Real Madrid prove they are still in the title race

A good friend of mine who supports Barcelona surprised me the other day by suggesting that Eden Hazard possesses the same elegance as Kubala. I took his judgement at face value, so many years after my last memories of Kubala, in Real Madrid’s first goal against Valencia on Thursday night as LaLiga feels its way back from the Covid-19 outbreak. Such a clean move, so reminiscent of Kubala, that laid Karim Benzema’s first goal on a plate, accredited Hazard as a truly special footballer. Intimate associations make a great team, I was reminded yesterday. The one between Hazard and Benzema fashioned Madrid’s opening goal. “The first goal is worth three,” Alfredo di Stéfano used to say. That opening strike paved the way for an excellent result.

Once the door had been opened, Madrid finished it off spectacularly. With the result in the bag Zinedine Zidane called on Marco Asensio, who scored with his first touch. Shortly afterwards, Benzema added a third, rounding off a fine victory that showed Madrid are in rude health beyond the debate about who plays before and who plays afterwards. It has been a subject of much debate in recent days, with Barcelona always playing before Madrid take to the field. LaLiga chief Javier Tebas and Jaume Roures, who controls Mediapro, the broadcaster of Liga matches, hold the keys to this prevalence, which obliges Madrid to constantly play catch-up as they are a week behind their arch-rivals. But while both Madrid and Barça continue to win, the title race remains alive.

Messi keeping Barcelona in the hunt

And they both keep winning. “We have nine finals ahead of us,” said Asensio after the game. His reappearance after 11 months out with injury is enough to consolidate a sense of optimism surrounding Real Madrid, who have a wealth of players to call upon over the next few fixture-heavy weeks. Zidane has more personnel at his disposal than his counterpart Quique Setién and that cannot be undone at this stage. All of LaLiga’s coaches are in uncharted territory, an unprecedented situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic that means their teams have to play two games a week and they are obliged to dip into their full squads. In that sense, Madrid have an advantage, Leo Messi notwithstanding. Barcelona possess the greatest footballer of the moment, on that we can all agree, but he is carrying a squad that is weighed down by self-doubt.