After the disastrous performance against Barcelona in El Clasico, Real Madrid found themselves six points behind their bitter rivals. The title looked destined to be heading to Catalan once again and Real madrid manager Rafa Benitez was under huge pressure from fans and the media.
But since that glittering performance at the Santiago Bernabéu, Barcelona have hit a dip in form, winning only one of their last three leagues and drawing the other two.
The dropped points was the chance for Rafa and Real to close the gap on their rivals, but instead it is city rivals Atletico Madrid that have closed the gap while Real are still five points behind Barcelona.
The last missed opportunity by Benitez’s side occurred this weekend when Real lost 1-0 at Villarreal on Sunday, a result that left Rafa at a loss to explain his side’s terrible first-half performance after they slipped to a third defeat in five league games.
“It is difficult to explain because it is clear in the first half we didn’t play well and I expected the team we saw in the second half, albeit we lacked precision,” said Benitez.
Benitez refused to admit defeat in the title race with 23 matches still to go, but acknowledged his star-studded squad couldn’t afford to pass up many more opportunities on the rare occasions Barcelona slip-up.
“I insist this is a league in which all the teams will lose points,” he added. “The important thing is to face the games like we did in the second half, that will allow us to have more guarantees and win games.
“I am not happy at all with the first half and I think the reaction in the second half is the route we have to follow. Unfortunately, today it has cost us three points.
“Evidently we know that to fight for the league we have to win a lot of games. These games, with a favourable situation before the match, are the games where we really need to show that we are going for the league.”
You only get so many chances to take advantage of a slip by one of the top teams and Real have been unable to do thtat. To make the defeat even worse for Madridistas, it is Atleti who are now level with Barca at the top of the table.
While Atleti are laboring to pick up points they are getting the job done. They may not have Messi, Neymar or Cristiano, but they do have Griezmann, who seems to improve with each passing month. He’s a player who has clearly been stamped with Cholo’s desire to battle for everything on the pitch.
Atlético are showing that they are true title candidates and once again it appears that the Spanish title race has just two contenders, but this time neither of them are called Real Madrid.