Having spent most of the week hanging out (ok, working) in Venice, as you do, the closest I got to football was on Saturday night when I watched a bit of Roma v Reggina on the telly, in a bar down some dark street off the Piazza San Marco.
Last week's column was based on the fact that I'd seen a whole host of games at the weekend, but arriving back in Spain on Sunday meant a quick catch-up on Saturday night's events and a few clips of the goals from the various summary programmes that proliferate on Spain's main football evening.
No problem in coming to some conclusions though, the chief one being Almería's win over Real Madrid last week - the one that had supposedly opened up the league - was a theory found a little wanting, seven days down the line. The leader's startling 7-0 win over Valladolid, coupled with Barça's 1-1 draw at Sevilla, means that the chasm is yawning once again, as the punters may be in a few weeks time. One can only hope that the Champions League spices matters up a little, always assuming that all three Spanish representatives do not fall foul of the fact that they're having to play away.
Real Madrid's opponents, Roma, didn't have to break much sweat to beat Reggina on Saturday from what I could observe, and it was odd to see Panucci still playing (and scoring). He faces some of his old mates, one of them being Raúl, again absent from Spain's line-up in their 1-0 friendly win over France last Wednesday (which I didn't see either), but certainly present in the media's tittle-tattle over Luis Aragones' sticking to his guns by not picking him.
What a strange result in the Bernabéu. As the Spanish saying goes, Valladolid were paying for Madrid's 'broken plates' from the previous week - so often the case when one of the big two loses and is then expected to put their troubles in their old kit bags by the following week, to show their character and to re-establish the national hierarchies with which everyone is so acquainted. Well they certainly did that.
Valladolid have shown themselves capable of beating anyone on their day this season, but it seems that when they lapse, they lapse big time. Add to that their historical kindness to the team that has been, on and off through history, an unofficial nurturer and purchaser of any talent that has come through the ranks, and Valladolid's record against Madrid is hardly one to boast about. Indeed, the last time they visited the Bernabéu shrine, back in 2003 with Carlos Quieroz newly installed, they lost 7-2. Raúl scored a hat-trick and he managed two on Sunday, meaning that Valladolid are now officially the team that he has scored most goals against (14).
But Valladolid just don't like visiting Madrid in general. 7-0 is the worst result in their history, but it's not the first time. The previous occasion was in 1959 when they lost to a fine Atlético side. However, the last time Real Madrid won 7-0 I was there in person, as opposed to lounging around Venice, and it was against Las Palmas. Morientes scored five and missed a penalty, and Steve McManaman won the game of keepy-ups with the other substitutes at half-time.
Funny the things you remember. But these kind of scores, rare as they tend to be, do set off a process of nostalgic thoughts and number crunching. Real Madrid's biggest-ever win in the league was 11-2 against Elche in the 1959-1960 season, but that was the season they stuffed everyone, Eintracht Frankfurt included (at Hampden). But 11-2 is a kind of ugly score. 7-0 has a certain cleanliness about it, a certain imperious conviction, as does 3-0. It's a subjective view, but 4-0 and 6-0 make me uncomfortable, as if both scores were somehow prevented from going any further. 7-0 is lovely, as long as you're not on the end of it.
Valladolid will bounce back one suspects, but it remains ironic that this column last week suggested that they were one of the teams that had understood how to play against the leaders. Manager José Luis Mendilibar, remembering how his side went for the throat so effectively back in September, forgot that he was going to the Bernabéu, where Real Madrid have now won eighteen consecutive games. Sigh.
|“||7-0 is lovely, as long as you're not on the end of it. ”|
It's one of those weekends when the stats are rolled out, but you'll excuse the indulgence. If I'm not wrong, Real Madrid's best consecutive run at home was 24 wins, so there's still some way to go - but it's odd that a team shorn of its galácticos is now recovering its age-old tendency to rub other teams' collective noses in the dirt.
It's all a part and parcel of the mercilessness of 'Madridismo' in its crudest form, but one to which Valladolid contributed almost recklessly. By trying to play them at their game, they allowed Guti to have one of those days where he was left supremely alone, a situation to which he responded by playing havoc with his opponents. Last week Almería never let him get the ball.
The other thing worthy of note, apart from the tedious observation in every Spanish paper that Raúl's two goals are further proof, if any were needed, that he should be restored to the national side, was that Van Nistlerooy was out injured. As Barcelona face the coming week eight points adrift and seriously in need of a game plan to take to Glasgow with them on Wednesday, this fact will hurt the most.
All week the press had been muttering darkly about the effect this might have on the side, only for the myth (if that is what it is) of Van Nistlerooy dependency to be kicked into touch. Raúl was restored to the position he allegedly prefers, up front as the main striker, with Baptista tucking in just behind. It worked a treat, with even Guti helping himself to a brace, and four assists. As 'Marca' commented on Sunday morning after Barça's limp draw in Sevilla - 'Who said the league was opening up?'
Mind you, a draw in Seville under any other circumstances might have been seen as a good result, but anything less than a win these days just won't do. And despite nine first-choice(ish) players being injured for the game, Rijkaard still failed to put Ronaldinho into the starting line-up. He came on for Edmilson in the second half, but he contributed absolutely nothing. Xavi again saved the bacon, but you get the distinct feeling that things could unhinge against Celtic on Wednesday. The Scots have beaten both Benfica and AC Milan this season already, so Barça would make a nice hat-trick of major scalps. It could get messy - no pun intended - for the Catalans.
But back to Raúl et al. All the clamour for his restoration to the national side is a clamour mixed in with the complex situation regarding Luis Aragones' own position. His lack of a relationship with Angel Villar and his new right-hand man Fernando Hierro was evident in the lack of communication between the three before and after the match in Málaga on Wednesday. All three of them got onto the train after the game, but all separated discreetly by about ten metres. Now Aragones wants them to sack him, annoyed as he is with the filtering of the news that Del Bosque will probably be his successor after the summer tournament. If they were to sack him, then of course Raúl (Hierro's and Del Bosque's buddy) would be back, but more importantly so would Guti.
You have to say that someone of Guti's talent should at least be considered for a recall to the side, since games against sides who do not close the midfield down would be ripe for his inclusion. Arteta, over at Everton, wouldn't be a bad idea either, but Aragonés doesn't seem to be interested in him. If Spain fail in Austria, then it will be this that condemns Aragonés, rather than his troublesome tendencies to mouth off to all and sundry, and to adopt facial gestures that suggest he is about to commit suicide. Inspiring it probably isn't, but players are alleged to find him amusing and informative.
Finally, spare a thought this week for bottom club Levante. The players held a press conference the day before their game at Athletic Bilbao (which they lost) in which they announced their intention to 'take measures' if they weren't paid the money they are owed. It seems that several of them are still owed big chunks of last season's wages, and most of the present campaign's. Hardly surprising, therefore, that they are anchored to the bottom of the table. They are also angry with the local council for refusing to allow a Valencian bank to re-value the stadium, so that collateral could be raised against the payment of their wages.
One player has apparently sold his car to pay the domestic bills. I'm not aware of the make of the car he sold, although I read yesterday that Manchester United's Ronaldo has just put his name down for the purchase of a £825,000 Bugatti. Funny old world, football nowadays. Levante and Manchester United are theoretically equal partners, members of the two most potent leagues in the world at present, and yet several of the Spanish team's players cannot even pay for the gas bills and a set of crockery. A different case of broken plates, and no-one can afford the superglue.