LA LIGA: Can Real Madrid make history?
Posted on January 9, 2009 5:54 pm
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Small change of pace. With the weekend coming up, gotta talk briefly about what’s in store…
Real Madrid has one hell of a New Year’s challenge ahead of them. A good start, of course, with the 1-0 win over Villarreal last weekend but overcoming this particular challenge will be something of historic proportions if carried out. They’ve added Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a new and healthy Diarra in Lassana and both signings should work out exactly as expected. But it all comes down to the fact that Barcelona has a 12 point lead. Last year, at this time, it was Barca playing catch-up but it’s Real in the hole now. They can only be perfect, languishing (for Real, it’s languishing) in 5th place, and hope that Barca folds – a scandal arises, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, and Carlos Puyol all leave for the Red Bulls, or something of the sort. Juande Ramos is confident they can make up the deficit, but it’s going to take a flawless second half. On the European front, signs of the difficult task ahead of them were evident, as Real fought to include both new signings, Diarra and Huntelaar, in their UEFA Champions League selection. Both to no avail as Diarra and Huntelaar played in the UEFA Cup with their respective clubs. More moves on the way – ones that might influence their European chances? You can bet on it – Wigan’s Antonio Valencia and Lazio’s Mauro Zarate have all joined the long shortlist that Juande Ramos and Real have put together, while experienced driver Cristiano Ronaldo apparently “verbally agreed” to “join the Real Madrid revolution” at some point. Even if it happened this January – which it won’t – it’s still a lot to say that Real can get this done. My take? Not gonna happen – Real winds up 3rd.
Meanwhile, Barca has had a chance to rest their squad and the return of Andres Iniesta – hero of the game vs. Real Mallorca – should boost the league leaders and allow them to add to their 15-game unbeaten streak. Lionel Messi and Thierry Henry are both on the same page – which is almost sickening to watch. Henry with that close range, no angle goal the other day to help Barca beat Mallorca, and Messi with his hat-trick in Copa del Rey action against Atletico Madrid earlier this week. [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WZ91KwVulU&feature=related"]Hat-trick vs. Atletico. [/ame]But what will happen when the heat is turned up and the target on their back gets bigger? Should Pep tweak and add players to an already solid, but injury prone, squad? He’s already come out and said – “none will leave” – but who might be on their way in? Don’t bring anyone. Barca dropped only 7 points out of a possible 48 – and their team has the potential to grow even stronger. Dani Alves – the prize transfer of the summer – still hasn’t shown his greatest stuff and Pique is young and getting the hang of life at Camp Nou. Mistakes and all, though, the full meshing of these two into the squad will only make Barca’s job in the second half a lot easier.
The Real Madrid loss to start the second half of the season was bitter for a Villarreal squad eager to regain a spot that guarantees UEFA Champions League action next year. It felt like only a couple games ago, they were chasing down Barca at the top. Out of the top six isn’t customary for the Yellow Submarine and they’re looking to keep all the pieces, young or old, in order to have a proper go at it. That means Jozy Altidore should be staying put – beating back an Everton loan bid – and with the injuries that have hit the Villarreal frontline so far this season, it makes sense. It all comes down to finding a way to win the game – especially in their last two games vs. Barcelona and Real Madrid. Decent showings, poor results. They almost didn’t deserve to lose. So how does the Yellow Submarine find their way back into contention? A win over huge rivals Valencia away from home could start a team on the right track.
Who’s taking the cake in La Liga this year? Will Messi and Henry be too much to stop?