With APOEL out of the way in the UEFA Champions League, Bayern Munich will be the opponents in the semi finals up next. This along with La Liga title race getting fiercer by each matchday, April does not look pretty for Real Madrid. It does not look pretty even for Madridistas who would surely go through a lot of nerves in the coming three weeks.
Having had a 10 point lead, it was expected by many that we will drop points at Osasuna in Pamplona but instead we dropped points versus Malaga and Villarreal with two consecutive draws in a space of days, which looked like victories in the bag. This resulted in the lead being reduced to six points and Barcelona right on our tails. April, therefore, becomes a very vital month to determine our fate in both the competitions. April fixture list looks like this:
|April 8||Valencia||Bernabeu||La Liga|
|April 11||Atletico Madrid||Vicente Calderon||La Liga|
|April 14||Sporting Gijon||Bernabeu||La Liga|
|April 17||Bayern Munich||Allianz Arena||UEFA Champions League|
|April 22||Barcelona||Camp Nou||La Liga|
|April 25||Bayern Munich||Bernabeu||UEFA Champions League|
|April 29||Sevilla||Bernabeu||La Liga|
A total of 7 games in the next 21 days, 4 at the Bernabeu and 3 away to Vicente Calderon, Camp Nou and Allianz Arena. All games of utmost importance and definitely no chance of a slip-up, especially at this stage of the season.
- Valencia at Bernabeu:
The first game in this list of difficult games is at home to Valencia this Sunday. Valencia last night reached the semi finals of the Europa League at the expense of AZ Alkmaar with a 5-2 aggregate victory. Next up for Valencia are fellow La Liga outfit Atletico Madrid who overcame Hannover’s challenge. While Valencia have been going all guns blazing in Europa League, same cannot be said of their La Liga campaign. Up until end of February, they sat comfortably in third place with an automatic qualification for UEFA Champions League confirmed. Since a 4-0 victory v Sporting Gijon, Valencia have won two, drawn two and lost four, 8 points out of twenty four. Now they have Malaga, Levante, Osasuna, Atletico, Sevilla and Espanyol behind them, only separated by 7 points. This performance has also raised concerns over Unai Emery’s job with some Spanish newspapers suggesting he won’t last until the end of season.Playing at home, Real Madrid haven’t lost to Valencia since 2007/08 when we lost 3-2. Last year it was two Cristiano Ronaldo goals which got a victory in a high tempered game which saw David Albelda get sent off.
- Atletico Madrid at Vicente Calderon:
Derbi Madrileño is always a great occasion, second only to the El Clasico. This despite the fact that we haven’t lost to Atletico since Oct 30, 1999 and a sign of
“We’re looking for worthy rival for a decent derby. Apply here” was necessary last year. This after two years of signs reading “Your worst nightmare: A derby every night” and “This is Madrid“. Atletico Madrid have been boosted by the quality they’ve added with players like Falcao and Diego under Diego Simeone despite Kun Aguero leaving in the summer last year. It is going to be a tricky midweek game because we would be returning having faced Valencia and Atletico would be on the back of an away fixture at Levante.
If Atletico do indeed go for the push for the fourth UEFA Champions League spot, they would treat the game with importance making the derby an even more exciting one than it usually is.
- Sporting Gijon at Bernabeu:
This, by the look of things, is the easiest of the fixtures in the month. Sporting Gijon currently sit at the bottom of the La Liga table with 25 points so far, same as Racing Santander. Both clubs are most likely going to get relegated and play their football in the Segunda Division next season. Sporting’s last victory came at home to Sevilla last month. Since then, they’ve lost to Granada, Mallorca and Zaragoza while drawing at the forever hostile San Mames v Athletic. Last time Gijon were at the Bernabeu they were in the limelight after the final whistle. Manuel Preciado’s side had managed to end Jose Mourinho’s managerial record of 150 unbeaten home games spanning 9 years with a 1-0 victory. Even though Sporting Gijon currently sit at the bottom of the pile, they cannot be taken lightly, just like Villarreal who did the damage when they were 19th in the table. Under an experienced manager in Javier Clemente, Gijon wouldn’t want to go down without a fight.
- Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena:
First leg of the Champions League semi-finals would be played at the gorgeous Allianz Arena in front of an expected 70,000 fans. Both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are two of the biggest clubs in Europe and have a rich and illustrious history when it comes to European competitions. While Real Madrid have 9 UEFA Champions league trophies, Bayern have 4 with last victory in 2001 and a runners up finish in 2010 against Jose Mourinho managed Inter Milan. The final incidentally was also Mourinho’s last game as Inter Milan manager. Last time these two sides met was in the 2006/07 season with Bayern coming out on top on the away goals rule (4-4 on aggregate). Bayern have reaches the semis having been through the “group of death” involving Napoli, Manchester City and Villarreal and then overcome Basel and Marseille in the next stages. Bayern would have the chance to set a huge advantage in the first leg if they can manage a shutout.
- Barcelona at Nou Camp:
One of the biggest sporting rivalries in the world, a footballing spectacle, a historical event…Yada yada yada. If we reach this stage with a lead of six points or more, La Liga title picture would be much more clearer. Barcelona’s next three opponents are Zaragoza away, Getafe at home and Levante away, none of which look like a difficult team to overcome. So either the points gap would remain the same or worse, reduce even more. So, the Clasico which some weeks back with a ten point gap intact didn’t seem like a big deal and a moment of possible Pasillo, has turned into a massive season deciding game. Many still speculate the six point gap is big enough to get us the title, there are some who think the nerves will eventually get the better of us and hand the title, again, to Barcelona. To make it an even more daunting task, the game is at Noucamp which is never an easy place to go.
- Bayern Munich at Bernabeu:
Bayern Munich away, Barcelona away and Bayern Munich home in a space of eight days! Things cannot get much crazier than this! By now, it is expected the players would be worn out after two massive games so making sure we use our players carefully and smartly would be key. Thankfully, Mourinho has setup a very talented squad and there is reasonable backup for all positions. The second leg could prove decisive in our La Decima aspirations. If successful, it would push us towards possibly another El Clasico tieup in the UEFA Champions League final. But, there is still a long way to go before that is decided.
- Sevilla at Bernabeu:
Mad month of April gets over with Sevilla visiting the Bernabeu. Currently Sevilla sit eighth in the table and are in contention for the fourth Champions League qualification spot with five points separating them and fourth placed Malaga. Sevilla are not an easy opponents and with their abilities on the wing and most importantly in the air, they can cause a lot of damage. And as has been visible so far in the season, we have been extremely weak in these two aspects, making them a challenging team to face, especially after Clasico and Champions League semi final in three days time. La Liga picture would also have become much more clearer by this time.
To overcome the expected heart attacks, I’ve decided to order oxygen cylinders and a lot of beers for myself. (The beer is to drink away the possible pain ;) How do you plan to live on?
P.S. The first game in May is away at San Mames to face Athletic Bilbao but let’s get done with April first!
- Sporting Gijon at Bernabeu: