April isn’t even a week old and Real Madrid already have two matches in the books. Even more daunting: They’ll play seven more before the calendar turns to May. By then, they could be looking at a lost season – or they could be through to the Champions League semifinals and sitting pretty in the La Liga title hunt. With a pair of wins against Alaves and Leganes already in the books, they’re off to an ideal start.
The real speed bumps are yet to come, though, and it all comes down to how deftly still relatively inexperienced manager Zinedine Zidane balances his squad during this hectic period. It’s not just that Los Merengues will average a match nearly every three days during April, it’s the difficulty they face. In their month-long stretch, Real Madrid will host Atletico in a Madrid derby before traveling to face Bayern Munich in the Champions League then visiting relegation-threatened Sporting Gijon.
Then, Los Blancos welcome back-to-back rowdy houseguests when Bayern come for the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinals and Barcelona fire off another edition of El Clasico. Assuming Real Madrid survive that gauntlet, they visit Deportivo la Coruna before Valencia visits the Santiago Bernabeu. To put it plainly, that’s an intimidating stretch, even if you are one of the richest clubs in the history of the sport.
Real Madrid aren’t alone in their busy schedules, however. Barcelona, Bayern Munich and other Champions League quarterfinalists all have busy months – that’s the nature of being in the competition after all. Madrid’s is arguably the most formidable, though. It appears they’ll need to navigate those waters without injured defender Raphael Varane, who was diagnosed with a thigh injury to start the month.
It’s not all bad news, though. First: They have a two-point cushion and a game in hand on second-place Barcelona. (That game in hand is contributing to their fixture congestion, though, so it’s not without its warts). Also, Varane’s injury aside, Los Blancos have a full stable of healthy players. A “weakened” side featured against Leganes on Wednesday and Alvaro Morata picked up a hat trick in the contest. Mega-talented James Rodriguez is still eager to prove he should be a daily fixture for Zidane and Lucas Vazquez got valuable playing time with Gareth Bale on the shelf earlier in the season.
Then there’s Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese is still their most important player and he’s been on a tear since the New Year, with nine goals in 12 La Liga matches. He’s also changed up his approach to where he doesn’t need to be the focus of the attack day after day. He’s become almost, gasp, deferential for the betterment of the team. Lastly, Real Madrid will get the benefit of having their most important domestic matches – against Atletico and Barcelona – played at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The matches are coming thick and fast for Real Madrid, but they should be able to handle it. Drawing against Bayern in the Champions League would be a tall task no matter what time of year it is, and derby matches are always high-energy contests. Real Madrid have a unique opportunity to put together an unforgettable April with a run of success through the heart of the month. It would be stunning to see a team of their caliber completely fall flat on their faces, but it’s within the realm of possibility. Real Madrid can strongly bolster their title credentials in the coming weeks, or they could see those credentials slip away. It’ll be a true test of their championship meddle. Good thing they have plenty of that.