Barcelona and Bilbao Thrive on Madrid’s Misery

Real Madrid walked into 2015 as the World Cup Champions, their win in the final in Morocco was their 22nd victory in a row and things looked promising ahead of the upcoming year. Prior to the resumption of La Liga, the European Champions headed to Dubai for a friendly with Serie A side Milan, the Spanish giants lost 4-2 although the game didn’t count for much. Nevertheless, Los Merengues failed to bounce back once La Liga and Copa Del Rey resumed as they lost to Valencia in the league 2-1 before losing to Atletico Madrid 2-0 in the Copa Del Rey.

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Carlo Ancelotti’s men bounced back after that with a convincing 3-0 win over Espanyol followed by a draw in the Copa Del Rey which knocked them out and four consecutive league wins. After that, they played Atletico Madrid again, this time in the league, the result was catastrophic, a 4-0 loss. They went on to win thrice in February including an away Champions League fixture against Schalke 04. However, they returned to dropping points in March, drawing against Villarreal and losing last weekend at the San Mames against Athletic Bilbao.

Eventually, this has been Real Madrid’s worst period under Carlo Ancelotti, they lost their first spot in the league to Barcelona who were supposed to be in a transitional period after many questions were raised regarding Luis Enrique’s ability to handle such a big club, the transfer ban on the club, their questionable defensive signings and most importantly Luis Suarez’s ban. In Catalonia things look considerably brighter, Barcelona managed to overturn their season with a win against Paris Saint-Germain in the group stages of the Champions League, finishing as leaders of the group. In the Copa Del Rey, they managed to eliminate the club who eliminated Carlo Ancelotti’s side, Atletico Madrid. Luis Enrique’s side rose steadily in the league from the third spot to lead the table, their goal rate has been quite impressive.

While Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema aren’t enjoying the form they did during the first part of the season when they scored 39 goals in 15 games,  Barcelona’s trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar Junior is doing wonders. By mid-December, Messi was 12 goals behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the goalscoring charts, today he’s the joint top-scorer alongside him with 30. Messi’s hatrick against Rayo Vallecano was his 32nd in the league, more than anyone has ever done in La Liga. Suarez has scored 10 goals including two against Manchester City in the Champions League and six assists since the beginning of 2015. Neymar has notched 26 goals in all competitions this term, a great improvement compared to his first season at the club.

In 2012, when the Copa Del Rey celebrations died down, Barcelona’s manager Pep Guardiola paused briefly, laid the trophy down and posed for one last photograph before walking off through the tunnel. It was his last match at the club. He wasn’t coming back. Today under his previous understudy the Catalans have the possibility to win it again.

Real Madrid lost their leading position following the 1-0 defeat on Saturday at Athletic Bilbao thanks to Aritz Aduriz’s first half header. The European champions lacked their usual intensity and attacking flair. While this was another disappointing result for Madrid, it was the cherry on top of the cake for Athletic, who on Wednesday beat Espanyol to reach the Copa del Rey final.

At the same year Guardiola won his last trophy, Marcelo Bielsa was distraught following his club’s 3-0 loss, Bilbao had waited so long to reach the final of their most beloved competition yet it was likely that they will have to wait quite long till they reach the final for another time. Here they are again, looking for a first cup success in 31 years against the same opponents they faced last time they won the trophy.

Fortunes have changed and it’s about time that Real Madrid acknowledge the problem at their disposal before it’s too late, Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao capped their great efforts throughout season with their wins last weekend and if the Copa Del Rey final was played at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid will be put to shame once a Catalan or a Basque club lifts the title in Real’s own turf. Only one of the two will emerge as the champion when they meet in the Copa Del Rey, but who’s more eager to win?

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