Real Madrid get over their Copa del Rey exit as a tired Barcelona fall 7 points behind.
Barcelona started this seasons league campaign with a crushing 5-0 victory over fellow Champions League qualifiers Villareal. 33 games later for Barcelona and 28 for Villareal they met again at ‘El Madrigal’. Since the opening game of the season, ‘El Submarino Amarillo’ have crashed out of the Champions League, sacked their manager and find themselves in the the drop zone. Barcelona on the other hand have been crowned World Champions (adding to their Super Cup and UEFA Super Cup titles) and are favourites for both the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. However, the 0-0 draw late on Saturday evening see’s Barcelona fall 7 points behind leaders Real Madrid.
The draw is a real boost for Villareal but they still find themselves in 18th. It was a tight match with Villareal giving little away, predictably Barcelona had twice as much possession and twice as many shots but created few gilt-edged chances. Messi should have scored with a delightful chip over Diego López as the keeper rushed out but it rolled past the wrong side of the post. In dying embers of the game both Cesc and Messi produced acrobatic saves from López who was deservedly man of the match. Barcelona have been disappointing away from home this season dropping too many points, draws at Real Sociedad, Bilbao, Valencia and Espanyol and suffering defeat at Getafe.
Barcelona looked jaded on Saturday night, they have played 4 more games than Real Madrid this season with 38 matches in total and played a total of 155 in the past three seasons, Real Madrid have played 141. Internationally their squad have played too many games, Messi hasn’t missed a game for Argentina and because of the recent success and marketability of La Roja many of the Spanish players at Barcelona have played more international minutes than they would have previously. They have also raked up the air miles too, trips to Costa Rica in a controversial friendly were the national side were contracted to play their big names as part of the £2million fee and then a week in Japan for the Club World Cup Championships.
Barcelona’s second World Club Championship crown is a huge factor in seeing the league slip away from them. Prior to the championships Barcelona’s last game in La Liga was victory at the Bernabau which saw Barcelona go to the top of the table on the head-to-head basis. As Barcelona were preparing for their highly anticipated final against Santos, Real Madrid beat Sevilla 6-2 to go 3 points clear with both teams having played 16 matches. Barcelona returned from Japan world Champions but at a cost, David Villa was badly injured at sidelined for at least 5months. Barcelona’s first match back in La Liga was the Catalan derby at Espanyol, Barcelona named an unchanged starting XI from the victory at the Bernabau, it was the first time they had done so all season. The game finished 1-1 thanks to a late equaliser from Alvaro Vasquez.
Barcelona also have a lengthening injury list; the heart-stopping midweek 2-2 with Madrid in the Copa del Rey saw Iniesta sidelined again this season, Villa is a long-term injury as is Fontas and Affaley is still recovering. With Kieta at the African Cup of Nations and Maxwell being deemed surplus requirements and sold to PSG, the squad is looking dangerously thin. On Saturday night Tello made his first league start and Issac Cuenca was given his official shirt number, Cuenca is a player with great potential and has shown some real talent has played far more regularly this season than Barcelona would have hoped.
Real Madrid have actually used less players than Barcelona this season but have avoided have too many injuries at once, currently its Angel Di Maria who is watching the games from the stands; and his injury has meant that Real Madrid are playing with both Kaká and Özil who linked up well all match against strugglers Zaragoza. Typically as it seems in 2012 Real Madrid went behind Lafita scored after just 10minutes, Zaragoza played well but it wasn’t long until the inevitable happened Kaká struck after 32minutes with a smart left footed finish. Cristiano put Los Blancos finishing off a flowing team move just after the restart and Kaka set up Özil to wrap the game up 5minutes later.
Athlético Madrid continued their fine form under new boss Diego Simone with a scrappy 1-0 victory at Osasauna, on loan Chelsea keeper Courtious produced another fine performance. Athlético’s form under their new manager is very impressive in 4 games they have 3 wins, 8 goals and are yet to concede. They find themselves in 7th position just 2 points behind 4th spot. The race for 4th spot is becoming quite the spectacle in the league as Athletic Bilbao bounced back after a disappointing result last week at the Bernabau with a 3-2 victory at Rayo Vallacano, the talismanic no.9 Fernando Llorente scored all 3 as Athletic mounted the pressure on Espanyol and Levante. Espanyol beat Mallocrca at home with on loan Manchester City winger Vladimír Weiss getting the only goal. Levante stumbled again this time at home to Getafe, they have had a truly incredible season getting to the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey and beating Real Madrid. They have surpassed all expectations as they were one of the favourites to go down this season but it looks like they are finally losing their grip on 4th place, but it has still been a remarkable adventure.
Week 20 results in full
Espanyol 1 – 0 Mallorca
Rayo Vallecano 2 – 3 Athletic Bilbao
Real Madrid 3 – 1 Real Zaragoza
Villareal 0 – 0 Barcelona
Real Betis 1 – 2 Granada
Real Sociedad 5 – 1 Sporting Gijon
Levante 1 – 2 Getafe
Racing Santander 2 – 2 Valencia
Malaga 2 – 1 Sevilla
Osasauna 0 – 1 Athlético Madrid