Real Title Bid Falters
It was a mixed bag in the league during the past month for Real. Wins against basement dwellers Osasuna in addition to Espanyol and Villarreal barely papering over the cracks exposed in a 2-1 away defeat to Valencia and a 3-3 home draw against Las Palmas.
Both the Villarreal and Las Palmas games were controversial for penalties awarded to Real when they were trailing. Both penalties were converted by Cristiano Ronaldo and were given for handball. It could be argued that the decisions were harsh on both Las Palmas and Villarreal and that there was very little that either of the players involved could have done to avoid the ball connecting with their hands.
February also saw the return to the starting lineup and score sheet of Welsh talisman Gareth Bale. The mercurial Welshman made an instant impact by scoring not long after coming on from the bench against Espanyol to give Real a 2-0 win. Bale added another goal against Villarreal in the 64th minute to spark Real’s comeback from 2-0 down after 56 minutes to eventually win the game 3-2. However, a moment of red mist descended upon Bale during the home game against Las Palmas, seeing him red-carded for the first time in 8 years for two yellow cards, although Real were still able to draw the game.
Real also broke the Spanish record for most consecutive games with scoring a goal in official games. The record, which had previously been possessed by Barcelona, had stood since 1944 at 44 games, Real’s goals against Las Palmas meant that they set a new record of 45 games finding the back of the net. Real have not drawn a blank in a game since 26th April 2016 when they drew 0-0 against Manchester City.
Atletico Madrid and Barcelona faced off at the Vicente Calderon stadium for what should be the last time. Unfortunately for Atletico, the game did not go as they would have wished as they succumbed to a 2-1 defeat after a late Lionel Messi goal. It was the second win for Barca inside a month at the Calderon with the previous win coming as Barca knocked Atleti out of the Copa del Rey Semi-Final.
On a more positive note for Atletico fans, February saw 32 million Euro striker Kevin Gameiro finally finding his scoring boots. A superb hat-trick in 5 minutes from the Frenchman against Sporting Gijon sending Atleti to a 4-1 win.
Atletico also positioned themselves well to make another Champions League quarter-final with a 4-2 win away against Leverkusen putting them in a good position for the return leg at the Calderon on 15th March, before a mouth-watering clash against third placed Sevilla on 19th March. The draw for the Champions League quarter-finals will take place on Friday 17th March.
Moving on to the Rugby world there was an excellent 16-6 win for Spain against Russia in the European Rugby Championship. The Spanish Lions lost their next fixture away in Romania 13-3 but currently sit third in the table after 2 games and have an excellent opportunity to at least secure a playoff spot for the chance to participate at the World Cup in Japan in 2019. Spain will face Belgium on Saturday 18th March in Madrid at the Estadio Universidad Complutense as they aim to build on their decent start to the Championship campaign.
As a final note, a massive congratulation should go the Real Madrid basketball side for winning the Copa del Rey in a pulsating 97-95 encounter with Valencia Basket. Madrid have now won the last 4 Copa del Rey tournaments and it was their 27th in total, 4 more than rivals Barcelona. The focus will now switch back to the Liga Endesa, where Real are aiming for a hat-trick of consecutive titles.
By Tom Hankin