NOBODY WOULD argue that Real Madrid are not quite as glittering as they have been at various times in their history, but in 2021-22, Carlo Ancelotti’s team appears to be heading for glory both at home and abroad.
While their old rivals Barcelona lurch from crisis to crisis, Real are trying to manage their transition while storming away at the top of La Liga. Their latest victory, against last season’s champions, Atlético Madrid, not only put their cross-town enemies in their place, but also suggested there’s nobody to seriously stop them. Emerging talent and a swansong or two from the club’s veterans has created a compelling mix that is flourishing under Captain Valium himself, the amiable and understated Ancelotti.
Real, despite their 2-0 win against Atléti and an eight point lead at the top of La Liga, are unhappy about the Champions League draw. They have called the redraw debacle “shameful” after they were drawn against Paris Saint-Germain following the original pairing with Benfica. Their last 16 task is now significantly tougher than the initial draw.
In the league, however, Real have been almost unbeatable and have lost just once in 17 games. As well as their lead over second-placed Sevilla, they are 13 in front of Atléti and have 18 more than Barcelona. They’ve scored 39 goals and their striking duo, Karim Benzema and Vinícius Júnior have scored 30 goals between them. They are currently the most potent front-line in Europe. And they want to increase their firepower by acquiring Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund. With Real’s finances impacted less than most during the pandemic, they will be one of the very few who can afford such a signing in the new year.
The difference between Real and Atléti was Los Blancos’ counter-attacking and the form of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who pulled off some superb saves and was actually busier than Jan Oblak, his counterpart in the Atléti goal. The speed of Real’s forward thrusts and their interplay demonstrated a degree of sophistication unmatched by the visitors, resulting in a splendid volleyed goal from Benzema in the 16th minute and a second goal from Marco Asensio to clinch the victory. Atlético failed to muster up a decent chance despite having Antoine Griezmánn in their line-up.
Asensio, who could be on his way out of the club, said Real are “solid” right now and praised his team-mate Vinícius who seems to have found the consistency to match his talent. Ancelotti appears to be getting the best out of the young Brazilian. As for Atlético, their midfielder Koke admitted they are not in a good place at the moment and far from their best. They currently look like a team that has exhausted itself from the intensity of their title win in 2020-21. Real, meanwhile, look destined to win the title.
As for the Champions League, if they can get past PSG and Lionel Messi, they will be in business. They won’t need reminding that they may also come up against their former skipper, Sergio Ramos, who has already said he would have preferred another opponent. Emilio Butragueño, the club’s director of institutional relations, was fuming about the redraw: “I must say it’s very difficult to understand what’s gone on today, given that millions of fans and the world of sport were following the draw.” The relationship between Real and UEFA has been strained for some time owing to the European Super League project, this will doubtless only serve to harden the frost.