Madrid effectively conceded the league this afternoon with their goalless draw at the Riazor as Barcelona breezed past Mallorca 3-0 to extend their lead to seven points at the top of the table. Dani Aranzubia was again the hero as the veteran keeper, coming off of scoring a vital goal for his side in the previous round of fixtures, managed to keep los Blancos at bay with a series of excellent stops. Deportivo broke up Madrid's attacking rhythm effectively with persistent fouling in the first half before putting ten men behind the ball in the second to withstand a flurry of chances. Ultimately, wasteful finishing was the culprit, as the Merengues had numerous chances to put themselves in front.
Ronaldo played well, putting a ball in the net that was correctly ruled offsides before drawing superb saves from Aranzubia off of shots and a free kick. The Portuguese winger also hit the post with a low drive and played a terrific cross to leave Benzema with a tap-in for the chance of the game, but the Frenchman was unable to score. Adebayor, coming in as a late substitute, also managed to hit the post.
Karim Benzema's profligacy in front of goal cost Madrid the three points today, despite his having a good first half. Perhaps this is a signal to Mourinho that he should consider playing Benzema as an impact sub for Adebayor in the second half as he did to great effect against Lyon, where his energy and dynamic movement wreaked havoc with a tired defense. The Togolese was particularly effective tonight, drawing fouls left and right as well as having a number of good chances.
One issue with the team was the inefficacy of the fullbacks. Sergio Ramos and Marcelo were both wasteful and ineffective in attack and overly troubled with a weak Depor offense. Playing against a highly defensive team that chooses to pack ten men behind the ball, cede the wings and occupy the center, having good overlap play down the flanks becomes crucial to draw defenders out and create space for the attacking players.
Madrid had looked unlikely to win the league before this draw, which really puts the team out of effective contention. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, however. So long as Barcelona remained in real touching distance, the team would have been forced to commit valuable attention and resources to what was still the longest of long shots. Now, Madrid can focus on the more realistic and frankly important objective of the Champions League as well as the Copa final against Barcelona.
My view is (and perhaps Gabe will disagree) that La Liga is no longer worth anything to win as a competition. It has become so non-competitive with only Madrid or Barcelona having any chance whatsoever of winning it that it has ceased to be a valuable prize. Much like in Scotland, the only question is whether one team or the other has the upper hand in that particular year. The Champions League has to be our real objective, as Madrid have underperformed in the competition for years and reclaiming it is vital to our reestablishment as one of the top teams in Europe and the reclamation of our lost respect. It used to be that teams quaked in their boots when they drew Madrid in Europe, and this simply has not been the case for the past six years. This is much more crucial than winning the league over a Barcelona side whose star is already on the wane.