Monday, 7 December 2015

Champions League is Madrid's best chance of silverware this season

Copa worries and Liga woes - Champions League is Madrid's best chance of silverware this season COMMENT: Thrown out of the cup and already adrift in the Primera Division, European glory now represents Real's most realistic chance of claiming a major trophy in 2015-16

Real Madrid have never won a treble and they won't win one in 2015-16 either. More worringly for fans of Los Blancos, however, is the notion that they may end up without a trophy at all this season. With La Liga looking tough and the Copa del Rey already gone, the Champions League may just be their best chance of silverware this term.

Not so long ago, Real coach Rafa Benitez spoke proudly about a 14-match unbeaten record at the beginning of his reign. But those days are long gone following the 3-2 loss at Sevilla in La Liga and the disastraous defeat at home to Barcelona last month.

The 4-0 reverse at the hands of Madrid's fiercest rivals was tough to swallow for fans and everyone else concerned with the club - and president Florentino Perez was forced to come out and ratify Rafa amid calls for the coach's head just two days later. Things were not good - and they haven't improved since.

Asked to send a message to madridistas ahead of the weekend win against Getafe at the Santiago Bernabeu, Benitez said: "I would tell them that since the loss to Barcelona, we have won three games in a row - and that we are doing a lot better than people think."

Victories versus Shakhtar Donetsk, Eibar and Cadiz were all expected, though, and any hint of optimism from the fans evaporated as Madrid mistakenly fielded the ineligible Denis Cheryshev in the last of those matches and were subsequently expelled from the Copa del Rey on Friday.

That brought boos and whistles for Cheryshev and Benitez in particular ahead of the Getafe game, while there were also chants calling for the resignation of Perez while Real led 4-0. Some supporters have had enough. 

"What happened in the Copa del Rey was an administrative error," former Madrid goalkeeper Paco Buyo told Goal. "There was a lack of communication on the part of the club, the Federation and also Villarreal, but there is still a possibility it could be overturned."

That, however, seems highly unlikely after the Competition Committee dismissed the club's arguments as they announced their decision on Friday and if - as expected - their appeals prove fruitless, Madrid will be left with just two competitions for the remainder of the current campaign.

"Historically, the Copa del Rey has never been one of Madrid's favourites," Buyo added. "The club have always placed more importance on La Liga and the Champions League - so in that respect it wouldn't be too different this time either."

Real cut Barca's lead at the top of the table to four points on Saturday as they thrashed Getafe 4-1 at the Bernabeu and later saw their eternal enemies held to a 1-1 draw at Valencia. However, Benitez's side still face a tough trip to Mestalla in early January, along with difficult away games against Villarreal, Real Sociedad and, of course, a visit to Camp Nou next April.

Things could change, of course, but Barca are the team in form and have Lionel Messi back from injury, while the Catalans' summer signings Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal will finally be able to make their debuts in January when the club's transfer ban expires.

FULL STORY | Madrid thrown out of the Copa del Rey

Madrid, meanwhile, are anything but convincing at the moment and there is a lack of connection between Benitez and his players, most of whom were much more comfortable working under his predecessor: Carlo Ancelotti.

"The loss to Barcelona in the Clasico was a serious setback," said Buyo. "The current situation is not ideal in a sporting sense. It's early, though. There is a long way to go and the titles are not handed out now, but at the end of the season." 
Real claimed four trophies in 2014 with Ancelotti in charge to mark the most successful year in the club's entire history, yet they will finish 2015 without a title and are now in danger of ending up empty-handed again in 2016.

The Italian coach, of course, brought home La Decima (a 10th European Cup crown), only to be dismissed when things went wrong at the end of his second season. Now, Benitez must achieve something similar if he is to have any chance of staying on for another year.

"Even without the Copa, there are two other competitions left," Buyo said. "And there are lots of matches still to be played. Madrid are a team that never give up and even though the situation now isn't ideal, I wouldn't rule them out for La Liga or the Champions League."

Similar to Ancelotti's first season, however, this Madrid side look too inconsistent to be able to match Barca over 38 rounds of the Primera Division and already have ground to make up, and just like the Italian, Benitez's fate looks like resting on his ability to claim European football's greatest prize.

A tall order it remains, especially given the fine form of Barca, Bayern Munich and even Paris Saint-Germain in Europe this term, but a break after the group stages (in which Real host Malmo in their final game on Tuesday) gives Benitez some time to prepare his side for the biggest challenges of all and, if he can stay in the job that long, the quality of Madrid's squad means they will remain a threat in the knockout format.
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