Feb 24, 2014, 1:20 AM EDT
Last month, when Real Madrid pulled itself back into Spain’s title race, the main obstacle separating the team from the favorite’s position with the form of their competition. Barcelona was still plugging away at the top of the league, having only once all season. Atlético were right there, with only goal difference keeping them from La Liga’s top spot. Real Madrid could get as hot as they wanted, but unless Barcelona and Atlético began stumbling, they had no chance of claiming the title. And based on the records each team carried into January, there was little evidence saying their pace would slow.
There was little evidence besides history, that is. At one point, both Barça and Atlético were 16-1-1, having claimed 49 of a possible 54 points. In hindsight, we should have seen those rates as admirable but completely unsustainable. Where Barcelona and Atlético really going to navigate the back halves of their seasons — when the Liga, Copa del Rey, and Champions League heat up — claiming 2.7 points per game? Leaving both teams on pace to beat the Primera record of 100 points in a season?
After this weekend’s action, that assumption of greatness looks incredibly naive, particularly after results against Real Sociedad and Osasuna allowed the left for dead Merengues to claim first place. Coming off their Champions League victory at Manchester City, Barcelona was outplayed in San Sebastián on Saturday, losing 3-1. Atlético did the feat one worse on Sunday, losing at Osasuna, giving Real Madrid sole possession of first place thanks to its 3-0 win against Elche.
The win was more workmanlike that spectacular, but on a weekend when Carlo Ancelotti’s team distanced themselves from their competition, the virtues of the workmanlike were never so evident. With goals from Aiser Illarramendi, Gareth Bale, and Isco, El Real enjoyed a leisurely Saturday against the Segunda’s reigning champions, with the quality of Bale and Isco’s tallies underscoring the ever-present potential of Real’s potent attack.
“I am satisfied because we didn’t concede,” was Ancelotti’s assessment, the Real Madrid head coach maintaining perspective ahead of a mid-week Champions League trip to Schalke. “Our play could have been better but at this stage of the season we need to be solid and we were.”
With Barcelona kicking off later against Real Sociedad, that solid performance would surely only be good enough for a temporary hold on first place. Though they stood three points clear that the final whistle, a Barça victory at Real Sociedad would vault the defending champions back to the top of the table.
But at a venue they haven’t won at since 2007, Barcelona again stumbled. Making six changes from the team that won in Manchester, Gerardo Martino saw his team go down to an early Alex Song own goal. Lionel Messi’s 14th goal of the season brought Barça even, but second half scores from Antoine Griezmann (his 15th of the season) and David Zurutuza punished a lackluster Blaugrana, with La Real claiming a well deserved two-goal victory.
“Real (Sociedad) deserved to win,” Martino confessed afterward, eventually rueing his reluctance to change his tactics. “I didn’t make the correct reading of the game. The decision not to change was also a mistake.”
As shocking as that result was, Atlético’s Sunday performance became the weekend’s biggest surprise. Allowing first half goals to Alvaro Cejudo, Emiliano Armenteros, and Roberto Torres, Diego Simeone’s team went into half time down three. After 15 minutes contemplation on whether the poor form (three-match losing streak earlier this month) had returned, the Colchoneros were unable to make a dent in the second half, leaving the field to their fourth lopsided loss in three weeks.
“Osasuna played a great game,” according to Atlético left back Filipe Luis, who returned from injury on Sunday. “You can’t take anything away from them. They beat us in every facet of the match.”
The loss capped a perfect weekend for Real Madrid. Though the team’s winter form always made a win against Elche likely, Ancelotti’s men couldn’t have foreseen stumbles from both Barcelona and Atlético. But with fortune now extending beyond their own performances, also blessing those trying to take points from their rivals, los Blancos are now in control of La Liga’s title race.
And right now, there’s little doubt: They are the best team in Spain.
- Valladolid 1, Levante 1 – Javi Guerra’s second half goal salvaged an important point for Valladolid, who stay within three points of Málaga for the last spot above the drop.
- Celta Vigo 1, Getafe 1 – A second yellow to Lisandro López in the 52nd minute left a shorthanded Getafe to defending their 1-0 lead, but a 59th minute goal from Rafinha allowed Luis Enrique’s team to extend their unbeaten run to five.
- Almería 0, Málaga 0 – Bernd Schuster’s team doubled their hosts’ shot total but were left empty-handed after a game where the two teams combined for four shots on goal.
- Rayo Vallecano 0, Sevilla 1 – Coke’s 57th minute goal gave Sevilla full points from a match where they held only 29 percent possession but limited their hosts to one shot on goal.
- Real Betis 0, Athletic Club 2 – Athletic maintain their four-point lead on fifth after two Betis red cards left the league’s last place club little change to pull back Iker Munain’s opener. Guillermo’s late insurance leaves the verdiblancos 11 points from safety.
- Valencia 2, Granada 1 – Rubén Vezo’s 91st minute winner extends Los Che’s unbeaten run to seven, handing Granada their fourth loss in five.
Espanyol vs. Villarreal
Real Madrid 3, Elche 0
Real Sociedad 3, Barcelona 1
Osasuna 3, Atlético Madrid 0
Mar 30, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
England has refrained from bidding for World Cups since their relationship with Sepp Blatter has soured, but that could change in the next vote or two.
Mar 30, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT
Barcelona striker Neymar was furious with former Premier League defender Gary Medel, who clattered him hard during the first half of a physical match.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:50 AM EDT
The 26-year-old scored for the Mexican team this weekend, but remains frustrated at the club level.
Mar 29, 2015, 11:27 PM EDT
Are Saints about to lose another young star to one of the Premier League’s “big five?” We’ll find out this summer.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:52 PM EDT
Kane will join England’s U-21 squad for this summer’s European Championship.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:18 PM EDT
No fun for 70 minutes, and then the final 20 happened. TFC’s criminally disallowed goal was the only difference in this one.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:48 PM EDT
There’s a real reason, other than “easy schedule,” for England’s improved performances since the World Cup.
Mar 29, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT
Harry Shipp. Harry Shipp. Harry Shipp.
Mar 29, 2015, 5:58 PM EDT
Sterling isn’t interested in negotiating a new deal until the summer — even if it’s for $270,000/week — and a few reassurances are made.
Mar 29, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Who’s on top of Groups D, F and I at the halfway point?
Mar 29, 2015, 2:55 PM EDT
Luis Suarez was candid as ever after Gerrard’s charity match, and he opened up the possibility of a Premier League return down the road.
Mar 29, 2015, 12:05 PM EDT
Thierry Henry showed off his sparkling passing skills at Steven Gerrard’s testimonial.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:43 AM EDT
The United States loses one of their goalscorers from Friday’s friendly, but now it’s a youngster’s turn to make a statement.
Mar 29, 2015, 10:14 AM EDT
A whopping turnaround, led by owner Katharina Liebherr, has taken place at St. Mary’s and the financial evidence is there.
Mar 29, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
If Adnan Januzaj wants to make a return to the Belgium squad, he must focus on earning playing time at his club first.
Mar 29, 2015, 8:13 AM EDT
An agreement has reportedly been reached between the current American owner and a domestic ownership group.
Mar 29, 2015, 7:34 AM EDT
Gareth Bale knows what people are saying about his recent play at Real Madrid, but he’s not listening.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Catch up on all the action from Week 4 of the MLS season.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:41 PM EDT
A disappointing result for FCD, given Seattle’s lack of Dempsey and Martins, but a great one considering their early red card.
- MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 2-1 Toronto FC 2
- EURO 2016 qualifying roundup: Germany back on track; Portugal beat Serbia, go top 0
- Report: Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner set to sell team to UK group 0
- MLS roundup: Whitecaps, D.C. United win late ones; FCD, Sounders in disappointing draw 1
- MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 0-0 Seattle Sounders 0
- MLS Snapshot: Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Portland Timbers 2