La Liga: Bara and Real Madrid warm up for European showdowns
Spains big two each secure wins in the league, but the real focus is on their midweek Champions League semi-finals against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Both Barcelona and Real Madrid won at the weekend, the Catalans scoring a solitary goal at home to defeat Levante, while at the Santiago Bernabu the hosts put three past Real Betis. Neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi who missed the match through injury got on the scoresheet. Both sides barely got out of first gear and no one seemed to care because in truth, Jornada 32 for the big two was merely a formality.
The 2012/13 La Liga season, which doesnt end until June, was effectively won by the New Year as champions-elect FC Barcelona opened up a huge gap at the top. Madrid meanwhile, have spent most of the season in third place and only recently overtook city rivals Atltico Madrid to stake their claim to the runners-up spot.
A poor start to the season for Real Madrid meant coach Jos Mourinho was forced to admit defeat at the start of the year, telling a French radio station: “The La Liga title is impossible now, there is too big a gap. We have to focus on other goals like the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
And that is exactly what his side have done, reaching the final of the Copa del Rey next month and qualifying for the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League, where on Wednesday, they will face Borussia Dortmund who they have played twice in the group stage this season, with Los Blancos losing 2-1 away in Germany and snatching a last minute 2-2 draw at the Santiago Bernabu.
Meanwhile, with the liga title soon to be heading back to the Camp Nou as early as this weekend if Madrid lose to Atlti and the Catalans secure another victory away to Athletic Bilbao Barcelona have already had more success than they did last year.
They have managed to wrestle the title back from their eternal enemy who at the close of last season looked to have shifted the balance of power. Mourinhos charges, who had racked up a record breaking 100 points as they won the league for the first time in four years, looked unstoppable but their form would not carry over to the current campaign.
Instead, it was Barcelonas turn to look unstoppable and up until the New Year they certainly appeared to be unbeatable, but more recently, in European competition, cracks have begun to show as they lost 2-0 away to AC Milan and qualified for the semi-finals with two draws against PSG: 2-2 away and 1-1 at home to squeeze through on away goals.
Despite their pending silverware, this is a worry for Tito Vilanovas men, who have become accustomed to European success in recent years, as they prepare face Bayern Munich on Tuesday. They will want to reach the final at Wembley next month, a venue dubbed magical for Barcelona by club director and former player Andoni Zubizarreta and where they could achieve a hat-trick with two other European cup wins in 1992 and 2011 coming on the hallowed turf in London.
Madrids Dcima obsession
For Madrid, the hunt for La Dcima has reached fever pitch. This will be their third semi-final appearance in a row, with their exit last year determined by the lottery of a penalty shootout, and it will most likely be Mourinhos last season with Los Merengues.
His anticipated departure in the summer would make this his last opportunity while at the helm of the Spanish giants to further cement his status a Europe-conquering coach. Its also a chance to complete his own hat-trick: three Champions League trophies with as many different clubs. But while the Portuguese will get the chance to work his magic elsewhere, there is a feeling amongst Madridistas that this may be the closest they will ever get.
For the club with nine European cups to its name, whose identity is wrapped up in their success on the biggest stage of all, the 10th trophy seems to be ever more elusive. Despite falling out with club heavyweights Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos and his sides poor league form, Mourinho is still holding on very firmly to his job because of La Dcima. No other Real Madrid manager would still be in a job while trailing Barcelona by 13 points, but there is a belief that only he can deliver the European glory they have been chasing for 11 years.
Reaching the final at Wembley means so much to both Spanish sides, for different reasons, and that is before even considering that come May 25th, they may well be battling each other for the honour.
FC Barcelona 1 0 Levante UD
Real Madrid 3 1 Real Betis
Celta de Vigo 2 1 Real Zaragoza
Sevilla FC 0 1 Atltico Madrid
Osasuna 0 0 Real Sociedad
Deportivo La Corua 1 1 Athletic Bilbao
Getafe CF 0 2 RCD Espanyol
Valencia CF 5 1 Mlaga CF
Granada CF 1 1 Real Valladolid
RCD Mallorca 1 1 Rayo Vallecano