Four seasons in one day, rub-a dub-dub and it’s helter-skelter through what remains of our fragile sanity at the fag-end of the league campaign. Never fear, there’ll be a hammock and rest for us somewhere, in the close season at the end of the universe. I was happy that football was back, and now I can’t escape it.
Insert that Edvard Munch-scream e-moji and just carry on, because it ain’t going to stop.
My wife, who enjoys sport, and who is no mean athlete herself, remarked tetchily last night (I had just dragged myself back from the bar showing the Alavés-Real Sociedad shit-show) that during the previous three months she had actually started to like me – but that now I had reverted to my grumpy, tense old self, wandering around the house grumbling about referees and air-kicking the cat that we fortunately do not possess.
This was a reasonable observation, but it may be conditioned by the fact that Real Sociedad have only picked up one point from the two games since the restart. Fans of Real Madrid, Barça and Villarreal might be seeing things differently, having returned from the tomb of confinement with 6-point zest. There is probably no explanation for this. Some people awake from a coma and find themselves transformed whereas others open their eyes, take a few nervous steps and find that they’re still the same old dish of defects as before (Celta and Mallorca, for example). Worse still, others recall that they were flying before but that now they’re shuffling in their dressing-gowns (Real Sociedad and Getafe).
There is something akin to that coma wake-up though, and it probably has to do with the time of year here in Spain. It seemed like the season was over and that summer was approaching, despite the lingering pandemic and its niggly effects. Now it’s as if someone had over-adjusted the time-change on the national clock.
It would have been nice to report that Getafe (yes, Getafe) and Real Sociedad (for example) had managed to sustain their Champions League pretensions if only for the novelty of seeing a different top four but it seems as if the referees, public and TV companies would prefer the big sides to regain their footing and keep the commercial wagon-wheels running. There’s no explicit conspiracy. There never has been folks. It’s just in the air in Spain. It creeps through the VAR windows like an evil smog, blinds the judges and persuades them to generally lean one way. The big boys still get the decisions, and the smaller ones, particularly those with the wrong political credentials, will always suffer. I’m not complaining – it’s a part of the landscape. But to deny it is to deny that gravity removes apples from the branches.
Given this framework, we still believe, and will shell out our money to watch the spectacle, because spectacle it is. Even Karim Benzema got in on the act and lifted Madrid spirits further, aided and abetted by the scoring comeback of Asensio – a player who delivered, then failed to deliver, and who now has another chance to prove he’s not all bluster. I’m not convinced personally, but we’ll see. Benzema’s 2nd goal (RM’s third) was indeed a thing of beauty – a sort of flick up and volley in the style of Zidane circa 2002 which put the hunting cat into the pantheon of top-five all-time scorers at Madrid, which is quite something.
It put him past Puskas, and now he has Santillana in his sights. Mind you, everything’s relative. Old beer-belly managed his haul in 8 seasons and 180 games , whereas it’s taken Karim 11 seasons (I think) and 340 games to bag his. But anyway – well done to that chap. It was certainly a cool way to climb into the top five, and the even cooler thing is that I saw him on his debut. I even interviewed him briefly, in French, after the game. What wasn’t so cool is that he didn’t seem to understand me, but at least I got a ‘oui oui, c’est sûr’ from him. I’d be disappointed if he didn’t remember.
Anyway, Benz and crew come to San Sebastian on Sunday night and the post-coma formbook will probably be turned upside down. It would probably be unwise to read too much into the first couple of games. Euphoria is never a good thing, particularly under this rather odd set of circumstances. I shall wander along to the hotel on Sunday and see if I can re-acquaint myself with Karim, eleven years down the line.
And talking of euphoria, Osasuna’s well-earned point in Anoeta in the first game back was a rather cruel contrast to their next game at home, where they were stuffed by Atlético 0-5. Jagoba Arrasate decided to change almost the entire side, putting out something of a ‘B’ team, and without the roaring fans of the Sadar they were easy meat for Simeone’s lot, who leapt above Sociedad into 4th place. It was the only away win of the ‘jornada’, rather putting paid to the overall theory of lack of home advantage.
Espanyol moved off the bottom at the expense of Leganés, beaten 2-0 at leaders Barcelona, and Sevilla stayed intact with a half-decent draw at Levante. Betis and Granada played out a bonkers 2-2 draw, three of the goals arriving in the final frenzied ten minutes. I don’t have the exact stats but the more obvious effect of five subs is that many a game is being decided in the latter stages. It’s a tricky one for a coach, because if you want to keep things fairly tight and stable, you don’t want to disrupt the patterns too much by changing 50% of the outfield personnel, but if the other coach does this you are almost obliged to react, tit-for-tat. If not, you risk being overrun by an army of fresh legs. It’s not easy to know how and when to react. The other problem is that the losing coach is more likely to do it. How do you react? Stick or twist? It’s an interesting conundrum, and it’s being played out in an entirely organic fashion. Nobody seems to have quite worked out the protocol.
Sevilla v Barça is the obvious big one of the next round of games, due to start about 2 hours after I put this piece up. Better put this up now. Time waits for no-one in the post-pandemic playing parade. Try to enjoy yourselves, and don’t kick the cat.
Oh…and Eduardo got 3/10 in the quiniela. Probably good going for the time being. It’s all uphill from here.