Real Madrid held firm at the top of La Liga, Spain’s top flight football division, for nearly five months. Los Blancos, the most storied franchise in world football, carried a 22 match win streak from October to January, tormenting opposing sides with their ruthless attacking pace led by eventual Ballon D’Or Winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Carlo Ancelotti’s men, current UEFA Champions League title holders, have capitulated in the last several weeks. A 4-0 thrashing at the hands of their crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid laid the groundwork. A 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao saw them squander their lead for the first time since October. And their most recent loss, a 4-3 home defeat to Schalke (a team that they beat 9-2 on aggregate at the same stage of the Champions League a year ago) saw Real Madrid advance to the quarterfinals of Europe’s most prestigious competition by a single goal.
Real Madrid have struggled with injuries, yes, but have also been plagued by inconsistencies. Karim Benzema, who scored 12 goals in 13 games earlier in the season, only has 3 goals in his last 6 matches. Gareth Bale, the world’s most expensive player, hasn’t scored since January 24th, and hasn’t recorded an assist since January 31st.
The fabled “BBC” attacking trio of Benzema, Bale, and Ronaldo, has just 15 league goals since the start of 2015.
But their main rivals have blown them out of the water. Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar have 28 goals since the start of 2015. Suarez, who had an underwhelming start to life at Barcelona, has 6 goals in his last 6 matches. Messi, the world’s best player, scored a hat trick in just 12 minutes against Rayo this past weekend (a game Barcelona won 6-1 despite playing without Neymar). And Neymar has the most goals in all competitions of any player in Europe’s major leagues not named Messi or Ronaldo.
Messi alone has been sensational. At the start of 2015, Ronaldo had 26 league goals, while Messi had 15. Now, they’re level at 30. Messi has three hat tricks already in 2015, including his recent romp against Rayo, and has more goals league goals in 2015 (15) than Ronaldo, Benzema, and Bale combined (13).
Messi, Neymar, and Suarez’s blistering form has led to success throughout the squad. Barcelona’s current form shows that they’ve won 15 of their last 16 matches. In those matches, they’ve scored 56 and conceded only 13.
Barcelona still face an uphill battle to win the league. Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have much easier schedules to follow: most notably, Los Blancos don’t play the Atleti for the remainder of the 2015 season in La Liga, while Barcelona will face them once more.
But these next two weeks will be pivotal for La Blaugrana. They face off with Manchester City next week in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, having triumphed 2-1 in Manchester a week ago. With two away goals and home field advantage to boot, the Catalan outfit should have no trouble advancing to the last eight.
The real test is that following weekend, where all recent form and records will be shoved aside for the greatest spectacle in sport: El Clasico. Barcelona will host Real Madrid, with a change to sucker punch their rivals and further their firm grasp on the La Liga title.
But looking at Barcelona and Real Madrid’s form, it appears that with a win in El Clasico, Barcelona will have all the momentum they need to roll to their second La Liga title in three years.