Sooner or later, reality bites in football – especially for football clubs like Celta Vigo. Unbeaten in La Liga up to last Saturday, the humble Galician outfit had found themselves sharing top spot on merit with visitors Real Madrid.
But sooner or later, despite your dash, your verve, your high intensity pressing, reality bites.
Manager Eduardo Berizzo will no doubt reflect on that as he picks over the bones of Saturday’s defeat. Losing to Real Madrid …well, it’s no surprise and there’s certainly no shame in it. The visitors proved the old adage that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
Celta Vigo’s stunning demolition of champions Barcelona a month ago and their overall form meant meant that Rafael Benitez’s men were very unlikely to underestimate the home side.
Despite the 3-1 reverse, Berizzo, an apostle and one time assistant of the great Marcelo Bielsa, will have been comforted by the manner in which his side stuck to their hard working, exciting principles despite falling two goals behind and losing Cabral to an unnecessary sending off just as they had been building a head of steam in the second half.
However, he’ll have been disappointed at the manner in which his side started the game – apparently startled at the aggression and intensity displayed by Benitez’s side in the first quarter, which saw them two up within 23 minutes.
Real were brilliant in that opening period, first to every ball, dominating possession – and clinical when chances presented themselves.
Their start was all the more impressive considering that they had come through a very tough midweek encounter in Paris in the Champions League and were missing the considerable talents of Bale, James Rodriguez and Karem Benzema.
But despite their current injury problems or indeed, perhaps because of them, Benitez was able to field a nicely balanced team. Defensively, they appear more than sound, with the excellent Casemiro providing the kind of defensive midfield screen they so badly lacked last term.
His presence not only protects the heart of Madrid’s defence, but also allows Luka Modric and Toni Kroos play further forward in their more natural and dangerous positions.
Cristiano Ronaldo also looked happier on Saturday. Supported by the young, hard working Jesse and Lucas Vazquez, he looked a constant menace in his centre forward berth.
A measure of Real’s performance was that the Sky Blues did not play at all badly in this fixture. And certainly as the game progressed, we saw more and more of the football that has propelled them to such lofty heights.
Celta’s tremendous work rate, high intensity pressing and commitment to getting numbers into dangerous attacking positions were very much in evidence – even when down to ten men.
And so too was the constant buzzing menace of their front three of Orellano, Aspas and Nolito – of whom the latter was simply outstanding.
In fact, had Real’s Keylor Navas not been in outstanding form himself, the home side could well have scored four in the first half alone.
But ultimately, it was the quality of Real’s finishing that was the difference. Sides like Celta employ the methods espoused by the great Bielsa to try and bridge the skills gap between them and the big boys. But there are times when it is simply a bridge too far. And Saturday was just such an occasion.
The great sides and the great players are not just those with the greatest skills. They also have the capacity to earn the right to play.
Benitez’s men showed that even after a tough week, they could go toe to toe with such hard working opponents, and it was their greater class and composure ultimately that saw them win through.
But Berizzo’s men should not be too downcast. If they can maintain their work rate, stick to their principles and continue to show such bravery in the face of adversity, they can certainly better last season’s excellent eighth place finish.