Real Madrid’s La Liga title hopes faded further into the distance this weekend after Barcelona opened up a four-point lead at the top of the standings. Barca would now be crowned champion if it wins one of its remaining two games, against third-place Atletico Madrid and relegation-threatened Deportivo La Coruna, respectively.
The Blaugrana’s 2-0 win against Real Sociedad on Saturday reinforced the difference between Spain’s top two sides after Real clawed back to a 2-2 draw at home to Valencia after conceding twice in the first half. Though both teams have scored 107 goals this season, Barca has conceded just 0.5 goals per game, while Real has let in closer to a goal-per-game.
And while the praise for Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez continues to pour in for their dominating offensive contributions, Diego Simeone, the coach of rival Atletico Madrid, notes that its the defensive-minded Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano, Jeremy Mathieu, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic that give Barca’s front three the freedom they need to express themselves. As the Atleti coach says in his column for Goal.com, above all, “Barcelona are a unit and in that unit, the individual talent of Lionel obviously stands out -- but he wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of his teammates.”
Meanwhile, as Barca’s unit moved closer to a 23rd La Liga title, Real’s team is looking less and less of a unit, both on and off the field, every passing day. Following Saturday’s come-from-behind 2-2 draw against Valencia, first, fullback Dani Carvajal threw in the towel, then, Jonathan Barnett, the agent for Gareth Bale, hit out at the Welshman’s teammates for not passing the ball to him enough.
Bale has been loudly criticized for his performances in recent weeks, especially during last week’s 2-1 first-leg loss to Juventus in the UEFA Champions League semifinal, when goalkeeper Iker Casillas made more passes than him. But the agent for the world’s most expensive player claims that new stats from UEFA prove that he covers more ground than his teammates, who tend to pass the ball more to talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, which may be part of the reason his stats aren’t better this season.
“I’m very upset that professional pundits don’t realize these facts,” Barnett complained on Monday. “Instead of criticizing, they should look at it more closely because it’s plain to see when you watch the games.”
Actually, Mr. Barnett, some pundits are on your side. Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague, for one, is claiming that Bale needs Ronaldo to leave before he can really shine. In fact, Ballague says that Bale will continue to under-perform as long as Ronaldo remains in the team, because the Welshman will never see enough of the ball with Cristiano around.
Despite the fact that Barnett feels compelled to protect his client, whom he claims “doesn’t want to upset anyone,” the story from the Bale Camp is that the former Spurs man will remain at Real next season.
The 100 million-euro question, however, is: will Carlo Ancelotti still be in charge next season? Down 2-1 after the first game of the UCL semis and in need of a near-miracle to squeak past Barcelona and win La Liga, Ancelotti is looking down the barrel of a trophy-less season, which more often than not, has resulted in prior Real managers losing their job.
Following Saturday’s draw, Ancelotti, as usual, said all the right things: “[Winning La Liga] will now be much more difficult [than it was before], but there are still two matches left and we must try to win them both.” He noted further that, “the result wasn’t good, but our performance was very good,” and that Real was unlucky in hitting the post three times and missing a penalty all before scoring twice to come back into the match against Valencia. Play like that, the Italian claimed, and Real would be just fine in the UCL second-leg at home against Juventus on Wednesday.
Make no mistake about it: Real’s board is absolutely ruthless, so Ancelotti will go if he fails to win the UCL final, which looks likely to be against Barca. President Florentino Perez has poured way too much money into this team to abide a trophy-less season. And you can be sure that Ancelotti won’t even make until the end of the season if Juve prevails on Wednesday.