Little to cheer at Christmas for Real
2-2 tie in Bernabéu and Atlético’s defeat at Camp Nou renders title challenge "impossible"
There is still one Liga match to play before the Christmas break is reached but most observers have already decided the race is over.
After Real Madrid was pegged back to a 2-2 tie by a vastly improved Espanyol in the Bernabéu on Sunday, the reigning champion really needed cross-city rival Atlético to do it a favor at Camp Nou. Not surprisingly, Diego Simeone's team did not oblige. The rojiblancos took the lead through Radamel Falcao and the Colombian striker had come close on two occasions before racing clear from the halfway line and casually chipping Víctor Valdés at full pelt.
But Atlético's ascendancy had a sell-by date and the second half was mostly one-way traffic. Adriano and Sergio Busquets had made it 2-1 before the break and that blow, coupled with the loss of Filipe Luis to injury, took the wind out of the visitors' sails.
Leo Messi rubbed a little salt into Real's wound by adding a second-half brace to take his tally for the year to 90. It would of course be completely unprofessional, not to mention disrespectful, of his teammates to try and tee him up for 10 next Saturday. Still, it promises to be a long 90 minutes for Valladolid's defenders.
We have titles within our reach and we have to fight for them, but the league is almost impossible now"
Real, too, faces a lengthy winter of discontent — at least until the Champions League starts up again and the business end of the King's Cup heaves into view.
"It is practically impossible," José Mourinho said after his side saw Barcelona's lead stretch to 13 points. "That's too much at this stage. Last year we had a 10-point advantage in February or March and we were able to maintain it. "I have never seen a situation like this before, losing so many points, and having a team so far from its objectives. It's new for me, but I am not about to give up. I am not going to make a drama of it. We will seek to finish the season in the best way possible. We have titles within our reach and we have to fight for them, but the league is almost impossible now."
Real's next match is not one for the fainthearted either: away at Málaga. Manuel Pellegrini's side sits in fourth after chalking up another win at the weekend at Sevilla and is one of only four European teams to have navigated the Champions League group stages unbeaten.
Then, of course, there is the added incentive The Anchovies still harbor after Mourinho's "little club" jibe aimed at the south coast last year. Real is assured a warm welcome, to say the least.
Barcelona, of course, took to the microphones to issue the expected soundbites. Carles Puyol said Real is a side that "never lets its head drop," while Xavi read from the autocue: "We aren't stupid, we know we are in a good position in the league, but we must be prudent because it is far from over yet."