Four points can make a huge difference in football.
While the popular narrative of last season tells of Barcelona embarking on an unstoppable march to the La Liga and Champions League crowns, four measly points separated the Catalan gods and the boys from the Bernabeu.
However, encouraging signs in recent Spanish Super Cup suggest Jose Mourinho’s troops can mount an assault strong enough to bridge that gap.
Lest we forget, Real Madrid played some unstoppable football for large stretches of the 2010-11 season. In particular, the angelic midfield trio of Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil and Angel di Maria personified pace and flair every bit as much as Barcelona mastered the arts of precision and patience.
Ronaldo’s record haul of 40 goals last term helped Madrid outscore Barcelona by 102 goals to 95. Having solved their problems at centre-forward with the return to fitness of Gonzalo Higuain and a rapidly-improving Karim Benzema, expect Real to net more than their Catalan arch-rivals again this season.
Real’s strong showing in the two recent curtain-raising Clasicos, where they showed astounding attacking verve and dominated Barcelona for large periods of both legs, has made many Spaniards think the unthinkable and wager against Barcelona this season.
Indeed, 45% of fans polled by sports daily Marca think the trophy will be ending its four-year hiatus and heading back to the capital next summer.
Love him or loathe him, Mourinho’s headline-grabbing antics are certain to rally Real’s players and fans right from the word go. Crucially, Mourinho has extended his personal power base after the dismissal of Jorge Valdano, the club’s director general, and the antipathy towards Barcelona has reached such a level that you can expect his players to be straining every last muscle to outperform the champions each weekend.
It’s near impossible to find fault with Bareclona, but they do need to integrate two key signings into their starting line-up (Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez) which may take time, whereas Real’s promising new signings look more obvious as reinforcements to an already highly-threatening substitutes’ bench.
Throughout a campaign that sees the European champions head off to Japan for the World Club Cup, should Barcelona suffer similar misfortune to Real Madrid last season with key injuries, lady luck is fully capable of swaying the title race in Madrid’s favour.
Now that the pushing and poking has ended, here’s hoping the industrial unrest dies down for good and we can sit back and enjoy another thrilling La Liga title race.
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