LaLiga: Football overshadowed by events in Barcelona

Andrew Gaffney

Politics dominated the weekend Spanish football programme as LaLiga leaders Barcelona stood against the system by playing their match behind closed doors.

THE LOSERS

Barcelona fans were forced to wait outside, then told to go home

Spain has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the past 24 hours. We aren’t talking about a fantastic match between Real Sociedad and Real Betis which ended 4-4. No, not even Valencia and Sevilla continuing their fine early season form and putting the pressure on at the top. Cedric Bakambu scored his first hat-trick for Villarreal but that too got lost in chaos. Football, rightly, wasn’t the key talking point.

I’m not going to delve into the legalities of Catalonia’s fight for independence. It’s another story for another day and there are many people who know more than myself and can explain it better. But the images, videos and actions of the police around Barcelona yesterday were disgusting. Everybody knew it was the date to vote. Yet Javier Tebas decided it would also be the perfect day to host a football match in the city.

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Naturally, for those in higher positions at the club as well as some senior players, this put them in an uncomfortable situation. The images were all over the news in the morning and were disturbing to say the least. The club asked for the game to be postponed but LaLiga said no. The police in Barcelona, Los Mossos, said they could guarantee the safety of those heading to the Camp Nou for the match. For this reason, LaLiga said the game should go ahead as planned.

The decision to then play the match behind closed doors came from the club itself. Apparently, as an act of protest to the events seen throughout the city. While on one hand it appears admirable, it’s a also a slap in the face to the thousands of fans who made the trip to the stadium. Not all of whom were local, some travelling from as far as Australia. Inadvertently punishing supporters, despite the circumstances, didn’t come across as the right decision to take.

Javier Tebas

Javier Tebas is the man who runs Spanish football. His loyalties are often questioned due to his self-admitted love for Real Madrid. Tebas largely sees LaLiga are two teams plus 18 others with very little regard for the masses’ issues or problems. “It’s important for LaLiga, on an economical level, that Real Madrid and Barcelona are at the top.” It’s true they generate more money than the others but that’s in large part due to the financial advantage they have over their rivals.

Why would he, a man wanting to push LaLiga to the Premier League’s level, allow a situation like yesterday to unfold? Was it a simple case of an oversight on his part, not expecting the situation to get drastically out of hand? Or was it his own, pro-Spain idea, to arrange the match on the same day as the referendum? Barcelona asked to cancel the match. LaLiga said if they didn’t play the club would face a six-point penalty. If this had happened then his own team, Real Madrid, would now be a single point behind Barcelona.

Whether it was innocently planned for Barcelona to play on this day or not we may never know. Either way, it was a huge error of judgement on the part of Tebas and it once again brings into question his impartiality. The fact Las Palmas were allowed to wear politically motivated emblems on their shirts came across less patriotic and more as an act of defiance. In the end, we were all losers yesterday. Especially señor Tebas.

THE WINNERS

Eight-goal thriller

Last week I wrote about a new guard of teams pushing their way to the top in LaLiga. We can add Real Sociedad and Real Betis to that list of names as they played out an entertaining, Premier League-esque 4-4 draw.

Under Quique Setien it appears Betis are beginning to find their feet. After some ‘under construction’ performances at the start of the season they now understanding what the former Las Palmas coach expects of them. The shock victory at the Santiago Bernabeu will stand out for most but it’s the way they play, on the front foot, that is the most pleasing.

Anoeta isn’t an easy place to visit and Betis came flying out of the blocks and took an early lead. The home side responded well and quickly equalised before taking the lead through Mikel Oyarzabal to make it 2-1. Defensively it wasn’t pretty but from an entertainment standpoint it was reminiscent of a classic Newcastle vs Liverpool encounter on Premier League Years.

Before La Real had time to catch their breath, Betis were level. Young Fabian Ruiz was pulling the strings and appears to be the next big thing in Spain. But the golden oldies got involved too. Joaquin put Betis ahead just after half-time before Xabi Prieto made it 3-3. In the dying embers Sergio Leon thought he’d won it for Betis but another quickfire response, this time from unlikely goalscoring hero Diego Llorente, meant both sides walked away with a point.

Winning ugly is better than losing with style

There’s a lot more smiles around Mestalla these days as Valencia are once again locking horns with the big guns. Marcelino’s style, passion and discipline are all key factors in Los Che’s turn around in fortunes and the home tie against Athletic Club was another big test. A test they passed, just.

Without their midfield lynchpin Geoffrey Kondogbia, Carlos Soler partnered Dani Parejo in the middle of the park. This meant Manchester United loanee Andreas Pereira came into the starting line-up on the opposite flank to Goncalo Guedes. A very attacking midfield four, coupled with two up top, meant there was a concern they were perhaps underestimating Athletic.

The first half belonged to Valencia as they pegged back the visitors and took a 2-0 lead at the break. Simone Zaza with his sixth goal of the season and Parejo from the penalty spot a little over five minutes later. However the tide turned in the second half when Athletic brought on Aritz Aduriz.

The ex-Valencia striker only appears to age in number as opposed to his on the field performances. Plus, he loves a goal against Valencia. This was his tenth against his former employers and his 150th league goal. The class to bring down the ball and then volley it across Neto was sensational. Aduriz fully deserves his recall to the Spain side.

Rodrigo, also in fantastic form, made it 3-1. Raul Garcia was a thorn in Valencia’s side after he came on and he reduced the deficit to one again. It could’ve been a different story if both he and Aduriz were on the pitch from the start. Valencia, even if it was a little ugly, manage to win again and move into third spot in the table.


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