What do Valencia and Real Sociedad have in common, apart from the obvious fact that they both have football teams? Well, neither of them has won at home yet, and Valencia’s only (away) win this season to date was at….yes, you’ve guessed it, Real Sociedad. Huesca and Rayo have also failed to win at home, but maybe that’s not so newsworthy. Bottom-placed Huesca almost made it on Sunday but visitors Getafe pooped their party by equalising in the 91st minute, and Rayo were looking as though they might break their hoodoo against the unlikely presence of Barcelona, but the Catalans have a tendency to break local hearts in the final minutes, and thus it proved, a 2-1 turning suddenly into a 2-3 in the final ten minutes of the game. Another member of the homeless club is Villarreal, which is something of a surprise – with a mere three goals scored in six games.
What can explain this occasional inability to perform on home soil? It’s true that sometimes the characteristics of a team can favour performing away, with disciplined defensive players and a simple plan of counter attack – and although the team might be better off playing at home with these tactics too, the conventional idea that the host side must take the initiative tends to win the day. Coaches are reluctant to cede the momentum at home (unless they’re being visited by some super-offensive side) but often fail to convince either themselves or the supporters.
The away side’s simpler plan of frustrating the home side is a clear plan of action and thus tempting to use. The change in the points system, rewarding away wins with three points, was only adopted in Spain in 1995, after being introduced successfully in England in 1981, but it has not really changed the average team’s appreciation of the single away point and the morale it can confer. Sevilla travelled to Real Sociedad on Sunday with a poor record in San Sebastian (7 wins in 59 visits), several key players injured (Yedder, Silva), and the knowledge that a draw would keep them in second place. The home side’s desperation to win was obvious, a factor Sevilla exploited well in their tactical approach to a game they could easily have won on the break. Jesus Navas and Escudero played like full-backs, edging timidly forward at times but mostly worrying themselves with defensive duties. They’ll have gone home happy with the 0-0 draw.
I was at the game and you can see that Sevilla have what it takes to stay in the top four, with Quincy Promes outstanding up front. However, as you can see below, Real’s on-loan Sandro contributed substantially to Sevilla’s away point.
Even happier was ex-Sociedad coach Eusebio with Girona’s 0-1 snatch job at the Mestalla. The result can be explained by the wonderful performance from Yassine Bono, Gironas’s goalie, up to now a fairly discreet figure at the club despite sporting a forename spookily reminiscent of Yashin. Some of the saves were astonishing, particularly a Gordon Banks-like leap to his left to keep out a header from Rodrigo. It’s actually one of the best saves you’ll see.
Pere Pons scored the smash-and-grab after a mistake by Kondogbia and now Marcelino is under scrutiny, after being hailed the Messiah last summer. Nevertheless, the Valencia board would do well to stay calm, since the fans are notorious moaners and the team isn’t actually playing badly. Indeed, in the Girona game they managed 27 attempts on goal (9 between the posts), which rather suggests that the tide will eventually turn. There are various theories as to why they haven’t continued their fine from last season, one of them being that they shouldn’t have let Zaza go home to Italy – and hey, it is a great name – much cooler than Gameiro who has failed to impress so far. Parejo doesn’t seem his usual self either, but with Guedes, Rodrigo, Mina and company, you rather suspect it’s only a matter of time. However, the longer the winless home run continues, the more neurotic the players become. In two weeks Rayo visit, another side who only seem to get points away from home. It may well be the crunch game for Marcelino, insane though that sounds.
Villarreal’s particular purgatory continued with their 1-1 home draw to plucky Levante, along with Alavés the most improved team in the division. As a sign of their plight, the host’s equaliser arrived in the 93rd minute, and would seem to have saved coach Javier Calleja’s skin for this week at least. It would be a shame to sack him because he’s very much part of the furniture, having played for them for seven seasons and spent his entire managerial career there, working his way up through the youth system and the reserves for the last ten years. It’s always a risk, in such circumstances, to take over the top position because of a sacking (replacing Fran Escribá), then risk losing your safer position at the club, hidden down in the ranks where the press are rarely on your back. But again, the inability to win at home is judged as a far more serious crime than the inability to garner points away. Next week it’s Rayo Vallecano away. As in the case of Valencia, it’s not a game they can afford to lose in the present climate, if Callleja is to stay.
Elsewhere, normal service was semi-resumed with the big two actually both winning, Real Madrid 2-0 at home to Valladolid and Barcelona, as already mentioned, pipping Rayo’s post in another neighbourhood of Madrid on Saturday. RM’s desperation for any good news at all prompted their press hounds to hail the introduction of Vinicius – a player who sounds like an ancient Roman consul – for the final 15 minutes. Heading for a 0-0 draw and the strong possibility that the press would have to revise their thesis from midweek that Solari was the new saviour (this was the conclusion after a 4-0 defeat of the mighty Melilla), the Roman consul’s introduction into the fray immediately paid dividends when the youngster aimed a pass-cum-shot to the north-east which struck Kiko Olivas on the arse and ended up flying in a westerly direction into the visitors’ net.
Vinicius celebrated with understandable but slightly embarrassing glee, as if the shot at Olivas’ backside had been planned all along. Madrid now clutch at a new straw, whilst the other Bale of straw continues to resemble a man lost and lonely. It’s not clear whether Gareth would be happy eating leek soup back in the Valleys, but it almost defies belief that he is now playing in his sixth season for Madrid, with a single phrase of (spontaneous) Spanish yet to emanate from his mouth and cultural adaptation seemingly at ground zero. It’s odd behaviour, from a person paid so much money. Or perhaps he’s just a quiet guy, which is fair enough. But Madrid need the other type of guy at the moment, and there aren’t enough of them to go round. One of them, Sergio Ramos, scored the second from a ‘Panenka’ penalty in an odd reaction to the booing that were starting to come his way during the match. It’s unclear why this action was necessary in the circumstances, but anyway, Sergio thought that it was. Good job it went in.
In midweek, the big two can now relax in Europe. Barça visit Inter, with Messi wide-eyed and slingless but probably on the bench – and RM travel to Viktoria Plzen where they would be wise not to slip up. Innocent game though it looks, any banana-skin action now could prove tragic for the immediate future of the club. Valencia, who haven’t won in Europe either, entertain Young Boys. Can they win? If they do, and Juve beat Man Utd, then the clouds around the Mestalla may begin to disperse. See? It’s as easy as that.