By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Four times Real Madrid have visited Andalucia in La Liga this term – and on each occasion they have left Spain’s southernmost province with nothing. Indeed, if the capital club can draw comfort from one thing after Saturday’s lacklustre loss in Granada, it is that they do not now have to return to the region in 2012-13.
Madrid fell behind as Cristiano Ronaldo glanced the ball into his own net from a corner midway through the first half. The Portuguese changes his hairstyle for virtually every game, but the slicked-back look did him no favours on Saturday as the ball deceived Diego Lopez on its way in from the tightest of angles. Unfortunate it may have been, but it was nevertheless yet another set-piece strike conceded by Madrid this term. Bad habits can be difficult to shake.
Jose Mourinho’s men trailed by the same scoreline at half-time in the corresponding fixture last season, but scored twice in the second period to claim all three points.
This time, however, that rarely looked likely. Lacking the creative threat provided by the suspended Mesut Ozil and looking tired both mentally and physically following the extreme exertion expended in Wednesday’s Clasico against Barcelona, the champions were unable to find a way back into the game.
The week strangely sums up the capital club’s campaign in 2012-13 – brilliant versus Barca and then awful at times against the lesser sides. Madrid have paid the price for inconsistency this term and La Liga is now well out of reach – on Sunday, the Catalans can open the gap to 18 points between themselves and their fierce rivals.
Mourinho’s men had given their all on Wednesday and, unusually in the Clasico, finished the game still strongly despite the vast effort required against the Catalan club. It was a monumental endeavour, but one which ultimately took its toll on Saturday after just three days’ rest, up against a side with a new coach, Lucas Alcaraz, and who are fighting for their lives in the Primera Division.
Without Ozil and the motivation needed in a competition which is already beyond their reach, Madrid also struggled to create chances against the static side in front of them.
Despite the difficulty of such fixtures, Mourinho’s men appear much more comfortable against attacking sides like Barcelona, who will come out of their shell, thus leaving spaces to be exploited on the break. But when faced with teams who sit back and soak up the pressure, this Madrid side still struggle to play through rivals like Granada and often rely on individual brilliance.
There was little of that in evidence on Saturday, with Ronaldo unable to provide much of a threat, Luka Modric showing some signs of breaking through yet still struggling and Angel Di Maria disappointing once more. So too, was Jose Callejon after he came off the bench, barely improving on his dreadful display in Wednesday’s Clasico, while Karim Benzema was guilty of squandering a wonderful chance to level with six minutes left.
Madrid, claimed Marca in their headline, “failed to show up” – and it was an accurate assessment of a poor performance. But the important thing now will be for Mourinho’s men to ensure they do “show up” in their Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against Barcelona later this month – and also in the two-legged tie versus Manchester United in the Champions League.
The bad news is that they can forget all about La Liga in 2012-13. The good news? They can forget all about Andalucia as well – at least until next season.
Follow Ben Hayward on