Cup finals, cup finals, cup finals. Not, you understand, authentic cup finals where the participants get to shake hands with a minor dignitary, the latest winner of Pop Idol or whoever else can fancies a bit of half-time hospitality coupled with the milky afterglow of having presented a chunk of shiny metal to Swansea stalwart, Garry Monk.
No, I mean the sort of BIG GAMES routinely described as such by managers who come spring, find themselves staring at the league table whilst trying to fathom where the next points are coming from. That’s the sort of cup final I mean. And it just so happens that the Madrid Merengues – Real Madrid if you like, but never ‘Real’ – find themselves in the midst of just such a run at the moment.
Of Madrid’s season defining triumvirate of encounters, the first was done and dusted Tuesday night after a counter attacking master class saw them go to enemy territory – Camp Nou – and beat the Catalans by three goals to one. As a result they find themselves in a real Cup Final – La Copa del Rey – against none other than Atleti who triumphed over Sevilla late Weds. night in Seville. The third ‘final’ comes next week when they travel to Manchester seeking to overturn their hosts’ slender away goal margin, and whilst I wouldn’t bet against them doing this it should be noted that every time I enter a bookies the manager usually let’s rip with an ear to ear grin and gives the staff the rest of the day off.
However, it’s the fixture sandwiched by those two that looms this weekend when the bi-annual marketing jamboree known as El Clasico 2013 Part II comes to Madrid. Lose and Madrid have lost their title, unleashing the slough of despond, the depth of despair etc. Should they win, Madrid will (probably still) have lost their title, unleashing the slough of despond and the depth of… etc. Yet, they still want to win and preferably in the sadistic manner of an already relegated team dragging their under-performing adversaries through the trapdoor with them on the last day of the season. So Madrid don’t want to see Barça racing into the sunset just yet, clutching their La Liga trophy and certainly not whilst Atleti are still in title contention a mere eight points behind in second position yet eminently catchable as they lay just four in front of Madrid. To clarify; if Madrid win they’ll be handing a lifeline to bitter rivals Atleti and shooing the wind from the sales of Barcelona but shooting themselves in the foot in the process of the ‘Battle for Second’ with said local rivals. Yet, a Barça win will almost certainly give them the title and, depending on Atletis’ result, put Madrid further points back in third. Some would call it nihilism, I’ll call it a draw.
As for the rest of the action.
Jornada 26 dawns in the chill dusk of a Madrid Friday night when Zaragoza visit Getafe. Write off the south Madrid team at your peril, they lurk just above mid-table in a handy position for a Europa League assault and have the one thing that really counts at this stage of the season – a close proximity to a deathly dull industrial estate where we get our T-Shirts. And Form, too. Although mostly form, it has to be said.
Tautologically, and chronologically, the El Clásico follows this game which the UEFA sycophants at the LFP have deemed worthy of a 4pm, Saturday afternoon kick-off – lunacy. Following this Depor welcome Rayo Vallecano in a must win for the Coruñés whilst Rayo need a result to put the Euro Dream back on track after a disappointing home reverse to the impressive Valladolid last weekend.
The Athletic types from Bilbao have another derby to contend with when they visit the “Pamplonans of Osasuna”. The home teams’ form is on the up, whilst Athletic’s has been erratic, to put it kindly. Saturday night’s late show sees yet another local encounter when Levante take the cross town bus to play younger upstarts Valencia. Too close to call this one and both teams have a little bit of Euro Action on the immediate horizon. So who knows, perhaps you could just sit back and enjoy it for the spectacle it could well be.
Sunday midday sees the birthday boys, Mallorca go to Granada. I can’t see the Mallorquins getting much out of this but as Granada seem to have two different teams masquerading under the same name, so I’ll reserve judgement. The afternoon game features Valladolid and Espanyol in Barcelona. Valladolid are good on the road, Espanyol are good at home. Something’s Got to Give, as Sammy Davis JNR once warbled, something’s got to give.
Moving on to Sunday evening, you can ditch Last of the Summer Wine or the Antiques Road-show – whatever is your viewing poison – for the second ‘biggest’ game of the weekend as Atleti jet to Malaga. Both want the points, both are in Champions League positions and both are hungry – draw or away win. This is followed by yet another couple of entries for the Surprise of the Season Award as Real Sociedad host Betis in a battle that may have Europa League ramifications come seasons end. Draw here, I guess. But one with goals. Or score draw, as the pools panel would have it.
The last hoorah of the ‘weekend’ takes place in Seville where Betis’ redder, whiter and (purportedly) posher rivals take on Celta. Dumped out of the cup as previously mentioned by Atleti, this could be good news for point famished Celta. Then again they may become victims of a Backlash Bloodbath at the Sánchez Pizjuán.
That’s it. Thanks – and commiserations – to those of you who have waded through these missives from their summer time inception, a big Spanish welcome to a new batch of readers who may have joined us via the excellent Back Page Football website. For any of those arrivistes who have a bit of dead time along with a Herculean tolerance for shoddy grammar, the rest of this seasons blogs can be seen here.