Real Madrid’s luck is running out. Los Blancos haven’t impressed in many games this season, and it’s not that surprising in the mind of our writer, Daniel. They haven’t impressed me since they sacked Ancelotti, and that was the start of all their problems.
Being a culé, I very much enjoy these times. To see the club I despise the most struggling is about as good as it gets. But let’s get to the bottom of this. To be honest, Real Madrid haven’t really been a team we’ve feared during the past year or so. They got their Champions League final spot pretty much handed to them, facing Roma, Wolfsburg and Manchester City on their way to the San Siro. And you may argue the final is what really separates the true winners from the losers, but can’t we all agree Atleti deserved it way more, knocking out Barcelona and Bayern Munich to earn their place in the big final? I sound bitter, I know, but leave me alone...
I forget where I was going with that, but my point is that even as Champions League champions, they were not and are not a team to fear until things change. Zidane was a great player, and is probably fantastic with the squad, but I’m not so sure he’s the man to take this Madrid side to the big titles in the coming years. Given what we’ve seen so far this season, this year’s edition looks uninspired and confused. Don’t get me wrong, Real Madrid has an incredibly talented squad and in the end almost always turn out winners when the ref blows for full time, but this isn’t about that. A win is always a win, but for teams such as Real, the three points are worth less in the long run, if it means they’re not ready for the bigger games. The spring always comes, and Los Blancos will be there when it’s time for the Champions League semi-finals. But as long as they keep scrapping wins at the very end of games or just settle with one goal wins, or even drop points at times, they will never be ready for the German and Catalan armies.
The problems go back to the end of the 2014/2015 season. My dearly beloved Blaugrana were treble winners, and we all had the time of our lives. Meanwhile in Madrid, things looked a bit different. Florentino Perez watched us celebrate like mad men and, as he always does, went nuts. He seems to have forgotten about last May. La Decima, which he dreamt of for so long, was finally his. Ancelotti had brought it to him. But it was as if all that was blown over and way back in the past, and as a result of Perez’s lack of patience (and memory apparently), Ancelotti was sacked just one year after his big triumph. The aftermath of it all was problematic with Cristiano Ronaldo, among others, criticising the president’s decision.
When the time came for Perez to pick a new manager, he decided that it was time for the club to go back to its’ roots and thought to himself: “Who is the best manager out there ever to grow up in this club? Ah, Rafa Benitez! Brilliant”. Rafa was appointed, and started the season as manager for Real Madrid, a job he had always dreamed of. He finished the season in Newcastle, who got relegated from the Premier League. Says it all really.
I’m not saying Zidane is a poor manager or tactician, but as things stand they could really use some structure and clear game plans, and with his lack of experience I just don’t think Zidane can give them that at the moment. But maybe it’s time for him to prove me wrong.
Spanish Football Expert
Sevilla have finally broken their duck away from home. Tarun explains how it could prove to be the start of an upward trajectory for the club.
Sevilla’s 3-2 thrilling victory over Leganes at the weekend was completely overshadowed by Atlético and Real Madrid who won 7-1 and 6-1 respectively. However, Sevilla’s result is almost historic when you consider their away form since the final day of the 2014/15 campaign and compare it with the side which claimed victory on Saturday afternoon. Although Sevilla’s defensive display less than merited the win, they hung on very valiantly, begging the question of what has actually changed at the club to display such a gritty performance away from Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Here we take a look what could be ahead of Sevilla this season…
After a turbulent transfer market, Sevilla have started the season in an unglamorous but positive manner. The loss of key players like Grzegorz Krychowiak, Ever Banega, Kevin Gameiro and Coke have been visibly scarring but the new signings have all hit the ground running with Franco Vazquez, Samir Nasri and Wassim Ben Yedder all pitching in with vital goals. Unai Emery’s departure added to the turmoil but incoming coach Jorge Sampaoli has shown his pedigree by grabbing points even when the team plays badly. His players have not at all come to grips with his high pressing game but still managed to briefly reach the top of the league. These are definitely ominous signs for their rivals and surely there are only better things to come.
Last year, Sevilla’s Champions League journey was a short one. Having been placed in pot 3, they drew ‘big-guns’ Man City and Juventus plus Borussia Mönchengladbach which caused them to settle for third place and enter into the Europa League draw. Although this journey turned out to be sweeter as they won the whole tournament, the effects on their league campaign left much to be desired. Sevilla chalked up 7 losses in their last 9 games and with the Europa League calendar coinciding with this period, it has been suggested that Europa League success has been holding them back. This time round they have been seeded in pot 2 of the Champions League draw, meaning the threat of a second top team has been eliminated. With Lyon struggling in Ligue 1, Sevilla seem to be in a great position to qualify second from their group. With no one expecting Sevilla to get into the final stages of the Champions League at this point, getting eliminated early in the knockout phase is a strong possibility which could do wonders for the team in the final third of La Liga.
With the money from the Champions League plus the abilities of Sampaoli, Los Nervionenses have a bright future and can only possibly get better. More rest and concentrating solely on the league from March will only help them sustain the pressure on the big three.
Spanish Football Expert
William takes a look at Atletico Madrid and considers whether the next week or so could define their season.
We may be only seven matches into the La Liga season, yet Atlético Madrid have already signalled their title intent, sitting top of the pile on fifteen points. Ominously for fellow favourites Barcelona and Real Madrid, Diego Simeone’s side have yet to lose a game in all competitions. Indeed, since two rather unimpressive draws against Alaves and Leganes to kick-start the campaign, Atleti have won six of their last seven matches. This spectacular run of form includes an impressive 1-0 home victory over Bayern München and a hard-fought point at the Camp Nou against the reigning champions Barcelona.
Whilst Luis Enrique’s side have struggled with squad rotation (succumbing 4-3 in an enthralling match to Celta Vigo), and with Real Madrid’s recent, rather curious, inability to win a game of football having drawn their last four games, Atlético have a fantastic chance to take advantage and really stake a claim for this season’s crown having fallen just short in last season’s campaign. It is absolutely vital they take advantage of their rival’s struggles; they do not tend to last long. Atleti will be aware that a sizeable margin at the top is the prerogative at this present moment given the inevitable drop off in form they will experience later in the season given the limited size of the squad, Simeone’s reluctance to rotate and the awesome number of competitions in which they are currently involved. As such, a pivotal week in Atlético’s season waits. Following Saturday’s home clash with Granada and a midweek trip to Russia to face FK Rosto, a colossal clash at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán could define their season. Sevilla themselves are in a rich vein of form, currently sitting third in the league standings, yet boast a woeful home record against Atleti, having not won against them in the league since 2010.
Undoubtedly key to any success for the Los Rojiblancos will be the form and fitness of talisman Antoine Griezmann. Having broken the deadlock against Valencia last time out, his 50th goal in his last 81 La Liga appearances, the Frenchman is in spectacular form. Atleti fans will be rejoicing at club legend and captain Gabi’s decision to accept a one year contract extension, having previously feared the Spaniard may be tempted by early retirement or seeking pastures new at the end of the current season. The news underlines the midfielder’s importance to the squad, as he has been a mainstay in the team during Simeone’s tenure.
William is one of our three Spanish football experts. You can find him on twitter at @williamfbolton
I type "Kevin Prince Boateng" into YouTube and allow myself to miss the days when he took fans to a place of magic and wonder. With a little bit more edge the 2010-2012 AC Milan side could've reached the very top of European football, and Prince-Boateng's career may have looked very different.
In many people’s eyes he’s just Jérôme’s older, less succesful brother. Be that as it may, he often doesn’t get the recognition that he deserves. Because when he was at his best, he was one of the most enjoyable players in the world to watch. He was truly magnificent during his prime. In that incredibly talented Milan side he stood out where it shouldn't have been possible: with characters such as Andrea Pirlo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato it should be hard for other players to make a mark as individuals. Prince-Boateng, however, did just that. He had an incredible season in the 2010/2011 edition of Serie A, which earned himself a place in the Serie A Team of The Year alongside players like Marek Hamsik, Claudio Marchisio and Thiago Motta.
I specifically remember a goal he scored in February 2012. San Siro, quarter finals of the Champions League. The opponents? Barcelona. Prince-Boateng got the ball outside the penalty area and Ronaldo-chopped the ball past Éric Abidal, probably one of the best wingbacks in the world at the time, found a space at the front post and finished it past Victor Valdes. To score a goal like that against the Catalans shows just exactly how good he was at his peak.
But that magnificent Milan team split during 2012 and 2013 due to financial difficulties within the Italian club, and players left for better things. Prince-Boateng made a wise club choice and moved back to his home country. Gelsenkirschen and Schalke 04 was going to be the place he’d return to his fantastic form. But the time in Germany didn’t turn out as I, or I assume he, had hoped, and after a game at the end of the 2014/2015 season he was suspended alongside two team mates due to bad behaviour and had his contract terminated later that year.
Now, however, he seems to have found his place at the, so far this season, very successful Las Palmas, at the moment placed 7th in La Liga. Under manager Quique Setién, Prince-Boateng looks like he’s enjoying his time on the pitch again and has started the season brilliantly. With a fantastic debut goal at the Mestalla he has shown what he wants to do this season, and that he can take a new, exciting step in his career. Alongside incredibly talented players such as Javi Varas, Mauricio Lemos and Sergio Araujo I’m hoping he, once again, can reach his full potential. Because it’s certainly in there somewhere.
Daniel is one of our three Spanish experts and can be found on twitter at @DanneIngvarsson
Tarun Sukumar pens his thoughts on five players to keep your eye on this season, the youngsters he expects to make the leap to first-team regulars! Tarun will be joining the team to cover La Liga with our two other regulars, William and Daniel!
5. Ruben Duarte (20, Espanyol): Left Back
The 20-year-old left back played 21 times for Espanyol last season but had a miserable start to the new season against Sevilla when Espanyol conceded 6 goals, but with bags of potential this youngster has the ability to bounce back. Having represented Spain’s national team at almost every level and invited to train with the full national squad at such a tender age, his international debut is surely just a short while away.
4. Sergio Rico (23, Sevilla): Goalkeeper
The two-time winner of the Europa league had a disappointing end to last season after being displaced by David Soria but a change in management has meant he has reclaimed his starting berth. His summer at the Euros with Del Bosque and Spain will surely have given him confidence to perform again for his club. With Iker Casillas’ Spain career in doubt, can Rico capitalise?
3. Saúl Ñíguez (21, Atlético Madrid): Central Midfielder
Saúl has had a cracking first season with Atlético Madrid. A fortuitous injury to Tiago Mendes resulted in him getting an extended run in midfield and the 21-year-old hasn’t looked back. His combative style and versatility, developed from his time at centre back on loan at Rayo Vallecano, helped cement his place in Los Colchoneros’ engine room. His impressive overhead kick against Barcelona has also highlighted his potential which offers real promise with regards to his continued growth this season.
2. Marco Asensio (20, Real Madrid): Winger
Asensio’s season has begun in stunning fashion as he scored with a 25 metre effort against Sevilla on his competitive debut for Real Madrid. Having already scored twice this season, he has claimed Jese’s vacant spot ahead of the impressive Lucas Vázquez. This could be a very important season for the 20-year-old: has he got the ability to take advantage of any injuries to Bale and Ronaldo or could he be left far behind Vázquez and Morata? Can he maintain the expectations of Los Merengues?
1. Pione Sisto (21, Celta de Vigo): Striker
Celta de Vigo’s new €5 million signing has already got 2 goals in his first 4 starts and most notably one against Barcelona in an exhilarating 4-3 win. The 21-year-old Danish is a strong dribbler and long shot specialist making him the perfect replacement for the departed Nolito. He is still settling into the rigorous life of Spanish football but the talent is there for all to see. Can he take Celta to new heights?
Agree with Tarun? Want to add any others to the list? Get in touch at @FreshGegenpress!