In Making the Case, I take an unpopular opinion I have or an improbable scenario, and I try to convince you of my stance; I make the case for it.
This time: Real Madrid are comfortably winning LaLiga once play resumes in mid-June.
It might not be the hottest of takes, this one. After all, Madrid are only two points behind league leaders Barcelona and also won the tie (2-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu, 0-0 at the Camp Nou), meaning they would pip the Catalan side if they’re on level points.
Consider this, though. Barcelona have won 10 of the last 15 titles and the last two, and the ball is still very much in their court heading into the final weeks.
They also have this player called Lionel Messi. You might have heard of him. He leads LaLiga in both goals (19) and assists (12) despite having missed five games through injury. Not to mention Luis Suárez, who has fully recovered after four months of injury. Barcelona’s horrible away record should also be somewhat nullified by playing behind closed doors, with figures from the Bundesliga showing away teams’ win percentage has rocketed up from 34.83% to 47.8% since football returned to Germany.
Right. So, why does Real Madrid have better odds to win the title, let alone with some margin?
I’m glad you asked, me.
It’s (literally) not that deep
Real Madrid’s main advantage is their unbelievable squad depth. Especially the front line which boasts eight fit players. With 11 games in five weeks coming up, rotation will be crucial. The five substitutions that will now be allowed also puts a bigger emphasis on squad depth.
Five is also the number of attackers Barcelona have available. Besides their gala frontline of Messi, Suárez and Antoine Griezmann, Quique Setién only has emergency signing Martin Braithwaite and teenager Ansu Fati to call on (Ousmane Dembélé is out for the rest of the season). One injury would throw a massive spanner in the works and would demand even more playing time from the rest of the attackers, risking more injuries, and so on. Should Messi or Suárez aggravate their knocks, Barça would be in serious trouble as they have massively relied on the South American duo. Embed from Getty Images
Over in the Spanish capital, Eden Hazard has returned to full fitness after struggling with injuries all season. The Belgian has reportedly blown the staff away with his physical condition and sharpness in training and could well be the club’s talisman in the business end of the season.
Marco Asensio, who tore his ACL during the pre-season tour, will be available as well. Apart from Luka Jovic, who strangely broke his heel during the lockdown, Los Blancos will have everyone available when they host Eibar on Sunday. Embed from Getty Images
‘World Cup’ run-in and the Zidane-factor
A recent appointment at Real Madrid that has flown under the radar is Grégory Dupont, the new fitness coach since the start of this season. Previously employed by the French national team, his intense training sessions were hailed as a key factor in Les Bleus’ 2018 World Cup triumph as the side remained physically dominant as the tournament unravelled.
The run-in of 11 games in five weeks in LaLiga is very much like a World Cup. Dupont has already been drilling the Real Madrid squad since their return to training last month in preparation. All 27 players should be firing on all cylinders come this weekend and overrun other teams, especially in the final few games when fatigue plays more of a factor.
In their title-winning campaign in 2016/17, Zinedine Zidane already showed a remarkable willingness to rotate – entire XI’s would get swapped out around important midweek games as he trusted fringe players to step up when called upon.
As you can see, Zidane has two or three options in every single position except right-back (Álvaro Odriozola and Achraf Hakimi are out on loan), although all four centre-backs and Lucas Vázquez can play there should Dani Carvajal need a rest.
Obviously, this will not happen. Zidane, who will coach his 200th Real Madrid game on Sunday, is not going to swap 10 positions per game just because he can – you want your best players to play as much as they can. I’m just trying to show how much Madrid can rotate without losing quality.
Every game will have surprise starters, however. This is Zidane’s trademark, he loves to switch things up to throw off the opponents’ tactics. No doubt, there will be two or three surprise names on the team sheet come kick-off at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano.
AS: 38 games, 38 XIs. Zidane has not repeated a team in his second stage as manager. pic.twitter.com/Bx1PHwYPa5
— Enock Kobina Essel Niccolò Makaveli (@EnockKobinaEsse) June 10, 2020
Zizou also has a reputation for closing out seasons exceptionally well. When he first took charge in 2015/16, he spurred Real Madrid to win their final 12 league games, although it wasn’t enough to beat Barcelona to the title. Now, a similar winning streak would surely be enough.
My final argument is a fairly straightforward one; Barcelona simply have more potential banana peels left on their fixture list.
The Blaugrana still have to visit Villarreal and third-placed Sevilla, while also playing Atlético Madrid, Athletic Bilbao and local rivals Espanyol at the Camp Nou in the coming weeks.
Real Madrid’s most difficult games will be away at Athletic and their Basque neighbours Real Sociedad, with the latter sitting in fourth. It’s smooth sailing besides those two games. They have four games against the current bottom five left too, and as Arsène Wenger pointed out, the gap between big and small teams is even bigger because of the lack of fans.
“You see that the internal motivation of the club is not big enough against the big clubs. The bigger teams have more quality, so a way to reduce the difference between the teams is, of course, to have the support of your fans and get that intensity into the game.” Arsène Wenger to The Athletic, Jun. 8th.
Combine all of the arguments I’ve presented above, and I think Real Madrid should be quite a few points clear from Barcelona, who have been as inconsistent as Madrid all season but lack the key qualities for these final five weeks. Or Messi scores 15 more goals, Barcelona win the league and make me look silly again.