Real Madrid's Croatian midfielder Luka Modric (R) challenges Espanyol's Spanish midfielder Alex Lopez during the Spanish league football match at the RCDE Stadium in Cornella de Llobregat on January 27, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

Barcelona: With Luka Modric back to playing like a Ballon d’Or winner, Real Madrid are gaining momentum in time for a run at a fourth straight Uefa Champions League title.

Modric was voted the world’s top player in December after leading Croatia to the World Cup final and helping Madrid win a third European Cup in a row.

But it seemed that the extra matches for his national team during the summer took its toll during the first half of La Liga season. The 33-year-old midfielder’s lack of fitness coincided with the overall malaise of Madrid.

Modric, however, has been himself over the last two weeks. And that means that, despite no longer having Cristiano Ronaldo to count on, Madrid must be seen as serious title contenders in Europe. In the league, they trail Barcelona by 10 points.

Modric played a huge part in Madrid’s opening two goals in a 4-2 league win at Espanyol on Sunday. He dribbled into the area before his powerful shot was saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez, with the rebound falling to Karim Benzema to finish off.

Modric then spotted Sergio Ramos at the far post and curled in a cross for him to double the advantage. Modric also had another chance to score but again was denied by Lopez.

Modric started his recent strong run by scoring from distance to open a 2-1 win at Real Betis two weeks ago. He followed that up with his best match of the season in a 2-0 win over Sevilla, which saw Madrid leapfrog Sevilla into third place.

Madrid still have a handful of matches before the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 game at Ajax on February 13. This includes league games against Alaves and Atletico Madrid that will test the strength of their recovery before they face their Dutch opponents in Europe.

But the team are playing their most impressive football under coach Santiago Solari since he replaced Julen Lopetegui at the end of October.

“Above all it is important that we have all our players back in shape and ready to play at their best,” Solari said.