It was 101 days ago that Real Madrid lost 5-1 to arch rivals FC Barcelona in Catalonia, deepening a crisis that brought an end to Julen Lopetegui’s catastrophic spell as Real manager. It was the club’s third league loss in a row, and a fifth straight match without a win. The royals from the capital were sinking without trace.
It was suddenly evident why Zinedine Zidane had walked out on the job over the summer, in spite of winning an unprecedented three straight Champions League titles. It was also clear that Cristiano Ronaldo’s surprising sale to Juventus had been planned poorly. And that none of his assumed successors as Real’s central cog turned out to be capable of putting the team on his back, the way the Portuguese had so reliably and so often, papering over the problems of an aging team.
Tellingly, Real couldn’t find any reputable manager to take Lopetegui’s place, fearful as they were of boarding a sinking ship. The club had to settle for the unproven Santiago Solari, its reserve team manager.
It turned out to be the nadir of Real’s season.
Lucas Vazquez (left), Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid left the Nou Camp with an away goal, the latest positive step in a season that’s turned around over the past few months. (Getty)
Since then, Solari has slowly rebuilt the team’s confidence and competence and turned its campaign around. Real has climbed from ninth place in La Liga to third. And if it wins a huge cross-town bout with Atletico on Saturday, which would be a fifth straight league victory, Real will take over second place. It won’t be back in the title race exactly – Barca has an eight-point lead – but at least the club would be more or less where it ought to be.
Wednesday, Real underscored its resurgence with a credible 1-1 draw away at Barca in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal tie, a result that will have felt cathartic as well as symbolic.
Six minutes in, Barca boldly took the lead. Lucas Vazquez applied a tidy, short-range finish on the doorstep from Karim Benzema’s cutback (via BeIN Sport).