After ten goals from his first two matches, Zinedine Zidane’s honeymoon as Real Madrid manager came to an end on Sunday evening. Real Betis were in many ways the unlikely team to bring the Frenchman back down to earth, as they produced a spirited performance upon the backdrop of a ferocious Villamarin atmosphere. Despite the incredible efforts of Betis, Zidane must take some responsibility for the poor result, notably with one particular area in his team selection. Dani Carvajal, in brilliant form since Zizou arrived at the club, was left out in place of Danilo. While it is still early days for the summer signing from FC Porto, the signs so far have been extremely disappointing. To leave Carvajal out for a game that required a solid performer in defence, and someone who can provide impetus when required in attack, was a mysterious decision. Indeed, the perplexing move was confounded all the more by Emilio Butragueño, club legend and director of public relations for Los Blancos, insisting that Carvajal didn’t play because of a fever. Zidane, not toeing the PR line of the club, admitted post-game it was his decision to play Danilo over Carvajal, who according the Frenchman, didn’t have a fever after all. “Danilo started, nothing else. I am very happy with Carvajal. Danilo also played well. We have big squad, I will keep making changes,” stated Zidane.
He confessed to his own error however with the removal of Danilo for the Spaniard after 64 minutes. By then, much of the damage was done and a late onslaught from Real Madrid was led by Carvajal, who showed once again the maturity and balance in his game. It was he who looked like the €30m full-back, and not the cantera product that apparently restricts the team system. Carvajal possesses all the attributes of a player that could feature for Real Madrid for over a decade: quiet, unassuming, underrated, solid and passionate about the club. He may not have a hefty fee, nor his own line of headphones or film star looks, but he is as reliable a performer as they come. These types are often overlooked at a club of Madrid’s make-up.
It was the first mistake from Zidane, and it won’t be the last. Nor, however, should he be pillared too strongly for it. A lesson indeed learned for the 43-year-old who clearly had a case of Sunday Night Fever.
Still Kings of the Basque Country
Eibar’s incredible four game winning streak came to an abrupt end at San Mames on Saturday as Athletic Bilbao showed it’s still they who rule over the Basque Country. Though Athletic trail the minnows by two points in the league, it was a show of strength from Ernesto Valverde’s side, who had been humiliated by Barcelona the previous week in the league. It was also a message of intent that Eibar shouldn’t get carried away with their league position, as Athletic look to gain a spell of form during the run-in. Aritz Aduriz even did his best to upstage the other top attacker in the region, Borja Baston, scoring an all important fourth for Athletic just minutes after the Eibar man had put away from the spot. It wasn’t all about Aduriz however, as his teammate Benat produced another scintillating midfield performance that showed once again Ander has finally been replaced. He has the energy, quality and ability to link midfield and attack with subtle ease while also offering himself as an outlet to build from the back. Benat’s probably been the best midfielder in Spain this season who is not called Sergio Busquets, and deserves his due for turning around an Athletic career that was stagnant for awhile, dogged by fitness issues and the inability to assume Ander’s role.
Both Benat and Aduriz will be looking out eagerly for Vicente del Bosque’s next Spain squad, of which they are in with a strong shout of making – and quite frankly deserve to.
Jackson hardly proving to be a Thriller
15 minutes on the field, one touch of the ball, one pass and zero shots on goal. That was what Jackson Martinez’s contribution to Atletico Madrid’s frustrating draw with Sevilla amounted to. It was a must-win game for Atleti after Barcelona squeezed out a result at La Rosaleda against Malaga, but Diego Simeone’s men simply couldn’t blow down Unai Emery’s house no matter how hard they tried. Some of course, didn’t try that much. Jackson was the invisible man on Sunday, and emphasised the futility of Atleti’s attack in recent weeks. While defensively they may be as solid as ever, it doesn’t really matter if they are not scoring. They simply cannot draw their way to the title, and goals must be found from any avenue. Jackson, all €35m of him, doesn’t even look like scoring right now and that is of great concern. Moreso, he’s not getting himself in key positions nor associating with the team. Spurs are apparently interested but Atleti face a dilemma of whether to stick or twist on their big summer signing mid-season, with La Liga and the Champions League still to play for.