Monday, January 10, 2011

You already know how this is going to end

When Ronaldo scored a soft equaliser, an unmarked header powered past Diego Lopez, just as the clock ticked over the forty five minute mark, you got the feeling that the game was only going one way.

Villarreal had given their all, played Madrid off the pitch and yet would go in 2-2 at half time, leaving it all out on the field. Come the second half, it was you felt, only a matter of time before the tide came in, the sun set and Madrid scored again.

Indeed aside from the 5-0 disemboweling at the Camp Nou, there has been a grim inevitability to every Los Blancos game I've watched this season, echoing their march to the title in 2006/07 season under Fabio Capello (when Barça did their best AS Roma impression and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory). The 2-2 draw at the San Siro, 1-0 victories away to AJ Auxerre and at home in a dire slugfest against Sevilla (with Di Maria getting them out of jail on both occasions) and the 2-0 at home to Valencia, all lethargic performances rescued late on by a combination of individual brilliance and defensive naivety/ gross stupidity.

Given most of these winds have come without Gonzalo Higuain, top scorer at the Santiago Bernabeu in the past two seasons, is even more impressive, if one can be in fact be impressed by this dour grind. Much like Manchester United, who despite being unbeaten in the Premier League have been serving up fairly turgid rubbish and "not really getting out of first gear" (the implication of course being that they can play much better is one I would dispute), Real have rarely sparkled. That's not to say they haven't handed out some spankings but that was as much a result of facing hopeless opposition rather than them hitting the heights.

Villarreal on the other hand have been fantastically exciting to watch. I really thought their huge turnover of players in the summer (most of them in the out tray) would see them drop out of Champions League reckoning but Cani, Carzola, Rossi, Marco Ruben, Borja and the currently injured Nilmar (scorer at the Camp Nou) have been brilliant, playing open attacking Barça-style tika taka. After losing Manuel Pellegrini, their coach for five years, to Real, they inevitably went through a period of instability, Ernesto Valverde coming in the summer of 2009 and being dispatched just after Christmas. Valverde looked to completely reinvent the Yellow Submarines way of playing with disastrous results. His successor, Juan Carlos Garrido, who had been in charge of Villarreal B since 2002, righted the ship, taking them from the bottom half of the table to seventh (and into the Europa League at the expense of the bankrupt Real Mallorca) and this time out they look like a lock for third or forth place and back into Europe's top club competition.

Next Barça they are the best side I've seen this season (Valencia, Espanyol, Palermo, Lazio and Spurs would be the others).

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