Jose Mourinho was euphoric. "When I am gone, you won't be able to forget me," he told the media. "I will be remembered as the coach who won 100 points and this Madrid team will go down in history as the team that won 100 points."
Real Madrid romped to a first title in four years in Mourinho's second season at the club and the Portuguese pictured the start of something special. However, one year on and his side not only lost out to Barcelona in La Liga, but Tito Vilanova's team rubbed salt in the wounds as they matched the Special One's special achievement by winning with 100 points themselves.
Both Vilanova and Mourinho have since left their respective posts but, in their absence, the title looks set to be won once more with a century of points. At the halfway stage, Gerardo Martino's Barcelona and Diego Simeone's Atletico are both on target with 50 points apiece following their teams' goalless draw at the Vicente Calderon last weekend, while Carlo Ancelotti's Real Madrid sits just three back, with 47, after its 19 fixtures.
|LA LIGA - THE LAST FIVE SEASONS
Real, which took time to gel in the opening months of the campaign under Ancelotti, has been forced to grind out results at times and was especially fortunate to win against Levante, Valencia and Elche in La Liga.
But recent results have been more impressive and, aside from the two points dropped at Osasuna in December, Madrid has looked much improved over the last few weeks.
However, the Italian coach has admitted that to have any chance of winning La Liga this term, his side must reach three figures by the end of the season. "It's not normal but this is the Spanish league and there are three very strong teams here," he said earlier this week. "We have said it before: we need 100 points and we have to get them. It won't be easy, but we are excited to give it a go and ready for the challenge."
Having dropped 10 points from an available 57 (title form pretty much anywhere else outside Spain) so far, Madrid must take 53 from its last 19 fixtures to reach a century and that means either losing just won and winning its remaining 18 games or drawing twice and claiming victories in the other 17 matches. Either way, it's going to be tough.
And it may not even be enough. Madrid also needs Barca and Atletico to drop points, but the title could be out of its hands by the time Catalans and Colchoneros meet at Camp Nou on the very last day of the season.
As well as scoring maximum points from its other fixtures, Ancelotti's side will hope to take points from its visit to the Vicente Calderon and in the Clasico at home to Barcelona. Madrid lost to both Atletico (at home) and Barca (away) in the opening half of the season, but such is the proximity at the top of the table that draws in both of those matches would see Real leading La Liga right now.
But Barca has that honor, albeit on goal difference at this stage as Martino's men matched the 50 points achieved by Pep Guardiola's side in the Catalan's first 19 league games in charge back in 2008-09. "Being winter champions means nothing to me," the Argentine said this week. "I would rather be summer champions, but the evaluation of our season so far is positive. We have been improving in football terms and 50 points is a good return. But there are three teams that can win this league."
|LA LIGA - AS IT STANDS AT THE HALWAY STAGE
And Atletico cannot be discounted. Simeone's side sat in a similar position at this time last season, before ultimately falling away and finishing third behind Real, but Los Rojiblancos boast a bigger squad this time and are even more familar with the methods of their ultra-competitive coach.
Simeone refuses to be drawn on the title race. "[We have] a lot of points," he said earlier this week. "I congratulate my players because they have run and fought for their lives and they have earned them. Our budget is 400 million euros less than Barcelona and Madrid but we give our all in every game and take each match as it comes."
Atletico hosts Madrid on the first weekend of March and travels to Barca on the last day of the season, while the Catalans visit Real at the Bernabeu in late March. Huge fixtures for all three and ones that could determine the outcome of La Liga. In the meantime, however, Atletico, Barca and especially Madrid cannot afford to put a foot wrong as the title race revs up in the second half of the season.
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