It was hardly a vintage Real Madrid performance, but Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Espanyol illustrated the momentum that Zinedine Zidane’s players have built up in recent weeks. They weren’t at their best and even looked vulnerable at times, but there was never any sense that points were about to be dropped, going top of La Liga until Barcelona’s match against Real Mallorca later the same day.
Real Madrid will need to be better over the coming weeks, though. With victory over Espanyol, they now face a defining stretch in their season. First up is the Champions League game against Club Brugge. That will be something of a dead rubber with Real Madrid already certain of their place in the last 16 and unable to catch Paris Saint-Germain in top spot, but what follows will have a lot more riding on it.
Zidane will take his side to the Mestalla next week. Despite Valencia’s recent struggles, it remains one of the toughest venues to visit in Spanish football and Zidane will be without both Marcelo and Ferland Mendy for that trip following the latter’s red card late on in the win over Espanyol.
After that Real Madrid will make the journey to the Camp Nou to take on Barcelona in the first Clasico of the season. Of course, these games often come with additional meaning attached, but there appears to be even more riding on this Clasico. It could set the tone for the rest of the season in La Liga, establishing a dynamic in the title race. It could be a watershed.
Then Real Madrid will take on Athletic Club at home in the final match before the winter break. It’s at that point that both Zidane’s team and Barcelona, as well as the rest of La Liga, will be assessed. It’s at this point that we will be able to make a solid judgement on who will prevail in the tightest La Liga title race for a number of years.
Real Madrid have done well to move past their vulnerabilities of the early part of the season and build a head of steam in recent weeks. But the issues of old may re-emerge if the period between now and Christmas goes badly. This may prove to be the most important stretch of their whole season.
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