La Liga Betting: Madrid must stay Real
There's no doubt that Madrid have a tougher run-in than Barcelona
Ben Lyttleton isn't preparing to etch Real Madrid's name on the La Liga silverware just yet after a draw against Valencia and a tough tie with Bayern Munich to come.
This Real Madrid side have been breaking records all year. Last week's 5-1 win at Osasuna brought up the 100-goal mark, with eight games still to play, while they remain on course to break 100 points for the season. But just how good are they?
That was the question everyone was asking in Madrid after club ambassador Emilio Butragueno, who made up part of the Quintre del Buitre, the five home-grown Spanish players who won five consecutive Liga titles in the mid-1980s, gave an interview to Uefa's website last week. In it, he claimed that Jose Mourinho's side should be considered alongside the 1950s side that won six straight European Cups, as well as his former team, as the best in Madrid history.
"At the moment we have the best team in the history of the club," the former
Spain striker said
"This team offers the coach many options and variations, and to win trophies you need
that. We have two superb players in every position, all internationals with
great reputations, and that is one of the team's strengths."
The obvious issue with Butragueno's statement is that while Mourinho has everything in place to win trophies, at the moment all he has is last season's Copa del Rey to show for it. Furthermore, Real Madrid's lead over Barcelona was whittled down to four this weekend after they were held to a 0-0 draw by Valencia, while Barca trounced Zaragoza 4-1. Madrid remain favourites for La Liga, at ([1.58]), with Barca ([2.56]), but clearly this title race is far from over.
There's no doubt that Madrid have a tougher run-in than Barcelona: on
Wednesday, they face neighbours Atletico Madrid, who are themselves chasing a
place in the top four. After that, they welcome Sporting Gijon then it's Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals, and in the middle of each leg the eagerly-awaited trip to Camp Nou for the league match against Barcelona. A draw in that game should be enough to clinch the title, but with games against Sevilla (home) and Athletic Bilbao (away), both of whom are still after a Champions League place, there is still a lot of work to do.
That's why Mourinho has been reverting to Plan B in recent weeks, and in
particular giving Esteban Granero a run in the side. Granero was one of six Spaniards to start (and finish) against Osasuna last week, and he kept his
place for the 5-2 European win over APOEL Nicosia. Playing Granero alongside Xabi Alonso gives Madrid a different style: it's slower, more possession and control-based, and it allows Mesut Ozil more time, and therefore more options, on the ball. Perhaps against lesser opposition, that style works, but the difference when Mourinho reverted to Plan A, late on against APOEL, told its own story.
Granero and Higuain were taken off, and Jose Callejon and Angel di Maria came on: immediately Madrid made use of their fast transitions and played with more speed and the 'verticality' that has been a hallmark of this season's play. It was no surprise that Madrid scored three goals in the last 15 minutes.
Similarly, Granero was rested for Sunday's visit of Valencia and Di Maria replaced Higuain at half-time of a match in which Madrid only failed to score for the first time in 42 matches due to the inspired goal-keeping of Vicente Guaita. At this stage of the season, Mourinho has no option but to rotate his squad, and he can take heart from the form of Granero, and also Raul Albiol, who has impressed.
But whether Butragueno's claim ‒ which will again be questioned after Sunday's luckless but goalless draw ‒ can stand up to examination will all boil down to one crucial week later this month. Mourinho has said that either Madrid or Bayern could make the Champions League final ‒ the two teams have an epic international rivalry, as explained excellently here ‒ while he was more convinced that Barcelona would get past Chelsea to reach the final. "We all know why," he cheekily added.
Madrid are ([1.54]) to get past Bayernan all-Spanish final is ([1.82])
and Madrid are [4.00] to win this year's Champions League.
Michel Salgado, who played in the galactico side that won the 2000 and 2002 Champions League, believes that his team also deserves mention as among the best in Madrid's history. If Mourinho ends this season with La Liga and a
tenth Champions League for Madrid, then perhaps those comparisons might be
worthy of consideration.
For now, it's too early.
A decisive month lies ahead.