Monday, November 15, 2010
Don't give up on La Liga just yet
Only eleven matches in and the gap is six. Villarreal, with a chance to choose contender or pretender, were put to the sword by an emphatic Barcelona. Cynics would look at the result of that match without a blink of an eye and promote La Liga as a two horse race here on out. However, such people would be incredibly dumb to do so.
Those who watched can tell you it was probably the most artistic and technically gifted match of any played this season in Europe, or the rest of the world. The visitors matched their hosts in every facet of the game - high defensive lines to push forward, neat and tidy possession, wing play and attacking fullbacks. What they lacked, though no fault of their own, was the world class brilliance of Messi and Villa whose goals may go down as the best of the season.
With that in mind, don't be fooled by the final 3-1 tally. Villarreal taught us more in a loss than you would expect. And if you look ahead to the next few weeks, yesterday's match was but a prelude to the true deciders as to whether this league will be a two or three horse race.
Pep Guardiola referred to his defeated opponent after the game as ""una joya de equipo (a gem of a team)." Their performance was "brutal" - tough and hard nosed yet pleasing to the eye. Villarreal possess two intelligent and lightning quick forwards who have the third most goals of any two strikers in La Liga. Their midfield of Borja Valero, Bruno, and Jefferson Montero continue to play the beautiful, short pass football ingrained in the squad by former manager Manuel Pelligrini. Throw in sensational captain Santi Cazorla on the wing and a physical defensive back four with attack minded left/right backs, and Villarreal look good enough to beat anyone in the league. They played an excellent match against Barcelona. Unfortunately, they came up against a squad that much better.
Back at the top of the table, Real Madrid left it late in Gijon to secure a difficult three points. Mourinho also secured the best ever start for a new manager in Spain. Shaking in your boots yet? I surely hope not. Eight of their eleven matches have come against teams sitting in the bottom half of the table. Except for Atletico Madrid (whose resistance against their neighbors has produced a whopping ZERO wins since 1999), they have played nobody - the minnows of La Liga. To say Real Madrid are running away with Barcelona is foolish. To say they are as good as their Champions League matches is also foolish. You don't have to be Einstein to understand that Mourinho, Florentina Perez, and Madrid put continental supremacy as priority over winning a domestic title (which is obviously a must as well).
Meanwhile, Barcelona are just as good as everyone expects them to be. On a night when a great team showed up at their front door, they were simply greater (to borrow the words of Sid Lowe). Barcelona have already defeated Atletico, Villarreal, Valencia, and Sevilla by a combined score of 12-3.When the top clubs in Spain come knocking, Barcelona often produce sensational clinics to reinforce their role as champion. There should be no doubts about their potential. Real Madrid simply haven't had a chance to show that.
However, the question remains, did Villarreal waste an opportunity to make the championship race in La Liga enthralling? The scoreline says no. The performance says otherwise.
El Clasico is two weeks from today. Madrid then face Valencia, Villarreal, and Sevilla in three of their following five matches. Don't draw negative conclusions from Villarreal's defeat yesterday.
The next month will be the true barometer to the future of La Liga this season.