Only five weeks ago novelist, thinker and football coach Pepe Mel was guiding his Betis team toward the Champions League on a wave of results brought about by fluid attacking play underscored by possession and passing. Key to this verdant, Andalou style of tiki-taka was the shaggy haired, facially follicular, Shaun Ryder looky-likey number 10 – is our hero Beñat, or Beñat Etxebarria Urkiaga, as nobody has time to call him on the football pitch. Picking the ball up deep he’d run, pass, look for returns, dazzle with fancy flicks, play simple lay-offs, ghost in to score and direct long range free kicks into the onion bag with all the vim and vigour of an old fashioned play maker. That is to say; light on the vim and sparing with the vigour. But like an old fashioned play maker, he was worth both the indulgence of his manager and the admission price.
But then, just as he’d started to creep into the Spanish public’ collective conscious; picking up both plaudits and none-to-subtle mutterings from the Bernabeu and Camp Nou about which colours he may be wearing next season, he disappeared. I don’t mean disappeared in like Agatha Christie or Lord Lucan, but gradually like the Woody Allen character in Deconstructing Harry who literally lost his focus and found performance impossible. All this came amidst a run of poor results. The free kicks weren’t coming off, he wasn’t doing a lot of ghosting, the crab like scurry’s that dragged three defenders with him simply didn’t happen and the whispers from Madrid and Barcelona had reduced to non-committal, low key, grunts. Grunts that usually started with a nnnnnnn sound.
But now he’s back. Like Shaun Ryder re-surfacing from the post Happy Monday’s apocalypse – although one presumes without any enhancing substances – he turned up last night to help vanquish Champions League chasers and Andalucian top-dogs Malaga. Yep, the slumber of recent weeks gave way to a Betis triumph assisted with three, eh, assists from our Basque du Jour which means that Seville’s poor(er) relations are back in the Champions league trough whilst our hero is probably back in the minds of both agents and managers alike.
The Jornada started on Friday night with La Real visiting San Mames for the last time ever and coming away with the full bag of points after a three one win over their rivals from Bilbao. Just to ensure that I don’t complete a paragraph without mentioning Betis’ Beñat, it’s worth pointing out that he played in the cantera – squad – for Athletic but was deemed surplus to requirements. In light of Athletic’s dismal seasons, the person who made that decision is probably keeping very quiet indeed.
Saturday afternoon saw Getafe travel to Mallorca and snatch all three points, they too registering a three-one away win. The Mallorquin defence featured lots of head shaking, finger pointing and hand on hips but not too much defending. Or maybe they’re just playing to new boy Alan Huttons strengths. The islanders are now in big trouble. Whilst the Capitalists’ third/fourth squad seem to be on course for a Euro assault.
At Zaragoza’s home of La Romadera it appeared that Valencia had only Paris on their mind. The locals were a couple of goals up and the visitors looking forlorn. Until that is the coach started to wave his arms around, point aggresively and shout alot. Then they clawed it back to two a piece at which point both teams called it a day.
Saturday night’s visit from Madrid inspired Depor to take the game to their vaunted opponents in what is becoming a desperate search for points. Despite scoring first and having a hat-full of near things it was the opposition who came away with three points as the latter day Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the French born Argentinian Gonzalo Higuaín netted his one hundredth goal for Los Merengues in the last few minutes to take all the points back to the capital.
Barca then beat Sevilla – were you expecting anything else? Following this was a glimmer of hope in Galicia where Celta pipped Granada with inspired from from troublesome midget, Iago Aspas, bagging the first on his return from being shunned by previous coach Paco Herrera.
Sunday morning dawned with Rayo’s Jordi Amat blisfully unaware of what was to come. He scored the first with a deft flick of his head to confound the keeper. Unfortunately for Jordi it was his own keeper and Valladolid had a deserved lead. Moments later he sailed into the Valladolid half, let rip with a shot/cross/punt thing and, are you watching David Beckham, scored what will probably be one of the goals of the season. It was in vain, however, as Manucho’s constant menace brought it’s own rewards with a winner ten minutes from time.
Atletico kept up the pressure on Barca with a one nil home win over Espanyol with a penalty from guess who (tip: rrrrooooooaaaaaaar!) although the Madrid outfit could probably consider themselves unfortunate to not have been given around ten other perfectly legitimate looking shouts. Or, Stonewall(s), as ex-Liverpool plank and platitude friendly pundit Alan Hansen would have had.
That just left time for Betis to leave Malaga found wanting.
Tonight Osasuna go to Levante. The former still need the points but with Mallorca imploding (slowly, painfully) they now have to concern themselves with Celta’s re-appearance. Levante are probably content with safeguarding mid-table and pushing on with the Euro dream. Fulham, Braga and even Atleti have featured strongly in this tournament since its inception so there’s no reason why the well-run Valencian’s shouldn’t go all the way.
Ciao for now and hasta Friday.