Football NewsMonday 16th January 2017

LaLiga winners and losers: Sampaolismo, Barca back on track and Valencia win!

LaLiga winners and losers: Sampaolismo, Barca back on track and Valencia win!

THE WINNERS

Sampaolismo runs wild on Real

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.

Valencia win!

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.

THE LOSERS

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 respect’ towards Sevilla’s fans, namely their Ultras, ‘Los Biris’. I never quite got the fallout as, considering the abuse he suffered throughout the game, pointing to the name on the back of your shirt is quite reserved in my book.

Ramos knew the spotlight would be on him again as the two sides faced each other in the league and, as is commonplace with the Spaniard this season, he played a key role in Madrid’s fortunes. Ramos has developed the reputation as the go-to guy when his side has found itself in need of a hero but against Sevilla, he became the unlikely hero for the home side when he headed into his own net to draw Sevilla level.

His performance on the night was quite good, marshalling the younger Nacho Fernandez and Raphael Varane in a back three, but his one telling contribution was that own goal. It was a cracking near post finish. He was unsighted due to Varane’s leap just ahead of him but these things happen in football and Ramos, more than most, knows how to deal with the good as well as the bad.

After that botched penalty in the Champions League semi-final it’d be easy to hide away and shirk the responsibility but Ramos continues to step up in his side’s time of need. This weekend he was the villain but you wouldn’t rule out him being the hero again before the end of the season.

Sporting Gijon facing bleak future under Abelardo

When do you say enough is enough? Sporting Gijon have admirably stood by Abelardo Fernandez through tough times and they knew going into this season, like the previous one, it would be about survival more than anything else. Yet we must be reaching the point where Sporting have to make a change before it’s too late.

Valencia’s victory at the weekend means they are in danger of being cut adrift in the relegation dogfight. No no desire and out of ideas, not a great combination. That bright start to the season which saw them very briefly flirt with top spot has been long forgotten and they’re won once since the 11th September. In all competitions they’ve lost nine of their last ten and been truly dreadful in most of those games.

You can almost forgive smaller sides for losing on the road but it’s imperative they win their home games. Against an impressive Eibar side they were 3-1 down within 22 minutes. It’s the type of performance which doesn’t even allow the fans to get behind the team. It might’ve ended 2-3, a scoreline which flattered Sporting, but it was another week where they came away empty handed.

Last season they required a great escape to avoid the drop but I’m not sure they’d stay up even if they drank all of the Liquid Luck available in Hogwarts’ store cabinet.

Osasuna and Granada remain rooted to the bottom of the table

Whenever two sides in the relegation zone face off, neither wants a draw. It essentially helps no one apart from those around you. Osasuna and Granada have spent so much time in the relegation zone, both been in there since the end of September, that they’ve essentially made it their own.

Last weekend presented one with the chance to make a run for it, like the lizard against the snakes on Planet Earth, but if they were lizards then they wouldn’t have made it out of the eggs.

Changes of manager haven’t worked for either side and while Osasuna fans might take heart from two draws under Petar Vasiljevic it’s like needing a spoon but getting a fork to eat a yoghurt. Granada moved onto 10 points, Osasuna up to 9, but they also hold the record for the worst goal differences in the league.

Granada and Osasuna have failed to beat either Sporting Gijon or Valencia this season, the sides closest to them, so head to head is unlikely to be in their favour either.

The snakes are circling, time is running out to escape the egg, let alone reach safety.

Honourable mentions: Las Palmas – had a chance to impress at the Camp Nou but got stage fright and didn’t turn up. Athletic Club – a poor draw away to Leganes was compounded by Aritz Aduriz and Beñat picking up suspensions meaning they’ll miss the visit of Atletico Madrid to San Mames.

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