Fours teams, two games. They could have been Disney films. In one ground you had ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ and in the other just down the road we had ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Like in every Disney film there was a common enemy but unlike the films, the villain doesn’t get his comeuppance. But the villain wouldn’t be amongst the 4 teams but in fact it would be the referee. This weekend saw the top two teams in Spain play two of the best supported teams in Spain. Both Rayo and Atlético may be miles apart from Barça and Real Madrid but what they proved this weekend is that the Top Two can be challenged.
For 93 minutes they created noise that would leave almost all in attendance reaching for the headache pills after the game. They say that the fans can create a 12th man on the field, in that case Rayo’s fans must create a 12th, 13th and 14th player. Even after being charged extra for ‘El Día de Club’ they sang their hearts out. To say that Real Madrid were stunned was an under statement, most had never seen anything like this before. Even Mourinho showed his approval by giving a thumbs up as he walked off at half time. But what makes this ground so special and why were the players surprised by the atmosphere?
Where ever Real Madrid go they create an atmosphere. Everyone wants to beat the team from the capital. Anti Madridista songs are not sung but screamed as fans try to wind up the players. Only problem is that the players actually feed on the abuse as one player put it, ‘when they are abusing us, they aren’t supporting their team’ and that is what they want. But Rayo is different. For the entire game they sang and chanted for their team. Real Madrid were just another visiting team, the real star on show was Rayo. And what a show they put on.
Rayo fans will feel they deserved more and Mourinho believed so too. Some say that it is very easy to compliment when you have won but Mourinho has been showering Rayo with compliments all week. While Real maintained control they were lucky that both Ramos and Pepe remained on the field. Rayo were unlucky that Michu didn’t. Ramos should have walked and Rayo should have had a penalty when Ramos decided to introduce Diego Costa to his elbow. For his trouble Costa earned himself a yellow card for protesting. Real Madrid scored through a fantastic little backheel from Ronaldo. Still they sung songs of support. No anti Madridista songs here, just songs of support for their team. The stadium shook as the Ultras bounced with the Republican and Ché flags. As the ref blew the final whistle the players walked off to cheers and applause. Defeated yes, but still champions in the eyes of their supporters.
Three and half hours later down the road, Atlético took on Barça. The first big test for El Cholo and a chance to see how far Atlético had progressed. The 1st half saw Atlético pegged back and defending. Barca went in looking good with a one goal lead. We got to see the 2 sides of Barça in this game. In the 1st half Barça were slick and moved the ball around with confidence. The 2nd half saw Atlético come out and play and Barça went back into their shell. They conceded from a set piece, again. The tackles were tough but Simeone’s men had belief and they were going for the kill. The game was settled from a Messi free kick. Debate surrounds the free kick and the truth of the matter was that the referee, Pérez Lasa, was poor and it is baffling that this man is a top flight referee. The handball he failed to see was shocking and Atlético fans are right to feel a little aggrieved. In the end Barça took all three points but Atlético fans sang their hearts out. The El Cholo honeymoon is still alive and kicking but for how long?
Both teams took the fight to the Top 2. We have seen a few times this season in the Santiago Bernabeu that teams go one up against Real and take the game to them and although we have also seen Real then knock 5 or 6 past the team it says something when teams come to Madrid and try to get a result. Osasuna, Villarreal and La Real have all had a go at Barça and Betis were extremely unlucky. The lesson is that more teams need to try and play against the top 2 and let’s hope more continue to do so.
Around the Ground
‘Alves you are a monkey’ they chanted. Haven’t we been here before? Yes, and will be many more times again. To claim its an insult and not racism is just ignorant. True it was a small section of fans, no more than 100 that chanted it but still it is an absolute disgrace that this is still an issue. Change? The RFEF still haven’t organized where the Copa Del Rey final will be so expecting them to organize an anti racism campaign is well beyond them. Rayo Vallecano and Getafe are just 2 examples of teams that have taken things into their own hands and tackled the issue. Time for other clubs to do so.
According to AS, Guardiola is throwing in the towel. According to Sport he was being ironic. He wasn’t! Having been in attendance Guardiola was very clear when he said that he felt the league was gone but still expect the press to drag it out.
Levante win for the first time in 10 weeks and the team are back up in the Champions spots and what is more it was against a rival for European qualification. Athletic and Villarreal played out a brilliant 2-2 draw. Osasuna beat Granada and once again we see the European spots changing in what is becoming something similar to a La Liga version of musical chairs. The big question is who will be left without a chair at the end of the season?
A draw at the bottom between Racing and Sporting whilst Zaragoza got hammered by Málaga and Manolo Jiménez stormed out of his press conference saying that he was ashamed of his team and apologizing to the press. Betis and Getafe played out a one all draw whilst Sevilla got a very important 3 points against Valencia who still remain in 3rd.
Results: Racing 1-1 Sporting, Betis 1-1 Getafe, Málaga 5-1 Zaragoza, Espanyol 1-2 Levante, Villarreal 2-2 Athletic, Rayo 0-1 Real Madrid, Valencia 1-2 Sevilla, Real Sociedad 1-0 Mallorca, Osasuna 2-1 Granada, Atlético 1-2 Barcelona.