thumbnail Hello,

The Blaugrana rediscovered their groove by putting seven past Rayo, but it's Mourinho's side who are closest to league glory as both teams bounced back from midweek horrors

COMMENT
By KS Leong

It's been a roller-coaster week in Spanish football, and not just for Barcelona. But it was in Catalunya where it all started last Saturday when Real Madrid ended the Blaugrana's stranglehold in the Clasico series in La Liga with a 2-1 win at Camp Nou. It was Pep Guardiola's first loss to Los Blancos over 90 minutes as a coach, and as a result it's now set to also end the 41-year-old's 100 per cent record as the Spanish league champions.

Then in midweek, Barca and Real were denied a famous Clasico Champions League final when they were bundled out of the last four. Both teams had a two-goal lead at some stage of their respective second leg encounters and looked a certainty to set up an Allianz Arena grandstand, but somehow contrived to blow it in uncharacteristic fashion.

Ironically, it was their two best players - the two best players in the world - who cost their sides a place in the final when both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo missed crucial penalties.

Barca's week was compounded when Guardiola announced on Friday that he would be leaving the Catalan giants at the end of the campaign, with his assistant Tito Vilanova promoted to take over the hotseat from July 1 onwards. It was a triple blow to the Blaugrana, one that they had not even come close to experiencing before over the last four seasons. Suddenly, their high of highs that just never seemed to end came crashing down in the space of seven days.

MATCH FACTS | Madrid 3-0 Sevilla

 Shots
 On Target
 Possession
 Corners
 Fouls
 Bookings
MADRID
15
5
  52%
9
14
3
SEVILLA
10
3
  48%
4
7
2
But they responded in style on Sunday when they demolished Rayo Vallecano 7-0, with Messi finally ending his three-match goal drought. That must feel like an eternity for a player who has more scoring records in the first quarter of 2012 alone than most strikers have goals.

Despite the Argentine and his team-mates' best efforts, however, it is Madrid who are now 90 minutes away from claiming their 32nd Primera Division crown after a 3-0 home victory over one of their tougher opponents in the title run-in, Sevilla.

Jose Mourinho's men had to show great resolve themselves to bounce back from the disappointing Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern Munich on penalties. Real remarkably sent out 10 of the 11 players who started the gruelling two-hour marathon against Bayern just four days earlier, and nine of the 11 who four days before that became the first team since mighty Hercules in September 2010 to win a competitive match at Camp Nou.

Defensively, Madrid did look a little jaded. Jesus Navas, Jose Antonio Reyes and Alvaro Negredo had a handful of chances to punish their hosts, and had they been more clinical, the title race could have been blown wide open again. But it was always going to be at the other end of the pitch where the champions-elect would prevail. Ronaldo continued his dazzling goal-scoring form in key games when he netted the opening goal. He then saw a futsal-style free kick from 12 yards cannon agonisingly off the inside of the post.

Real did in the second half against Sevilla what they couldn't against Bayern midweek, harrying and hustling their opponent's defenders off the ball and killing off the game on the counterattack. Karim Benzema pounced on a defensive gaffe to tap in his side's second just minutes after the interval before a lightning breakaway which took three touches ended the contest, as Sergio Ramos' gorgeous delivery was buried by Benzema's flying header.
MATCH FACTS | Rayo 0-7 Barca

 Shots
 On Target
 Possession
 Corners
 Fouls
 Bookings
RAYO
10
4
  26%
7
20
4
BARCA
19
8
  74%
9
7
1

Barca's magnificent seven against a poor Rayo side who had to face the mother of all backlashes may have come a little too late, but it at least ensured Mourinho's men will have to fight in the lion's den in Athletic Bilbao this Wednesday if they wish to wrap up the title early.

Messi shook off his frustrations against Chelsea and his devastation of Guardiola's quit announcement as he danced around Rayo's shell-shocked defence, who more than anything looked stunned that Pep opted to field a weakened side.

Victor Valdes, Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas were all missing from the starting XI as some of the squad's fringe players were given a run-out to prove to their future boss Vilanova that they deserve to be in his plans next season.

The absences forced Messi to play the role of playmaker and goalscorer. The Argentine provided two assists and netted two of his own as he joined Ronaldo on an amazing 43 league goals this season. The league title may be a foregone conclusion, but the Pichichi race looks set to go down to the wire, especially since both men will not require to be rested in anticipation of a Champions League final.

Barca's seven strikes in Vallecas leaves them just one shy of the club's all-time record of 105 goals in a single season set in 2008-09, Guardiola's first year in charge. Messi, meanwhile, may not be going to Munich in May, but he is now only a hat-trick away from surpassing Bayern legend Gerd Muller's European record of 67 competitive goals in one campaign.

Madrid, likewise, could set a new milestone of their own by the end of the season. Win their remaining three games and they will become the first club in the history of La Liga to collect 100 points in a single term, beating the previous best of 99 set by the Blaugrana in 2009-10. But win in Bilbao on Wednesday and they will officially end Guardiola's reign as the king of Spain.

After an abnormally sombre week in Madrid and Catalunya, you know normal service is really resumed when Real and Barca are on the cusp of shattering more records.

Follow KS Leong on 

Related

From the web