Santiago Bernabeu is brimming with joy, after Real Madrid demolished Lyon and made their way to the quarterfinals of UCL, after seven years. It has been a painful wait for the Madridistas; but this victory has surely lifted their spirits and expectations from the Men in White.

After the wear and tear, so far, Real Madrid have entered the most crucial phase of their season and are in the reckoning for all the major trophies.

April will be a critical month because three titles will be decided. All our games will be extremely demanding. We will have to play difficult away fixtures in La Liga, and we’ll face Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur in between. It will be a fascinating month, but we’ll play to the limit.

Director of Institutional Relations Emilio Butragueño sharing his thoughts on Real Madrid’s schedule for April.

TheHardTackle looks at the challenges that Real Madrid will face and also at the encouraging signs.

Challenges

A Hectic Schedule

After the two-week international break, there will be no breaks for Real Madrid, as they delve completely into football frenzy. Seven matches in 21 days is a tough task and the players need to be fit physically and mentally to meet this challenge.

  1. Real Madrid – Sporting de Gijon    3rd April, 2011
  2. Real Madrid – Tottenham               5th April, 2011
  3. Athletic Bilbao – Real Madrid       10th April, 2011
  4. Tottenham – Real Madrid              13th April, 2011
  5. Real Madrid – Barcelona               17th April, 2011
  6. Barcelona – Real Madrid                20th April, 2011
  7. Valencia – Real Madrid                  24th April, 2011

Playing seven games in 21 days and that too against top quality opponents, requires a lot of physical and mental stamina. In the second half against Atletico, Real Madrid looked tired and would love to get rejuvenated before the April fever starts.

The opponents and the importance of fixtures also make the month of April the most important for Los Blancos. Their challenge for all the three major trophies would be decided in this phase. Jose Mourinho needs to get his players going and they can only rest once the season ends.

Dangerous Opponents

Pep Guardiola

If the busy schedule was not enough, the opponents certainly make it much harder. Playing Barcelona twice in 4 days with 2 trophies n the line is a much bigger task and it might not stop at that, if Real and Barcelona both their respective  quarterfinals and advance to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions league.  Last time, when both the giants clashed, Barcelona demolished Real Madrid and Mourinho would be looking for some redemption. It’s imperative that Real Madrid emerge victorious in these matches, as one victory would win them the Copa Del Rey and the other would get them closer to the La Liga title. But it’s no easy task. Every El Clasico demands the highest levels of concentration and a lot of mental toughness on and off the pitch.

Real also have Tottenham in their sights – the Londoners, having swept aside Inter and AC Milan, have impressed on the big stage. No denying that they are one of the easier teams in the draw, Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho will be wary of the talents of Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, Luka Modric and Real’s former man – Rafael Van Der Vaart.

If you thought it was over, think again. The Galacticos would need to overcome Athletic Bilbao and Valencia at San Mames and Mestella respectively. With both the teams fighting for a place in Europe’s prestigious tournaments, these matches would be an arduous assignment for the Blancos.

Squad Rotation and Injuries

It’s common knowledge that Mourinho doesn’t like to tinker much with his formations. But the past couple of matches, he surely has changed his approach. Against Atletico, he started with a 3-men central midfield and was successful in his approach. On the other hand, he risked by playing Ronaldo, who limped off to make way for Di Maria.

Real Madrid's key weapon

Injuries are a part and parcel of the modern game but Real Madrid, as of now, cannot afford any more injuries to its star players. The problem is, players like Ronaldo, Ozil, Carvalho, Pepe and Alonso are irreplaceable. With Karim Benzema hitting a purple patch, he is bound to start in every match for Los Merengues. So, Mourinho has to deal with this problem in an efficient way, giving players enough time to relax, protecting them from injuries and burn outs and letting the fringe players take charge.

It’s a golden opportunity for youngsters like Granero, Albiol and Canales to impress their coach when thrown into such situations. Kaka’s form has been wobbly and his injuries are a major cause of concern. Kaka, when fit, has the ability to feature in the starting line-up; but the question is, will he get fit and match ready in time for the big games? If yes, it will be a huge boost for Real Madrid, as Kaka can win matches alone, with his effortless brilliance.

As they say – smart work is efficient and better than hard work, Mourinho, now, has to utilize his players smartly.

Positives

Gunning for Glory

The biggest positive is that Real Madrid are in contention for all the major trophies, unlike last year or maybe the last seven years and they need to relish this. The quest for all the major trophies will serve as an inspiration for the lads to come out with all guns blazing.

Real Madrid’s obsession with La Decima is an open secret and the players need to transform this obsession into inspiration and reclaim their place as the champions of Europe.

And then, there is the bonus of beating one of the best Barcelona teams of all times in all the competitions. If Real Madrid can manage to win at least 2 major cups out of 3, it would be nothing short of a great achievement for the players, coach and Real Madrid as a club.

Benzema – The Phoenix

Is it really happening? The goals seemed to have dried up for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. But Karim Benzema seems to be scoring on behalf of both of them.  The French striker, who was considered useless at the start of February and who was in the danger of falling behind Adebayor, has risen like a phoenix. It already seems like ages, since he has not scored in a match for Los Galacticos and with 21 goals in the season so far, Benzema is surely making his presence felt at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Couple of months ago, TheHardTackle covered Karim Benzema, and since then the French striker has come a long way, silencing his critics and scoring important goals. His confidence seems to be back and the ball seems to be obeying his boots. Whoever is responsible for this transformation in Benzema, Madridistas are now more optimistic about their attack, as it reduces the burden on their talisman – Cristiano Ronaldo.

Speaking about Benzema, Emilio Butragueño said – “Karim Benzema is having his best run since he arrived at the Club. He isn’t just a goal scorer; he understands football, knows how to connect with his teammates, is very resourceful, knows how to play with his back to the goal, likes quick passes and also happens to score many strikes at the moment. He is being decisive.

Balance Between Offense and Defense

There were always doubts about the performance of this team in its first season under Mourinho, as new reinforcements arrived. But Real Madrid have done brilliantly, balancing their offensive and defensive abilities. The players seem to know their role in the team and have settled down exceptionally well. The offensive players track back to retrieve the ball and the defensive players help in attack.

Their only blip was the loss against FC Barcelona, where Mourinho got his tactics completely wrong; but the coming games against the Blaugrana will provide the chance for Real Madrid to return the favour and showcase their true abilities against a world class opposition.

Jose Mourinho

Can anything about Real Madrid be complete without the mention of the Special One? Mourinho has always insisted that his teams tend to do well in his second year. But the way this team is playing, expectations are already high to succeed in the first year itself. Credit has to be given to the Portuguese tactician for getting his starting XI correct in most matches and playing to his strength.

He has given this team character and a distinct identity, unlike last year. His tactics and game plan have been praise worthy and his substitutions purposeful.

Inspite of using Benzema as a pawn in his battle with Jorge Valdano, the problems seem to have died down at the Casa Blanca, with Mourinho getting Adebayor and Benzema hitting a grand purple patch. All the silly pot shots have stopped and focus seems to be mainly on football, which is a healthy sign.

Real Madrid has drawn criticism from many including fans since the start of the Project Neo-Galacticos. But the victory against Lyon has spread joy. All seems to be smooth and settled at the Casa Blanca. The players have responded to the challenge of playing at one of  the greatest clubs in the world. Now, it’s up to them to fulfill not only their dreams and potential but also the dreams of Madridismo.

It’s time to reclaim the throne. It’s time to fulfill the destiny. Glory beckons!!