Barcelona beware: Real Madrid is ready to stage a coup in La Liga. No word as to whether it will be a peaceful coup of speedy, attacking soccer, or a violent coup of the kind that reduced last year’s Clasicos to a series of shoving matches and red cards. But one way or another, Jose Mourinho and his troops are ready to storm Catalonia and leave with a trophy (or two, or three).
Real Madrid has always been an immensely talented team. Their history is second-to-none as far as titles and trophies won, both in Spain and in European competitions. They have been tops of La Liga 31 times, and have won the Champions League (or the European Cup, as it used to be called) 9 times. But the past few seasons have been strangely barren for a team so used to success. They have had to play second-fiddle both at home and abroad to a Barcelona team that has been touted as one of the best teams ever assembled. To solve this inferiority problem, club President Florentino Perez did what any self-respecting Real Madrid president would do: He went on a spending spree and bought as many of the world’s top players as he could get. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria, Xabi Alonso, and Mesut Ozil (to name a few) have all made their way to the Spanish capital in the past few seasons. And that’s not to mention the acquisition of a certain Jose Mourinho to guide this newest batch of Galacticos.
It has taken a season, and some trial and error, but Mourinho now has the Madrid machine firing on all cylinders. The way they have started the season has made even the biggest Anti-Madridistas sit up and take notice. Other than a short slump in mid-September, Madrid has been unplayable. In their first 10 league games they have averaged over 3 goals per game, while averaging only 1 goal against every 2 games. It’s that kind of dominance that has them sitting in first place in La Liga, one point ahead of their bitter rivals Barcelona.
For all their great domestic play, Mourinho’s team has been even more dominant in the Champions League. Madrid has qualified for the knockout round with two games to spare. They haven’t lost a game yet, and haven’t even given up a goal!
The most commendable part of all of Madrid’s success thus far has been the way they have accomplished it: With quick, attacking soccer that makes use of their many offensive weapons. Jose Mourinho’s teams have often been known for defensive organization rather than attractive, entertaining attacking soccer (as in Inter’s defeat of Barcelona on their way to the Champions League title in 2010), but he seems to be letting his Madrid players express themselves freely on the field this season. That has resulted in some exciting attacking play, including multiple games where Madrid scored 6 goals. Ronaldo has been his usual explosive self, and Kaka looks to be back to near his best. Mesut Ozil is fitting in well as a playmaker, and even players like Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, and Angel Di Maria, who haven’t always been happy at Madrid, are putting in stellar performances when they’re on the field. To complement the free-flowing attack, one major change this season is that the team as a whole is working harder defensively. The players, from Ronaldo all the way back to Sergio Ramos, are pressuring opponents harder in order to win the ball back. Mourinho has instilled a sense of responsibility in the players (yes, even the ego-driven superstars) and has convinced them that working hard for the team on defense is what earns them the right to be creative on offense.
Will it be enough to de-throne the mighty Barcelona? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: I’ve got December 10th circled on my calendar. The date of the first Clasico of the season, where Barcelona will get its first look at the new-and-improved Real Madrid.