A sideways look at Spanish football
Valencia’s journey to Lille for Wednesday's Champions League clash probably wasn’t a fun affair for the players. La Liga Loca imagines that their monosyllabic midfielders will have had the volume on their over-sized headphones cranked up to 11, as they gazed glumly at mobile phones wondering whether or not to send that fine-tempting Tweet or hassle their agents for the fifth time that morning.
Eyes were probably searching the aisles of the plane on the look-out to see if the notoriously tardy Ever Banega actually made the flight. Players may have even been pondering who gave Sofiane Feghouli a lift to the airport, given he was recently banned from driving after being unable to produce a valid license when stopped by police. David Albelda would have been patrolling the plane looking for malcontents such as Fernando Gago, who expressed an interested in leaving Mestalla. “If some of my colleagues don’t want to be here, then it’s a good time to go,” warned the Valencia veteran on Monday.
One key figure who definitely isn't making the trip for the final Champions League group game is Ernesto Valverde, the coach swiftly appointed by club president Manuel Llorente in place of Mauricio Pellegrino, the coach swiftly fired by Manuel Llorente. The former Villarreal and Espanyol manager is only set to be hanging about Mestalla until the summer on a six month contract.
“That’s all they offered me,” revealed a figure thought to be moving into San Mamés next season. Valverde will be staying behind in Valencia removing dart boards and pool tables from the training centre after suggesting that “there are a lot of elements around which don’t allow you to focus on what’s important, which is football and that’s what makes us stronger.”
Game for a laugh: Voro will take charge of Valencia for one match
Instead, stand-in stand-in manager Salvador ‘Voro’ González will be leading the line in Lille, in a match that could see Valencia top of their Champions League group, should they get a better result than Bayern can muster against BATE.
Real Madrid will certainly be wishing their compatriots luck, but only so they don’t run the risk of facing the Germans in the last 16, with José Mourinho’s team finishing in second place behind Borussia Dortmund in their own group. A fairly strong side was fielded in the two-thirds full Santiago Bernabeu, and put Ajax to the sword 4-1.
Mourinho’s once again decided to fire pot shots at the youth team coach, Alberto Toril, by giving midfielder José Rodríguez 20 minutes, making the him the youngest player to feature for Madrid in the Champions League at 17 years and 354 days, beating Raúl’s record of 18 years and 78 days. “He’s another kid that I really like. It’s a shame that he’s not starting for Castilla. But we like him anyway.”
Málaga’s home clash with Anderlecht was also a dead rubber, with prize money the only thing at stake. But Málaga couldn't pocket it all, losing half a million by conceding an equaliser in the final seconds. “I don’t care who we play in the next round,” said Manuel Pellegrini after the clash, “the most important thing is that we go into it in good form.”
Barcelona are the last of the final four to play in matches that have significance elsewhere, but not in Spain. In this particular case, it’s in Scotland where the Wee Hoopie Ones of Glasgow will be hoping the Catalan club beat Benfica in the Camp Nou, which would mean a point in their own fixture, at home to Spartak, would see the progress.
The Barça side should be reasonably strong, but certainly not full in 100% va-va-voom mode. Leo Messi is set to start, just one goal away from equalling Gerd Muller’s 85 in a calendar year (see FourFourTwo's snazzy infographic here), even if Marca are trying to muddy the water by saying Messi is in fact two goals short, refusing to give his ‘first’ against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, instead awarding it as an own goal to Fernando Amorebieta.
Thursday morning’s headlines may proclaim a record-breaking night for Leo Messi, depending on how the forward does against Benfica. But in some areas, the big news announcement will have to wait. Spain really is different.
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