Is Carlo making the same mistakes as iin that 14/15 season?
Do you remember the 2014/15 season? If you root for Barcelona, it’s an unforgettable one: the club conquered the treble under Luis Enrique, with Messi, Neymar and Suárez firing on all cylinders. But if you’re a Real Madrid fan, it’s a huge “what if” season: what if Modric hadn’t lost half of the season injured? What if Carletto had rotated the team during the magical months of October and November, when Real Madrid were flying?
This is great news. We get to add a new romantic element to all the existing narrative about Barcelona’s thoroughbred DNA, Cruyff, Pep, Dream Teams, heritage, percentage possession wins, positional football… Now Xavi’s comeback from his long exile suffering in Qatar also becomes a part of the story.
In late August, many of us thought this would eventually become a fun season and it does seem as though the entertainment will last… unless you’re a Barcelona fan. Well, even if you support the Azulgrana you can’t say they’re boring, but there’s indeed plenty of room for improvement and good news in general.
The fact is that Real Sociedad lead the standings – and have done so for the last three matches –, that there are five teams separated by four points, and that the three successful winners of the title in the last 18 seasons (Valencia was the last club not named Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico de Madrid able to conquer LaLiga) – look hesitant and interestingly inconsistent.
Barcelona: too much responsibility on the shoulders of the young?
No digression today. There’s a Barça Madrid this weekend! And even if it’s never an easy call, it’s hard to remember a moment as lopsided as this. Barcelona do look like a club on the brink of implosion: the financial situation, the coach’s relationship with the fans, the stadium falling apart, the request for additional credit to build a new stadium when it’s already hard making ends meet with the current debt. And yet, there’s still a handful of young players wearing the Azulgrana who could make this a hard outing for Real Madrid…
Shall we? Let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
LaLiga is quickly becoming all that we expected before this season started. The theoretical top three (Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico) struggle to win theoretically winnable matches, whereas the following group of teams (Real Sociedad, as well as Sevilla and Villarreal, who both have a game in hand) have quickly become potential contenders for the title. On top of that, a couple of nice surprises in the form of Osasuna and Rayo occupy Europa League spots, while Athletic, Valencia and Betis have shown promising glimpses of what they could become if they achieved some sort of consistency.
However, there’s a slightly disappointing touch to the whole thing so far, as though watching the bigger teams play terrible football took some brilliance out of the increased competitiveness of the tournament.
Assume you’re Ronald Koeman. You’ve lost your best player the very last day of the transfer window, and he wasn’t just a great player. Messi is arguably the most influential playmaker in decades, which is important because the rest of the team had grown accustomed to playing FOR him, to following his flow. It’s not like losing a fantastic centre-forward or an insistent full back. Barcelona’s approach to playing football during the last decade was Messi, what he wanted to do or could do, much more than it was Guardiola, Cruyff or positional play.
The weekend after a set of fixtures in the European competitions is always ripe for upsets. And if you throw in the fact that the traditional top three (Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico) haven’t looked themselves since the season started, this could be the first matchday in which all three fail to win their games. That is indeed a rare combination, however one which this column believes will happen several times this campaign.
One used to think that the balance of power in LaLiga was not good for the tournament itself, but great for European competitions. Let me explain: three top teams (Barcelona, Real Madrid and yes, Atletico as long as Simeone is their coach), five or six middle class who can compete with anyone on a given day (Sevilla, Villarreal, Athletic, Real Sociedad, Valencia and perhaps even Betis) and then the remaining teams who struggle to survive and get a famous win every once in a while. Three clear tiers with obvious consequences for the competition in Spain and the chances to challenge for a European title.
And we’re back! Yes, a certain transfer market move by Real Madrid you’ve probably heard of may have a lot to do with my recent awakening from hibernation, but the fact is that the whole sequence of signings, farewells and the drama they’ve brought in the last few weeks makes it almost impossible for me to keep watching and not to write about it.
It’s been a weird yet wonderful season, a stranger-than-fiction one, interrupted briefly by the birth and death of a super-league that lasted a week but which seemed more serious than a pandemic in its implications – a season played out against the backdrop of empty seats in a theatre of the absurd, waiting for a Godot who never really came.