The kind of match to watch out for. Córdoba spent months looking like they weren’t cut out for la Primera and their cowardly President sacked Albert Ferrer by emissary, and then text, rather than be brave enough to tell him to his face.
A pox on him I say.
When the Andaluz side lost heavily at the Camp Nou in December, the players got the mother and father and next door neighbour of all rollickings from their flint-hard aggressive coach, Miroslav Djukic who then told the world in general that his lads lacked ‘cojones’ and had simply turned up to swap shirts with the Barcelona stars.
At that stage they’d won just once and were in free-fall. Since the tongue-lashing they’ve picked up seven of the available nine points.
The European champions have had a week of dedicated training and preparation thanks to being out of la Copa – but these games, I guess, are the kind of David v Goliath moments when a small side desperate to stave off relegation sometimes somehow catches the big-guy complacent and dozy.
If, and I stress IF, that’s your considered view on this test for Carlo Ancelotti’s mob then try this.
Nabil Ghilas is the striker Algeria left behind when they went to the Cup of Nations and he’s got a bee in his bonnet about it.
I’d have loved to have defend my country’s colours but since I moved to Spain they’ve ignored me and now I’m set on scoring against Madrid and winning to show them what I can do. I’ve shed six kilos since the start of the season and right now I’d not say that it’s a dream to score against Iker Casillas because when I’m on the pitch and in form I always believe I can beat anyone.
He’s top scorer with five – one of which won Córdoba their first victory away at Athletic Bilbao for 42 years.
But the two who stand out, quality-wise, are the pair who combined for last week’s 10-second goal against Eibar. Fede Cartabia, a flamboyant Argentinian winger on loan from Valencia, made it for Florin Andone – a 21 year old Romanian brought up near Barcelona. Ferrer loved the kid’s attitude and emerging ability but injury hampered his development.
Now he’s got three goals in five games and although the impoverished club charges him €50 he can barely afford [he’s on youth team wages] for each match shirt he keeps – he’s going to swap this one with a Madrid star come hell or high water. Preferably having beaten them.
Ronaldo, (above) despite knee pain, should start, Pepe is still injured so Rafa Varane plays and you’d imagine that Sami Khedira should deputise for Isco, also injured [and a loss].
Usually you can stand on Honest Carlo’s words and the Italian reckons his team benefitted from a dedicated week, are ready to perform and, thus, it’s probably time to back Goliath to duck the slingshot. 1-3. NB, a promising 24 year old Portuguese striker, name of Bebé is in the Córdoba squad. They say United are interested….
Graham’s bet: Real Madrid to win 1-3 @ 10/1
Keith Moon dies, Charlie Chaplin’s coffin is stolen and then recovered, Jamie Carragher, Gigi Buffon and Emile Heskey are all born, Dallas [JR, Sue Ellen and the Poison Dwarf] airs its first episode and Garfield is created.
1978:The last time Elche scored against Barcelona.
Nine games across those Buffon-Carragher-Heskey years, an aggregate of 30-0 in favour of the Blaugrana during those 810 minutes.
Three of those matches have come this season with a 3-0 league win on the opening day complemented by an aggregate 9-0 thumping in the Cup where Fran Escribá’s side was clinically dismantled.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if, again I stress that word really heavily, you see something to set your little gambler’s heart going pitter patter in the way Elche play then it must be because of Jonathas.
The Brazilian striker is reminiscent of Diego Costa, albeit in 2009/10 with Valladolid, when he’d remorselessly harass defenders when he didn’t have the ball and wage war on them when he did.
Jonathas, already 25, won’t turn into a world class finisher like Costa did but he has power, height, aggression and reasonable technique.
As for Barcelona – will they be the group which drew 0-0 at Getafe and Málaga and surrendered 1-0 at Real Sociedad? Or will they repeat the urgency, unity and dazzling skill of last week’s 4-0 win at Deportivo la Coruña?
Despite a monumental challenge in Madrid this Wednesday against Atlético in the second leg of the Cup quarter final, Luis Enrique’s named a strong squad, not resting a single key player.
So, for those who like to bet in-play the things to look for would be a) does Luis Enrique’s team press and mob the opposition … or give off a ‘can’t be bothered’ Kevin the Teenager approach to that blue collar work? The other thing, which for purely alphabetical reasons we’ll call b) is: how fast is the ball moving between players.
Recently Messi (above) and Co. have made the football fizz and zip between them and opposition [Elche, Atlético and Depor] simply haven’t been able to cope.
It’s not a time to back against Messi, he’s hotter than Johnny Torch, but there’s value in looking at Alba and Pedro. Alba simply knows where the goal is and pops up every so often at longer odds while Pedro might get more game time than normal in order to assure one of the ‘big’ three up front is particularly fresh for the midweek tie at Atleti.
Maybe we’ll get memories of ’78 – ticker-tape, the Argentinian World Cup, the debuts of 3-2-1 and Grange Hill plus that last Elche goal against Barcelona [though this lot have only put two shots on target against the Blaugrana in 180 minutes this season].
But even though Escribá and gang organized a 0-0 nil in this fixture against a knackered Barça last May it’s tough to see them doing anything other than shipping two or more goals this time.
Graham’s bet: Barcelona (-2 on the handicap) @7/5
This, for the uninitiated, is a Madrid derby. For the initiated, it’s a game without the crackle of excitement it would usually merit because Rayo’s boisterous, noisy, loyal and generally admirable fans are boycotting the game.
Pity. Paco Jémez’s team made life objectionably difficult for the Spanish champions on the first match weekend of the season
But it’d be remiss of me not to remind you that the last time Rayo beat their neighbours they were coached by Juande Ramos, Kasey Keller was in goal and Jimmy ‘Pichichi’ Hasselbaink was up front for Los Colchoneros.
In fact let’s stick with Jémez for a minute. Utterly dedicated to the Pep Guardiola school of football his team are more ‘front-foot’ than the forward half of a pantomime horse.
There are hints that a) he’s well enough thought of at Atleti that he might be next in the door whenever Cholo Simeone leaves but also b) that whether or not the Atleti job is on offer this summer Jémez, who’s asking for a bigger contract raise in order to renew than Rayo want to pay, may hit the road anyway.
Suffice to say that he’ll ensure his team try to put on a show today. Future employers may be watching. [A nice little vignette is that Jesus Muñoz, Jémez’s assistant, was room-mate to Atleti legend Fernando Torres when El Niño first broke into the Atleti team. Wouldn’t you just bet on Torres repaying the friendship with a goal to break Rayo hearts?]
Anyway, not to repeat an earlier point, Simeone’s champions have a testing mid-week match with Barcelona and you’d bet he’ll shuffle the pack in terms of a starting XI.
Raul Garcia should start, might score, both Koke and Arda need to prove fitness. Diego Godín is suspended so Manucho might just get a chance to add to his headed goal at Real Sociedad last week.
But Rayo really want to get Leo Baptistao fit enough to play, and score, against his former team.
Graham’s bet: Fernando Torres to score anytime @ 5/6
A downright corker.
Two sides, both economically challenged, locked in mortal battle for the fourth place in La Liga which can win you anywhere from €10m to €50m of Champions League revenue.
You want more!
Two sides who fought to a standstill in the semi final of the Europa League last season, until Stéphane Mbia popped up with one of those ‘where the hell did that come from?’ second-leg-94th-minute-away-goal winners.
More? Mas? As they say here in Spain.
Both sides have recently been thumped by Espanyol in the Cup – Valencia 2-0, Sevilla 3-1.
And, finally, you still want even more? Okay. Unai Emery, currently the coach of Sevilla, Europa League holder and sitting cosily in fourth position, did terrific work in charge of Valencia, helped them make huge profits on footballers who thrived under him and kept on getting Los Che champions league qualification. But he was perpetually undervalued – by the club, by the media, by the fans. He’ll be given a sometimes frosty, sometimes hostile welcome back at the Mestalla on Sunday night.
Two wins apiece in the last four of this Liga fixture in Valencia and Mbia’s on international duty so not able to repeat his feat.
Bacca often repays a backer, Gameiro’s form is on the rise and Valencia have been conceding headed goals of late so you may like to look at Pareja or Carriço.
As for the home side, Negredo played for Sevilla long enough to know their weaknesses and score against them, Álcacer is long overdue reward for his good movement and Andre ‘I shoot on sight’ Gomes deserves to hit the net more often for his quality of movement and work rate. Draw looks good, but Sevilla look a tad tired. Valencia to win by one goal.