Watching the La Liga games with players sprinting down the pitch, sending precision passes 30 yards and beyond, twisting and turning before sending the ball in to the back of the net, slow is definitely not the word. However, there are 38 La Liga games alone and the combination of those games plus the Copa Del Rey plus the Champions League along with international commitments (which the vast amount of starters for Real Madrid and Barcelona are called up for) can be grueling. The season is a marathon, not a sprint.
Barcelona has tripped in this year’s marathon more than ever with 2 losses and a startling 6 draws. Real Madrid has also lost 2, but they have kept their focus and drawn only once, making the gap between the two teams 10 points. This weekend, the La Liga curtain seemed to be drawing on Barcelona. They were a man down within 2 minutes of the start of the second half, and their opponent, Sporting de Gijón, had tied the game, were looking strong, and Barcelona was looking shaky. Barcelona’s best player, Lionel Messi, wasn’t even on the bench (being rested) and who comes up huge – a man not known for his scoring abilities – Seydou Keita, scoring his first goal in La Liga this season. When the chips are down, Barcelona’s unlikely goal scorers step up. When all was said and done, even with a man down, Barcelona pulled out the win, placing the pressure back on Real Madrid. It would only take one loss by Madrid to dramatically chip away at the 10 point gap, given that Barcelona still faces Madrid at home and are unlikely to lose – they haven’t lost at home yet this year.
Madrid seems up to the task, however. Facing Espanyol (the other Barcelona squad) with several key players out with injuries, they looked stronger than ever. Although they started somewhat slow (a recurring theme this season), Madrid controlled the ball, was patient and scored goals. 5 in total from 4 different sources: 2 for Gonzalo Higuain, and one a piece for Sami Khedira, Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo. It was a team effort, with unselfish players working for a common goal. If Madrid continues on this path, there is no telling what they can do.
With 12 games to go, winning La Liga is becoming more of a certainty for Madrid. However, with the Champions League becoming more challenging, end of the season injuries starting to build and exhaustion kicking in for the players, Madrid will have to remain focused, because as most marathon runners will tell you, it’s the last mile that is the hardest.
A.J. Nelson can be found on Twitter @FootieObsessed