Pete Jenson's A Different League: Can Atletico Madrid 'do a Kimi Raikkonen' and pip the big two to the title?
Tuesday 25 March 2014
Amid the slowed-down replays of Sergio Busquets looking down at Pepe as he lay on the ground before running his studs over his head, and the inquest into every incident that took place during Sunday’s Clasico – one of which involved Pepe apparently saying to Lionel Messi: “Every time I mark you, you shit yourself.” To which Messi allegedly replied: “Every time you mark me, I score” – one stone-cold fact was largely forgotten: Atletico Madrid are top of La Liga.
On Wednesday they should beat Granada at home and maintain that advantage into what will be the final eight matches of the season. Coach Diego Simeone said on Tuesday that if they are still in the title race with five games to go he will finally admit that they are in the race.
Until now he has laughed off the suggestion that they can possibly go the distance with Barcelona and Real Madrid – two clubs who earn around €100m (£85m) a year each more than Atletico in TV revenue.
Simeone’s team have the toughest run-in with trips to fourth-placed Athletic Bilbao and the Nou Camp. There is concern at Real that they will roll over in that last game of the season against Barcelona just to prevent their city rivals from winning the league. But that contempt for Atletico’s challenge – assuming they will not go into the final game with a chance to win the league themselves – has fuelled the underdogs’ charge all season.
Real’s toughest test could come tonight in Seville where, still groggy from the 4-3 defeat to Barcelona, they must face a team who have won their last five games in the league and are now fifth. Real showed on Sunday how they are missing winger Jese and defender Alvaro Arbeloa, while they will also be without the suspended Angel Di Maria on Wednesday night.
If Barcelona can concentrate on the football amid all the off-the-field controversies, they should still have the edge. Especially as, after the win at the Bernabeu, they now have the advantage in crucial head-to-head goal difference. If they finish level on points with Real they would win the league, it has been pointed out. But there everybody goes again – forgetting the “other team”.
This could be like the 2007 Formula One season finale when Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso bickered their way into the final race with just a point between them only for Kimi Raikkonen to win the grand prix and the championship.
“We are not in a Ferrari,” would be Simone’s response if you asked him whether Atletico could be this year’s flying Finn. Understating his team’s chances has done him no harm so far.
Eto’o still has his sharp reactions
When Pep Guardiola became Barcelona’s first-team coach in 2008 he told the club’s president Joan Laporta he did not want Samuel Eto’o.
He was eventually persuaded to keep Eto’o – one of Laporta’s favourites – for one more season. An uneasy peace pact was sealed and Eto’o made a huge contribution to Barcelona winning every trophy they contested that season – but was still sold.
It was no surprise this week to hear Eto’o say: “I had to remind him he had never been a great player. He never had the courage to say things to my face. I told him: ‘You are not normal are you? Trying to give me lessons on how to be a striker.’”
Guardiola ultimately replaced Eto’o with Messi so he hardly called it wrong. But it is also true that Eto’o had delivered two European Cups and would win another at Internazionale. Incendiary comments and bad feeling towards former clubs has characterised his career, yet Eto’o has been one of European football’s greatest strikers and vital goals this season for Chelsea suggest he hasn’t finished yet.
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