Every cloud has a silver lining, eh? Just when Real Madrid thought that things couldn’t possibly get much worse, in the 25th minute of Barcelona v Sevilla, Leo Messi took on his compatriot ‘Mudo’ (the mute) Vázquez, toppled over and injured his arm. The world stood still, Dembele replaced LM (who had already scored and set up a goal) and hope returned to the Bernabéu, where the grey-suited chiefs sat hunched in Saturday night pow-wow over the future of Mr Lopetegui. Ah, alas poor Julen – we thought we knew him. From seeming like a thoroughly sensible bloke running the national team with serious-faced efficiency, his boat floated too close to the Siren shores of the Bernabéu. Julen dived into the water, and the rest is history.
Now, after 3.5 months in the hot seat, his fate depends on next weekend’s clásico, if the football tabloids are to be believed. This means that the symbolic importance of the game (plus the midweek Champs League fixture against the mighty Viktoria Plzen) have stayed his execution, especially given the zero-Messi factor. Barça are not exactly playing out of their skins and the 4-2 result against Sevilla probably flattered them.
Real Madrid have lost three of their last four league games, with one measly point to show for their efforts and yet they haven’t always played badly. Even against Levante they hit the woodwork three times, had a goal disallowed and mounted a decent amount of attacks in the second half. Who knows what Sunday may bring? Amazingly, this will be the first clásico in eleven years without the terrible twin presence of Messi and Ronaldo. You could argue that Madrid are more used to CR7’s absence than are Barça of their sudden Messi privation, all of which suggests that the chiefs should puff on their peace pipes a little more contemplatively than the tabloids are urging them to. After the drought come the rains, after the dark the dawn, and after the clichés the conclusion. It’s still early days.
A little reality check from time to time does no team any harm, particularly one like RM that tends to lose that crucial perspective on life – the one that says that you can’t be top of the pile for ever, and that to grow you need to suffer. Drop to sixth in the league and take a look around you at the new exotic ocean dwellers that swim in a different sunlight zone – Valladolid, Levante, Alavés. Look up to the surface and it’s still not too far to swim (4 points) especially if you win at the Camp Nou next Sunday. Stranger things have happened – and Barça’s game against Inter won’t be a stroll in the park. As the Spanish say ‘Ojo!’ (watch out!)
Meanwhile, here are three reasons why it’s wonderful that Real Madrid lie sixth, at the time of writing.
- They will realise that Pérez’ power must again be reduced and that a real Director of football should be appointed
- Money doesn’t buy you success, but neither does prevarication
- It’s wonderful to see Alavés and Espanyol in the top three
Is Lopetegui the wrong man for the job? Who knows? How can he possibly be judged after such a short time with a team whose composition was entirely decided upon by people who preceded him? It’s still not really his project. Give the man time. Of course, if Barça stuff RM next week, then he’s unlikely to stay. Santi Solari will step up from the ‘B’ team (in the manner of Zidane) and accept the poisoned chalice. But how can Madrid ever aspire to stability, if they continue to panic-react to every alleged crisis they find themselves in? Surely, the failure has been long-term, despite the Champions League successes – wins that papered over the cracks of the failure to halt Barça’s hegemony and the inability of the club to really decide on the type of person they really want at the helm. Too pushy? (Mou) No…..he has to go. Too timid? (Pellegrini) Yes…he has to go. Too bossy? (Benitez)…yep, he has to go. Add to this the fact that Pérez really wanted Pochettino, Allegri or Conte before Lopetegui and the whole situation begins to look farcical. The only dignified decision is to give him more time.
Levante simply took advantage of the spaces left by the high-line tactic of pushing both Marcelo and Odriozola forward, leaving Varane and Ramos exposed – but why not? Madrid were at home against a Levante side that weren’t exactly on fire. The fact that José Luis Morales, no spring chicken himself at 31, was able to exploit this so efficiently was just one of those things. Another bad day at the office – but it happens to other teams. There is no reason why it shouldn’t happen to Real Madrid. Let’s not lose perspective. The other fact that the VAR seems to be spoiling their party a little is a tad more controversial, but it may yet turn out to be significant. Referees’ decisions are being exposed, but we always knew that big stadia produce big difficulties for little refs. The VAR is not ‘bullshit’ at all. It’s contributing to democracy sir, and I, for one, am entirely in its favour.
I was in deepest Badajoz from Thursday to Sunday, but was obliged to return north just before the big game in the Nuevo Vivero against Linense from Andalucia. I’d have been happy to have brought you a report of the Segunda ’B’ game, since the stadium was almost opposite my hotel, but the circumstances didn’t quite fit. Linense won 0-2, in case you were dying to know. All a far cry from next week’s clásico, although not so far a cry from Vitoria, where Alavés were playing at the same level as recently as 2013. They also once finished 7th in the top flight in 2002, but this season they’re aspiring to do ‘a Leicester’ or something equivalent. It remains unlikely, but their win at Celta on Friday night keeps them in nosebleed territory, with Villarreal to come and visit next weekend. Espanyol, widely tipped to go down this season, are confounding every one too, and it’s odd to see the two Barcelona sides occupying the top two spots this weekend – as rare a sight a clásico without the two main actors of yore.
I just got back from Badajoz. I’m tired. Real Sociedad v Girona awaits Monday night. Big one next weekend. It’ll all be here, from your fresh-as-a-daisy scribe.