For time immemorial, Spanish football fans have been thunderously enthusiastic about the idea of having some ball-kicking action to occupy their minds during the traditional holiday break. Not so much the players, funnily enough, dubious over the advantages of having their Christmas galavanting time being stripped down when there are awards to be picked up or parties to attend.
The holiday football zone that had previously been the domain of the frenetic, industrious English has crept into La Liga. But rather than a series of mid-holiday matches on Wednesday and Thursday being moved towards a busier festive period, the early start to 2016 is a necessity to make up time thanks to an early-season finish for Euro 2016. The fight put up by the players’ union earlier this year definitely suggests that this is going to be one-off.
So let’s enjoy the sight of Rafa Benítez getting stuck into the media a good week earlier than normal, complaining that there is a ‘witch hunt’ against the club, himself and Florentino Perez. Rafa is probably right, considering the ferocity of the attacks on the front pages of Marca and AS on a daily basis, and the need for both papers to see a season firing and premature unveiling of Zizou the Boss.
Once again, near perfection will be required in Wednesday afternoon’s clash against a Real Sociedad team whose midfield is very much a blast from Real Madrid’s Christmas past: Asier Illarramendi and Sergio Canales are running the Basque side’s midfield and probably going to get a bigger cheer from the home crowd in the Bernabéu than poor Rafa. “We want to win, not be the executioner of Benítez,” was the kindly fret from Canales in AS.
A slowly improving Málaga are also off to an early start against a slowly deteriorating Levante, the team currently at the bottom of the table, although there could be trouble at t'mill down south if the reported move of Carlos Kameni to Watford happens; the Cameroonian keeper’s clause is currently at a rock-bottom price.
Brave vs brawn
A second batch of games early on Wednesday evening pits a city derby between a Rayo side really rocked on its heels and an Atlético Madrid mob trying to increase its goal tally to scoring more than one in a game – a tendency that can lead to the team’s frequent on-pitch dominance being in jeopardy.
Rayo, meanwhile, tend to have attacking at the top of their match priorities, thus leaving defending way down on the list behind checking boot laces every now and again and blowing mucus through a nostril in only the way footballers can. Indeed, Diego Simeone used the magic word ‘brave’ to describe a side that were recently caned 10-2 by Real Madrid.
Barcelona lead the way in the late bundle of La Liga goodness, with Real Betis heading to the Camp Nou to see if the league leaders are still slumbering after their Club World Club trip. Barça will hope to avoid suffering the same curse as Real Madrid, who hit the ground not so much running this time last year after their own triumph, but like a newly purchased drone piloted by a three-year-old.
However, the game that should really catch the eyes of La Liga lovers is Celta Vigo (hot property from Galicia) facing Athletic Bilbao (hot property from the Basque Country), in what will be a fine northern affair – and a hint of what the Spanish public have been missing all these years, with La Primera’s abstention from festive football.
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