Saturday night’s action was a tale of two coaches on the brink, namely Sevilla’s Gregorio Manzano and Atlético’s Quique Sanchez-Flores. As reported last week, Sevilla haven’t been so much on the slide as in free fall, enduring their worst start to the season in many a year; Flores’ Atlético had flattered in the autumn only to deceive as winter kicked in. With press speculation really gathering at pace, both needed a response to ram down their critics throats; and what better chance for Manzano against lowly Almería, recently entrusted to José Luis Oltra after Juanma Lillio summary sacking following their 8-0 hammering by Barcelona last month (a dismissal that looked even harsher in retrospect after Barça’s mauling of Real a week later). Meanwhile, Atlético faced the somewhat trickier prospect of the visit of mid-table Deportivo. In the end, it turned out to be a tale of two Argentines, and not a Leo Messi in sight (but more of the current Ballon d’Or holder later)
Sevilla kicked off at the Sanchez Pizjuán knowing that nothing short of a win would suffice against their relegation-fighting opponents. Sevilla were marginally the better side early on. Juan Carlos came close on 6 minutes. Then, the moment of truth arrived. Frederic Kanouté, who had gone on the record to label this a must-win encounter squared up from the 12 yard spot. His shot was weak, and Diego Alves saved with ease. After that, Sevilla’s spirits visibly dropped.
The game wound down towards the interval and already one worried for Sevilla. This fear was confirmed just minutes after the break by the Colombian Fabián Vargas, who, having seen his initial header stopped turned the rebound home for Almería. Try as they may the home side made little headway whatsoever, with the gifted but hitherto inconsistent Pablo Piatti posing an increasing threat as the game went on. On 81 minutes the young Argentine produced a goal of rare beauty; picking the ball up some 25 yards out, in one movement he spun and unleashed an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top corner of Andrés Palop’s net. Though Kanouté immediately pulled one back, the comeback never really seemed on; it looked even less on when Sevilla’s Alexis picked up a second yellow in the final minute. Just moments later, Piatti produced another goal of breath-taking quality; receiving a low cross from the right he produced an audacious back-heeled finish to add a final flourish on another terrible night for Manzano’s team. Sevilla president Del Nido, normally a patient man with his coaches, has become rather trigger happy as of late, and one must wonder just how much this abysmal run will be tolerated.
Later that night, the pressure was also on at the Vicente Calderon. But Atléti, by contrast, came flying out of the traps. 5 minutes in Kun Agüero won a penalty, which, in truth he was looking for. You’d have put your house on the best player of this summer’s World Cup, Diego Forlán to exact the maximum punishment; but the Uruguayan’s touch deserted him on this occasion. Perhaps a case of justice being done.
But quite unlike Sevilla, Atléti continued to pile the pressure on their hosts. Three minutes later Sergio Agüero scored a stunning goal. Picking the ball up on the right he burst into the area and, after leaving two bemused Depor defender on their backsides, produced a cool finish to open the scoring.
Atlético were relentless now, and it was a case of when, not if, the second would arrive. Forlán saw a superb free-kick pushed wide, before Kun stepped-up again. Running onto a delightful through pass, the Argentina forward showed real nerve in forcing the keeper to commit before slotting home on 35 minutes.
Deportivo were in rag order at this stage, and the only question was how many Atlético might score. As it happened, the hosts eased off in the second half but this result and performance make a mockery of the recent talk of Sánchez Flores’ impending. With all the other sides immediately above them dropping points, they now look well placed to resume their charge back towards the Champions League places as we near the Christmas break. But right behind them are the surprise story of recent weeks, Getafe, who sit level on points with Atléti; and it’s to Getafe that we turn next.
Getafe have hit a rich vein of form of late, doing wonders for manager Michel’s job security and now look a good bet to challenge for a return to the Europa League. Most people would have fancied high-flying Villarreal’s chances as they made their trip the edges of the capital in Saturday’s early kick-off, all the more so when Getafe’s Diaz was sent-off with a straight red before the break. But the visitors were stunned when their hosts popped up with an 89th winner from Albin to steal the points. That Albin was sent off moments later mattered little and it’s just as well for Villarreal that none of their closest rivals were able to take advantage of this setback.
Espanyol, in flying form, must have felt confident on the back off some fantastic away results ahead of their trip to Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames on Sunday evening. Osvaldo certainly brightened their prospects of continuing this run when he put the visitors ahead in the first half. But you can never write-off the Basque side at home, and on 73 minutes the remontada was on; who else but Fernando Llorente, enjoying a stellar season, dragged his side back on level terms. Five minutes later, David López sealed the comeback, but the Catalan capital’s second side still remain secure in fourth place.
It was a thrilling week all round on Jornada 15 in La Liga, which is why we’ve barely mentioned the top two so far. Barcelona, again, were simply amazing in their 5-0 rout of Real Sociedad at Camp Nou on Sunday. Messi bagged another brace, both superb but one of simply preposterous quality. Words can barely do justice to describe those goals, on a night where Barcelona as a team and Xavi as a player broke the league record for passes completed. Get thee to youtube and check this out for for yourself. Messi is now on 17 goals from 15 league appearances, and already looks set to smash his impressive tally last season in all competitions. Meanwhile, no less predictably, Real cantered to a 3-1 win away to Zaragoza, with Cristiano scoring another fine free kick, either side of strikes from Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria.
Monday night (re-fixed el clásico weekend aside) may well be the graveyard shift of the la liga calendar, but surprisingly we were treated to the game of the week as Osasuna stole an unlikely draw against fifth-placed Valencia at the Mestalla. It all looked to going to plan for the hosts, who struck twice in the opening 35 minutes through Roberto Soldado and Stankevicius. Although Juanfran managed to pull one back five minutes from the break, normal service resumed as Artitz Aduriz restored Valencia’s two goal advantage just minutes later. In an exciting game, Flano pegged the hosts back a second time on the hour mark. But Unai Emery’s side were looking good to move to within a point of Espanyol, until Aranda popped-up on 87 minutes to level matters. Not a pleasant nights viewing for the hinchas of Los Che, for sure, but for their Osasuna counterparts and neutrals a wonderful spectacle.
In other news José Mourinho has rubbished recent speculation, insisting that Sergio Canales will be going nowhere in January. The young attacker, one of the hottest properties in Spanish football when signed from Racing at the end of last season, was refused a loan move to Genoa in the summer. And while some in the club would clearly prefer him to be getting more game-time under his belt elsewhere, Mourinho remains adamant that the players development will be best served by remaining under his wing at Real. Leading into last weekend, Marca were asking just what more Lassana Diarra has to do to make himself a fixture in this team. With the enforced system-change brought about by Higuaín’s absence -and Mourinho’s understandable caution in not risking his one remaining striker, Karim Benzema in every game- along with Sami Khedira’s inconsistent form overall this term, the Frenchman is certainly well placed to continue making the case for a starting place over the coming weeks.
Back to the Special One, Mourinho was vocal in his complaints that his players are being singled out for yellow cards by comparison to certain unnamed rivals, and drew attention to the injuries suffered by his own players this term. “That’s football and it happens to us a lot… It’s very easy to show yellow cards to Real Madrid players and not as many to others.”
“It annoys me that there are players from other clubs who can protest and we can’t. In the same way that you have coaches who can leave their technical area and others not. Mourinho then turned to the constant boos, jeers and whistles that greet Cristiano Ronaldo in away grounds throughout the league. Somewhat bafflingly, in this writers opinion; if ever there was a man so sure of his own talents, a man who has consistently thrived on this sort of hostility throughout his time at Manchester United and now Real Madrid (though not, admittedly, at the Camp Nou when representing either of those sides, though that’s another story), it is the Portuguese forward.
He went on to say: “Cristiano is a phenomenon and it’s hard to understand the way he is treated. Treating a phenomenon so badly makes me think that the championship is not being protected. He belongs to the league and to the fans, who can watch him every weekend. He puts on a show and he doesn’t get protection from the stadiums, from fans, opponents and referees. Even so, he scored another goal yesterday that was one of the best in his collection.” Classic Mourinho tactics of course, but with most La Liga defenders incapable to live with Ronaldo’s physicality- one of the key factors behind his impressive transition to La Liga after years of toughening up in the rough-and-tumble of the Premier League- a but bemusing also.
Getafe’s Michel, on Monday, announced that his Argentine assistant Juan Esnaider, who starred in his playing days at Atlético and Espanyol had decided to step down from his post. Marca, today, announced that he would be stepping down . According to the same paper today, Borussia Dortmund’s Argentina-born Paraguay striker Lucas Barrios, could be a target for Mourinho in January. Mourinho has known to be in the market for a classic target-man since the summer and was linked in some quarters back then with Emmanuel Adebayor and former charge Didier Drogba, and more recently Werder Bremen’s Portuguese lumbering centre-forward, Hugo Almeida; a poor man’s Drogba if ever there was one. The mooted fee, which is probably within Real’s means is quoted at some €15-€20m, with the striker unlikely to command extortionate wages. On those exact grounds, initial media excitement would appear to make a January move for Manchester-based moan-bag Carlos Tévez pie in the sky, regardless of Mourinho’s widely-known respect for the malcontent El Apache.
Meanwhile, Álvaro Negredo of Sevilla, a former product of Real’s cantera, slammed his former club’s youth policy. He cited the case of Valencia’s Juan Mata as one of Real’s biggest dropped bollocks of recent times. “The case of Mata is the worst I’ve ever seen, given the ability he had’ continued. “We could all see the ability he had playing at [Real Madrid] Castilla, yet they never even thought of renewing his contract”
Elsewhere today, Dani Alves went on the record to say that whilst his priority remained Barcelona, he still hadn’t shut the door on a move away at the end of the current season.
And it looks like ex-Barcelona canterista Guy Assulin, released over the summer, is on his way to Manchester City. The gifted young Israeli always faced an uphill struggle in making the grade at Barcelona. Whether he can break into City’s set-up is another matter.
Finally, heart problems were back on the agenda for the Spanish players’ union. Spokesman went onto to add that the recent spate of deaths, near deaths and retirements featuring such high profile players as Antonio Puerta, David Jarque, the more recent case of second division Miguel Garcia, and Real’s ruben de la Red represented not so much a statistical quirk afflicting Spanish football, more that the victims had all been high-profile and pressed for the law requiring mandatory defibrillators at first and second division grounds should be extended to the lower leagues.
Araceli Boraita, a cardiologist and member of the government-run Sports Council (CSD), said that other countries had similar problems. “There aren´t more cases in Spain than in other countries,” he told Reuters
“It´s just that recently there have been more cases with a high media profile. They all end up in the news but it isn´t the case that there are more of them here than in other European countries or in the rest of the world.
“The percentages are almost identical. There are around 20 per year which is very few out of a population of 48 million. All the studies made so far show that there is around one case per 2-300,000 young sportspeople under the age of 35.
“The cases of Puerta, Jarque, Garcia and De La Red all had different pathologies,” Boraita added. “They all started with heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) which caused a cardio respiratory halt but that is where the similarity ends. The causes have all been different.”
Getafe 1 Villarreal 0
Sevilla 1 Almeria 3
Atlético Madrid 2 Deportivo La Coruña 0
Athletic Bilbao 2 Espanyol 1
Sporting Gíjon 1 Levante 1
Hércules 4 Málaga 1
Mallorca 0 Racing Santander 1
Real Zaragoza 1 Real Madrid 3
Barcelona 5 Real Sociedad 0
Valencia 3 Osasuna 3