Sunday, January 11, 2015

The New Year in Spain

Spain's big two, Barcelona and Real Madrid are in crisis, according to the permanently obsessed media.

Barcelona are in trouble because they lost their first game after the winter break, 1-0 away to David Moyes' Real Sociedad, and superstar Lionel Messi has allegedly fallen out with coach Luis Enrique and has issued a "him or me" ultimatum.

News of Messi's anguish during the transfer window prompted FCB to wield an unexpected axe forthwith: Sporting director Antoni Zubizarreta and assistant Carlos Puyol, both Camp Nou legends, saw their contracts terminated.

The Argentine's representatives have been at mischievous work, planting fanciful stories in the media claiming that Chelsea could make a megabucks swoop for the disgruntled Messi. With a release clause of €250 million for Messi, there is more chance of finding Elvis alive during the January transfer window than Barça selling their brightest star.

Real Madrid's trouble consists of having lost three games in a row, the first a friendly in Dubai to Milan 4-2, then two away losses in Spain, 2-1 to Valencia in La Liga and 2-0 to Atletico Madrid in a bad-tempered first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final on a freezing night at the Vicente Calderon.


Vicente Calderon, The New Year in Spain.


Yesterday Real returned to normal service with a functional 3-0 win over Espanyol, dampening the fires of disaster speculation. James Rodriguez, who has proved a most versatile attacker in his debut season but too often has had to defer to Cristiano Ronaldo, tapped in the first before Gareth Bale, subject of criticism for his selfishness with the ball in previous matches, whipped in a set-piece to remind the moaners of his goalscoring value.

Barcelona also bounced back, thumping a hapless Elche 5-0 in the Copa del Rey in a picture-perfect, yet highly predictable performance with their three big names, Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez on the mark.

A point separates Real and Barça at the top and both are still in the Champions League and Copa del Rey, so reports of any imminent demise cannot be taken seriously.

The Spanish soccer press is so saturated by the big two's dynamic that any sudden dip in form, disgruntled substitute or rumour of a training ground bust-up assumes epic proportions.

Marca and AS have a diet rich in Real news every day, while Sport and Mundo Deportivo perform the same function for Barcelona. Clubs of reasonable size like Atletico and Valencia are lucky to get a page.

This seems especially hard right now on Atletico, who after all are the reigning champions and reached last season's Champions League final. Diego Simeone is establishing himself as one of the world’s top managers and his side have just received the psychological boost of signing old favourite Fernando Torres.

45,000 Colchonero fans turned out to welcome their returning hero on a non-matchday, but El Niño was withdrawn after an hour on his debut against Real following the sort of blunt performance seen too often from him at Chelsea.

With so many column inches to fill each day and relentless TV reports which go into the sort of detail unheard of in England's soccer press, it is no wonder they try to make a mountain out of every molehill.

Barcelona have the challenge of Atletico this evening and anything other than three points will set the doom-mongers of Catalonia off again.

Leaders Real have the cushion of a game in hand, but Atletico are breathing down their necks.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
 

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