How the 'B-Specials' gave Madrid space for dual fight
Real Madrid have always bought big and they've always had the money to do so. Perhaps now, however, they're buying better than ever.
The Bernabeu club already develops more players for Europe's top leagues than almost any other club, producing fine footballers from their academy whose sales fund the purchases of the next batch of talent.
And such has been the success in building a squad at Madrid, that their second-string XI is being trusted to secure the La Liga title while their best players pursue Champions League glory.
For the fourth consecutive away game, Zinedine Zidane played a 'B' team at the weekend. It was the ninth in a row that they have won and means they have a fresh team to face Atletico Madrid tonight.
Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured) sat out his fifth league away game of the last six and Madrid were still not affected. They are still far too good.
"It's up there with the most complete squads we've had," said Sergio Ramos yesterday. "The key to success is not only having 11 players competing, but the whole squad."
With a third Champions League final in four seasons on the horizon, the strategy is obviously working. Even a defeat to Atletico is likely to see them head to Cardiff dreaming of becoming the first team to retain the big-eared trophy since its rebranding.
How sustainable their approach is will be tested this summer, when James Rodriguez and Alvaro Morata depart and Madrid are forced to replace them. The resultant funds will exceed £100m and, topped up by Florentino Perez's generous hand, will replenish a squad in need of little improvement.
Richer clubs having superior squad depth is nothing new, but the 'A' team v 'B' team discussion continuing in Madrid feels different.
In a league so dominated by its two biggest clubs, this foreshadows something that should be a concern. Madrid's focus has always been the Champions League. But how much of a focus it becomes for their playing resources will tell us much about the direction of European football in the superclub era - and whether everyone else should just go home and give up. (© Independent News Service)
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid, Live RTE2 & BT Sport 1, 7.45