Real Madrid are having a shaky start to their La Liga campaign so far, and have already been left with little room for manoeuvre due to the fact Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have won all eight matches to date. However, despite their unconvincing game, Los Blancos sit only five points behind the Azulgranas and Colchoneros. So don’t be surprised if they manage to take the lead before Christmas. These are the five crucial dates that can help Real reach that objective:
1. October 19th. Osasuna-Barcelona:
El Sadar has been a difficult place for Barcelona in their last visits. There is always a special atmosphere when either Real Madrid or Barca pay a visit to Pamplona. The crowd roars and the players are encouraged by their supporters. Last season, the Azulgranas avoided a loss with two goals in the last minutes. It was a very controversial 1-2 win, since the first goal should had been disallowed for an offside. The previous season Osasuna beat the Catalonians 3-2, and one year before they had also lost 1-2 in a very close game. With the Rojillos in good shape since the arrival of their new coach Javi Gracia, Barcelona could be in trouble.
2. October 26th. Barcelona-Real Madrid:
The first Clasico of the season will be a crucial event to test Los Merengues’ title credentials. Carlo Ancelotti’s side will have a difficult challenge at Camp Nou, where their arch-rivals feel very comfortable. Nevertheless, they can go into it with optimism taking a look at their last two visits: last season’s 1-3 victory in the Copa del Rey semifinals and a 2-2 draw in La Liga. Cristiano Ronaldo have been especially inspired against the Azulgrana and his goals could be decisive to secure a victory that would completely end the rumours of crisis at Bernabeu.
3. November 10th. Villarreal-Atletico Madrid:
Unbeaten Atletico Madrid will face a difficult challenge at Villarreal, where the hosts haven’t lost a single match so far this season. In fact, they only dropped points against Real Madrid, with a 2-2 draw. The Amarillos are playing beautifully and they’ll take advantage of the fact that the fans are close to the players, creating an intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams. Diego Simeone’s men will have one of their toughest clashes in Castellon.
4. December 1st. Athletic Bilbao-Barcelona:
Barcelona’s first visit to the new San Mames isn’t likely to be pleasant. The Azulgranas have only picked one victory in their last four trips to Bilbao, and this season Athletic has turned into one of the league’s revelations with a number of quality signings, such as Benat and Mikel Rico. No team has yet beat them at their new stadium, with only Valencia being able to steal a point in a 2-2 draw.
5. December 15th. Barcelona-Villarreal and Atletico Madrid-Valencia:
Villarreal have great memories of their matches against Barcelona since they first got promoted to the first division in 1998. In their first league confrontation against the Azulgranas, that humble team from a small town in Castellon embarrassed one of the greatest clubs in the world with a 1-3 victory at Camp Nou. They won again in their second visit to Barcelona (1-2) and after that they consistently put the Catalans in trouble at their stadium: four more draws and one win, almost always in thrilling games. The way the Amarillos are playing this season, their next trip to Barcelona could be a repeat of the first one.
On that same date, Atletico hosts Valencia, a tough rival that has recently disappointed the Colchoneros. Last season, Simeone’s side were unable to beat the Che, picking up a 1-1 draw at Vicente Calderon and losing 2-0 at Mestalla. Since the year 2000, Valencia has defeated Atletico 11 times in La Liga, while the Rojiblancos have only earned five victories. Dropping some points in this match could allow Real Madrid to overtake their city rivals in the table.
Nevertheless, for Los Merengues to benefit from all these possible positive results, they will have to succeed in a few complicated clashes they’ll have before Christmas, such as their visits to Osasuna and Valencia. But even if they haven’t managed to come back by then, the match between Barcelona and Atletico in January will also help them add points to the board before the mid-season mark. Surely reaching the top of the table would give Ancelotti’s men the confidence to fight for all titles this season. Of course, they will have to improve their game first.