This was supposed to be an easy win. Little Sporting Gijon (14th place in the table), dropped into the Bernabeau with little expectations except to be competitive and not get crushed. Most people can’t even name a Sporting player because they don’t have any clear cut superstars. Jose Mourinho hadn’t lost a league home match all season and reiterated that “los merengues” could not drop a match at home if they wanted to continue their title chase. It was also a special night for one of the greatest footballers of all time, Ronaldo (Brazil), who was recognized before the match by RM as an homage to his years in white(63 goals), since he’s set to retire this year.
However, Manolo Preciado had other ideas. The eccentric Cantabrian has coached a slew of league teams and had some bad blood with Mou earlier this season, calling him “a scumbag”, and a “cheat”. RM entered the match 5 pts behind Barcelona with 9 La Liga matches left (6 at home). This match was supposed to be the triumphant return of “El pipita”, Gonzalo Higuain, who has been out many months with a back injury. Mourinho was forced to try a different lineup due to an abundance of injuries. There would be no CR7, Benzema, Pepe, Marcelo, Gago, Alonso and Kaka. It’s safe to say Marcelo and CR7 were missed the most. Also, given Benzema’s new found energy the 2nd half of the season, his scoring creativity could also have been utilized. The biggest loss in my mind was the maestro, Xabi Alonso (out due to sanctions). Alonso is the distributor and creator in the midfield. Unfortunately, Khedira and Lass don’t see the pitch the same way Alonso does.
The starters were: Adebayor, Ozil, DiMaria, Granero, Lass, Khedira, Carvalho, Arbeloa, Albiol, Ramos and Casillas for RM and Juan Pablo Colinas, Ivan Soto, Alberto Botia, Roberto Cannella (Jose Angel replaced him after early injury), Alberto Cases, Nacho Cases, Alberto Rivera, Miguel De Las Cuevas, Nacho Novo, David Barral, and Andre Castro for Sporting.
Since there was no Liga last week due to the international break, players were traveling and managers made comments that maybe they shouldn’t have been making. Mourinho renewed his passion for wanting to live and manage in England (EPL) while eventually finishing with the Portuguese National Team. He had also said he rejected many national team offers right before the world cup began in South Africa, namely England’s. Many critics, including Fabio Capello (current England Manager), found these remarks distasteful. Did these comments distract the RM players and possibly motivate Preciado to beat Mou?
The first half of the match was rather uneventful except for Angel Di Maria trying to replace the missing offensive prowess with a lot of spectacular, quick dribbling. Why did no one else step up to create opportunities? Mourinho insisted after the game that his players were exhausted. Maybe they didn’t take Gijon seriously? Is this Mourinho’s fault? Was he more focused on Tottenham? Did he not respect Preciado? He later went on to visit Preciado after the match inside the visitor’s locker room and told him how well his team played and how impressed he was by their victory.
Back to the match, there was an early goal waived off for the ball going out of bounds (scored by Carvalho, assisted by Arbeloa). There was also a clear penalty which was missed in the 42nd minute by the officiating crew. In the second half, Higuain replaced Granero in the 57th minute and Higuain struck a brilliant shot in the 59th minute which was barely knocked out of the way. Finally, in the 78th minute, Miguel Angel de las Cuevas got an opportunity just outside of the box and slid it past Casillas to propel the visiting team to 1-0 lead. Mou inserted Pepe and Canales for more offense and the last 12 minutes were filled with an ample amount of scoring opportunities for the “merengues”. But within the onslaught of RM’s final push, it was clear that this unusual lineup lacked creativity, finishing skills, and looked unmotivated.
Is it time to focus on Tottenham and the CL race instead of La Liga? Will CR7 and Benzema really miss the first leg on Tuesday? Is Kaka ever coming back? These are questions Mou must address. For now, Preciado can enjoy this victory and I hate to say this (as a RM fan), but these are the type of victories that make La Liga truly entertaining and one of the best leagues in the world.
About the Author
Written by Timothy Ashe Jr.
Tim was born and raised in Downers Grove, IL (a suburb of Chicago). He graduated with a degree in Political Science and Spanish from the University of Illinois @ Urbana-Champaign and also holds University English Language Excellence certificates. He's fluent in Spanish and teaches both English and Spanish in his spare time. He's a Real Madrid and Chicago Fire aficionado and is partial towards the EPL and LFP. His hope is that the game of soccer can continue to grow in the U.S.A. and for our men's national team to eventually win the World Cup.