Since we missed the weekend prediction (doesn't matter, they would've all been wrong), it's time to do the reverse and look back at what has become evident these past few days.
Real are for real, and will win La Liga. This isn't going out on too much of a limb, but they're really beginning to put an official stamp on this season. The whole team was lining up to score against Valladolid yesterday, and they've shown no signs of relenting in their pursuit of back to back titles. Barca, held to a draw, are fading fast and are now 8 points adrift. Julio Baptista, who showed only brief moments of quality with Arsenal last season, has really come into his own with los Merengues. Wenger chose to use La Bestia as a center forward because of his size and strength, either alone or partnered up front. With Real, he's been used in his preferred role as an attacking midfielder, and it has really paid dividends for them. Barcelona may have grabbed the preseason headlines for its deadly attack, but perhaps people underestimated the combined chemistry of Raul, van Nistelrooy, Robben, and Baptista. Throw in Robinho as a substitute winger or second striker, and you've got the makings of another title. This one is over.
[Note: Arsenal vs. AC Milan and Liverpool vs. Inter are certainly mouthwatering Champions League ties, but I personally can't wait to see Roma take on this Madrid squad. There could be some very attractive football on display.]
Milan are stringing together another incredible run. Initially sparked by the brilliance of young Alexandre the Duck, continued by the skill of Pirlo and Gilardino, and now sustained by luck (like all good runs), Milan have put together an impressive response to those (like me) who thought their shot at a Top Four spot might be gone. In the Champions League, this doesn't bode particularly well for Arsenal, as Milan have really picked up their form and dropped the Jekyll and Hyde act which characterized the first half of their season. Instead, they're finding ways to win and are finally having success at the San Siro. While Fiorentina are no slouches, Milan have a hungry look about them, and I like their chances to finish fourth.
Manchester United are a complete enigma. During this season, we've learned that United have the best player in the world, the most dangerous attack and stingiest defense in England, perhaps the deepest bench in Europe, and yet under the right circumstances, are eminently beatable. Sir Alex Ferguson has called this perhaps his best squad ever (which is saying A LOT), and yet they're in second place and have lost four times this season. It's true that there is still a long way to go, and they remain in the hunt for three major trophies, but one cannot help but wonder if performances like the lackluster display against City won't come back to bite them. If Arsenal take advantage of United's loss and Chelsea's draw with Liverpool to pull three points further away, harnessing the power of Fergie's frustration would enable the city of Manchester to go green for weeks.
[Note: Did anyone watch the Manchester Derby? Great stuff. It began with a commemoration for the victims of the Munich Air Disaster of 1958, and commenced with a minute of silence. Because of the deep rivalry between Man U and Man City, there were fears that the City fans would disrupt this solemn occasion with jeers and chants. Instead, the whole thing went off beautifully. Seeing 70,000 fans of rival clubs come together in silence, holding their scarves high with pride and respect, is what sports is all about.]
Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.