters: the league title!
Unless there is a miraculous turn in events, including a sudden and unexpected collapse by Real’s players then the trophy will end up in the coffers of the Madrid side. There are 16 matches left but with an advantage of 10 points even the likely defeat at the Camp Nou will only close the gap to 7 points. Barca will be hoping Real will begin to drop points but it will be difficult for the Catalans to overcome this difference in points. There are a number of factors behind the surge of Los Blancos to the top of the standings:
1) Away Form: Real Madrid have an impressive away record. The club won 9 out of 11 matches away from the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu while Barcelona’s struggles away from home will likely cost the Catalans the league title. The Catalans lost 2 games and drew 5 others out of 11 matches played outside Barcelona.
2) Goals: Mourinho has often been criticized in the media for his approach to certain matches, in particular the clashes with Barca, but Los Blancos have scored an impressive 75 goals in just 22 games. Madrid’s offensive success overshadows how strong the club has been on the defensive end when playing away. Madrid conceded only 6 goals on their travels compared to Barca’s 13. That is quite impressive considering Real have conceded 15 goals at home. Both Barca and Real have managed to score 45 goals at home but once again the difference shows in the away matches. Barca’s players have scored just18 times outside the Camp Nou to highlight the difficulty faced against home teams which defend deep to negate the possession game used by Barca to breakdown opponents. Real’s direct approach is proving to be much more successful than Barca’s patient play.
3) Scorers: Credit must be given not just to Cristiano Ronaldo but also to some of his teammates for their scoring exploits while Barca’s lack of a true striker is beginning to show. Last season the Catalans relied on Lionel Messi’s amazing run but one player alone cannot keep carrying the team. Xavi had an exceptional 2010-11 season and he is still performing at a high level but he is not a scorer while his teammate Andres Iniesta has been injury prone (and he too is not going to guarantee 20 or even 15 goals a season). Real have Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, both of whom can score 20 goals a season. Barca’s flirtation with Zlatan Ibrahimovic might not have been a resounding success but perhaps he should have been given more time to establish himself. It is true Barca’s system does not allow Ibrahimovic to flourish but the Swedish star could have managed 20 or more goals a season if given the proper opportunity.
4) Motivation: Barca’s winning run will come to an end sooner or later for a number of reasons, including the lack of alternatives for key players such as Xavi and Carles Puyol. Teams are desperate to get a point from the mighty Catalans and they have figured ways to grind out results against Messi and his teammates. Having won so many trophies, some Barca players appear to have lost motivation and they seem to lack the passion which helped drive the side to unprecedented success. On the other hand, Real’s players are desperate for the league title and have been watching in despair during the last few years while Barca received plaudits piling up the trophies.
5) Mourinho: The self-proclaimed Special One might be the most desperate individual seeking to achieve success at the expense of Barcelona. Mourinho’s ties with the Catalan club go back to the days when the late Sir Bobby Robson was Barca’s coach and Jose worked on his staff. Mourinho is renowned for his ability to motivate players and he is a tireless worker despite the critics who point out to his struggles against Barca (excluding Inter’s win in the semi-final of the Champions League and last season’s Cop del Rey success).
6) Rotation: While Mourinho has been able to rotate certain players and still get the best possible results, Barca struggle whenever key players such as Xavi and Cesc Fabregas do not start matches. Barca seem incapable of winning easily if some of the star players such as Iniesta, Xavi or Fabregas are left on the bench. In Real’s case, Mourinho has been able at times to rotate Benzema and Higuain or use them both in the same match.
7) Barca’s Injuries: Iniesta has missed a number of matches during to injury while David Villa is out for an extended period. Even summer signing Alexis Sanchez was out for a number of weeks this season. These three players would have played many more games if they have been healthy throughout the season.