Sun. Oct 24th, 2021

Having been well off the pace in January, Real beat Barcelona to briefly return to the top of La Liga on Saturday

“I’ve been locked up for two weeks, as if I was in a cage, and I feel like a fight,” Zinedine Zidane said, so he went out and found one. Having tested positive for the coronavirus and isolated at home, he had heard the whispers, read the press, taken the hits and knew what lay beneath. Worse, he had watched his team. He had seen his assistant David Bettoni insist that Real Madrid’s fans “still believe because our DNA is to fight to the end” but even in empty grounds – where there are no whistles and no white hankies, judgments not delivered directly, nor pressure applied on the president – he was aware that many didn’t, not entirely. It was the start of February and it was over.

Madrid had ended January beaten by Levante, winning just twice in five league games in which they had played the teams in 19th, 10th, 17th, 18th and ninth. They had lost four times already: to Levante, Cádiz, Valencia and Alavés, not defeats easily digested. They were 10 points behind Atlético Madrid having played a game more. Barcelona were in front of them, Sevilla right behind, Villarreal close. In two weeks, they had lost the Super Cup, been knocked out of the Copa del Rey by tiny Alcoyano, and now the league looked gone too. Their title defence hadn’t even lasted half a season, so it goes. The headlines said Zidane was about to lose his job, again.

Related: Kroos’ double deflection deflates Barça, decides clásico and sends Real top

Related: European roundup: Atlético slip again as Inter close in on Serie A title

Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Alavés; Eibar 0-1 Levante; Getafe 0-1 Cádiz; Huesca 3-1 Elche; Real Betis 1-1 Atlético Madrid; Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona; Real Valladolid 1-2 Granada; Valencia 2-2 Real Sociedad; Villarreal 1-2 Osasuna

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