This week, after a turbulent La Liga season that has seen his Real Madrid side lose on four separate occasions, Jose Mourinho threw in the towel on Madrid’s title chances. While Mourinho’s men have been dropping points on a regular basis on the road, bitter rivals Barcelona have cruised to open up a 15 point gap between the teams, tasting league defeat for the one and only time this season at Real Sociedad last week.
Mourinho stated that ‘the La Liga title is impossible now. There is too big a gap’. While large leads at the top have been closed down before in European football, such as the famous 12 point lead that Newcastle United held over Manchester United in the 1995/96 Premier League season, Barcelona have only dropped 5 points in their first 20 games this season. Whilst the fans and club president Florentino Perez would have been disappointed by Mourinho’s admissions, it does seem out of the question for a dominant Barcelona to drop 15 points in their next 18 La Liga games.
Despite even Mourinho giving up hope, is it actually impossible for Real Madrid to finish the season as Champions of Spain? There are 18 games remaining in La Liga, and if Real Madrid were to win each of their remaining games, they would end with a total of 94 points. From their remaining fixtures, Real still have to travel to Atletico Madrid at the end of April, after they face a crucial El Clasico fixture on the 2nd of March. Of the remainder of the current top six sides, Real Madrid face Real Betis, Malaga and Rayo Vallecano at home before the season ends.
Even if Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain manage to inspire Real Madrid to maximum points in the next 18 league games, Barcelona would still have to drop 15 points in that period of time. The Catalan club face a tricky fixture at Valencia next weekend, although after a 5-0 home reverse at the hands of Real Madrid, Barcelona will be confident of claiming a victory there. They travel to the Bernabeu on the 2nd March, where a victory would surely put an end to the faintest hope of any Real Madrid title hopes. Barcelona also play Atletico Madrid away from home on the 12th May, although Tito Vilanova will be hoping that Barcelona have already wrapped up the title before this date. Like Real Madrid, Barcelona also play host to Real Betis, Malaga and Rayo Vallecano before the season ends at the beginning of June. Even if Barcelona lost to Valencia, Real Madrid and Atletico, and managed only a draw in two of their potentially tricky home games, Barcelona would still end the season with 96 points, a total that is unattainable by Real Madrid. As Barcelona have won all but two of their league games this season, even the most optimistic of Real Madrid supporters could not expect Barcelona to drop points in more than 5 of their remaining 18 fixtures.
Perhaps Mourinho’s first goal should be to overtake local rivals Atletico Madrid, who are currently second in the table. Atletico have a tough run of fixtures in their next six, facing Malaga and Rayo Vallecano on the road, while a trip to Athletic Bilbao and a home game with Real Betis are far from guaranteed victories. With Barcelona, Valencia and Real Madrid all yet to visit the Vicente Calderon stadium, there is every chance that Real will have their opportunities to tighten the 7 point gap on their Madrid neighbours.
Whilst anything is possible in football, Mourinho is taking the realistic stance. Having watched Barcelona drop only a handful of points this season, he recognises that it is unlikely that his side will get the opportunity to overtake them this season. Perhaps his acceptance of defeat in the title race will allow for more determination to succeed in the Champions League and Copa del Rey this season. One thing is certain, that if Real Madrid manage to overturn a 15 point deficit to claim the La Liga crown, it will go down in history as one of their greatest ever triumphs.