Ten points. It hurts just to type it here. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9…TEN! But type it we must for that is the amount of points by which we currently trail arch rivals Real Madrid in the race to be crowned champions of Spain. Ten whole, huge title-grasping points. And although many would say that the team from the capital have had somewhat of a helping hand (or two, or three, or…!?) along the way, we must recognise that this season’s Madrid have been by far the best we’ve seen in a long time. Mourinho has got them well oiled, rigidly set on success and very, very tough to beat; capable of both expansive goal-fests and stilted, ugly 1-0 victories when needed. It would seem the mark of champions is already placed upon them.
Or at least it would be if it were not for one simple little fact – it’s a certain FC Barcelona who are hunting them down. And not just any old Barça but this most brilliant and determined of Barças. This team who believes all silverware is rightfully theirs. This team who have spent the last three seasons re-inventing the game, the wheel, the ball, the pass, and even the sandwich. This team that is so stuffed with superstars you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d be a gang of divas and prima donnas, but, get this, they’re not! This team that has never let us down, and never will. In short – This Barça!
So let’s do that again shall we. Ten points? Psshh! A mere ten points. It’s nothing. This team are so good they’re even giving the opposition a head start. And the thing is, for all of my tongue in cheek humour you know for a fact that many of the players sitting in that Madrid dressing room right now are already thinking the same thing – “Can we really keep Barça at bay!?”
Of course with the quality Madrid have at their disposal, not to mention their unbelievable squad size (I admit it – I’m slightly jealous), you’d have to look at it logically and say they should have more than enough to hold on to top spot, especially as Barça concentrate much of their energies on becoming the first team to retain the European Cup in the modern, Champions League era. And yet for some reason, something just doesn’t feel right. Can it really be that easy? Is it really all over already?
For a long time I tried to convince myself that it was. The league was gone. Over and done with. Best to focus my hopes elsewhere – namely the Vicente Calderon and Allianz Arena. But just as I was almost, kind of, nearly, beginning to make peace with the fact that I would have to witness Mourinho’s mob lifting up our trophy I saw something quite amazing – Rayo Vallecano giving Ronaldo and Co. the scare of their lives. Perhaps their lips weren’t as firmly pressed to the silver as some would have had us believe?
So although they emerged from the Teresa Rivero unscathed and somehow carrying all three points, I found myself questioning whether the title race was really already sealed, especially after Real Betis followed Rayo’s example and did the same thing only a matter of weeks later. Could it be that the door was still open? Are the champions elect beginning to wobble? Well you know what they say – “When their ship starts a-rocking, Barça comes a-knocking!”
“But they still claimed all six points!” I hear you cry. That they did, but they also showed the world that they can be gotten at and shaken, their confidence (and more importantly their defence) not quite as watertight as we once thought. So just as Barça seem to have finally remembered exactly who they are, coming into their own little rich run of form at exactly the right time, Madrid are starting to sway in the wind, their guise of invincibility beginning to crack under the pressure. If only they had a handful of tricky, tough games left in the league whereby they could maybe, possibly drop a few points.
What’s this? They’ve still yet to host Valencia, Sevilla and Malaga. Not to mention travel to Bilbao, Atletico and Osasuna. And with at least one more rather tasty trip to the Camp Nou still on the cards, it suddenly seems Mourinho’s men may not have everything quite tied up just yet. So let’s do the math, shall we? That’s seven very tough games they’ve still yet to play (as well as the five other unpredictable league outings left this season). Madrid need only to draw four of them (thus dropping 8 points), lose one and draw two (minus 7 points), or lose two and draw one (minus 8 points) for the door to be flung wide open once again.
Surely at least three of the above mentioned teams can do us a favour so as to have the contest still alive come April 22nd at the Camp Nou?
Wishful thinking? Perhaps, especially given the fact that Barça face a number of tough league challenges themselves; most notably Madrid, Bilbao and Espanyol at home and Betis away. But maybe the current flirtation between Mourinho and Chelsea will serve as just the distraction needed to rock the Madrid boat? If so there is certainly enough quality in this league for any number of shocks to occur (something all Barça fans can attest to!). Barça’s job is to ensure that we are still in the hunt if and when that time comes. That means improving our away form, keeping key personnel fit and healthy, and convincing Senyor Rosell to splash out on eye-tests for every referee in the league. Maybe then we will be a little closer to that fourth consecutive league title than we currently are.
With Barça facing a tricky trip to Sevilla, and Madrid (after a hopefully rather exhausting Champions League match) hosting a much improved (if slightly inconsistent) Malaga, this weekend may well prove whether my theory holds water or not; will the Madrid wobble finally begin, or will Barça’s travel sickness prove costly once again? I guess we will just have to wait and see. One thing is for sure though, the league is well and truly still alive. And until that trophy is finally bubble-wrapped and shipped to the capital, we can be certain that this wonderful Barça team will not give up. The hunt starts now people!
Image: JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images