Pennant is last best hope for Zaragoza

When La Liga Loca asked the average José in the street who would be this season’s surprise package in la Liga, most hurried off in the opposite direction looking for a policeman.

And this was fair enough, considering the blog was standing outside its local Starbucks at the time, dressed as Jesus and asking the question in the style of a booming Brian Blessed.

But of those who did offer their opinions, the most popular reply was Zaragoza.

That is, after Atlético, a team that apparently still surprise many when they manage each season not to relegate themselves.

There were fine reasons to plump for Zaragoza.

The club have the shrewd Marcelino in charge, a coach who had taken Racing to the UEFA Cup two seasons before and there had been heavy but wise investment to build a squad that already had Primera quality lurking in its ranks.

If you ignore Peter Luccin.

Unfortunately, Marcelino’s men look like they need to be struck off the contender list due to a devastating injury picked up by striker Ikechukwu Uche.

The former Getafe man went down with knee-knack during the 4-1 defeat at Sevilla, and it has been diagnosed as cruciate ligament damage meaning eight months on the sidelines.

Although his statistics at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez – just 11 league goals in two seasons – suggest otherwise, the Nigerian international is a very handy striker on his day.

But the problem for Zaragoza now is that he is the only one in the team that comes close to fitting that description.

Uche’s logical replacement, Ewerthon, is currently serving a five-match suspension ‘for doing a Pepe’ – losing his rag, punching an opponent and calling a linesman ‘a clown’.

Pepe goes postal (as Uche looks on)

But more importantly, in the past the Brazilian forward has proven himself to be Spain’s version of Shola Ameobi in that he is a big goalscoring bully boy in the lower leagues but doesn’t have enough porridge in his top-flight bowl.

Another striking option is Braulio, a forward who proved during spells at Atlético and Getafe that he isn't much cop either.

And that just leaves Angel Arizmendi, a fluke-filled footballer who will now be desperately hoping that his Gonzalo Higuaín body-swap can hold until the end of the season.

All this is very bad news indeed for Jermaine Pennant, who has made a reasonable start to his Zaragoza career despite not being fully fit.

In the two league games the former Liverpool man has played, the winger has shown that skinning la Liga’s left-backs won’t be an issue - bad news for Marcelo, when the day comes around - and his crossing has been fairly effective.

All Pennant needs now is someone to cross to.

BLOG, July 17: How Jermaine Pennant could ruin the Premier League (and save England)

But Zaragoza’s woes are of little or no interest to the Spanish press in Champions League week.

Marca continue their objective assessment of Manuel Pellegrini’s Real Madrid reign with the paper plumping the Third-Choice Chilean’s pillows by claiming that “he has won the respect of the players with the decisions he took in the last match” – namely the decision to leave Raúl and Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench.

The currently very absent Lady Gago and Rafael van der Vaart may disagree with Marca’s gushing assessment.

Over in the Kingdom of Catalunya, Barcelona are involved in the sexiest Champions League tie of the round with a trip to Italyland to face Inter.

And naturally, the local Barça-barmy papers are billing it as Pep vs José, Zlatan vs Mad Sammy.

“Eto'o-Ibra – the Mega Duel!” blasted Mundo Deportivo’s Monday headline.

Because no-one can ever be too certain of the future in the wild and wacky world of sport, the papers are avoiding unnecessary rudeness about Mourinho in case he ends up on the Camp Nou bench one day.

Nevertheless, Sport’s Joan Vehils couldn't resist a cheeky pop in José’s direction by noting that “he knows Barça play the best football in Europe and that the champions have to be respected.”

Jose (r): "Yeah, I could get used to this"

Marca's headline that “Busquets sees Madrid as favourites” had made La Liga Loca burp with surprise.

But all was well upon reading the actual quote, which had the Barcelona midfielder bet-hedging that “Inter, Barça, along with Chelsea, Madrid and Manchester are favourites to win the Champions League.”

Sadly, no-one really cares who Sevilla are playing - for the record, it's Unirea Urziceni.

While Atlético are expected to cruise past Apoel Nicosia despite their current off-pitch woes, which worsened on Monday with the announcement that financial VP Fernando García Abasolo had resigned complaining that “there is a communication problem at the club, which often gives fans two different and contradictory messages.”

It's something that wasn’t particularly an issue in the past seven years for the former board member, who looks like being the first rat to flee Atleti’s sinking ship.

--------------------------------------------- More to read...

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