Real Madrid will be closing 2017 in the most spectacular way possible- facing rivals Barcelona at Santiago Bernabéu. The home game will be the turning point for the Zidane team this season, as they try to take points out from the lead side and turn the season around for its second half.
Every Clásico is its own story, as shown by the emotional blow Barça’s visit was as La Liga was coming to a close. Even if the actual tournament was eventually won, the scars weren’t exorcized. It seemed to take Cristiano Ronaldo imitating Messi’s gesture at Supercopa- show your name and number to the rivals you’re defeating and constantly question you.
However, a lot has changed since then, and the table shows it in particular cruelty- with one less game (due to Club World Cup), the reigning champion is fourth, with Valencia directly ahead. The ones to beat- or to slip points as well- are the classic rivals: Atlético and Barcelona, both of which also remain undefeated.
Defeating Barcelona would not only strip away this detail, but also restore confidence. Sure, there’s another cup at the museum. But La Liga isn’t as close as it once was, and PSG awaits in February. The victories themselves in Abu Dhabi weren’t what Zidane has gotten us used to, with Al-Jazira putting up a fight and Grêmio, despite not attacking, pulling an impenetrable bus. Real is winning, but not dominating.
And twice, when they really had to, not even that.
The season couldn’t have had a better start, getting both Supercups in dispute. In particular, the Spanish one involved beating Barça with a 5-1 aggregate. A trend seemed to show, regardless. The goals wouldn’t exactly come from the usual stars (BBC) but rather the young blood. 21-year-old Marco Asensio scored two of the five.
Later, Deportivo La Coruña was delivered a 3-0 that placed Real first. However, local trouble arose when Valencia tied them 2-2, Asensio’s brace not being enough. This led to a slip into the fifth position. With another draw (1-1 against Levante at home), the reigning champion found itself seventh.
Regardless, Santos’ 1963 scoring record (73 matches denying opposition keepers clean sheets) was met. However, it couldn’t be passed, as Betis won by the minimum difference and tossed them from fourth to eighth place. In retrospective, this was possibly the first real blow.
The moving sand
A key rule for long tournaments that “bigger clubs” need to follow is not only staying undefeated at home, but also taking three points from the “smaller clubs.” Fellow larger sides are open, as well as teams enjoying a surprise good spree. Since such games may not guarantee many points, it’s best to secure them where the odds are greater for the stronger side.
Barça’s second-placed finish last season was partially due because they failed to take points from lesser sides. Now, the same ghosts are plaguing their old foes [Real Madrid] .
October 29th. As Isco scored in the 12th minute, it seemed to be another match, perhaps the 14th in the streak of victories as a visitor. Yet the second half changed everything, with Girona, newly ascended Girona, turning things around in four minutes. No matter the efforts, the upset was sealed. It wasn’t as disappointing as the Betis loss- at home, and with less damage in the table-but it still kept the alarms sounding.
The mood was affected, as shown by Tottenham drawing 1-1 in Madrid, then beating them 3-1 in Wembley. While an argument could be made for the English side’s good European run, it’s still not what one would expect from the twice-consecutive champions.
Up and down and up again
Soon, however, Real bounced back to winning ways, as Málaga and Las Palmas can testify. A mutual clean sheet ensued at Wanda Metropolitano, but nothing to be overly concerned about.
The recovery extended to Europe, with a 6-0 win against APOEL (from a previous 3-0) and a 3-2 victory against Borussia Dortmund, now Europa League bound.
Then there is the Club World Cup, which followed a 5-0 trashing of Sevilla. While not as “easily” as many would ask, Real met the task and won their second Mundialito in a row.
The team was confident again, and so was Cristiano, who declared himself most complete player. With a fifth Ballon d’Or and return to goal-scoring ways in two out of three competitions, one may understand the source of his boost. Such attitude is the first step for a victory, which the team still needs.
The judges from Catalonia
With one less game, Valencia is three points away, with Atlético leading by five. Barcelona is slightly further- eleven points- but el Clásico is always key. The rivals aren’t exactly at their best, performance-wise, but they’ve been efficient and as for points, at the very least they’ve lost two points on three occasions (casually, one of the three draws was also against Atlético).
To take away the undefeated status would feel close to a sixth title in a calendar year, let alone the consequences in the Catalans’ confidence and mood. It would also strengthen Real’s momentum, as domestic competitions go on and the defence faces Neymar again soon.
However, a loss could have severe ramifications and not only for Barça’s own settling. Losing such an opportunity could thwart the newly recovered winning ways. This could affect the number of trophies won- remember the distances in the table. Keep in mind that, while Valencia has begun to slip, Atlético hasn’t.
Thankfully, Copa del Rey is its own game- Barça also found comfort there. As for the Champions League, PSG is also a hungry, slightly wounded beast, though still on top.
Head to head (official competitions)
|Games played||Real Madrid wins||Draws||Barcelona wins|
Copa del Rey
UEFA Champions League
Copa de La Liga/Supercopa de España
Real has a lot more at stake than Barça, which could add pressure. However, as said previously, el Clásico is its own story, and there’s still a H2H to turn things around for the catalans. The less-than-stellar officiating might come in play, especially as calls begin and each side considers itself the subject of a conspiracy.
But focusing on points and La Liga (what is “objectively” the main context) Barça was in a similar position on their last Bernabéu visit, and Messi got to show his name. A similar act might not be as significant when home, but Real has a good shot.
These are the two teams that made La Liga’s case for being the best on the globe before Atlético joined them. Sure, we’ve talked about Real’s irregular season, but in all honesty, many teams would give anything for a similar one.
On paper, a draw seems fair. Of course, once the ball rolls and strategies play out, the balance might lead to one side. Whatever happens, it’s going to be an entertaining match. Especially as time ticks by and the Messi-Ronaldo era settles- unfortunately for us football fans- it is in its later stages.