If the world were spinning correctly on its axis then there’d be more cheers and fierce booing before this match than anything during it – no matter how many goals Messi scores, or if Cordoba happen to produce the shock of all shocks in Saturday’s 3pm clash with Barcelona.
The reasons come in the shape of the Cordoba coach and their President.
Miroslav Dukić was a no-nonsense central defender for Deportivo La Coruña back in 1993/4 – a time when Super-Depor had led La Liga for 23 straight weeks, right up to the final weekend of football.
Depor were at home to Valencia, Barcelona, their pursuers, at home to Sevilla. So long as Depor matched Barça’s result they were guaranteed champions.
Johan Cruyff’s Dream Team thrashed Sevilla 5-2 and until the 89th minute in the Riazor Depor were tied 0-0 against Gaizka Mendieta’s Valencia. Then, penalty Depor. Bebeto ducked responsibility, Dukić stepped up … the Camp Nou froze while transistor radios were pressed to thousands of ears – and the penalty was saved.
A fourth straight Spanish title for Cruyff’s Dream Team. Surely Dukić is owed the [ironic] honour of being applauded out on to the Camp Nou?
What of Cordoba President Carlos González?
Well in the Dream Team that day, at right back, was one Albert Ferrer – Olympic Gold medallist, European Cup winner at Wembley and, thanks to Dukić, newly champion of Spain again.
Last summer he took Cordoba up to Spain’s Primera Division for the first time in 42 years, he was given about eight games to prove himself and then González, the coward, wouldn’t even face him when he sacked him, sending ‘Chapi’ Ferrer a text saying how ashamed he was of his actions that he couldn’t bear to see him. If that doesn’t deserve a hostile reception at Chapi’s spiritual home, I don’t know what does.
Neymar is fit again, and should start, while Luis Enrique expects ‘more of the same’. ”
We’ve prepared for a typical game – a rival who shuts up shop at the back and tries to cause problems on the counter. If there’s anything we are accustomed to – it’s that.
Most of Barça’s stars have had a week off, they average four goals every home game and there’s nothing to suggest that this should be hugely different.
Levante v Real Sociedad, Saturday, 5pm
David Moyes is learning as he goes in his new country and while he learned something nice this week, that Alfie Finnbogason CAN actually still score goals, there was something altogether less pleasant for him to assimilate when it came to surveying the Levante game on Saturday at 5pm..
La Real’s away form has been horrible for many, many months. They seem to lack the physical stamina, the concentration and worst of all the belief to consistently pick up good results on the road.
But Levante is a case apart. Not only have the Basques NEVER beaten little Levante in Spain’s top division, in five of their last seven meetings La Real have taken the lead only to go on and either draw or lose. Savage stuff.
Moyes the Merrier
It looks likely that Carlos Vela won’t make it because of a muscle strain and there are seven more of Moyes’ squad who are fitness doubts.
Perhaps there’s a blessing in disguise. He’s filtered a variety of ‘kids’ into his last few matches and to absolutely no ill-effect.
Finnbogason’s two goals in the Cup victory over Oviedo means he’s a striker with some confidence again and worth following (6/1 for first goalscorer) in that he has at least got himself into something like six or seven scoring positions in the last two matches.
Chory Castro should make the game and is in form, Iñigo Martínez [despite missing a sitter v Athletic] threatens from set-pieces while for Levante their burly Brazilian striker, Rafa Martins, who’s taken a Finnbogason-length of time to score, is now looking fit, quick and dangerous whether as a starter or sub.
Hard to have faith in La Real on the road but if they go one up this time, have a punt on them not losing this time.
Eibar v Valencia, Saturday, 7pm
One way in which this new, voracious Valencia give you a bit of joy is that only once in their last seven away matches have they failed to score. They are ‘in’ almost every game, combative, buzzing with menace and self-belief despite being newly constructed and brimful of youth.
Maybe that’s part of the explanation for their record of four red cards already this season. For that reason André Gomes [potentially their most impressive addition this season] will be missing from midfield in the Basque country in this tiny [literally] stadium which is directly in proportion with the tiny [27,000 inhabitants] town, whose inhabitants have never enjoyed Primera football before.
Sent off last week against Rayo, the last time Gomes missed a game it was, just to round the argument off nicely, the only time in the last seven away matches when Valencia failed to score. In fact that week they went from having thrashed Atlético at home to losing, limply, at Deportivo la Coruña. Gomes is on five bookings so he’ll miss the next match too while both Gayá and Javi Fuego are one yellow off suspension. Does or doesn’t that influence how forcefully they play? I always wonder.
— Valencia CF (@valenciacf) December 14, 2014
Their ref here is Carlos Velasco Carballo who HATES a red card. Ninety eight of them in 191 Liga matches says to me an average of a sending off just about every second game.
Just one in eight matches this season so the law of averages is screaming at him right now. ‘Off, OFF. OFF!’ What to make of Eibar. Not only do they sit ninth, better than any other promoted side across all of Europe’s major leagues, they hit five goals in their last home game and are off the back of a superb away draw to Sevilla.
They ain’t to be taken lightly. Although Mikel Arruabarrena is top scorer with just four, Gaizka Garitano’s side have shared their 19 goals across eleven different scorers including Saúl Berjón who’s an emerging gem of a forward.
Neither Feghouli (9/1) nor Piatti (13/2) are prolific for Valencia but they give the width the pace and both are nice side-bets for an unexpected goal if you fancy moving away from the market-leaders like the Rodrigos or Negredo.
Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid, Sunday, 8pm
Athletic have a reliance on Aritz Aduriz akin to dolphins and water, human beings and oxygen or Piers Morgan and cheap publicity. Complete. So to see the striker return from injury for the Basque derby last weekend but then be used [instead of rested] for the last 13 minutes of Athletic’s squeaky-bum Cup tie against third division Alcoyano on Thursday night tells you a) how worried coach Valverde was about going out and b) how little he trusts Los Leones’ other striking alternatives. What little Alcoyano knew was that meanwhile Athletic find it harder to score than North Korea does to keep its nose out of other people’s business they had a right chance. Valverde admitted:
We were sluggish up front. To get through we had to grit our teeth and hang on to the single goal lead.
Not a great advert.
— chus (@chus1903) December 15, 2014
Athletic, once fearsome at the new San Mames, have lost at home three times this season already and needlessly dropped other points to draws. They’ll be without Iturraspe in midfield and Laporte at centre back against Atlético, both suspended.
This fixture has a wonderful rhythm to it. Going back years and years if one team wins it’s home game the other will reverse that next time they meet. Better still, if, say, Atleti win in Bilbao, Athletic will win in Madrid next time they meet and vice versa. The original tit for tat. Everyone wants to be tat.
Diego Simeone has some choices to make. Losing at home to Villarreal last week [much against my expectation] his team looked massively tired, with Diego Godin wading through concrete when the scorer, Vietto, gamboled by him.
Then they lost two goals at home to Hospitalet in the Cup. Something’s not right.
On balance the fact that Atleti score and Athletic struggle to do so suggests there’s a risk of an away win here. That’s something they achieved last season [1-2] despite Athletic leading. San Jose is a goal threat for Athletic at set pieces, Borja Viguera is beginning to find his feet. Antoine Griezmann must get his chance to start and if he does he needs to impress his boss with a goal. Atletico need to figure that they can’t give Real Madrid another present while the league leaders [try to] become world champions in Morocco.
Expect the Basque pride to rouse Athletic and the Spanish champions will need one heck of a better pace and intensity than they’ve been capable of recently in order to better a score draw.
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