Real Madrid players celebrate scoring against Osasuna. / EP

No love for de facto champions

Despite virtually winning the league and making it to a European semi-final, some still doubt Real Madrid

Rob Palmer
ROB PALMER

It's only the mathematicians who refuse to acknowledge Real Madrid as the champions of Spain... Yet does the football world really acknowledge this as one of the legendary teams?

I heard a British pundit say that they are top of a poor league, after they'd beaten Chelsea in the same week that Villarreal, 7th in La Liga, saw off Bayern Munich.

Even in Spain, they're not getting complete credit. Opinions are affected by Barcelona's hammering in El Clásico. It's crazy to believe that some media were doubting Ancelotti's future at the club.

The Italian inherited an unbalanced squad of players. Most were then over 30, there was no emerging young talent and no budget to improve the team. He needed to handle players with huge reputations who had been left in limbo.

His answer was to give Bale, Isco and Hazard game time in the early weeks as he made his own assessment, but came to the same conclusion as previous managers: they'd lost their edge.

The club's biggest loss was the loveable Sergio Ramos, who'd been at the heart of all success for over a decade and left a huge hole at the club. The fact that he's never mentioned is a testament to Ancelotti's work. Alaba and Militão are regarded as one of the best centre-back pairings in the world alongside goalkeeper Courtois.

The Italian worked on getting his defence tight. But Mendy is often injured, Carvajal is less reliable than usual and Marcelo needs to be used sparingly.

Modrić, Casemiro and Kroos have a combined age of 98 and aren't expected to last 90 minutes. However, they should go down with Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets as one of the best-ever midfield trios.

The star of the side is another veteran: Benzema. He's the stand-out candidate for the Ballon d'Or. Given the side's average age, they should wilt in games rather than peak in the final minutes as they have done on so many occasions this season.

The mark of champions is succeeding when there's adversity. This week, Ancelotti's squad against Osasuna was an odd mix. Yet again they dug deep, even after missing two penalties. Asensio and Lucas Vázquez emerged from the shadows to score and Nacho proved to be the ultimate team player.

It was a contrast to Manchester City and Barcelona, who both lost in the past week when they needed to alter their strongest team.

Ancelotti is on the brink of finally claiming the Spanish title to go with those from Italy, England, France and Germany. The next target is winning the Champions League for an unprecedented fourth time as a coach.

Hopefully, he will finally be recognised as one of the greatest managers of all time and they'll stop asking for his head.