It’s all over bar the shouting. Real Madrid’s hopes of winning La Liga went up in smoke on a hot and humid Saturday evening as Carlo Ancelotti’s side were held at home by Valencia. But it really shouldn’t have come to this.
Madrid’s 2-2 draw against Valencia last season dashed dreams of claiming the Primera Division crown in Ancelotti’s first season at the club and a repeat result this time around means Barcelona now need only one win from their two remaining games to claim the title.
Not long ago, it had seemed so different. Real’s finest form this season came back in the winter months as Ancelotti’s men racked up 22 victories in a row in all competitions. By comparison, Barca looked lost as they struggled to find their feet under Luis Enrique.
Indeed, Madrid still seemed favourites as they entered March with a four-point advantage over their fierce rivals. Within the space of three woeful weeks, however, it was the Catalans who led by the same margin. And Real, despite cutting the deficit back briefly to two and battling with wins at Celta Vigo and Sevilla, have never really recovered.
Like last season, it is their poor performances against the top teams that have cost them. In 2013-14, Madrid picked up a sole point from their games against Atletico and Barcelona, losing to Diego Simeone’s side at home and drawing away as well as suffering two Clasico defeats in La Liga.
This term, Ancelotti’s men have beaten Barca (a 3-1 win at the Bernabeu in late October), but lost twice to Atleti in La Liga and picked up only a point from their two games against Valencia. And that, quite simply, is not good enough.
Falling two goals behind in this one hardly helped. Both Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo rattled the crossbar early on, but goals from Paco Alcacer and Javi Fuego shocked the Bernabeu in the space of six first-half minutes. Iker Casillas, static on both occasions, was whistled and jeered by the home fans.
Madrid then lost Toni Kroos to injury, while Bale stuggled again and Ronaldo saw a poor penalty saved by Diego Alves just before half-time. Nothing was going right for Real.
The second half did see Madrid have a good go at producing a comeback of epic proportions as Pepe headed home and Isco later levelled with a stunning strike – but Valencia missed several clear chances at the other end too and were well worth their point.
It was all too little, too late and like last year, Ancelotti’s second season at the Bernabeu is now virtually certain to finish without La Liga, with Barca just three points away from the title.
“La Liga is a lot more complicated now,” Ancelotti said afterwards. “There are two games left and we have to win them both, but obviously it’s complicated.”
Madrid came third in the Primera Division in 2013-14, making amends for that by winning both the Copa del Rey and the Champions League. This time around, however, the cup has already gone (with Barca in the final against Athletic Club) and hopes of reaching the Champions League final hang on a thread after Real’s 2-1 loss at Juventus on Tuesday night.
“We gave everything,” Ancelotti added. “We are disappointed with the result, but the way we played gives us confidence. If we play like that [against Juventus on Wednesday], we could get to the final of the Champions League.”
It now seems only La Undecima (an 11th European Cup crown) can save the 55-year-old from the sack this summer and even if his injury-hit squad can find a way past Juve on Wednesday, a probable meeting with on-form Barca in the final is a daunting prospect on this evidence.
So for the second season in succession, it looks like Champions League or bust for the Italian coach.