Marcelo hastily cleared the ball in front of Thibaut Courtois’ goal, coming uncomfortably close to scoring an own goal in the dying minutes of a decisive match against Espanyol. Fortunately for the veteran Real Madrid left-back, the ball missed the frame of the goal and went out of play, prompting the match official to signal the end of the match.
Last season, Los Blancos endured one of their worst campaigns, ever. They lost 12 games in La Liga alone and finished in third place, 19 points behind table-toppers, Barcelona. Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari tried their luck at managing the most demanding club in the world, but it was Zinedine Zidane, who, once again, decided to save the club, become its messiah.
It was always meant to be an uphill battle without the club’s record goalscorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, but Zidane didn’t shy away from taking the fight to Barcelona. “Let’s go for the title,” he said to his team. And his boys haven’t disappointed, yet.
Turmoil at Barcelona
We’re 32 games into the 2019-20 La Liga campaign, and the title race couldn’t be tighter. On paper, both Real Madrid and Barcelona have benefitted from the pandemic-enforced postponement, getting the opportunity to field the likes of Marco Asensio, Luis Suarez, and Eden Hazard. However, unlike Real Madrid, Barcelona haven’t quite managed to put their best foot forward.
Since the restart, Barcelona have won three matches and drawn two — against Sevilla and Celta Vigo, respectively. The two draws have cost Barcelona their two-point lead at the summit and left them to play catch up with Zidane’s Real Madrid. If that wasn’t bad enough, there are reports of unrest in the Barcelona dressing room.
As per sources, Blaugrana boss, Quique Setien, isn’t seen as an ideal candidate for the job and is living on borrowed time. The reports claim that the Blaugrana players, including the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, are disappointed with the way the team’s been playing over the last few matches and have little respect for the coaching staff.
Barcelona skipper, Lionel Messi, was also spotted disregarding Setien’s assistant’s — Eder Sarabia — instructions in the draw at Vigo, which many are interpreting as a sign of a rift between the Argentine and Setien’s staff.
With six games still to go, the pressure is on Setien to turn Barcelona’s fortune around. It is believed that the club is already looking for alternatives, and won’t stand on ceremony if the former Betis manager fails to win against Atletico Madrid and Villarreal.
The final stretch
While Barcelona struggle to maintain a sense of camaraderie, Zinedine Zidane’s squad appear more united than ever. The Frenchman has taken upon himself to rotate his squad extensively, giving pretty much everyone the opportunity to prove their mettle. Even outcasts, such as Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, have enjoyed a few minutes on the pitch but couldn’t produce anything worth remembering.
Racking five successive wins hasn’t been easy, but the team’s unmatched perseverance has helped them overtake the Catalans. The brush with death at Espanyol should serve as a wakeup call for Real Madrid. They must realise how important every point is.
If the “worst” side in the division can run the team ragged, anyone can, especially those who have a knack for it. Being at the club since 2001, Zidane understands Real Madrid better than most. He knows how demanding that badge is, knows how quick they are to forget the good old days. The remaining six fixtures will make or break Real Madrid and Barcelona, determine the fate of their managers.
While Setien fights for survival, Zidane will be doing his best to extend his legacy, to add another chapter to his book of exploits. The two greatest clubs in Spain are desperate to win the first La Liga after the pandemic, and they will leave no stone unturned to get there. Irrespective of the outcome, the final lap is guaranteed to be fascinating. And as fans, we can’t wait for the next round to commence.