So, a huge week for Real Madrid then. They moved into a strong position in La Liga with that stroll in the park against Almeria. And now they take on Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday.
The Catalans have lost their last two successive games without scoring a goal. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Even so, Tato Martino’s team will be a formidable opponent as always in the final, and could be like a wounded lion having suffered their recent setbacks in the Champions League and La Liga.
Los Blancos go into the game with a number of fitness concerns, not least that of Cristiano Ronaldo, who will likely sit out the match nursing a hamstring strain. But there are plenty of positives to draw from the Almeria match, and in other recent showings, that Madrid should be confident of ahead of Wednesday night and the rest of the campaign.
- The importance of Angel di Maria: It seems a long time ago now that the Argentine was being booed from the field and making rude gestures at his own fans. Out of form, and struggling with injury niggles, the tricky winger looked likely to be one of the players allowed to leave the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer. Fast forward a couple of months and he’s back in favour and putting in some stellar perfomances. Despite losing the Clasico last month, di Maria put in a superb individual performance. Against Almeria he was once again excellent – popping up all over the final third and caused the defence a headache all night long. Was rewarded for his performance with a brilliant goal too.
- The attacking unit: It seems incredible to suggest it, but Cristiano Ronaldo has hardly been missed in the last two La Liga games. Since getting injured in the first leg of the Champions League quarter final against Borussia Dortmund, Los Blancos have played two league fixtures. Real Sociedad and Almeria have both been dispatched with ease, 4-0 on both occasions. Whoever plays in the attacking unit, it seems to work these days. Karim Benzema spearheads the attack, but the likes of Isco, di Maria, Gareth Bale and Alvaro Morata all have the skill and ability to switch positions, draw defenders out and create chance after chance. With Barcelona facing a defensive crisis on Wednesday, Madrid will be hopeful of scoring goals.
- Are we seeing the best of Gareth Bale? The Welshman didn’t have the best start to life in Spain, nursing ankle and hamstring problems in the opening months of the campaign. He missed the whole of pre-season training with Los Blancos, and of course had to adapt to a new league, culture and language. He seems more settled now and has struck up a great understanding with Benzema and Ronaldo. He netted once again on Saturday, his 19th of a very productive season since his switch from Spurs. The 24-year-old looks to have his confidence back and be at full fitness. The forward has blistering pace, and will provide Barcelona plenty to think about in Valencia.
- Perfect time to play Barcelona: Whilst Real Madrid seem to have recovered from their La Liga defeats against Los Cules and Sevilla and be hitting top form again (despite their loss in Dortmund during the week), Barcelona seem to have run out of luck. Beset by injuries to key players such as Gerard Pique, the Catalans look like they are running through treacle at the moment. Messi and Neymar are out of sorts, and the players and manager are under pressure from the fans and the local press. The Copa del Rey now looks like their only realistic chance of silverware this season, but Madrid will be hoping to take advantage of the fact the reigning La Liga champions are low on confidence and out of sorts. A perfect time to play them maybe?