There was a time not so long ago that Real Madrid seemedundefeatable, as they carried all before them on an unparalleled run of 22successive victories in all competitions to establish a Spanish record. Their ‘untouchable’tag may be on the wane though, after defeat yesterday to bitter local rivals AtleticoMadrid in the Spanish cup competition, following on so quickly after their leaguereversal at the hands of Valencia at the Mestalla on Sunday.

Against Valencia they had started well and seemed on theroad to another success after a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty had given them the leadgoing into the break. The home side battled back in the second period though, withgoals from Antonio Barragan and Nicolas Otamendi turning the game on its headand ending Real’s winning streak, just two short of the world record set by theBrazilian club, Coritiba as recently as 2011.There had been discussions before the game at the weekendas to whether the streak had already ended, as Real Madrid lost to AC Milan ina friendly in Dubai played the previous Tuesday, but that was not a competitivefixture so was deemed to not count for record purposes. 

If they were likely to come unstuck against anyone, thenaway to Valencia in front of some 50,000 vocal fans was a potential banana skin,given their impressive home form with only a solitary loss to Barcelona thisseason blemishing their record.

The home side clearly targeted the danger men,with Gareth Bale receiving one or two physical challenges early on, and by theconclusion there were six Valencia players in the referee’s notebook withcautions. Having tried the ‘heavy’ approach in the first-half with littleapparent success, the home side took a more measured approach in the second (onlyone of their yellow cards came in the second-half) and it clearly paid richerdividends given the final result.

Even then they rode their luck somewhat asBale and Ronaldo missed presentable chances to equalise or go one better, soReal’s goal threat was as prevalent as ever, despite the loss. They also remainedtop of the league with a game in hand despite the loss, with both Barcelona andAtletico hot on their heels just a point behind. 

They still look to be genuine contenders to retain theirChampions League crown, following on from their tenth winning of theprestigious trophy during 2014, after a dramatic finale saw them conquerAtletico in extra-time.

The manner in which they came through this year’s groupstages was impressive enough, being the only side in the competition tomaintain a 100% record throughout, including victories home and away againstfive times champions, Liverpool. They can of course expect sterner challengeswhen the competition resumes in mid-February, given that many observers havebeen somewhat sceptical as to the strength of the rest of their group rivals,so will need to quickly regain the composure and clinical efficiency that hascategorised their season up to now.

Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain,Barcelona and of course, Atletico are unlikely to be such pushovers if theycome face to face with them later on in the competition. Their immediatechallenge come the round of sixteen, to overcome the German side, Schalke wouldseem straightforward enough though.

Atletico were last season’s Spanish League champions andChampions League runners-up, so an away defeat to them yesterday in the firstleg match of the Copa del Rey’s last 16 was never beyond the realms ofpossibility, and their hosts stuck to their task admirably to earn the 2-0advantage they gained by the end of the match.

Diego Simeone is a calculated coachas one might expect from the former Argentinian international and his side tookthe opportunities that were presented to them through second-half strikes from RaulGarcia and Jose Gimenez. Like Valencia at the weekend, Atletico were not afraidto take a physical approach against their mercurial opposition and the refereeshowed ten yellow cards during the match between the two teams, the sort oftough test that Simeone was probably hoping for.

On-loan Fernando Torres seemed to revel in his return tohis former club with replica shirt sales for the former Liverpool and Chelseaman rocketing since his arrival, at a club that well remembers his former successthere. He has tasted success over the men in white before though while withLiverpool, so may have been something of a lucky talisman for his new club thistime around.

Ronaldo did not startagainst Atletico but was introduced with just under half an hour remaining, butwas unable to swing the tie back Real’s way. This was a harder defeat for the Realplayers to stomach than Sunday’s defeat, although they did show some signs oftheir recent confidence in patches, and some soul searching is likely to berequired afterwards to analyse what went wrong. 

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