Real Madrid were crowned champions of La Liga for a second time in a row after the 2007/08 season. They won the league by a comfortable 8 points in the end but one stand out statistic was that they lost 7 games on the way to this achievement. Compare this to the top 4 in England where Man Utd lost 5, Chelsea 3, Arsenal 3 and Liverpool 4. Many claimed La Liga was too easy for Madrid last season and at times I saw some awfully lacklustre performances from them. Barcelona failed to mount a serious title challenge amidst divisions within the camp and poor form from so many stars. Before the season begun, it was these two teams who would always challenge as La Liga is once again dominated by the top 2 teams in Spain.
Madrid did clinch the title with a win at home to Barcelona. For most Madrile?os, there is no better way to win the league. To beat ones bitter rivals and for that win to clinch the title is rarely bettered. We Arsenal fans will remember winning the league at White Hart Lane, Anfield and Old Trafford. Damn, those days were great. Not only did they win the title at home to their bitter rivals, they did it in style with a resounding 4-1 victory. Madrid were awesome that night and showed that, despite the poor quality in general in La Liga last season, they could still play some great football.
Bernd Schuster has led Madrid to these back to back titles but there is one thing that the Madrid fans expect him to bring home. That is the Champions League trophy. The Madrid supporters watched as their side were knocked out at the first knockout hurdle against Roma and for consecutive years they were left wanting in the Champions League. The Madrid fans have grown impatient after the Champions League became something of a regular fixture in the trophy cabinet at the Bernabeu. Arsenal fans are far less expectant seeing as we have never won the trophy and this is not a criticism of either set of fans; it is easy to expect something that has/hasn’t happened regularly. This season Schuster will be expected to improve in Europe and get to the latter stages once again.
The Madrid team has developed over the last two years and has become a more recognised unit as the season went on. As the season drew to a close the side that was generally picked resembled something like this:
With Cannavaro out injured the pairing of Ramos and Heinze never looked totally assured in the centre. Both have played at right back for club and country before and seem to be more suited to these roles. Once Cannavaro is back he will most certainly come back in and Pepe’s performances at Euro 2008 may earn him another chance to prove his worth. Once all these players are fit, Schuster has a wealth of talent to choose from; it is up to him to get the balance right.
Guti’s career has taken its ups and downs but he seems to have matured a lot this season and has been trusted by the manager to do a job alongside Gago. These two do the job of protecting the back 4, leaving the other players ahead of them to attack. It is a very European system but it does give the other players a license to roam. Robinho is probably leaving this summer but Robben will start now he has proven his fitness. Sneijder has taken David Beckham’s shirt and had a great first season. He has taken set pieces at a level close to the LA Galaxy man and chipped in with assists and goals.
Raul has also found a new lease of life behind Van Nistelrooy this season. Such were his performances last season; there was an outcry as to why he was left out of the Spanish side for Euro 2008. In the end it did not cost Spain but the clamours represent how well he played last season. In the withdrawn striker’s role he has more time and freedom to get on the ball and arrive in the box late. Van Nistelrooy is very good at drawing markers and leaving space for the Captain. He does get his own goals however and his tally at Madrid has been top class. 41 goals in 61 games is a great return and he leads the line just how his manager wants.
I do not know what team will visit the Emirates but Schuster has added the young defender, Ezequiel Garay to his squad, as well as Manuel Caceres. It seems a few defenders may be on the way out and that may shake up the line up in August. Robinho will probably be gone and there is still a chance Ronaldo will be lining up in white come next season. Madrid are probably the biggest threat to Arsenal’s ambitions of retaining the Emirates Cup. If they are up for it and field a strong side, they could do very well