I’ve been dismissing concerns others have voiced about this out-of-hand all season, because it just seems too absurd to be believable. However, as the season goes on, I’m beginning to wonder whether it’s not a real possibility.
There are a few real reasons to think that the unthinkable could happen.
To put it very bluntly, Real Madrid’s form is not improving. They haven’t strung together more than two consecutive wins in the league since November, and they’ve also started to drop points at home against relegation-threatened teams. There are serious problems in the locker room and the coach is clashing with several major players, so I don’t really see it getting better without any tangible changes. I don’t care what people say about “concentrating” on the Copa del Rey and the Champions League – if they’re not playing well in the league, they can’t put together the momentum necessary to realistically attain either of those things, especially La Décima.
It’s not inconceivable that Real Madrid could end up tied on points with one (or more) of these teams, and if they do, they could have a serious problem.
Betis and Málaga both beat them in the first half of the season, and Valencia managed a draw. If Valencia win tomorrow, they’ll have a better head-to-head. The same will be true of Betis and/or Málaga if they manage a draw at the Bernabeu, which is well within the realms of possibility.
For the first time in a long time, Real Madrid could end up second-best head-to-head against a team that isn’t Barcelona, and three of the teams for which it’s a real possibility would be very dangerous indeed if Real Madrid continue to drop points like they have been.
3) Caliber of rivals.
Real Madrid are unfortunate in that they’re having trouble in what is shaping up to be an exceptional year for several teams.
Last year, only one team outside the big two broke 60 points, and that was only just (Valencia, 61 points). That’s not looking like it’s going to be true this year. At this rate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see half a dozen teams outside the big two reach about 60, and it would be a bit surprising if only Atlético surpassed 70.
At the halfway point last season, only two teams outside the big two had managed to reach 30 points (Valencia, 34 points & Levante, 31 points). That’s not the case this year. After nineteen games, no fewer than five teams have reached 30 points: Atlético Madrid (44), Real Betis (34), Málaga (31), Valencia (30), and Levante (30). None of these teams shows signs of slowing down, and Valencia are actually speeding up.
That’s significant on two levels: first, it means that many of these teams are breathing down Madrid’s neck in a way that would not have been the case last season, and second, it means that they’re a lot more likely to drop points – they’ve already lost to Betis and Málaga and drawn with Valencia.
Realistically, Real Madrid probably will make the Champions League, but it’s looking like it could be tight, and I’m going to go way out on a limb and predict that they won’t. It seems bizarre and unthinkable, but so does 18 points, and that’s happened. We’ll see how this develops, but it could get really interesting.