Lionel Messi endured some testing times with Barcelona last season, but he was back smiling in scoring two against Elche. Tim Stannard gives us his rundown...
After the departures of Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, plenty are saying Atletico Madrid won't retain their title. Tim Stannard thinks otherwise...
If a side is approaching a Champions League knock-out clash in the same manner as a Zenith Data Systems home fixture against Wycombe, it's a fairly obvious sign that things are going fairly well for the club. Real Madrid are in this happy, humming place at the moment, and have an insurmountable 6-1 lead ahead of Tuesday's second leg in the Santiago Bernabéu.
All Carlo Ancelotti could do to give some credibility to a huge dead rubber was to note sagely that it was important to play well ahead of next weekend's league game. Whilst that is true given that fixture happens to be El Clasico, even the likes of Julien Faubert could take to the pitch on Tuesday without too much damage being caused.
Indeed, Madrid are in exactly as comfortable a position in La Liga going into the Clásico, a 1-0 win at Málaga maintained a four point lead over third-placed Barcelona, meaning that a defeat in the Spanish capital next weekend would still leave the title race in Madrid's own hands.
The solid victory down south against a Málaga outfit lead by former manager, Bernd Schuster, continued their remarkable league form since the last Clásico at the end of October, a defeat in the Camp Nou that left Real six points adrift of their rivals.
Fifteen wins and three draws in La Liga since that setback (and some very spotty form from Barca) has produced a ten point swing in the intervening period, with Real Madrid demonstrating a quiet efficiency that José Mourinho would probably not have been capable of. Indeed, this was a coach that publicly gave up on the title race last season by Christmas.
Whilst Diego Simeone has spent the year talking about commitment, and Tata Martino has had to field numerous press probes on Spanish and Brazilian tax laws, Ancelotti has made a name for himself by being distinctly uninteresting. Aside from the coach's mobile left eyebrow, there is very little of note surrounding the Italian, exactly the reason for his appointment after the melodrama of Mourinho. In the former PSG coach, Real Madrid have the sleep-inducing somnambulence of former number two, Aitor Karanka, mixed with a world-class coach.
Some of the big talking points of the season in the gossiping masses of Madrid have reached a natural end point. Clearly, Iker Casillas will remain second choice for whatever reason both Mourinho and Ancelotti have decided, and that's that. Gareth Bale is doing enough to keep everyone off the Welshman's back in regards to the transfer fee, and the only real scandal that pops up on a day to day basis are matters like midfielder Asier Illaramendi deciding that it would be a good idea to go running with the bulls, dressed as Batman. As you do.
As Bernd Schuster pointed out ahead of the weekend's clash, what Ancelotti has brought to Real Madrid is stability both on the pitch and in the boardroom so most discussions in the press surround questions on tactics, something that is no doubt driving the writers of both Marca and AS doolally. "This is my most complete squad," admitted a happy Ancelotti ahead of the Schalke clash.
Whilst Barcelona supporters will be wondering whether a cleansing 7-0 thrashing of Osasuna on Sunday will mean anything at all in terms of form ahead of the Clásico, all Madridistas have to lose sleep over is whether Karim Benzema can recover from a strain picked up against Málaga. If the answer is a negative then not all is lost - Jese can step into the breach.
Ancelotti finished his first ever press conference as Real Madrid manager by looking like he wished he had never taken the job in the first place, but the Italian is now looking relaxed and chirpy in what should be a hugely tense week for the club.
Such is the strength of the Spanish league leaders' current position, there is little cause for concern - the huge amount of work done over the winter months is now starting to pay off.
Round 28 Results
Getafe 3-3 Granada
Levante 0-1 Celta Vigo
Málaga 0-1 Real Madrid
Atlético Madrid 1-0 Espanyol
Rayo 3-1 Almería
Elche 0-0 Betis
Barcelona 7-0 Osasuna
Real Sociedad 1-0 Valencia
Sevilla 4-1 Valladolid
Villarreal 1-1 Athletic Bilbao
Tim Stannard - follow him on the Twitter