Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Golazos, shocked sheikhs, a trophy ……. oh and Depor on opening weekend

La Liga’s opening weekend after a summer during which everything changed proved a lesson in how some things never do.

Villa, Messi and Iniesta were brilliant, Marca tried to beautify poor Cristiano (despite the fact he missed a hatful of chances), Osasuna drew 0-0 and Depor uuuhhhhh Depor!

Yet, the debut weekend in the shadow of the glowing reflection of a glorious summer did provide much to be excited about. Principally, can Atelti continue to be this good?

Of course it’s a stupid question. It's Atletico. The team that had 44 managers in 17 years. The team so cursed that the only side they beat regularly in the Calderon is Barca, to the extent that one Real Madrid director described Atleti as giving them a 9 point advantage in the title race everyear (given the 6 they donate to Real annually and the 3 they are good enough to deprive Barca of). A team with a fanbase that has fatalism cursing through their veins like vitriol out of a Mallorcan mouth towards Geneva. Except, Atleti’s paranoia is justified.

Or is it? On Friday they claimed their second Euopean trophy in three months. The Super Cup victory over Inter may not have registered across Europe as a major event but the manner of the victory does add to the growing sense that Atletico have a positive momentum for the first time since the 1996 double winning season.

Even after a stellar world cup they have not only retained their Uruguayan talisman but added another one. Diego Godin’s presence could prove to be as valuable as Forlan’s in the coming months if the Rojiblancos are to take advantage of Forlan’s prolific scoring record. Euoprean football’s summer of austerity has also left Aguero, Simao and a rejuvenated Reyes in Madrid but somehow left them with €11 for Jurado. Arguably though the most important factor is that for the first time in years Ateltico have a stable coach who could survive a short term loss of form.

Quique’s revolution continued apace on Monday night with a 4-0 hammering of Sporting Gijon, propelling Atleti to the top of the league ahead of Barca. Kun and Forlan ran riot against Manuel Preciado’s bewildered side (although you must say –What a tache! Joey Barton could learn a thing or two http://www.puntoencuentrocomplutense.es/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/preciado.jpg).

Yet, for all the attacking prowess displayed by Atleti in the past four days it is the two clean sheets that have caught the eye. No doubt in future weeks Perea will have his obligatory Titus Bramble moment, De Gea will make a rookie mistake and Ujfalusi will realise he isn’t Cafu, but, for now all looks rose in the rojiblancos garden and who can begrudge them another shower in Neptuno?

Elsewhere Barca were typically impressive, Racing Santander’s Miguel Angel Portugal describing them as even better than last year and bearing in mind they were statistically even better last season than the treble winning year of 2009 that is some going.

David Villa scored twice on his debut, although one was wrongly chalked off, while Messi recorded his fastest ever goal for Barca and Iniesta showed characteristic technique and touch to gently lob the goalkeeper for Barca’s second. Most worryingly for the rest of the league s that this was a Barca with no Puyol, Mascherano, Pedro or Bojan in the starting eleven.

Real Madrid by contrast took to the field on Sunday evening without the fanfare that had surrounded their £268m galactico spend of last summer, although there was a rather well-known ‘special’ coach (‘special’ now has a different meaning of course, it means bloody expensive given the €100m in contracts Florentino Perez had to dish out to Mourinho and his staff to complete their move form Inter).

Alas it was an unsatisfactory beginning for Jose. In a scrappy match, only helped by an unusually boisterous Mallorcan crowd, Real squandered numerous chances and were left to rue them as it finished 0-0. Alarm bells shouldn’t be ringing too loudly as Real didn’t play badly and wer eplaying a side with the third best home league record last season. However, given that the stranglehold of La Liga’s duopoly is only likely to increase this season and that Barca only dropped 15 points all season last year, two points dropped so early in the season could be costly.

Down in Malaga Spanish football’s first sheikh watched uncomfortably as his side went down 3-1 to Valencia. Two goals from forgotten man Jaoquin proving decisive. Unai Emery’s side will badly miss the two David’s – Villa and Silva – this season but do still have quality in their ranks with Mata, Pablo Hernandez and Banega joingin Jaoquin and should still push for a European place. Although the demands of playing Champions League football may be a burden too heavy for a small squad.

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