Monday, February 16, 2015

Top two kick on, EPL deal shakes La Liga and farewell to Barça's stripes

SPANISH FOOTBALL'S WEEK IN REVIEW

* Spain dropped to tenth in this month's FIFA World Rankings, their lowest position since 2006. They are still reigning European champions, so summer 2016 is the earliest the golden age of La Roja can officially be said to have ended

* La Primera went back to being a two-horse race as Atletico Madrid surprisingly collapsed 2-0 at Celta Vigo on Sunday to fall six points behind Barcelona in third place. Coach Diego Simeone apologised to his fans and admitted he had picked the wrong team to travel to Galicia.

* City rivals Real resumed normal service a week after their Saturday from hell with a workmanlike 2-0 victory at home to Deportivo La Coruña. Isco and Karim Benzema were on target, Ronaldo assisted one goal and Gareth Bale still got booed by a fraction of the never-satisfied Bernabeu.

Read the Real-addicted press and there is always a crisis for the league leaders. This week it is Ronaldo's lack of goals in 2015 - only three versus Lionel Messi's 15. Then there is Carlo Ancelotti's favoured 4-3-3 formation, which 91% of Real fans said this week they would like to ditch in favour of 4-4-2.

* A new Bernabeu stadium, planned since 2004, is once more on hold after Madrid's Supreme Court halted work. The rejigged stadium, 15 metres higher and 24 metres deeper than the present one to accommodate a hotel, shops and parking, will have to go back to the drawing board.

* Barça were more florid, hammering Levante 5-0 at the Camp Nou with Messi bagging yet another hat-trick. Neymar and Luis Suarez also scored, putting the finishing touches to a familiar tableau of a hapless victim being ravished by the mega-club of Catalonia and its global superstars.

Coach Luis Enrique, whose head Messi was apparently demanding only a few weeks ago, could not help eke out an "I told you so" gloat to the press in the light of an eleventh straight win which matched Pep Guardiola's tenure.

"We have the best positional attack in the world," he opined. "We are the best at attacking ten defenders," he added, before his now customary praise for his Argentine maestro.

Positionally, Enrique's Barça resemble Guardiola's in their use of tiki-taka as they approach enemy lines but then tend to differ by whipping the ball wide to set-up a cross, while Messi has become very fond of a chip over the back four for Neymar to latch onto.

* Real resume the three-pronged Spanish challenge for the Champions League this week with a midweek trip to Schalke. Los merengues are rated second by the bookies behind Bayern Munich with Barcelona third and Atletico fifth, behind Chelsea.

* Barça moved closer to the Copa del Rey with a bread and butter win over Villareal in their semi-final first leg. 3-1 should have been 4-1 had Neymar not fluffed a penalty. An all-Catalonia final is still on the cards after Espanyol drew 1-1 away to Athletic Bilbao.

* The fuss over Ronaldo's 30th birthday bash, which took place three hours after Real had lost humiliatingly 4-0 to Atletico, dominated the start of the week and trended as the top item on Spanish Twitter.

Videos released showed nothing more dangerous than karaoke, even if it did go on until 4 a.m. and cost €400,000, less than two weeks' wages for the World Player of the Year.

Sami Khedira insisted it was only a dinner, while Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes said his player arrived "shattered" and needed two hours to lighten up.

The blame for the leaked photos fell on Colombian singer Kevin Roldan, a friend of James Rodriguez, who said anyone invited to Ronaldo's 30th would have done the same. Interestingly, the 160 guests did not include Real elder statesmen Iker Casillas or Sergio Ramos.

The League's Anti-violence Committee is investigating after part of the Camp Nou sang, "Cristiano is a drunkard" yesterday in response to the media storm. Offensive chanting is facing a crack down in the light of the death of a Deportivo La Coruña fan earlier this season.

* The English Premier League's latest inflation busting contract drew gaps of breath here and shone another uncomfortable light on the inequitable distribution of Spanish TV money in La Liga.

Spain's annual income is €755 million, of which €280 million is hoovered up between Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Premier League has just inked a deal worth €2.3 billion per season however, rising to as much as €3.5 billion with foreign and replay rights. The Royal Navy has indeed fought off the Armada again.

The English language is an advantage when it comes to overseas sales, as is the British preference for watching football at home as opposed to in bars, as is the case in Spain.

Canal Plus, who have the pay TV broadcast rights, have only two million subscribers in Spain compared to the 13 million BT & Sky customers in the U.K.

But when the ration between the money earned by the top and bottom clubs of the first division is 7.7 to 1 in Spain and 1.5 to 1 in England, something surely is amiss.

Barça and Real roll out their superstar roadshow every weekend growing fat on the €140 million they receive every season, but at the other end, Elche and Rayo Vallecano have to compete on only €18 million.

Even Atletico, reigning La Liga champions and European Cup finalists, earn only €42 million per season, less than half that of Crystal Palace or Sunderland.

* In this week's transfer rumours, Real are still interested in prising Marco Reus from Borussia Dortmund, despite him signing a new contract. The club have also scouted Tottenham's Harry Kane three times but are wary of another drawn-out negotiation with Spurs, as happened with Luka Modric and Gareth Bale.

Tottenham themselves are preparing an all-Spanish strikers swap with Roberto Soldado moving to Juventus in exchange for Fernando Llorente.

Atletico meanwhile could bring Juan Mata back to the Manzanares from Manchester in the summer with central defender Miranda heading in the opposite direction.

David de Gea might be on the same flight to Madrid as the Spanish custodian is stalling on signing a new deal at Old Trafford. Liverpool meanwhile may sign veteran Alvaro Arbeloa in the close season on a free transfer from Real.

* Seung Woo Lee, Barcelona's 17 year-old Korean reserve, could swap the Camp Nou for the Bernabeu according to Mundo Deportivo.

* Sami Khedira looks set for the exit door this summer in the light of struggling to make Real's first XI and the signing of Brazilian Lucas Silva in his position. The World Cup winner is alleged to have already signed a 'pre-nup' with a Bundesliga club to begin this summer.

* Barcelona's famous blue and burgundy stripes will become hoops next summer as Nike unveiled their new FCB strip. After years of boasting of the purity of the blaugrana, the club made Qatar Airways its first commercial shirt sponsor in 2013. Now with the stripes history, all sanctity in the famous shirt has gone.

* Real Sociedad manager David Moyes is finding the Spain's drinking traditions a culture shock. He told British radio last week that Spanish managers do not want to sit down with him for a post-match hock as is the custom in England.

It might seem strange in a country with so many bars and wine as cheap as £1 a bottle, but there is not the umbilical connection between alcohol and football there is in England or Moyes' native Scotland.

Terry Venables also noted the contrast when in charge of Barcelona, expressing amazement that none of his players had touched the booze during a weekend together.

Salud (Cheers)!

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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