Andy Mitten

Liga fails to keep to script

Andy Mitten

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So much for
the Spanish League being predictable.

There's not
a soul who doesn't expect Barcelona and Real Madrid to occupy the top two
places at the end of the season, but nor did anyone anticipate the two giants
tripping up so early in the season. Barca's 2-2 draw at Real Sociedad was
followed by the same scoreline at home to Milan last Tuesday.

Barca
started with two midfielders - Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano - in the
centre of their defence. It's something they've done before  without any
problem, but the pair were left standing as Milan's Alexandre Pato steamed
through to put his side ahead after 25 seconds.

Order was
resumed as Barca dominated and scored twice, before Milan got a last minute
equaliser when Thiago Silva was left unmarked to head a corner home.

Pep
Guardiola sought to take the pressure out of the inevitable over-reaction and what
he sees as the over-expectation surrounding his team by saying: "I will never
promise any titles and in fact, it would be equally as normal if we didn't win
anything." 

His nemesis
Jose Mourinho, who had seen his side win every game up to that point,
retaliated by saying that his side would "fight to stay in the first division
and to take 40 points." Until then, "our main objection is to avoid
relegation."

It was all
the kind of kidology, sarcasm and posturing which the media loves, but the
results have been freakish.

Barca
reacted by beating Osasuna 8-0 on Saturday - their biggest home win since 1996.
It was so good that Barca fans streamed out of Camp Nou with 10 minutes still
to play. Clearly they'd been spoiled by regular displays of brilliance and
thought their time would be better spent elsewhere.

The
following night, Madrid lost 1-0 at Levante, the biggest upset of the season so
far. Levante sold their best player Felipe Caicedo to Lokomotiv Moscow in the
summer for €7.5 million.

They loan
players (one, Arouna Kone from Sevilla, scored the goal) rather than buy them
and their annual playing budget for this season is €21 million - Madrid's is 24
times that at €500 million.

But what's
money when you have a manager with the motivational skills of Eisenhower and a
35-year-old club president who looks like a used car salesman?

The 18,000
Levante fans (7,000 short of capacity) sang "A Segunda!" ("To the second
division!") in reference to Mourinho's words and Sami Khedira was sent off,
while Madrid's coach was grilled for not starting Cristiano Ronaldo.

The
surprise defeat didn't make the headlines of the Madrid press the following
day, with Spain's European basketball triumph occupying the first 12 pages of
AS.

In Marca,
Madrid's honorary president Alfredo de Stefano opined that Levante: "had a trap
prepared for us."

That trap,
in Madrid eyes, was time wasting, provocation and not giving the ball back.

Both
Spanish giants dropping points from their first three games meant Valencia and
Betis sat at the top of the table
, with each boasting 100% records. Valencia's
record may be sorely tested for they entertain Barcelona tonight (Wed) at the
Mestalla as part of a full programme of midweek league fixtures.

Betis, the
second division champions with over 40,000 season ticket holders for this
season, have enjoyed a dream start in the top flight while fellow Andalusians,
big spending Malaga, have won their last two games after their opening day
defeat to Sevilla.

Atletico
Madrid, who we'll focus on in a future column, destroyed Racing Santander 4-0
with a hat-trick from their record €30 million signing Falcao.

The
Colombian, who played at River Plate and Porto (where he scored 15 goals in 17
European games last season on the way to Porto's Europa League victory) is
quick and powerful, especially in the air.

He was a
star in the Copa America in the summer and has settled in well alongside the
in-form Jose Antonio Reyes and Adrian. Who needs David de Gea, Sergio Aguero
and Diego Forlan when you have so many other talents at the Calderon?

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