Thursday, November 26, 2009

La Happenings (extended version)

Hey guys, recently I wrote a La Liga roundup for web magazine Half Time Heroes (see below). The version in HTH is actually an edited version as my first version was a bit too long. But i thought some of you might be interested in the full version:

La Happenings

A roundup of everything La Liga...and more

By Kieran Pender
The 2009/10 La Liga season kicked off with all the hype surrounding the new Galacticos era, CR9, the 2009 Champions League winners and a crazy swap deal involving Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto’o. So far it definitely hasn’t disappointed.

Going into the international break, FC Barcelona are sitting proudly atop the La Liga table; on a grand total of twenty six points. One point below them is the Nuevo Galacticos of Real Madrid. However, while one point off the current European Champions may seem a fair effort for a new team still gelling together, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Madrid this year.

Star man, Cristiano Ronaldo, has been the target of a voodoo priest; who claims to have been paid to inflict injury on Ronaldo. And whether a result of voodoo magic, or just the rigours of football, Ronaldo has sustained an injury, which has kept him out of Madrid’s team for a few important games.

But Ronaldo has told the media, and his favourite voodoo priest, that he will be fit to play in the El Clásico; Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, at the Nou Camp on November 29th. El Clásico, possibly the biggest derby in the world, will undoubtedly be extra riveting this year, with the series of events that have transpired recently. So make sure you’re up bright and early (or very, very late) for the game.

Despite the hype in the battle for first place, the real battle of the La Liga season won’t be for first place, the real battle is for third and fourth, the remaining champions league spots.

The battle for these two places is traditionally fought between Valencia CF, Sevilla FC, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal CF, with the two losers dropping into the Europa League. Before the season kicked off it appeared as if things would continue as normal. However, dismal starts from Atletico and Villarreal, and the unexpected good form from the likes of Deportivo La Coruna, RCD Mallorca and even Sporting Gijon has completely blown open the hidden battle of La Liga.

To these clubs, coming third and fourth is the equivalent of winning the league, as the supremacy of Barcelona and Madrid makes that an unachievable dream. In fact, in the last twenty years, only three clubs other than Barcelona or Madrid have won, Valencia twice and Deportivo and Atletico with one each. Furthermore, entry into Champions League football offers these clubs large financial benefits, something some, such as Valencia, desperately need.

After ten games, Sevilla and Valencia seem to be in control of the third and fourth spots, sitting on twenty two and twenty one points respectively. But while the usual challengers of Atletico and Villarreal may not be contenders after their poor starts (the ‘other’ team from Madrid sits in the relegation zone on seven points while Valencia’s neighbours Villarreal sit two above them on nine), it looks to be the year of the outsiders to challenge them for Champions League football.

Super Depor, a club who made their name winning the league in 99/00 are looking good in fifth, only two points behind Valencia. Depor will however have to take down Atletico Madrid in the next game, an Atletico team that have been looking better after the arrival of new manager Quique Flores. Elsewhere, Mallorca is sitting pretty on seventeen points and the team with the greatest name in Spain, Sporting GIJON is level with the boys from Bilbao (Athletic Bilbao).

While in all likelihood the season will end with the big boys being in the top four (and as a Valencia fan I certainly hope Valencia are up there) it could be an interesting season for the real battle of La Liga.

Elsewhere in Spain, Madrid continues its proud tradition of insanity, losing 4-0 to Segunda B minnows Alcorcon in the first leg of their Copa del Ray clash, and only managing a one-nil victory at home in the return leg. Alcorcon ply their trade in the regionalised third tier of Spanish football, and actually play in the same league as Madrid’s youth side. To put it in an Australian perspective, it’s like Gold Coast United losing to, say, Central Coast Lightning (the Lightning play in the NSW Super League), although given Gold Coast’s recent form I wouldn’t say that was out of the question.

And finally, Xerez, the team fighting Grenoble for the tag of ‘worst team in a major European league’, are actually going well, and have even managed to lift themselves to the dizzy heights of….nineteenth. This comes after a win over troubled Villarreal and draws with Espanyol, Valladolid and Malaga, amongst their various losses. So, good luck to the men from Jerez de la Frontera in their quest to avoid relegation.

Half-Time Heroes

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