Improving Real Madrid setting the standards in La Liga
Sunday’ 7-1 thrashing of Osasuna was Real Madrid’s tenth in a row in all competitions, and pushed Jose Mourinho’s men three points clear of main rivals Barcelona.
Madrid are flying at the moment. They have scored 39 goals in their first 11 La Liga games, and only conceded seven.
They have won their last seven La Liga games, including 4-0 victories away at Espanyol and Málaga and a 3-0 defeat of Villarreal. They have also qualified for the last-16 of the Champions League with two group games remaining.
A number of factors have helped fuel these excellent on-field performances. Sergio Ramos has established himself as the team’s ball-playing centre-half, Kaká has returned to fitness and form and Mourinho’s rotations of his two centre-forwards - Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuaín - is bringing the best out of both.
Cristiano Ronaldo is on fire - the hat-trick on Sunday being his fourth of the season already, while the dressing room mood also seems excellent, with the stresses which followed the defeat to Barca in the pre-season Supercopa long forgotten.
Madrid’s players are now enjoying themselves on the pitch and off it, and in recent weeks have found time for well-publicised extra-curricular activities including a team barbecue and go-karting trip.
This momentum, along with Barca's perceived struggles with form and injuries, has led many in Spain to name Madrid as favourites for the Spanish title and the Champions League.
Antonio Romero wrote in AS that “Madrid is the best team in Europe at the moment.” If this situation seems familiar to Madrid fans, it should. The mood around the Bernabéu was quite similar just 12 months ago.
On November 20 last Madrid beat Athletic Bilbao 5-1 with a Ronaldo hat-trick and sat proudly atop the La Liga table. Mourinho’s side had also then sailed through the Champions League group stages untroubled, won seven consecutive La Liga games and even scored four goals while winning in Málaga.
In a further co-incidence they had dropped points at Levante. They had scored 33 goals in 12 games, a little less than this year, but still a lot.
Then Madrid travelled to Barcelona and lost 5-0. The Catalans had gained the upper hand and went on to win both the domestic and European titles. History does not necessarily have to repeat itself however.
Mourinho has remarked his second year’s at clubs tend to be his best. Although last season’s start is statistically slightly better, Madrid do look stronger this term.
The clearest example of this improvement is up front – where ‘Mou Team 2.0’ now attack more as a unit, with a noticeably humbler Cristiano Ronaldo linking more with Kaká, Benzema, Higuaín and Mesut Ozil.
Ronaldo himself made a point of including his team-mates when he showed off the Golden Boot 2010/11 trophy he received last week to the Bernabéu crowd before Sunday’s Osasuna game.
In the coming weeks Madrid face a potentially testing trip to Valencia and then face city-rivals Atlético at home, but the clash with Barca at the Bernabéu scheduled for the second weekend in December is looming large. Then we will see whether Madrid have really improved this year.