No doubt the headlines you’ll read this morning will focus on Real Madrid’s 40-match unbeaten run coming to an end. A monumental run, one which hasn’t fully been respected across the board in my opinion, but last night was all about Sevilla and where they are as opposed to mourning Zinedine Zidane now having as many defeats as trophies. Devastating, eh?
Jorge Sampaoli was often lauded by those who’d witnessed his teams play as a man deserving of a crack at a major European league. A bit like how Marcelo Bielsa’s supporters constantly link him, either through fact or wishful thinking, to every job, there’s a loyal fanbase to Sampaoli’s methodology and seemingly effortless enjoyability his teams bring. I think now we’ve all subscribed to that way of thinking. We’ve subconsciously become Sampaolismo fans.
It’s a testament to how rattled Real Madrid were after the Copa del Rey second leg match at the same venue that Madrid changed their approach so much. Zidane, whose fantastic record is down to his ability to manage egos as opposed to pot luck, decided to pack the defence and try to stifle Sevilla’s swarming style. It worked for large periods of the game but what you can’t do, and can’t legislate for, are individual errors as they’ll be punished.
There’s no greater indication of the revolution Sampaoli has created than the performance and level Steven N’Zonzi has found this season. A solid, dependable midfielder under Unai Emery has now become the heartbeat of this Sevilla monster. N’Zonzi is everywhere, stamping his influence on proceedings. As much the last line of defence as he is the furthest forward, the change is incredible. Sevilla are incredible.
Those Leicester City comparisons don’t look so silly now.
Barca brush aside Las Palmas
In football we can often exaggerate and overreact to results or performances. I can’t speak about ‘the good old days’ era but in recent years we’ve seen a more obsessive fan, a more needy one. An unexpected draw or loss sees star players questioned and a manager’s job suddenly placed under the spotlight.
No one knows this more than Luis Enrique and it’s the primarily reason he’s contemplating walking away from Barcelona at the end of the season. While it’s true there have been some less than stellar performances from the Catalan powerhouses, it’s worth keeping everything in context and not immediately reaching for the panic button. Two points off the formerly unbeaten Madrid, one behind the new kids on the block Sevilla, and through to the next stages of the Copa del Rey and the Champions League.
The brushing aside of Las Palmas was as one sided as the result suggests. Enrique has ‘dos cojones’ and chose to rest Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Neymar but the gamble paid off as the fringe players did their part, something which hasn’t been true for much of the season. Arda Turan is perhaps the exception to this rule as he’s been great when given the chance. Top performances from Aleix Vidal and Andre Gomes, who must do better, were other key positives.
Oh, and Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are phenomenal. But you knew this already.
Oh Valencia. One swallow doesn’t make a spring, that’s true, but after finally registering a victory it felt like a two week summer holiday for Los Che’s fans. Espanyol weren’t at the races it has to be said but we shouldn’t let that take away from what was a pretty good performance at the Mestalla from the home side.
Fans had brought balloons to demonstrate their unwavering support for the team and it never looked like Espanyol were going to crash the party. A lovely flowing move from right to left saw the ball land at Luis Nani’s feet and he unselfishly crossed for full-back Martin Montoya to smash home his second goal of the season. That’s two more than Paco Alcacer, you know?
There were nervy moments but it felt like Valencia had finally sound some resemblance of balance. Los Che still lack a genuine number nine, although they did announce the signing of Simone Zaza this weekend, and there’s a lot of pressure on the misfiring Italian to score the goals which will keep Valencia well away from the drop zone. Another loss for Sporting Gijon and a draw between Granada and Osasuna made it about as perfect a weekend as they could’ve hoped for.
Honourable mentions: Atletico Madrid – back to basics once again. Unconvincing, impossible to break down yet 1-0 winners thanks to Nicolas Gaitan’s strike. Eibar – close the gap on those above them, move to within three points of the Europa League spots. Casemiro – might get lost in the drama of Sevilla’s late winner but he was near flawless shielding Real’s defence.
Ramos goes from hero to villain in less than a week
In the aftermath of Real Madrid’s 3-3 draw away to Sevilla in the second leg of the Copa del Rey, much of the talk centred about Sergio Ramos and his apparent ‘lack of