Barcelona got through to the Champions League quarters with a routine win against Arsenal on Wednesday, while Atletico Madrid just did what they always do, writes Tim Stannard...
It was all very Mission Impossible. A cat suit-clad infiltrator from Mordor had somehow snuck into the headquarters of Marca to write the most grasping-at-straws article ever seen. Well, since the paper claimed that Florentino Pérez sacking a whole bunch of managers on a constant basis was a key part of a Spanish coaching development scheme backed by the United Nations.
The contention was that the late, late breakfast show Real Madrid winner from Casemiro against Las Palmas in Sunday’s league clash was a magnificent example of a true team of top talent. After all, goals have been spread out among 14 different players as opposed to just a paltry 10 in Barcelona, for example.
Order had been restored a little on Wednesday with the affirmation that Real Madrid have scored a ton of goals over the past few seasons, but it has generally won them naff all. It’s a statistic reinforced in the current league table that has Barcelona having racked up 84 net-ripplers, with Madrid just behind with one fewer – but 12 points in the red.
Getting it done
Atlético Madrid are akin to a Damien Hirst project
The 45 of Atlético Madrid stands out in stark contrast to both, but the Vicente Calderón’s various campaigns have been built by jettisoning the outmoded concept that goals are key to a victory.
Indeed, the double header with PSV in the Champions League that saw Atléti moving through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League was a magnificent ode to that concept, with the Rojiblancos duelling their Dutch opponents for 210 minutes, failing to score but still prevailing in the end.
Pure perfection. Atlético Madrid are akin to a Damien Hirst project. You may not want, enjoy or even understand the sight of a dissected whale in a giant pickle jar, but you can admire the process of getting it in there.
Quite frankly, Mr Shankly, Barcelona are quite boring in comparison. Goals are scored, not that many are conceded, and matches are won as they should be. The latest triumph that puts the Catalans on 38 unbeaten in all competitions was the 3-1 win against Arsenal.
However, Arsene Wenger was wanting to compare Wednesday’s opponents to something more creative too. “At some point in sport you have to admire art,” said the Frenchman. “They have two or three players who transform normal life into art.”
Four more Spanish teams are in European action on Thursday, although La Liga Loca can firmly predict that only three will come out the other side. The one to fall off the Europa League waggon could well be Valencia, who face a buoyant Athletic Bilbao in the Mestalla but with a 1-0 deficit from the first leg.
Neville boldly predicted on Wednesday that if his team don’t concede any more goals, then there is a good chance of pulling back the gap on Athletic. Wise words.
However, there’s a storm brewing in Mestalla about Neville leaving Spain after the weekend to take on his England duties. Although this was known from the very start of his appointment, and Valencia will only have about eight players left behind during the international break, the image may not sit well with los Che fans if the ship is wobbling after yet more defeats in Europe and Spain.
The same Mestalla crowd that Neville called upon to back him on Thursday night might be the one that makes the end of the season very uncomfortable indeed.