First half of Real Madrid’s la liga campaign can be summed up in one word - nervy. At the end of 19 games, Madrid sit third in the standings behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Madrid have picked up 47 points as compared to the two who are both on 50 points but Barcelona get the title of ‘winter champions’ owing to a better goal difference. Incidentally, last year also Madrid found themselves in the third place at this stage of the season. However, the gap then was 18 points from leaders Barcelona!
Real have 15 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses to accumulate the 47 points. The two losses coming to the two teams we’re fighting for the title with. After losing the Copa del Rey final to Atleti in stoppage time at the Bernabeu, we lost derbi madrileño in the league after 14 years (since 1999) also at the Bernabeu.
OFF THE PITCH
The change started from the summer with two major events happening – new manager and change in transfer strategy. Jose Mourinho paved way for Carlo Ancelotti. The Portuguese headed back to Chelsea and the Italian moving from Paris Saint-Germain to Real Madrid. With Ancelotti also came his staff and a special member in the form of Zinedine Zidane.
For transfers, Real Madrid focused on young players and on the future. The complete business, however, was a mixed bag. Madrid, first, exercised its buyback option on canterano Daniel Carvajal to bring him back to the capital for €6.5 million. A week later, the board made Casemiro’s move to Real Madrid permanent after playing last six months on loan with Real Madrid Castilla. The Brazilian’s transfer cost the club €6 million.
The first ‘big’ signing came in the form of Malaga’s Isco who joined the club for €27 million. Next came Assier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad for €32.2 million (plus tax). In the meanwhile, Real Madrid offloaded Raul Albiol, Jose Callejon and somewhat disappointingly for some fans – Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli.
The whole concept of spending less and on the players for the future went for a complete toss when two days before the transfer deadline day, Florentino Perez broke bank to bring in Gareth Bale from Tottenham Hotspur for a whooping €100m! The move, expectedly, created cold feet in Madrid with many midfielders linked towards the exit door. First of them was Kaka who headed back to Milan after not having the desired effect in Spain as he had in Italy. Contrary to the reports suggesting Angel di Maria would be leaving Los Blancos, it was German - Mesut Ozil who moved to Arsenal for €50 million in a move that surprised many.
Meanwhile we also saw a few exits and contract extensions – Carvalho left for Monaco, Essien ended his loan tenure and returned to Chelsea, Jese Rodriguez was retained for four years, Denis Cheryshev also extended his contract for four years but was later loaned out to Sevilla and Antonio Adan became a free agent (to be later picked up by Cagliari).
ON THE PITCH
Carlo Ancelotti era started off with a rather comfortable 2-1 win over Real Betis at the Bernabeu as Benzema and ‘new boy’ Isco were on the scoresheet. Betis had taken the lead from Molina.
In the second game of the season, Real Madrid edged Granada by a solitary goal scored by Karim Benzema in the early stages of the game. A less than impressive performance as Madrid squandered plenty of chances.
Real Madrid continued their good run of results against Athletic Club de Bilbao with an Isco brace and Cristiano chipping in with another. Despite Ibai Gomez’s late goal it was a comfortable win.
Real Madrid’s first real test was the trip to El Madrigal to face newly promoted Villarreal who have always been difficult to play in Valencia thanks to their loud fans and energetic style of play. The style remained and they ended our 100% winning streak with a 2-2 draw. Gareth Bale scored his first goal for the club in the game.
Next up for Real was a home game against Getafe and it proved easy. We beat our cross town rivals 4-1 with Pepe, Isco and Cristiano brace on the scoresheet. Benzema yet again wasn’t in the greatest of touches as the volume for Morata to be used gathered momentum.
After this, the nervy games or nervy finish to the games was the order as far as Madrid were concerned. Having taken the lead through Cristiano in the early part of the second half, Madrid again let go of chances to extend their lead and settle down in a comfort zone. It looked like we were going to rue our misses when Boakye headed in the equalizer for Elche in the first minute of stoppage time. To make it a nervy, edgy and heart attacking inducing end, Pepe won a penalty and his Portuguese teammate – Cristiano duely converted in the 96th minute. NINETY-SIXTH MINUTE!
Real tasted its first defeat of the season at home as our fierce rivals – Atletico Madrid won 1-0 in our own backyard. The gritty and hard working performance by Atleti deserved the 3 points and the opportunity to win against us in the league for the first time since 1999.
In a repeat, of sorts, of last year, Madrid needed a double remontada to beat Levante in a difficult night for the Los Blancos. Having gone down 1-0 and then 2-1, Real staged a comeback twice to grab all three points. After El Zhar put the home team in front in the 86th minute at 2-1, it looked like all was lost for Ancelotti’s men. But in a repeat of last year, Morata yet again scored a late goal to dash Levante’s hopes. Although unlike last year when Morata’s goal was the winner, this time the tall Spaniard scored the equalizer. The winner did come but it came courtesy Cristiano who couldn’t hold his joy and took off his shirt in celebration.
As Bernd Schuster, former Real Madrid player and manager visited the Bernabeu with his Malaga side, it was expected to be a tricky tie but it was anything but. Isco started against his previous team and played 73 minutes. 2-0 was the scoreline at the end with Di Maria and Cristiano scoring.
Next up – El Clasico. From a personal battle of Cristiano v Messi, we had entered the battle of duos now. Cristiano and Bale v Messi and Neymar. And it was the Brazilian that shone as he gave the Catalans the lead. Alexis doubled the advantage in the second half only for youngster Jese Rodriguez to salvage something right at the death.
In a ‘freak’ game (look away FIFA/RFEF/Interpol), Real Madrid thumped Sevilla 7-3 while showing how defensively vulnerable we are. Having taken a 3-0 lead in the first half hour, we conceded two goals in quick succession as the players headed down the tunnel not in an upbeat way but nervousness as Sevilla’s confidence grew. Thankfully, the second half was a better performance as we won 7-3 with Cristiano scoring a hatrick, Bale and Benzema with a brace. (thus earning the name BBC!)
Our defensive fragileness was again exposed at Rayo Vallecano but to their credit, Rayo proved to be a very well co-ordinated and managed side. It was a 3-2 win for the merengues when the referee blew the final whistle. Cristiano scored a brace and Benzema added another and it looked like we were flying away but for two quick penalties conceded in the 53rd and 55th minutes which Jonathan Viera dispatched to bring the scoreline to 3-2. Thus began a nervy half an hour of trying to extend the lead while not conceding. Luckily and thankfully, we held on for all three points.
Thereafter we had three comfortable and thumping wins – 5-1 versus Real Sociedad and 4-0 versus Valladolid (both at home) and 5-0 away to Almeria.
On matchday 16, Real Madrid had to dig deep to get anything out of El Sadar in what is always a difficult trip to Pamplona. Osasuna scored twice from headed goals to take a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes. After Ramos was sent off in the 44th minute, it looked like all was going downhill for us. But, Isco got one back before the break to raise hopes of a comeback in the second half. Osasuna also went down to ten men in the 79th men and we scored from the ensuing free kick. At the end it finished 2-2 which put us further behind Barcelona and Atletico Marid. (One of Ramos’ yellow card was later rescinded.)
After handing Valencia a thumping last year at the Mestalla, Los Che were not in the mood to take it yet again and they made it a game to remember. At the break we led 2-1 with Di Maria and Cristiano scoring despite Piatti making it 1-1. Mathieu made it 2-2 at the hour mark and things started to turn Valencia’s way. Valencia grew in confidence and it showed in their passing, movement and attack. In the 82nd minute, Modric received the ball just outside the edge of the box. Everyone expected him to take a shot from distance but instead he passed it to the right for an unmarked Jese, who had come on as a substitute. Jese unleashed a right footed shot on Guaita’s near post and the keeper made a complete mess of it as it crept in giving us the lead. We held on to our good luck to go back home with all three points.
In the last two games of the first half of the season, Real were comfortable winners over Celta Vigo (3-0 at home) and Espanyol (1-0 away).
PLAYER OF THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON
Cristiano with his twenty goals is my top player of the first half of the season. He’s scored and he’s made four assists for his teammates.
Second and third in the list for me would be Modric and Carvajal.
GAME OF THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON
My choice is based on the entertainment value of the game and not on the flawlessness of the performance (or weaknesses of our opponents). So my choice for the game of the first half of the season so far would be our 3-2 win versus Valencia at Mestalla.
What did you make of our first half of the season in the league? Top 3 players? Favourite game?