Can Valencia survive the Copa del Rey curse?
The serious side of the Copa del Rey kicks off on Tuesday night, but there will be disappointment for anyone expecting La Liga Loca's annual rant about how it's a useless competition rigged to help the big teams. (No lawyers required: it actually is loaded in favour of clubs in European competition, who are deliberately drawn against the weakest teams at this stage.)
The blog still feels the same way about the whole sorry affair, which has been stripped of every chance to be exciting and unpredictable, but it has decided to take some positives from the cup. To be fair, those small positives are a little bit mean-spirited as they revolve around people losing their jobs, so LLL must admit that it is feeling a little bit ashamed of itself.
The main feature of the early stages of the Copa del Rey is that if you are a big team, life is made so swimmingly pleasant by the Spanish FA that you must be truly incompetent to get yourself knocked out before the contest has warmed up. Real Madrid's defeat to AlcorcÃÂ³n three years ago was the beginning of the end for Manuel Pellegrini, although that was always on the cards with The Powers That Be wanting JosÃÂ© Mourinho moved in as soon as possible, which lead to Marca being very unpleasant indeed to the poor Chilean for the rest of that campaign.
But letÃ¢ÂÂs face it, things must be bad if you are unable to beat lower-league opposition in the countryÃ¢ÂÂs only cup competition over two legs. In the last 32, where we are now, the smaller sides even have to play their first game at home, so any upset should be easily rectified in the big club's bear-pit.
Last season saw quite the cull of coaches in la Primera for sides that were struggling anyway. Villarreal's loss to MirandÃÂ©s led to the firing of Juan Carlos Garrido, the appointment of Miguel Angel Lotina and the sideÃ¢ÂÂs inevitable relegation. AlcorcÃÂ³n saw off Zaragoza, which produced the departure of Javier Aguirre.
The biggest shake-up of all was AtlÃÂ©tico Madrid contriving to lose to Albacete in both legs which was the tipping point for the firing of Gregorio Manzano and the arrival of Diego Simeone which has worked out rather well. So a terrible performance over two legs in the cup can lead to very good things. Or something very bad indeed, as with poor old Villarreal.
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Barcelona boss Tito Vilanova is probably reasonably safe no matter what happens in the two legs against AlavÃÂ©s, whose manager Natxo GonzÃÂ¡lez claims that Ã¢ÂÂwe have to go out and compete without fear: when you are afraid of losing then you never win.Ã¢ÂÂ ItÃ¢ÂÂs the kind of admirable philosophy that worked so well for Rayo Vallecano in Saturday's 5-0 loss to the Catalan club, who are set to give their third-tier opponents a chance by fielding Marc Bartra and Alex Song at the back.
Extremely troubled Valencia boss Mauricio Pellegrino will be bricking himself on the bench against Catalan side Llagostera, who are ninth in group three of the Segunda B division but have an artificial pitch 10 metres shorter on both sides than Mestalla. Ã¢ÂÂThey have weapons to create problems,Ã¢ÂÂ warned a spooked Pellegrino, who must be thrilled by the prospect of a defeat and having to chase a deficit in front of the compassionate Mestalla fans at the end of November Ã¢ÂÂ if he's still around at that stage.
Aside from these two matches, the rest of the games are taking place on Wednesday and Thursday Ã¢ÂÂ the latter being a bank holiday in Spain, what with almost two weeks having passed since the countryÃ¢ÂÂs last one. And speaking of not bothering going into work, Pellegrino is just the first of a number of Primera coaches who may be forced to curse this seasonÃ¢ÂÂs Copa del Rey.