A sideways look at Spanish football
With football fans being football fans, former Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo is likely to get an awful lot of hostility from the Etihad crowd, who will have gathered on Wednesday evening hoping their team avoid another bumbling, dismal performance in the Champions League.
However, while the Man City supporters will feel that yelling abuse at the Real Madrid man for 90 minutes would be up there with a night out at the Hacienda in terms of entertainment stakes (LLL hasn't been to Manchester since 1989) it wouldn’t really be a good idea, especially if they want their team to maintain their slim hopes Champions League progression. Rather than greeting Ronaldo with insults and bile, a standing ovation or even a nice cup of tea and a tasty biscuit would be the most productive offering.
One of Ronaldo’s many strengths - along with his lovely race horse thighs and evil stare when his free-kicks balloon over the bar - is that the forward genuinely plays better when there’s thousands of eye-popping, fist-shaking loons on his back for the entire match. Ronaldo’s most impressive league performances last season, for example, were at the Vicente Calderón and in the Camp Nou - two grounds where the supporters hate not just his guts, but the bacteria and enzymes dwelling within them, too.
In the Santiago Bernabeu, Ronaldo can seem a little underwhelmed, although that still doesn’t stop the Portuguese scoring lots of goals. The Madrid man has already knocked in five in this season’s Champions League and Marca see the 27-year-old making a return to Manchester as the key factor in the clash. “God Save Ronaldo,” declares the paper’s preview.
Despite LLL’s warnings to the Man City fans, the paper expects a Galatasaray-style inferno. “The reception will be hostile,” pants Wednesday’s edition, while calling for a big game from a player with a double mission against Man City. “He’ll make the Madrid fans happy and also United’s, who will see their great city rival out of the Champions League at the group stages for yet another year.”
AS are looking at Mourinho to pull out a big one, noting that the Champions League games have not been that hot so far this season. Late goals against City and Dortmund in the Santiago Bernabeu gave Madrid four more points that they side may well have had in an alternate universe. “Today’s the day,” declares Wednesday’s editorial.
While Madrid have gone on their travels with the passage to the knock-out stages still covered in clutter, Málaga have two matches in which they can take a collective chill pill, with just a point needed to secure top spot. Although there’s a chance to win the group in Wednesday's jaunt to Zenit St Petersburg, it's more likely they will adopt a modest approach, with Javier Saviola and Joaquín being left behind, no doubt in preparation for the weekend’s Primera visit of Valencia. That fixture is perhaps more important, given their recent domestic slump, a blip Manuel Pellegrini attributed to “a mixture of fatigue and injuries”.
Spartak Moscow manager, Unai Emery, did what he normally does against Barcelona in Tuesday’s early clash. And that’s fail to beat them. The 3-0 defeat - with two more goals from Leo Messi - was his 15th attempt to get one over the Catalan club. “It’s a continuation of the style Guardiola had,” sighed Unai Emery on Tito’s team, after what was described wearily as “a deserved loss.”
It’s a big hooray for Valencia who got a 1-1 draw in Mestalla against Bayern Munich despite being down to 10 men for 60 minutes after an utterly ludicrous challenge from Antonio Barragán made things tricky for the home side. The former Liverpool defender, who was on the receiving end of red card from Howard Webb, later apologised for his moment of madness via Twitter. “Proud of the team and Mestalla, incredible match from my teammates. I’m so sorry about my sending off.”
The point puts Valencia through to the next round, leaving little old Real Madrid bringing up the rear and hoping for big games from their Portuguese pair against Manchester City in ‘the inferno’ of El Etihad to make it four Spanish teams from four in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.
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