a look at la liga
As La Liga takes a festive break it's a time for recuperation and reflection at Spain’s major football clubs.
Real Madrid and Barcelona find themselves at completely different junctures in the modern history of their organisations. Inside the Santiago Bernabéu it’s a case of sticking with the old, whereas at the Camp Nou it is very much a case of in with the new.
It’s less than a month since a journalist summoned up the courage to ask Zinedine Zidane whether he thought he was going to be sacked. His response was diplomatic, his team’s response was to win five successive matches, advancing to the knock-out stages of the Champions League and increasing pressure on the Spanish pacesetters Atlético Madrid by beating them two-nil.
Zidane’s reaction to a shaky spell was to go back to the old guard. The base of the team which won him the Champions League back in 2016 and 2017 have formed the backbone of a side which was lacking backbone. Sergio Ramos leads the Dad’s Army of Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Karim Benzema and Lucas Vázquez.
The spirits of Christmas past very much provide the spirit of Christmas present even though there must be serious doubt whether they have enough spirit to last to next Christmas.
Over in Catalonia, it needs to be a whole new start in 2021. The institution is just about ticking over as they wait for the presidential elections and revolution which must follow.
Eight candidates are competing for the honour and responsibility of rescuing a club that has lost an enviable identity.
Where do they start? Is it the reported €488-million debt, addressing the Lionel Messi situation or replacing coach Ronald Koeman with Xavi Hernández? Those are the priorities, and then there are the issues of a stadium rebuild and underperforming team who have taken a collective wage deferral.
The media darling is Joan Laporta who hired space on a skyscraper opposite the Real Madrid stadium to post a giant poster of his face with a message “Looking forward to seeing you all again.” A reminder of his successful first spell in charge of the club.
When fans do return to the Camp Nou, the club will be unrecognisable from the one they last saw with their own eyes. New president, new coach, possibly no Messi and a stadium still in need of modernisation.
Elsewhere in La Liga, clubs are bearing up. Atlético are benefitting from a coach who runs the playing side with an iron fist. Diego Simeone continually rebuilds the team in his own image. That image is one of a serious-faced winner. We know they will be there at the final count.
Real Sociedad and Granada continue to over-achieve, Valencia continue to under-achieve and Real Betis continue to frustrate. Manuel Pellegrini is the latest previously successful coach to bang his head against the brick wall of Benito Villamarín stadium.
In a year like no other, football has offered some continuity in our fragmented lives. It has provided an escape from the uncertain and a much-needed semblance of normality. Hey, it gives us something else to talk about, other than Covid, over a socially distanced Christmas dinner.
Merry Christmas and stay safe.