There is no doubt that 2017 has been Real Madrid’s year. Zinedine Zidane’s side claimed a Liga and Champions League double at the end of last season, before adding a UEFA Super Cup, a Spanish Supercopa and, on Saturday, the Club World Cup.
An unprecedented five trophies in all for Los Blancos in what has been a memorable year for the capital club. However, 2018 could see the pendulum swing back in Barcelona’s favour. Because even if Real win next weekend’s Clasico clash, they have some catching up to do in the Primera Division.
With Madrid away in Abu Dhabi, Zidane’s side have played one fixture fewer than Barca, but they will go into Saturday’s Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu 11 points behind their fierce rivals after Ernesto Valverde’s men demolished Deportivo La Coruna at Camp Nou on Saunday night.
Luis Suarez and Paulinho scored two apiece to hand Barca a comprehensive 4-0 victory and the Uruguay striker should have had a hat-trick but was denied a goal late in the first half when the ball had crossed the line. Deja vu for the Blaugrana after a similar incident at Valencia recently, although at least this one had no bearing on the final outcome.
After 16 rounds of La Liga, Barca lead with 42 points and the Catalans are still unbeaten, with 13 wins and three draws. Atletico, also without a loss, are six points back in second, Valencia are now eight adrift and Madrid (with a game in hand) 11 behind.
So after all the jubiliation of the Club World Cup and a fifth trophy of the year, next Saturday’s Clasico will hand Madrid a dose of realism and the game at home to Barca is now a must-win affair for Los Blancos.
A win at the Bernabeu and Zidane’s side can get back to five points behind Barca (providing they also take three points in their game in hand away to Leganes), but a defeat will all but end their hopes of retaining La Liga before Christmas is even here.
It is a significant shift in fortunes since Madrid thrashed Barca 5-1 over two legs in the Spanish Supercopa back in August, causing Gerard Pique to admit that, for the first time in his career at the Catalan club, Los Blancos had been superior.
But instead of going on to dominate in La Liga, Real have struggled and Barca have gone from strength to strength under Valverde. The Catalans are unbeaten in all competitions since the Supercopa series, while Madrid have lost to Betis and Girona in La Liga, and against Tottenham in the Champions League.
So the euphoria must be put on hold for Real now. After winning what was a club record four trophies in 2014, Madrid suffered in the second half of the season and ended the term without a major prize as Barca claimed the treble. And six months after their Club World Cup win, coach Carlo Ancelotti was sacked.
Zidane is in no such danger, but with Barca provisionally 11 ahead of them in the Primera Division and a tough last-16 clash against Paris Saint-Germain ahead in the Champions League, Madrid now need to draw a line under recent successes and get fighting for the biggest trophies once again – starting with the Clasico on Saturday.