The gap at the top is just a point, Madrid’s fixture list is busier than the M25 at rush hour and big-money summer signing Alvaro Morata has managed just three goals in three months.
Cristiano Ronaldo keeps banging them in of course, but even he’s being booed by the Bernabeu, so too Karim Benzema who’s scored fewer Liga goals than Sergio Ramos this season.
Fortunately for Madrid they have two games in hand and perhaps more importantly, they also have an almost fit-again Gareth Bale.
While Bale was originally not expected to return until the end of February, he appears well ahead of schedule and is being tipped to feature in just over a week’s time against Espanyol.
Bale ahead of schedule
Bale could even feature before then, because while there is no need to rush him back just yet, Madrid face bottom side Osasuna on Saturday, the trip to Napoli in the Champions League midweek is fraught with danger.
The Serie A side, fresh from thrashing Bologna 7-1 on the weekend, are the most prolific team in Italy’s top flight this season, ahead of leaders Juventus, and have scored as many league goals this season as Barcelona and more than both Madrid and Chelsea.
Bale is of course, thanks to their record-breaking unbeaten run earlier this season, yet to taste defeat in Madrid colours this season and helped the side to 11 wins from his 16 outings this season.
However, the 27-year-old has missed Madrid’s last 13 games, a run which has seen them lose twice and draw four times since he injured an ankle on November 22 in the Champions League.
The Welsh wizard has been missed, he has seven goals already this campaign, and five in La Liga, that’s as many as Neymar and Benzema despite the fact he hasn’t kicked a ball since November.
The effect on the team without him been noticeable, in 16 appearances this season they scored four or more goals on four occasions. But in the 13 games he’s missed they’ve managed it just twice and one of those was against third tier side Cultural Leonesa, a game in which Martin Odegaard (remember him?) actually managed a start.
Real ready for the run-in
In that time Barcelona have cut the gap at the top to just one point and while Madrid have two games in hand, they are struggling to fit them in and the fixture congestion is likely to cause the club a few headaches.
Zidane’s men still have to go to Villarreal and Athletic Bilbao while Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla all have to come to the Bernabeu. Barcelona may have drifted to 9/4 to win the title, but the fat lady hasn’t even taken her coat off yet.
It may be a cliche, but Bale’s return will indeed feel like a new signing to Zidane’s side, but what a player to be able to bring in when the going gets tough.
Madrid are still on target to win La Liga and become the first team to retain the Champions League and it will not have escaped Bale’s attention that this year’s final is in Cardiff.
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