It is preposterous; ridiculous, even. It’s also shocking, but certainly no shock. But Spain, as they saying goes, ‘es diferente’. Nowhere does that ring truer than in football at the present moment.
We should be talking about many things here. What about newly-promoted Granada popping up to claim their first win of the season against Villarreal? What about last night’s stupefyingly entertaining late kick-off at Betis’ Villamarín cauldron? What about Roberto Soldado, who simply can’t stop scoring (even if one of the four he recorded on opening weekend ended up in his own net)?
No, instead we are left with one topic, one which dominates all the dailies, all the chatter on the airwaves today; big team loses to very small team. In most other leagues in the world this would, of course, be news. But not all the news. And certainly not on a weekend like this.
Real Madrid lost to the club with the smallest budget in the league by 1-0. Their opponents, Levante, made the smart move of exercising their option to buy Man City loanee Felipe Caicedo during the summer for €1m. They then sold him on to Lokomotiv Moscow for a five-fold profit. Last year, in a team that had the third best record of any club in the division after the winter break, Caicedo had the best goals per-shots on target ratio of any player in the league. By far.
They also lost their talented coach Luís García to Getafe. And, barring the odd aberration, the maulings being dished out by the big two to the good, the bad, and awful seemed to dictate that Real ought to win this. Even though this was exactly the sort of ground where points dropped had cost them last season’s title. If not a hammering of the sort Barcelona administered to a hapless Osasuna the night before, then at least three points.
Real did not start with a full strength side. But when you have a squad that would make even Manchester City’s look less favourable, both in depth and in talent, this can be no excuse.
Nor can José Mourinho’s tiresome and hypocritical branding of the opposing team as cheats who instigated Sami Khedira’s sending-off. Yes, the sending off is what turned this game. But Real weren’t looking too hot when the Germany midfielder got his marching orders for a second yellow.
The truth is that Real played poorly, and that they can only have themselves to blame; not UEFA, not UNICEF, not the ref. Not one bit. The match statistics bear this out. Leaving aside Real´s hoarding of possession, all else was pretty much equal; remarkably so. Shots, both on and off target; fouls. Right down the list. Except for the only one that matters of course, the final score. And the red card count, obviously.
Real played very badly but Levante played extremely well. Even against 11 men they were competitive. Their breakaway goal from Arouna Koné was a joy to behold. On loan from Sevilla, he’s unlikely to fill Caicedo’s boots. And their new coach, Juan Ignacio Martínez has arguably bigger shoes to fill. But in a league that is likely to be every bit as tight from the European spots down again this season, if not more so than last, they look well equipped to survive; and- who knows?- perhaps even thrive.
Barcelona won 8-0, as you may have heard. Next.
Roberto continues to excel in goal for Zaragoza; he was instrumental in their surprising 2-1 home victory over Espanyol yesterday. This is all the more remarkable given the fact the keeper, whose ill-starred season at Benfica made him a byword for goalkeeping ineptitude of the highest sort at Benfica season; not to mention that, on paper at least, Zaragoza look to be an absolutely awful side. His arrival, on loan, was a particularly murky third-party deal, involving a Dublin-based consortium with Jorge Mendes, Peter Kenyon and Pini Zahavi all on board. If he keeps playing this well, not many Zaragoza fans will care.
Roberto Soldado scored. Again. That’s 5 in 3 for him now this season; his record over the last 17 games is simply obscene. That was enough to see them defeat Sporting, leaving them top of the table on goal difference ahead of… Real Betis.
Real Betis who beat Athletic Bilbao by 3-2 in a game that defied common sense at times. Not just in Marcelo Bielsa’s bizarre positional selections; at least for those who followed El Loco’s remarkably successful stints in charge of the Chilean and Argentine national teams, that is nothing new. But the manner in which the home raced into a two goal lead was exhilarating, leaving Bilbao still looking like a team getting to grips with their new coach’s idiosyncratic footballing philosophy. They were pegged back seven minutes before the break before regaining their cushion with a penalty right on the stroke of it.
A flurry of second half cards saw Alavarez see red for Betis a quarter of an hour from the end, before being joined by Bilbao’s Amorebieta in stoppage team. Both before and in between, Bilbao looked like they might steamroller their hosts. But a Lopez penalty inside the final five minutes wasn’t enough, and although a lot of goodwill and patience still exists for the Argentine coach’s remoulding project of Athletic remains now, one point from nine means that doubts are already beginning to pierce the surface.