Real building up for knockout blow

Level on points with Barca, Real Madrid's fighting style could see them reclaim the title.

    Setgio Ramos celebrates scoring Real's second with Kaka [AFP]

    Spain's Primera Division and England's Premier League are both building up to thrilling photo-finishes but it is on the Iberian Peninsula that a true heavyweight contest is reaching the final rounds.

    There is little to choose between Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League, with each firing in fits and starts to make the championship a rare three-horse race.

    But in Spain, the masters of all they surveyed in 2009 are being caught by a Real Madrid team that are finally fulfilling their terrifying potential.

    Despite their faltering form, Barcelona – spearheaded by Lionel Messi – looked exquisite at times as they twice battled from a goal down to draw 2-2 with Almeria on Saturday, despite the red cards to both coach Pep Guardiola and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    That draw kept them three points clear before Real entertained fourth-places Sevilla later on.

    Just after half time at the Bernabeu, it looked like the Madridistas' obscenely expensive players were again failing to live up to their capabilities on paper, as Sevilla went two goals to the good.


    But Real fought back in a savage onslaught on the Sevilla goal, with keeper Andres Palop tested again and again by the marauders in first-day-of-term spotless white shirts.

    "I have to say that this Madrid is electric, with power and speed, incredible. It was very difficult to keep Madrid away from our goal, given how fast they are"

    Manolo Jimenez, Sevilla coach

    Cristiano Ronaldo pounced to score the first, Sergio Ramos quickly headed home a second after Guti had nearly demolished the crossbar, and a frantic injury-time defence by Sevilla was finally broken as Rafael van der Vaart slid home the winner.

    This killer instinct may well see Real over the line ahead of the more elegant approach of Barca – although much will hang on the emotion of the two sides' El Clasico meeting at the Bernabeu on the weekend of April 10.

    Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez said after the defeat that Real's raw power had seen them over the line.

    "The key for me was that this Madrid were able to play the kind of electric football they are capable of," he said.

    "I have to say that this Madrid is electric, with power and speed, incredible. It was very difficult to keep Madrid away from our goal, given how fast they are."

    For now, Real go top because of their better goal difference than Barca, and are 16 points clear of nearest chasers Valencia.

    Barca beat Real 1-0 in the Nou Camp earlier this season, a result that could be crucial as the record between the teams will decide the title if they finish level on points, as happened in 2007.

    Morale boost

    Real midfielder Xabi Alonso said the win was a huge boost to morale ahead of Wednesday's visit of Lyon in the Champions League, when they have to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit.

    Messi's form has carried Barca to the top of the table [AFP]

    "We have played as a team and everything worked well," he said.

    "This gives us a lot of confidence in the league and for Wednesday's match.

    "There's still a long way to go (in the league) and a lot of things can happen, but we are moving in the right direction."

    The pressure on the leaders appeared to be reflected in Guardiola's being sent to the stands in the first half and then striker Ibrahimovic saw red in the 61st minute.

    "Despite the sendings off, and the adverse result, we didn't lose faith," Guardiola said.

    "We continued to press forward with 10 men and for this reason I am proud of the players."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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