Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Axe falls on Antonio Alvarez first

Five games and five weeks in, a uncharacteristically long time by Spanish standards, La Liga has its first managerial casualty of the season.

After a 2-0 defeat to Hercules on Sunday evening, Sevilla announced that Antonio Alvarez would be the first of undoubtedly tens of managerial changes this term.

In a widely anticiated move, Sevilla have again aid the rice for not acting during the summer. For the second consecutive season they played managerial blackjack in the off season and regretted sticking with what they already had.

Last season Maonolo Jimenez, despite his impressive cojones, was sacked in March. His replacement, Alvarez, was charged with the objective of getting an expensively assembled squad back into the Champions League. He did so. Just. And the decision to keep him was based somewhat on a false premise.

On the last day of the season Mallorca's players assembled in the centre circle of Son Moix after a comfortable 2-0 victory over Espanyol. Their comical and loveable mascot Demonio took to the pitch, champagne bottles in hand. Unbelievably, a club on the verge of bankruptcy had been saved. Thanks to the wonderful efforts of their manager, Gregorio Manzano, they were headed for a fourth place finish. Then as they watched in horror, an unheralded 19-year-old, Rodri, scored a 93rd (a them some) minute winner for Sevilla in Almeria.

Alvarez had achieved his goal. Or so they thought. Come August and a 5-3 aggreagate defeat to Braga in the Chamions League qualifiers, Alvarez's fate was sealed. A strong start to the domestic campaign only served to delay the inevitable. Sunday's loss, the first of the season in the league, was the final straw. But at least he has robbed his successor the chance of Champions League football, twice. The man now stepping into the breach at Sevilla, Gregorio Manzano. Funny old game and all that.

Alvarez's sacking has somewhat overshadowed another great performance from Hercules who are shaping up to be inconsistent, mad, exciting and a whole lot of fun deserately needed around the mid-table spots of the league. They were so good against Sevilla that even Royston Drenthe looked like that 'New Roberto Carlos' that Real Madrid signed three years ago.

Players being overprotected?

Two weeks ago after the Saturday evening game between Athletic Bilbao and Ateltico Madrid I supported Sid Lowe's assertion that sometimes madness is better than genius. In San Mames' latest Saturday night offering madness and genius were combined for a thoroughly entertaining fare. Barca beat Athletic 3-1 and again looked imperious, particularly in the creation of their first goal. However, the pattern of the game was determined by Fernando Amorebieta's sending off for a semi-lunge on Andres Iniesta. It was a challenge that on another day might have seen just a yellow but in the light of the 'protect the best players' debate precipitated by Ujfalusi's challenge on Messi last week, and which also got Ernesto Galan sent off for his challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo midweek, it was always going to see red.

Four-Point Roundup

1. Valencia are for real. Pace, skill, clinical finishing and good organisation is a heady mix. They should really test Man Utd in the Champions League this week and given the form of another team in white who knows...

2. Which leads to point two. Real Madrid are rubbish! Well, at least in front of goal. Six goals in five games it sounds all so Mourinho. Their drought is so bad that this week they couldn't even score against a side still in administration and whose highest earner (Felipe Caicedo, yes, thats right Felipe Caicedo is their highest earner) earns less than Ronaldo does in a week. Well played Levante!

3. Depor 0 Almeria 2 means that Depor have now gone 563 minutes without a goal from open play...quelle suprise.

4. That talk of madness being better than genius. See the first 43 minutes of Malaga-Villareal. At that point the score was 3-2 Villareal (including 2 corkers from little fat Santi Cazorla!). Anyway, at that point it was all too much fun for Carlos Marchena,record breaker, leg breaker and arguably La Liga's most evil man. Eliseu saw red for this 'assault' on poor Carlos, although (the only thing) in Marchena's defence, Eliseu is a dirty cheating scoundrel aswell.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Important life lessons, fatalism is good for you and God exists all in this week’s La Liga roundup

Every once in a while the humble La Liga offers a life lesson. No not that a pigs head doesn’t make a good missile nor even that its probably not a good idea to spend nearly a billion euros on a squad of players then bugger the pitch they play on by infecting it with a BP style oil spill. No, rather than some things, like Paris Hilton going to jail or the Tories being out of power are too good to last. Alas, Atletico de Madrid’s title challenge of 2010/11 is no more.

After three months of unparalleled success including two European trophies, a cup final, somehow keeping one Uruguayan legend called Diego, then gaining another and after two victories which meant three weeks worth of opportunity to look at the table and see themselves atop it, Atelti fans are back to that familiar feeling of disappointment.

In fairness they were never even in the match and their potential challenge for the title was not the story. The story of the evening was scandal. Pep Guardiola wanted to reflect on what he described as a ‘scandalously good’ Barca performance, a first victory for him in three league visits to the Calderon. However, the ‘scandal’ that covered pages, front and back, across the planet on Monday morning was the sight of poor, little, defenceless Leo Messi’s ankle buckled under caveman looking Czech Thomas Ujfalusi’s studs. A sight so distressing that Argentina Football World described it as killing Bambi or Bambi’s mum, either way you get the point.

Ujfalusi immediately claimed the injury was down to bad luck rather than malice and apologised to Messi (via the phone of team-mate Kun Aguero) but the shocking images of Messi’s ankle blown up to thrice its normal size does again raise the issue of protection for small, skilful players. It is an interesting observation that when incidents like this happen in Spain the mainstream press immediately call for double-digit match suspensions, whereas in England, when an Arsenal player’s leg is snapped in half Arsene Wenger is criticised for ‘whinging’ about player protection.

Thankfully, Messi’s injury will only keep him out for around two weeks and with home fixtures against Sporting Gijon and Mallorca followed by an international break it is only on the tricky trips to the San Mames to face Athletic and to Russia for a reacquaintance with Rubin Kazan that Messi should be missed.

Messi’s injury also overshadowed what was in truth an absolute mauling. The Champions have responded in Champions fashion with two sublime performances since the amazing defeat to Hercules.

On the bright side for Atelti there were some obscure positives to take form the game.

1.They wont play Barca every week.

2.In days gone by Atleti might have collapsed and lost by a barrow load. See 5-2 and 6-1 defeats to Barca in the past two years and a 6-0 humiliation at the Calderon in 2007.

3.The reason Atletico didn’t collapse was David De Gea. The 19-year-old was fantastic and gives Los Rojiblancos the solid base they have been lacking for years (not mentioning any names………Leo Franco)

4.Expectation is Ateltico’s worst enemy. What is worse than being constantly disappointed? Being constantly disappointed when you don’t expect to be let down. For years Atelti fans have developed a sense of fatalism, a sort of constant anaesthetic to the inevitable pain. Hence, the ‘Daddy, why do we support Atelti?’ ads. The successful end to a overall poor campaign last season followed by an impressive summer transfer window and a bright start to this season had seen Atleti fans get way too far ahead of themselves. Now with a giant Catalan pin having been stuck in the balloon of hype and optimism, Atelti can concentrate on more realistic goals. Principally, Champions League qualification and a stab at retaining their Europa League crown.

Challenging Atletico for third place behind the big two will be Valencia. At the start of the season I couldn’t see how they could maintain their status without their two stars called David. However, they still have the flair and goals that many teams in La Liga lack. Two more screamers from Mata and Pablo Hernandez proved that at the weekend as they overpowered (sorry couldn’t resist) Hercules. They will struggle with playing twice every week from now on and will inevitably have the Valencian mid-season slump but at the moment they look well on track to qualify for the last-16 of the Champions League and be strong contenders to compete in it again next year.

Real Madrid won 2-1 at Real Sociedad. Real were pretty fortunate to come away with all three points and not just because their winning goal was so fluky even Ronaldo was disgusted with his effort as it cannoned off Pepe’s (fortunately restored shaven) head and looped over Claudio Bravo. Even better news for ‘San Cristiano’ (Marca have relegated him from God to just a saint after a dodgy start to the season) were the words of everybody’s favourite WAG, Sara Carbonero “Cristiano Ronaldo siempre ha sido así, egoísta e individualista en el campo y el Real Madrid ya le fichó así"….’Cristiano has always been an egotist and an individualist’…finally a female football journalist who knows what she’s talking about, take note Sky Sports girls!

The good news for all La Liga fans is the return of Sociedad to the top league. As Sid Lowe says this week a proper team in a proper stadium with proper fans. From my one solitary visit to Anoeta I have to concur.

Surprisingly, Depor and Getafe played out a cracker, sort of, in La Liga’s latest unenthusiastic version of Monday Night Football. If only they had the technology of Andy Gray and Richard Keys….oh wait that was meant to say Thank Christ they at least don’t have Andy Gray and Richard Keys. In the words of LaLigaLoca‘The earth rumbles and lions lie down with lambs! A goal for Depor. Not a proper one mind. A penalty converted by Guardado’ x 2. And just when everyone had finished booking their eye-tests having seen ‘Depor 2’ on the screen Arizmendi scored a beauty for Getafe! The pope was right on secularism there must be some explanation to all this.

In slightly less surprising news Osasuna still haven’t scored this season (oh the thought of Osasuna-Depor this season. That’s 180 minutes that should be put to some use like as a prison sentence or even better make those bloody bankers watch it then terrorise them with the thought that if the fuck up again we’ll fix the draw for the Copa Del Rey and make the bastards watch it again…that’ll teach ‘em) anyway at least Jose Antionio Camacho can still show his face in public…sort of

This week’s results in full

Espanyol 1-0 Almería
Mallorca 2–0 Osasuna
Sporting 2–2 Athletic
Real Sociedad 1–2 Real Madrid
Hércules 1–2 Valencia
Racing 2–0 Zaragoza
Levante 1–2 Villarreal
Atlético 1–2 Barcelona
Málaga 1–2 Sevilla
Deportivo 2 – 2 Getafe