The La Liga title race’s latest twist has seen Barcelona take over as leaders, amid growing concerns that Real Madrid’s galactico-heavy side are heading towards a big fall.
Three weeks ago, it was Barcelona “in crisis” after Malaga won 1-0 at the Camp Nou, and Madrid had gained a four-point lead.
But Saturday afternoon’s 1-0 defeat for Los Blancos at Athletic Bilbao, coupled with the blaugrana outfit’s 6-1 hammering of Rayo Vallecano, means that Barca are now a point ahead at the top.
The Catalans are also La Liga’s highest scorers, while conceding least, and are now many pundits’ favourites.
Barca’s charge is being led by their in-form front three of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
Messi bagged a 12-minute hat-trick in yesterday’s stroll past Rayo at the Camp Nou, while summer signing Suarez showed he’s settled well now with a clinically-taken double.
Meanwhile Madrid have now scored just once while taking just one point from their last two La Liga games. ‘Free Fall’ said the front cover of Los Blancos-backing paper Marca on Sunday morning.
Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti admitted at his post-game news conference after Saturday’s defeat that his team’s issues were in attack.
“Our problem is not in defence, but in attack,” Ancelotti said. “In two games we have scored one goal, a penalty. That is what we must fix. We lack efficiency in front of goal.”
Ancelotti’s problem is that his team is really built around Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo — the ‘BBC’ strike-force assembled by club president Florentino Perez.
The idea is that even if the team lacks ball-winners in midfield, at least one of its superstars can provide a moment of magic to win any game.
On Saturday, Bale came closest to an equaliser, when a mis-hit cross struck the woodwork. However the €100m signing now has not scored in eight games, his worst run since joining Madrid in summer 2013.
Ronaldo did not manage even one shot on target at San Mames, and was only really noticed when theatrically throwing up his hands in frustration when teammates did not pass him the ball. An out-of-form Benzema also made little impression. When asked afterwards if the ‘BBC’ still remained untouchable, Ancelotti deflected the question by suggesting the issue was service from midfield. “The BBC did not play a good game, but they were not the problem,” Ancelotti said.
“We played slowly, not moving the ball well, so there were no spaces for the forwards. It is a problem of the time between the pass and the run.”
Pundits have also argued that midfield is the issue, but because the increasingly tired looking Toni Kroos & Co are overworked, as the attacking trio stand up top waiting for service.
In recent weeks Villarreal, Valencia and Atletico Madrid have all dominated games by outnumbering Madrid in central areas. With their supply cut off, the marooned BBC between them have just 15 goals in 14 games in 2015.
Messi alone has 18 strikes over that time — and in three months has made up a huge gap to draw level with Ronaldo as La Liga’s top scorer.
It is however worth pointing out that very similar doubts about Madrid’s 4-3-3 shape were raised last season. On the very biggest days, such as the Copa del Rey final and Champions League latter stages, one of their superstars magically dismissed all tactical concerns away with a moment of genius. Ancelotti knows that such special individual efforts are his team’s best hope again this year. He must be praying that Ronaldo especially rediscovers his best physical and mental condition, ahead of the potentially season-defining ‘Clasico’ in two weeks time at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.
Because on current form, Messi and Barca could run riot there.
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