After a long and torturous winter-break, the Primera returns for its second go-around. The players are well-rested and relaxed, if a bit sluggish really from all the merriment, but whether they are ready or not, we certainly are, and we demand entertainment. If this weekend is any indication, we are in for plenty.
First, let me reset the stage: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are unlikely to deal in the winter market, and most other clubs are in a crisis-induced selling spree, but the case of Jose Antonio Reyes is one of the headlines of the winter so far, or in a general sense that his former club Atletico Madrid has spectacularly imploded over the last two years and is now in utter self-induced chaos, what with the botched firing of Gregorio Manzano, the hiring of Diego Simeone to appease the angry mob at the gates of the Vicente Calderon, and their inability to reasonably settle the case for Jose Antonio Reyes. This is a player that Atleti payed 12 million euros for, granted that was four years ago, but he was arguably their best player since Diego Forlan and Kun Aguero left for greener pastures. I don’t care if Sevilla was the only place for him and he would have nixed any movement to any other club in the world. Let him train in Segunda or Tercera for a few months and see if Del Nido pays a bit more for him. That said, Atleti are in trouble. Morale is low and Diego Simeone will soon see that this is not a group of players that respond well to disciplinarians, or cheerleaders, or any management style I can think of really. What few people are saying is what will happen now at Sevilla. If Reyes thinks that a return to Sevilla will renew his footballing mojo he has another thing coming. Yes, he’s the prodigal son and he’s well-loved in the land of his birth, but the little kid from Utrera, Andalusia is going to find after working with such perceived taskmasters as Arsene Wenger, Bernd Schuster and Quique Sanchez-Flores, that his quarrels with Gregorio Manzano will pale in comparison when he works under Sevilla’s Marcelino Garcia-Toral. Marcelino is the real-deal and I can only hope that the home-cooking will keep Reyes happy because he won’t be smiling much on the pitch.
As for this weekends games, there are some interesting matchups on both days:
Saturday: Racing Santander meets Real Zaragoza for a clash of cellar dwellers. Zaragoza hopes that hiring ex-Sevilla coach Manolo Jimenez will do the trick but his calling on management to buy more players will win him few friends in the front-office of the cash-strapped club. If Javier Aguirre couldn’t save Real Zaragoza from the fire, who really thinks that Manolo will do anything differently? I’m still concerned about their intimate relationship with Portuguese super-agent Jorge Mendes and them being no more than a way-station for players in the triangle-trade that links players from South America, to clubs in Portugal and Spain with clubs in the Middle East; like Atletico Madrid but with less petty cash. Give the game to Zaragoza though: 1-0. Levante-Mallorca means little other than seeing if the magic can continue for Levante. Can they continue their quest for a European slot? Levante beats Mallorca at home. Real Sociedad-Osasuna is a dog of a game and will likely leave us with a dog of a scoreline: 0-0. Real Madrid-Granada will likely be the highest scoring game of the weekend as Real Madrid pads their scoring statistics yet again. Is 5-0 to conservative here? Rayo-Sevilla will likely see a 1-2 win for the Andalusians in Vallecas, but we are weeks away from knowing if the Reyes deal will jump-start a Sevilla squad still reeling from the news that their President is under indictment. The best game of the day may likely be Malaga-Atletico. Pellegrini’s's men are in line for that third Champions League slot, and normally the colchoneros are one of a handful of clubs that are also challenging that level, but El Cholo will need to do more than just cajole and inspire to change their form. He’ll have to really coach. He may succeed, but it won’t show this week. Malaga wins at home 3-1.