Real Madrid have been cruising all season long. At the start of 2017, they hadn’t lost a single game in La Liga and even by Wednesday morning, their loss total was just one.
They led the league with two matches in hand. Barcelona — and Sevilla, as the surprise third place team — had rightly turned their attention to the Champions League. That was where they could still win a trophy, unbothered by Real Madrid’s fast start to the campaign.
But one loss to Valencia later and all of a sudden, Real Madrid’s spot atop La Liga doesn’t look so secure. There’s a real title race to be held now.
Real Madrid still have the lead, but they’re only a point up with only one match in hand. They also still have to play Barcelona and Sevilla — albeit both at home — so their challengers have a way back into the race and make this a true one-point lead. On top of that, Real Madrid have begun to struggle a bit.
It’s not just that the Merengues lost to Valencia, who are 14th in the table and hardly a powerhouse. It’s taken some comebacks to win matches in La Liga and the Champions League too, where they’ve failed to impress like they did earlier this season. Moreover, their first loss in the league to Sevilla last month was immediately followed by a home loss to Celta Vigo in the Copa del Rey. A mere draw in the second leg followed and Real Madrid were out of the tournament.
Will Real Madrid respond better to their league loss this time around? If not, their lead could be gone.
Strangely, this tightening at the top of the table comes at a time when Barcelona are also sputtering. Their midfield looks like a mess and they were just embarrassed by PSG, 4-0, in the Champions League. This isn’t a matter of Barcelona making up ground on Real Madrid, the Merengues are simply coming back to the pack.
It’s too early to say Real Madrid have a problem. It’s one loss, after all. They still lead the league with a match in hand and are getting healthier. Gareth Bale just returned and there’s reason to believe that Zinedine Zidane can get them back to the soaring heights of the start of the season. With their renewed health, maybe even better, set on pulling away from the pack and even winning another European crown. But that’s theoretical right now. What we’re seeing, in an admittedly small sample size, is a team that doesn’t look secure atop the table.
At the very least, we have a La Liga title race. One that we thought was over months ago.