Currently, FC Barcelona are ten points behind their eternal rivals, Real Madrid with just 12 matches left to play. Surely that gap is insurmountable? There is no way on earth any team could recover such a deficit, not even the best team in the world...right? After all, it would take an uncharacteristic implosion of sorts from the second best team in the world, that’s impossible isn’t it? Well, I’m not so sure.
There are a number of conditions Barcelona have to meet if they are to pull off the comeback of the millennium, such as winning all their remaining 12 matches, including the Clasico at the Camp Nou, but if we have learnt anything from Pep Guardiola’s reign, it is that this team continues to push the boundaries of what’s expected from a football team. No-one expected the 5-0 win over Real Madrid; the odds on such a result must have been astronomical, so why is a comeback being dismissed so readily?
Well, Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho are the reason why. This season, Los Blancos have only dropped seven points, and three of those were in the December Clasico. Quite simply, their form has been staggering. 11 wins from their last 11 league matches. 21 wins from their last 22. Chasing this Real Madrid side appears to be near impossible, how can you possibly improve upon their form without reaching perfection? And how probable is it that any team from any era truly achieves perfection? On the other hand, how much longer can Real Madrid keep up this form, bearing in mind that if they do, they will have achieved that perfection?
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the two team’s La Liga schedules. Even with limited knowledge of the league, I’m sure you can ascertain which one is more difficult:
Of Barcelona’s remaining 12 games, they have four against opposition from the top eight, while Real Madrid have six. Of those four for Barcelona, three are at the Camp Nou, with the single away match against free-falling Levante. On the other hand, Real face four away trips, including trips to San Mames, the Camp Nou and the Vicente Calderon; three of the most feared grounds in the country. Even the home matches look difficult, but more on that later.
Of those 12 matches above, which fixtures would you consider to be difficult for Barcelona? Bearing in mind that the Camp Nou is an absolute fortress, and even when the team was playing inconsistently, they still decimated teams at home, there are very few. Maybe Athletic Bilbao, but I doubt that they could sustain their pressing on such a large (and non-waterlogged) pitch. The Clasico is the obvious one, but Guardiola remains unbeaten in 90 minutes against Real Madrid. Realistically, I only foresee this week’s match against Sevilla, the Clasico and the trip to the Iberostar to be potential banana-skins for the Blaugrana. Even then, I would be confident that Barcelona could win each game individually, so why is it unlikely that they will chain together those wins?
Should Barcelona win their remaining 12 matches, they will end the season on 96 points having done all they could to stop Real Madrid. It leaves the fate of the league title to Real Madrid, and I’m perfectly OK with that fact. Looking back in the history books, that 96 point haul with two Clasico victories would be enough to win any Liga in history. It would tie last season’s point tally, and given all that has happened over the past few months, that would be nothing short of remarkable. Then it gets interesting.
That 10 point gap seems huge. However, if Barcelona win all their remaining matches, it would mean that they were triumphant in the final Clasico, cutting the gap to seven points. As it stands, Real Madrid have 70 points, and they would need at least 97 to win the title. That’s 9 wins from the other 11 matches (Barcelona are winning the Clasico in this situation remember). It seems perfectly plausible given Real’s form as of late, but leaves them little room for error. They would either have to end the season with 8 wins and 3 draws, or gather at least 9 wins to secure that title.
Then we get back to their schedule; which matches could prove difficult for Jose Mourinho’s team? Well, for a start this weekend’s encounter with Malaga. Even though the Andalusians have been poor away from home, they have won four of their last five matches, and there is added incentive for Manuel Pellegrini to do all he can to deny Real the victory. However, I doubt Real will falter this early, unless something dramatic happens in tomorrow’s Champions League match.
So, when’s the next test? How about the following Wednesday when they travel to El Madrigal to face relegation-threatened Villarreal? The Yellow Submarine may be low down the table, but boast a superb home record, having only lost twice in 13 matches. Barcelona found it especially difficult there earlier this year, and depending on what Villarreal side turns up, Los Blancos could be dropping a couple of points.
A home tie with Real Sociedad should be relatively straight-forward, although the trip to Pamplona to face Osasuna could prove difficult. Much like Villarreal, Osasuna have only lost twice at home, and they dispatched Athletic Bilbao with relative ease on Sunday. Could they throw a spanner into the works for Jose’s side? Well, I would consider it unlikely, but possible. From there, the fun doesn’t stop for Real as they host Valencia, before travelling to the Vicente Calderon for the Madrid derby. Valencia are unlikely to stop the Real juggernaut, but a rejuvenated Atleti will be a huge test. I would expect that with the two games in such close proximity, Madrid may drop some points in one of those matches.
Of course the Clasico will take on even more importance at this stage, and if Barcelona are victorious once again, it will be a real test of the squad’s character to regroup themselves for a potential Champions League semi-final second leg, and then a home tie with Sevilla who usually come on strong at the end of the season. Add in a trip to San Mames just days later, and Real Madrid’s season could come crashing down.
Improbable? Certainly. Impossible? Let’s wait and see...