x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Calm Pellegrini is finally in control

Real Madrid have won every game following their Champions League elimination to Olympique Lyon and caught Barcelona at the top of the Primera Liga.

The calls for Manuel Pellegrini to be sacked following Real Madrid's Champions League elimination to Olympique Lyon have melted away like the snow on the Guadarrama mountains north of the Spanish capital. Real have won every game since and caught Barcelona at the top of the Primera Liga. They have played with an attacking style and panache enshrined in their history and demanded by their supporters. They have scored an average of 3.3 goals a game at home, 2.20 away. In the last eight matches that has increased to 3.75 and 3.6.

Eight months after he started, Pellegrini has finally found his team. Players like Karim Benzema were thrust upon him by Florentino Perez, the club president, because of the Frenchman's huge fee. Benzema started more often that he might have, but is now seldom in the fist XI. Now that Pellegrini has control, the fans like what they see. A failure to win the league is still likely to render his position untenable, but to sack the Chilean would be another mistake at a club which would win cups for cock ups.

Pellegrini earned a first class reputation for the job he did at Villarreal. He exudes calmness, a key asset at the Bernabeu. When a hysterical media were calling for him to be dismissed, he did not flinch because he understands and ignores the pantomime life of knee-jerk reactions that go with life at Spain's biggest clubs. Rants and raves are delivered in the privacy of the dressing room, but they are given sparingly. Pellegrini is not one for throwing cups and kicking boots at his players.

He does not have full control of the Real ship in the choppy waters which always surround the club, but he has got one hand on the wheel and has succeeded in steering it on a clear course to the league title. He could not have done more domestically and the title would be Real's in any other year, but for the brilliance of Barca. And vice versa. Pellegrini's public comments are rational and cerebral. Most Real fans were delirious after Sunday's 2-0 win at Racing Santander. To them, the three points were all that mattered in the title race with Barca. The usual suspects of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain were the goalscorers and they made the headlines, the stars with their arms raised high.

To Pellegrini, it was the defence who deserved to be singled out for their first clean sheet in eight games. With one eye on Saturday's El Clasico against Barcelona, Pellegrini said: "Whoever makes the fewest mistakes will win." And he is right. Barca and Real are racking up the wins and breaking records. Real's victory over Racing was their 12th in a row and they have won all their 15 home games. Barca's form is not quite as imperious, but something has to give in the most eagerly anticipated game between the pair for decades.

As the Barca fans look towards Lionel Messi as their match winner, Real look to the dual threat of Ronaldo and Higuain. The unlikely pairing have blown away the rest of the Real players with their goalscoring. Higuain has 26 (two behind his compatriot Messi Spain's leading scorer), while Ronaldo has 25. Real's next highest scorers are Benzema and Kaka with eight. Both have been less than spectacular in their first season at the Bernabeu, but Pellegrini remains unperturbed.

His side's second in Santander was their 100th goal of the campaign - 83 in the league. Barca have scored a still impressive 75 and have a better defensive record, but it is Pellegrini who deserves credit for catching up with the world's best team. sports@thenational.ae