Four times in eighteen days. La Liga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League. Unless Tottenham or Shakhtar mount an outrageous comeback, we will see Barcelona and Real Madrid come head to head as many as four times in less than three weeks.
The first El Clasico is for definite – round 32 of La Liga at the Bernabeu. Now, with Barca sitting on top by a chasm of eight points they are surely the favourites, right? Well, not necessarily, but probably. Both of the Spanish giants are in audacious form but, for me, Real Madrid are just topping it given their last two performances. The 4-0 drubbing that they dealt out to Spurs last week in the Champions League was a seriously impressive performance by any standards. Yes, they were playing against ten men for the majority of the game thanks to Peter Crouch’s utter stupidity, but they still put on one hell of a show. To beat an in-form Tottenham 4-0 with your best player – Cristiano Ronaldo – remaining relatively quiet is a tremendous feat. Off the back of that, smashing Athletic Bilbao 3-0 is a true acclamation of intent. Don’t get me wrong, Barcelona aren’t exactly in bad form – a 5-1 victory over Shakhtar in the Champions League and a 3-1 triumph over Almeria shows that they’re not in the worst place they’ve ever been. Oh, and Barca do have the mental advantage given the result of El Clasico numero uno, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the emphatic 5-0 at the Nou Camp.
Whatever the result on Sunday, they will go at it again just three days later for the Copa Del Rey title. Barcelona cruised into the final with an 8-0 aggregate win over Almeria and Real Madrid eased in with a comfortable 3-0 win on aggregate, ending Sevilla’s impressive run in the competition. Obviously, the outcome on Sunday will have a massive effect on the final, but I think Barcelona are destined for the treble this season, and I don’t think they’re going to give it up easily. Lionel Messi is, in my opinion, the best footballer to have ever graced the beautiful game with his presence. He’s 23 years old. He’s won La Liga four times, Champions League twice, Club World Cup once, Ballon d’Or twice, World Player of the Year once, La Liga Player of the Year twice, La Liga top goal scorer once, Champions League top goal scorer twice, Champions League Player of the Year once, footballer of the year of Argentina five times, the list goes on – the kid’s a freak. Ronaldo is, without doubt, a ridiculously gifted footballer, but Messi makes him look average and, in my opinion, he will make the difference in the final, potentially bringing up an astounding 50 goals for the season – he sits on 47 at the moment.
Now for the big one; the Champions League semi-final. Sorry Tottenham fans, but I’m pretty sure it’s over. That puts Madrid through, and I can’t see Shakhtar scoring 4 goals without conceding against Barca, so that’s them through too. That gives us the extraordinary rarity of seeing arguably the most famous encounter in world football once every four and a half days. Barcelona play the best football in the world, fact. They also thrive in the Champions League, particularly you know who. They will be, without doubt, favourites heading in to that enthralling semi-final, but there’s one man who will look to disappoint the bookies.
Jose Mourinho has a seriously good chance to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs, and if anyone can do it it’s going to be the Special One. Let’s be fair, he’s got some pretty suitable players for the job; Ronaldo, Kaka and Adebayor to name but a few.
Can anyone cage the lion that is Messi? Will Barcelona get their much deserved treble? Or will Mourinho promote himself from the Special One to the Only One? Time will tell.