25 March 2008
MADRID – There are massive doubts in Spain about the ability of Real Madrid to stay ahead in the race for the Liga title.
This is the conclusion to be drawn from an online poll organised by sports daily Marca on Monday, in which 10,586 readers have already given their prediction.
Only 37.44 percent of these readers think that Real will win the title, despite the whites having a four-point lead over Barcelona and a six-point lead over third-placed Villarreal, with nine games left.
Sunday’s late 2-3 defeat at home to resurgent Valencia has clearly sowed many doubts about Real’s resilience.
Bernd Schuster’s troubled team have lost no less than nine games in all competitions in 2008, crashing out of the Champions League and the King’s Cup in the process – and seeing their nine-point lead over Barca whittled down to four.
Radio station Cadena COPE called Real "a team in crisis" on Monday morning, at the same time as predicting that Schuster "will find it really hard now to continue into next season, whether his team wins the league or not."
Television channel TeleMadrid, for its part, claims that the blame for Real’s slump should be placed on expensive youngsters like Pepe, Marcelo, Fernando Gago, Wesley Sneijder and Gonzalo Higuain, rather than on veterans like Raul Gonzalez and Guti.
The absence of Ruud Van Nistelrooy – out for around six weeks after an operation on his right ankle – has also been an important factor, according to TeleMadrid.
In the Marca poll, 39.36 percent of readers believe that Barcelona will win the league, despite injuries to key players like Lionel Messi, Deco and Rafa Marquez – and despite the mysterious absences of Ronaldinho.
The indolent Brazilian was not missed at all on Sunday, when Valladolid were thrashed 4-1 with new idol Bojan Krkic scoring twice.
Barca’s form has been as patchy as Real’s, and there are just as many doubts about the future of coach Frank Rijkaard as about that of Schuster.
This is why 23.2 percent of Marca readers have voted for Villarreal as eventual champions.
Villarreal have never won a single trophy in their modest history, but they are the form team right now.
And – with the talented likes of Robert Pires, Matias Fernandez, Nihat Kahveci, Marcos Senna, Guiseppe Rossi and Guille Franco in their ranks – they certainly have the quality and character to push the Big Two all the way to the finishing line.
[Copyright dpa 2008]