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.
Phil reviews what’s happened so far, with special focus on Real Sociedad
The international break is always a good time to take stock. You take off your mask, breathe in breathe out, then decide whether, nine games in, you’re up and running again with the current season and the state of your nation. Maybe this season there’s little choice, confined to barracks as we are, slowly getting used to turning off the pop-up ads on the footy-streaming site and assimilating the fact that Rakel, 22, whose arse has just appeared in the far north-eastern corner of your screen, does not actually live around the corner. It’s all part of the new reality of bums, buffering and empty terraces. Bring it on.
Iker has retired. It’s hard to think there’ll be another one like him
For at least 10 years, I kept joking that Iker Casillas was challenging Julio Iglesias’ status as the greatest Spaniard ever.
Iglesias’ credentials are well-known, at least if you were born before 1980. Otherwise, let me explain: Julio is a billionaire singer who can’t actually sing – and yes, that deserves huge recognition—, which coupled with his global success and the fact that he managed to remain an irresistible sex-symbol for almost all of his adult life made him top the list. Ah! He also played on goal for Real Madrid until he broke his knee and changed careers… Nothing could go wrong for Julio. What else could you ask for in a Spaniard? Success, money, international recognition… Continue reading “The goalie who could win matches”
The only pending question in the relegation battle
I guess we can now safely say that the relegation battle is almost over. Only Mallorca, in the 18th spot, have a slight chance of dribbling their way out of the Segunda next season. They’re five points behind Celta with 18 points to play, which means that, in order to stay up, they need at least 8-10 points and a terrible end of the season from one of the four following teams: Celta themselves, Alaves, Eibar or Valladolid. The first condition looks really hard, especially because they still have to play Atleti and Sevilla in those last six matches, but they will also face a few teams who are playing for nothing at this point, so that could get them those points they need. Continue reading “Can Mallorca get out of the hole?”
LaLiga still up for grabs, but the Azulgrana have plenty to think about
Are Barcelona really at the end of an extremely successful cycle? I’m not going to dwell on what I wrote last week about the boredom that their current incarnation brings to the average football fan. The point is a different one this time: it’s not only that the sports side of things looks old, but especially that the club structure, eroded by years of poor management and ill-advised decisions, seems ready to implode. Continue reading “Tough times to run FC Barcelona”