On Saturday night at the Mestalla, Real Madrid played their fifth really big game of the season and they accomplished what they had failed in others: they won. Without two of their most recognised and publicised Galacticos.
The Chequered Past
Prior to Saturday night Real Madrid had taken on three big teams and had lost to all of them. Their first acid test was against Andalucian giants Sevilla in early October and they lost 2-1 but not before Sergio Ramos had blasted his last minute shot wide of the target. True, Cristiano Ronaldo wasn't there but Kaka and Xabi Alonso were, and neither looked otherworldly.
Then came Milan to the Santiago Bernabeu for a Champions League group game and this time it culminated in a 3-2 defeat to a side who looked at the time to be playing for survival rather than for silverware in Serie A. It was the first truly galactic game Madrid had featured in since the Neo-Galactico era commenced in the summer and without their most expensive Galactico, Los Blancos deflated.
The away match was, of course, a closer affair and Madrid exhibited some of their best football this season in the first half an hour or so, eventually drawing 1-1 and somewhat tempering the disaster of losing to Segunda Division B side Alcorcon 4-0 away in the Copa del Rey.
Staring Down Into The Abyss
Soon it was time for the biggest club fixture in the universe, the clasico against Barcelona. And they lost 1-0, slipping two points behind the Catalans. Nevermind, that the best creative players on the pitch were the two most expensive players in Madrid's history; nevermind, that the best player on the pitch was a certain Carles Puyol, a fact that exhibited that Barcelona had been pushed to the back in order to salvage themselves; the system of football is such that only a win matters in the end and in the end Madrid lost. Period.
And then came the trip to Valencia, without Ronaldo or Kaka and the possibility of falling eight points behind, a game in hand notwithstanding. Not that it was a very convincing, all-consuming, all-conquering victory, but it was a win nevertheless. And more importantly, a win against a big side in Spain who are threatening to break into the title race.
Dissections And Inquisitions
If in Andalucia it was more of a case of Sevilla being the better side than Madrid being the worse, then against Milan at home it was a case of their defenders and goalkeeper trying to formulate new rules of defending. Against Barcelona, by the time Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored, Madrid had created the two best chances only for Ronaldo and Higuain to spill them.
Against Valencia the plot was a combination of the aforementioned traits. Valencia had good chances and so did Madrid. The visitors' defending at times was lousy and their midfielders didn't look the most creative. Yet they won and won without Ronaldo and Kaka, perhaps demonstrating that they are not dependent on the duo, at least not to the degree of collapsing without them.
The man of the match was a certain Gonzalo Higuain. Keeping him on the bench is rapidly becoming a crime as he scored two well-taken goals. Karim Benzema, perhaps the only Galactico who has failed so for this campaign, suddenly looked brilliant playing on the left, cutting in to link with his teammates and neatly set up the first goal, Sergio Ramos looks to have rediscovered the brilliance that once made him the best right-back in the world and Lass remains class.
Off Against The Post!
Of course, Valencia are not amongst Europe's elite at present but on Saturday they did have an attack that was at least on par with that of Madrid. David Villa is the best striker in the world and scored his 12th league goal of the season with a fine header, Juan Mata appeared creative, Ever Banega was sensationally a beast and Pablo's runs didn't give the Madrid defenders much time to smoke the pipe.
Regaining The Tough Mentality
Madrid's win in Valencia was an exhibition that life at the most media-scrutinised club exists beyond the Ronaldos and the Kakas. Their victory against Los Che wasn't accomplished with flair or consummate brilliance but with determination, grit and an almost desperation to bag the points more with steel than with silk.
Their football wasn't very predetermined but they did get chances they should have buried and also hit the post once. The Whites appear to have discerned the tough, winning, never-give-up mentality that they so desperately lacked in the games they have lost.
Yet to undermine the on-pitch importance of Galacticism and Galacticos would be an exercise in futility. Last season Madrid struggled because of midfield creativity and so far this term they have been more enjoyable to watch. Madrid without Ronaldo and Kaka can grind out a win but grinding out a win is not what Galacticism stands for.
And lest anyone forgets, the set-piece for Madrid's winner on Saturday night was taken by the most important Galactico: someone who hails from the Basque country.
Subhankar Mondal, Goal.com