Sergio Ramos insists Real Madrid can still mount an unlikely title charge following Saturday’s morale-boosting Clasico victory at the Nou Camp.
Despite being sent off for the 20th time in his Real Madrid career, club captain Sergio Ramos exuded the new-found confidence around the camp as he reflected on the 2-1 win.
Madrid are still seven points behind Barca with just seven games remaining – and the gap is effectively eight points with the Catalans also holding the head to head advantage between the teams. But Ramos believes an unlikely league title is still possible.
He said: “Now we’re seven points behind, there will be people who consider La Liga closer and a possibility. As long as there is a chance, and as long as there are points available, Real Madrid must fight. They are three important points gained on Barcelona, our strongest rival, and it’s great for us mentally going into the final stage of the season.”
Ramos was dismissed on 83 minutes, earning a yellow card for a rough challenge on Luis Suarez after already being booked for dissent. But that did nothing to alter his team’s late dominance and, with Casemiro filling in at centre back, they proceeded to score a late winner through Cristiano Ronaldo in a rousing finale.
And Ramos joked that his teammates looked better off without him, smiling: “When you get sent off with not long left, you are nervous. But If I’d known how well we would play with 10 men, I would have got myself sent off after five minutes!
“The pride and commitment the boys showed when they went a man down fills you with satisfaction. This victory tastes glorious.”
More realistic than a league title, however, are Madrid’s ambitions to be crowned European champions for the 11th time.
Los Blancos have been handed a kind draw against mid-table Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg, with the first leg in Germany on Wednesday. And although most members of the Bernabeu dressing room are attempting to strike a balance between optimism and realism, one player has broken ranks by claiming his team are on track to win the tournament.
Striker Jese Rodriguez, who delivered a strong performance from the bench as a replacement for Karim Benzema at the Nou Camp, struck a highly positive note as he argued: “This victory gives us confidence going into Wednesday’s game.
“Together we can beat anyone and win any trophy. If we keep going like this, we will win the Champions League.”
Barcelona vs Real Madrid is the most important game in the Spanish football calendar and the stakes could not be higher, with Real mathematically still in with a chance of winning La Liga.
However Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, Los Blancos’ go-to man in key fixtures, cut a relaxed figure at training ahead of the big game on Sunday.
League leaders Barcelona are currently 10 points ahead of their third-place rivals with 10 rounds still to play.
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It’s somewhat difficult to know how to fairly assess Gareth Bale’s time with Real Madrid. For a player who joined the world’s wealthiest club for a record fee amid a whirlwind of hype and has maintained a place in the starting XI, using a downbeat phrase such as ‘quite good’ doesn’t feel right.
Yet that’s probably the most accurate conclusion, because although he has certainly not been a failure – beating Gary Lineker’s record as La Liga’s all-time British goalscorer is enough evidence for that – neither has he been an undoubted success.
True, there have been some memorable moments, such as his scintillating solo effort which won the Copa del Rey final against Barcelona towards the end of his first season, and his headed goal in the Champions League final a few weeks later. But Bale has also experienced plenty of lows, especially towards the end of last season when he looked horribly short of confidence and found himself powerless to do anything to prevent his team’s disappointing conclusion to the campaign – if anything, he was one of Madrid’s worst players during that dark period.
And up against the most obvious comparison, Neymar, who moved to Barcelona during the same summer, it is clear the Welshman has a long way to go before he can realistically regard his stint in Spain as a major triumph.
His biggest problem this season, however, has been injuries, with an otherwise promising few months punctuated by a series of calf strains which have limited his involvement.
Before the international break, Bale was back to fitness and looking extremely sharp as he played a full role in the 4-0 victory over Sevilla. He assisted the opener for Karim Benzema, twice hit the woodwork and then scored the third goal.
And really, that’s how it should be. As the most expensive player in history, with a guaranteed place in Madrid’s starting line-up, that kind of display should be par for the course. We should be able to expect Bale to deliver elite performances on a weekly basis, in the same way we expect it from Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, rather than being pleasantly surprised when it occasionally happens.
He has already shown that he is capable of doing it – but to really make his mark at the Bernabeu, he should be producing his best form nearly every game.
The flying winger needs to build upon his performance against Sevilla and make it a matter of routine. And, of course, there could be no better time or place for him to do exactly that than Saturday at the Nou Camp, when Los Blancos will attempt to breathe fresh life into their title challenge – and gain a measure of revenge for their humiliating loss earlier in the season – by beating Barcelona.
It is the kind of occasion when, until now, Bale has largely fallen flat. But his recent form has suggested he is finally ready to throw off the shackles and show what he can really do on a consistent basis.
If he becomes the match-winner this weekend and give Madrid a renewed sense of belief, it could be the start of something truly special.