I’m not quite sure where to start tonight, at Lugo or in the Bernabéu. Oh alright then, let’s go over to the White House, where the present occupants are all smiling again after stuffing ‘Doctor Deportivo’ 7-1 (thus called for their so-called ‘aspirin effect’ on suffering teams). This restored Real Madrid to fourth place in the league table, a position from which they had fallen on Saturday after Villarreal’s 2-1 win over Levante. Real Madrid, outside of the top four places, is an anomaly that sets off a potential chain of circumstance difficult to digest for a system that has geared itself financially to the maintenance of the status quo – I refer to the entire La Liga structure, not simply to the club itself. So when things start to get out of hand, Real Madrid’s unofficial spokesperson, the sports tabloid Marca, begins to drop hints and imply stuff that might come from up top or not – it’s difficult to tell sometimes. But there is no other European league where this happens, to this extent.
On Saturday, the paper led with the story that Manchester United had rejected the idea of buying Ronaldo back, offering the explanation that the Alexis Sanchez transfer had scuppered it but also that Mourinho was getting his own back on Madrid – which was an extraordinarily perverse line for the paper to pursue. The tone of the article was such that its author (Luis Rojo) seemed to have been handed the admittedly tricky job of beginning the official separation procedures between the club and its current most potent symbol (CR7), a man who seemed to have taken umbrage at the fact that his club were not revising his salary upwards to Messi-like heights. In the same article, Rojo embedded a brief piece that seemed to further attack Mourinho for not wanting to sign Gareth Bale either, as if this were somehow dysfunctional behaviour on the part of the Portuguese coach.
The message, however, was clear. The BBC era is over, the previously untouchable Zidane might soon be out on his Gallic arse, and when can we sign Neymar? Zidane’s Friday press-conference, in which he admitted to thinking that Neymar was a great player (ah…what insight!) was taken as incontrovertible evidence that Madrid will be signing the Brazilian in summer, but first they’d have to offload some of the BBC, of course. You don’t really need a Degree in literature to read between the lines of this sort of guff – which I only quote to you, of course, because everybody in Spain reads it, even Catalan nationalists. They need to know what the enemy is thinking and planning (not always the same thing).
As if by magic, Bale and Ronaldo both scored twice on Sunday (after Depor had opened the scoring) and Benzema came on later to ice the cake of togetherness, the first time the three have danced together since last April, in the Bernabéu clásico (273 days previously). Perhaps it’s a new dawn, a new beginning? After all, it was the start of the 2nd half of the season and a clean slate, with Zidane repeating victory against the side which provided the opposition on his managerial debut in the top flight, in January 2016. They won that one too. All well and good, but with Isco and Asensio scratching their expensive behinds on the bench, it hardly looks like a recipe for the future.
Then again, Madrid’s three biggest wins of the season (against Apoel, Sevilla and Depor) have all been achieved with Isco on the bench. Now Manchester United might be interested in him – oh yes!
Anyway, next week Real Madrid travel to Valencia, who should be more of a test for the new-found joy and togetherness than Deportivo. The bats from Mestalla seem to have lost their sonar-flying skills somewhat, losing to Las Palmas of all people and bringing a rare moment of joy to the island, but it will still be a tricky one for Madrid. They will be happy enough being runners-up this season if they can progress in the Champions League against PSG and perhaps stumble to another Copa Del Rey final. It would save some heads from decapitation, but the more serious business of policy needs to be sorted. Madrid won 0-1 at Leganés in midweek in the cup, Asensio scoring in the 89th minute, but the ‘B’ team (as the press dubbed it) looked poor. One reporting journalist stated, incredulously, that neither Ceballos nor Theo Hernadez looked the players that they had done last season. One was tempted to drop him a line stating ‘That’s because they were actually playing least season, you dork!’ If you played the ‘B’ team every week in Spain’s Segunda ‘A’, they would win it without much difficulty. The official ‘B’ team (Castilla), however, plays week in week out in Segunda ‘B’ (they went down in 2014) but resemble a team nevertheless. But put on eleven guys for a single cup game who are unaccustomed to playing competitively with each other and of course they’ll struggle. Too many players are short on match–time and confidence, despite their obvious abilities.
Meanwhile, Barcelona carry on merrily, despite a wee setback of their own in midweek when they lost for the first time this season at Espanyol, 1-0 in the cup. Away to freely-conceding Betis on Sunday night, the first half was surprisingly goal-less, but after the break the gunpowder dried and Barcelona hit five, with two each from you-know-who.
Betis’ bonkers season thus continues, but at least their supporters are seeing plenty of goals. Barcelona stretched their lead to eleven points over second-placed Atlético, who were held at home 1-1 by Girona, the side that almost beat them on the opening day of the season. Griezmann got back onto the score sheet, but Diego Costa limped off injured, and will miss the next fortnight. The eternal Griezmann soap-opera continues, but it’s stretching the imagination a little to believe that Barça are truly interested in him now. With Betis so easily dispatched in the absence of Coutinho, Dembélé and Iniesta, you wonder just how they’d fit him into their scheme of things. He’ll go to Paris in summer, replacing Neymar who’ll fly down to the Bernabéu. Okay, I’m just joking. But you read it here first.
Let’s wind up this weekend with Lugo in Division 2, and the goal of the month from their goalie, Juan Carlos Martín, on his 30th birthday no less. It’s a wonderful strike, and will now be historically remembered as his finest moment, as opposed to the fact that he was the same goalie between the sticks the day Cordoba lost 0-8 to Barcelona in 2015. I hope nobody posted that onto his Facebook birthday messages.