Real Madrid won La Liga this weekend

Real Madrid CF captain Karim Benzema celebrates the opening goal during the Liga Santander match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 12, 2021 in Madrid.

Real Madrid CF captain Karim Benzema celebrates the opening goal during the Liga Santander match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 12, 2021 in Madrid.
Image: Getty Images

Whether it’s a major achievement or not, it’s hard to understand. La Liga is arguably turned to trash, compared to what it once was. Thanks to the fact that Barcelona set their establishment on fire for insurance money and forgot about the insurance money, and no other club has been able to step forward, there is just a lot of not much between Galicia and Andalusia.

But in times when La Liga is the best in the world, or it’s that thing you can’t scrape off the floor, Real Madrid are generally at the top. And with no more Barcelona’s all-time greatest player to keep things balanced, Real Madrid are approaching the La Liga crown, cigarette in one hand and a trendy drink in the other.

Madrid barely sweated a sweat on Sunday, beating city rivals Atlético 2-0. The score doesn’t really tell the story, although it does tell the story of the two teams right now. Overall, Atlético were probably the best team. Despite having a lot less ball, as is their way, they have created far better chances. They have made more shots, more shots on goal, and have put Thibaut Courtois to the test in Madrid’s goal more than once. But right now for Atlético, everything is a damn struggle. The bunker defense they once loved and did with a rebellious grin is now easily torn apart. It’s just chaotic, the grin at each other. And Atlético don’t have Vinicius Jr. or Karim Benzema, which is all Real need right now:

There are six Atlético players in the frame when Vinicius makes that pass to Benzema. They are the only two guys in white shirts. Yet Benzema has more than enough room to slam home what is certainly a glorious volley.

Vinicius was back on the pitch in the second half to freeze the game, this time with Marco Asensio:

Once again, both spaces were a far-fetched myth against past teams of Diego Simeone’s Atlético. It is now common for their opponents.

Putting Madrid’s victory simply on the soundtrack of Benny Hill of Atlético or the rest of La Liga these days is not fair, especially for Vinicius Jr, who has been giving his all throughout the season. He already has 10 goals, more than he had scored in the first three seasons combined in Madrid. He added four assists, which aided Benzema’s top-down death certificate. Benzema has scored 13 goals and seven assists, which places him just behind Erling Haaland and Mo Salah in the top five European leagues in terms of goal contribution this season.

The galactic production of Benzema is nothing new, however. It is for Vinicius. He was heralded as a future star when he arrived in Madrid at just 18, and upon arrival he all looked like a sensational teenager. There were flashes of brilliance, shrouded in a mess of bad decisions or over-elaboration or tactical naivety. Watching him dribble to the urinal line was common enough. It seems that he has cleared everything up. According to FBref.com, he leads all of Europe in progressive carries. He also leads into a carry in the opponent’s penalty area, making him the most dangerous player around. Sure, La Liga’s less challenging surroundings help with this, as do some of the more passive defenses around. But it’s definitely coming to life.

But are Real Madrid really good? Who the fuck knows?

They have won a Champions League group with Inter, but not much else, so it’s not much evidence. They have two players at the top of their game in those two forwards, but what else? It would appear that Real have benefited greatly from the fact that their opponents have forgotten how to kick a ball at goal when they face the Merengues.

In La Liga, Real Madrid are only in the middle of the pack when it comes to expected goals, finishing ninth with a score of 19.4. They have only given up 15 actual goals. Which would make you think Courtois is just performing satanic rituals between the posts to keep out any shots that “should” have entered. But that’s not the case either. Courtois’s expected post-shot counter-goals, which takes into account where the shot was placed and from where it was taken, is actually less than the amount of goals he has forfeited. He has not really “saved” anything for Real. Real’s post-shot xGA is fourth-best in the league and around six fewer than expected goals. No team comes close to a bigger difference. They are decidedly mediocre in terms of shots and shots on goal per game that they give up. Real are third in the number of shots on goal they block, so maybe that makes them a good defensive team? Or maybe they are just lucky? Probably a combination, but you get the feeling that as the season progresses more of those shots they give up will creep between bodies and into the net. And some of them may not be quite on Courtois’ chest, as they are now. So what?

Madrid are the best attacking team in Spain, both with the highest score (39, which leads by 12 goals!) And with the expected goals. The impact is almost certainly due, mainly, to Vinicius and Benzema who have established career highs in the percentage of shooting, both for shots on goal and for shots in general. Is it sustainable?

None of that matters, really, when it comes to La Liga. Real have an eight-point advantage over a group of pursuers who have all their cleats untied. Will they be discovered in Europe? We may find out soon, as they just drew PSG in the second round of February. There is still a sense that their midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos and Casemiro – whose average age is Sgt. Pepper – should be haunted by a more dynamic and energetic opponent. However, such an opponent does not exist in Spain.

So by default, almost, with the added brilliance of Benzema-Vinicius Jr., Real Madrid will clinch their 186th Spanish title. And that could actually be a sign of how far the league has fallen, that this team, with its actual quality indistinguishable from the quagmire, will have such an easy time for the parade.

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