Saturday’s 2-1 triumph over Barcelona put Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid top of the table but their stay at the LaLiga summit could only last 24 hours. Atlético can go back above them if they take a point from their visit to Betis later today, but it’s clear that Los Blancos are now very much involved a three-way title race.
Productive week for Madrid
Madrid have beaten Barcelona home and away this season – the first time they have done so since 2007-08. That followed on from a 3-1 result against Liverpool in the Champions League. A season-defining run of fixtures has gone well so far, with just the small matter of a trip to Anfield to come.
Karim Benzema‘s 13th-minute goal continued a hot streak for a striker who keeps on scoring while seemingly waiting to see which rival will turn up to try and take his job. His back-heeled finish to beat Marc-André ter Stegen at the near post made it seven league games in a row where he has found the net. He becomes the fourth Real Madrid player to manage such a streak in LaLiga: Cristiano Ronaldo achieved the feat four times, while Ruud van Nistelrooy (2007) and Gareth Bale (2018) are the other names on the list.
Since Ronaldo departed the club in 2018, the Frenchman has stepped up to become the focal point in the front line. He has scored 21 LaLiga goals in each of the previous two seasons, while this season he is already up to 19. With plenty of games remaining, his career-best tally of 24, managed in 2015-16 despite making just 27 appearances, is well within his sights.
Militao bounces back
Hopes of a second successive crown appeared distant when Madrid suffered a 1-2 defeat to Levante on 30 January, at which stage the champions sat seven points behind Atleti, who also had two games in hand. Eder Militão was sent off after just eight minutes and 12 seconds against Levante. It was a short-lived third start in LaLiga this season, while the Brazilian defender had also been in the Madrid team that suffered a shock Copa del Rey exit to Alcoyano 10 days earlier.
His role may have remained as someone on the periphery of the first-team picture, too, had Zidane not suddenly been faced with a shortage of options to line up at the heart of his defence. However, with captain Sergio Ramos again sidelined and Raphaël Varane self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19, Militão stepped up to show his value during a critical stretch for his club.
Alongside Nacho, Militão looked solid against Barça. Just like against Liverpool, the makeshift pairing defied expectations. A potential point of weakness has instead helped fortify the team, with a partnership born out of necessity helping to change the outlook ahead of the run-in. If they can do something similar in the second leg against Liverpool on Wednesday, a double remains on the cards.