This weekend marked the half way point of the 2012-13 La Liga season and nobody would have envisioned a scenario at the start of the season that Real Madrid would be 18 points behind bitter rivals Barcelona.
“Incredible” was how Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova described his side’s record points haul for the opening 19 games of a top-flight campaign following their 18th victory of the season, a 3-1 win away to Málaga. “It’s the players who are keen to keep on winning and we can’t stop now,” the 44-year-old said after Barça made it 55 points from a possible 57, surpassing their 2010/11 best of 52 points at the same stage.
“The Liga is by no means won and we know it will be difficult to repeat this form in the second half [especially] with some tricky games away to Atlético and Real Madrid to come,” the Blaugrana boss added.
Who would have thought that the main challenge to Barcelona would be coming from Madrid’s other side, Atletico Madrid?
Atlético coach Diego Simeone alluded to his team’s “obsession to win” after Los Rojiblancos registered their tenth victory in as many Liga home games this season. Real Zaragoza were the latest victims at the Vicente Calderón, as the hosts won 2-0 to consolidate second place in the standings.
“We put in some important pre-season work and, apart from Diego, we’ve lost almost nobody from last year,” Simeone said. “Our team has a clear identity which is what has allowed us to put in a good opening to the season.”
An important part of Atlético’s success has been their lethal marksman Falcao, whose first-half strike against Zaragoza drew the Colombian level with Brazilian Baltazar’s 1988/89 club record 18 league goals in the first half of a campaign.
What has to worry Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid is not the 18 point gap to leaders Barcelona or the 7 point gap to second place Atletico. Instead it is the 3 point gap they have over a surging Real Betis for the third and final guaranteed Champions League place.
Betis coach Pepe Mel said he felt “like a proud father” after the Verdiblancos put paid to Levante UD in a 2-0 weekend win.
“Those of us who aren’t Real Madrid or Barcelona must still look to follow the same path as them,” Mel explained of his fourth-placed outfit. “We are a strong group and healthy in many aspects. Everything that happens in our dressing room is seen as positive and I am proud of the veterans and the youngsters we have here.”