Real Madrid lost away to Real Betis 0-1 yesterday in what may prove to be a microcosm of both the Madrid team’s season and the coaching style that might ultimately cost Jose Mourinho his manager’s job. Once again playing his preferred defensive style with a team built for offense, Mou managed to put out on the pitch his regular band of starters without a defensive winger with offensive punch (Marcelo is still out) or a creative third party to either join Crisitano Ronaldo on offense, or team up with Mesut Ozil at midfield.
Instead, the coach chose his usual tandems of Sami Khedira and Xavi Alonso plus one, and Karim Benzema and Ronaldo plus one. Angel Di Maria, talented as he is, is simply not a playmaker and is best at a supporting role to others who do excel at either that role or at scoring. The resultant situation usually means that Ronaldo is left to try to find Ozil, or a trailer from midfield, for his crosses, as Benzema is always an on-and-off proposition. Since Ozil will normally start the play making from the opposite side of midfield from where Ronaldo lines up, the German midfielder cannot also double as be the first choice finisher. As we clearly saw repeatedly during the game, neither can a trailing Kherida or Xavi.
Once Kaka was brought in, unfortunately, Ozil was taken out, leaving the Brazilian with the same quandary as the German had. Substituting for a more offensive minded defensive midfielder, Luka Modric, did not do it either. Although the second half saw a more offensive Real, the newest roster combinations were not always in sync. But then again, how could they if they don’t play together? Madrid’s offensive eagerness in the second half, born of desperation, left them vulnerable at the back and a few counters almost found the net. The bottom line was that they deserved to lose and Betis earned their three points.
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid clobbered visiting Sevilla 4-0, with Radamel Falcao bringing his tally to 11, one behind second place Ronaldo. The victory places the other Madrid team an incredible eight points ahead of their regal neighbors and still three behind table leading Barcelona. Imagine a future Spanish Football Champions League line up with the usual two plus a roaring Atletico Madrid.
Yesterday, a battle between teams who moved into the round of 16 in the Champions League, saw hosts Malaga beat Valencia 4-0 to take fourth place on the table, one behind Real.
The clinching story today took place at the other side of the nation. Barca beat host Levante UD 4-0, enjoying nearly 80% of ball possession and leaning on Lionel Messi’s 81st and 82nd goals of the calendar year. The diminutive Argentine has 19 goals in La Liga, seven ahead of second place Ronaldo. Messi is pursuing Gerd Muller’s world record 85 goals in a calendar year and has several games left to accomplish that milestone in 2012. At his current pace the record should be his.
But the story of the game was Andres Iniesta who had three goal-on-a-platter assists and a goal for his efforts. Finally, Barca goalkeeper, Victor Valdez, added a feather in his cap with an 87th minute penalty save to add insult to Levante’s injury, and continue Barca’s season of good fortune. Another piece awaits next weekend when arch rivals Real play host to Atletico. If the game goes true to form, Real will widen the gap between first and second place on the table.
No swami prediction needed–barring a truly epic catastrophe Barcelona, with an eleven point lead over Real Madrid, will win the 2012-13 La Liga title. Time for Real, and all but Atletico, to look toward the Copa del Rey and Champions or Europa Leagues for relief.