Liga Preview: Betis-Real Madrid
Liga Preview: Betis-Real Madrid
The second half of the Spanish
championship kicks off this weekend with champions Real Madrid visiting
Seville's Villamarin stadium on Sunday night to face Real Betis.
Having lost last weekend at Sociedad, the champions have more or less
confirmed the view of this columnist that they are unable to overcome
balanced sides who attack them with purpose. It is this vulnerability that
leads me to predict defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions
League and subjugation by Valencia in the championship race.
All very brave, or stupid, you might say. Well, yes and no. It is
undoubtedly true that Madrid possess the greatest attacking menace in world
football, club or international. However, they have no defence to speak of
and are uncannily reminiscent of the 1982 Brazilian World Cup team. That was
a side that contained the most awesome collection of attacking talent I have
ever seen in international football. A midfield of the calculating Toninho
Cerezo, the gloriously languid Socrates, the wickedly daring Eder, and the
dynamic Falcao, was complemented by the magical Zico and the marauding
full-back Junior. For Junior, you have the modern-day equivalent, Roberto
Carlos. For Socrates you have Zidane. For Zico you have Raul, for Eder,
This Real Madrid team is even superior to that Brazil side in terms of
attack. After all, they also have Figo and Ronaldo. But like their
counterparts from 22 years ago, they have absolutely no defence. And that
was their undoing in Barcelona in 1982 as the pragmatic Italians exposed the
gloriously flawed South Americans and eliminated them from the tournament
they had previously dominated. For Italy, read that most Italian of Spanish
It is worth noting that at the half way stage of the championship, leaders
Valencia have the best defensive record in the league and have scored only
one goal less that the illustrious side from the capital. THAT is balance.
And balance will ultimately triumph. That doesn't preclude a Madrid
championship success, but it does mean they must change their style if they
are to succeed. The galacticos are not asked to defend at Real Madrid, and
that type of attitude will bring lots of spectacular goals both for and
So while it may be brave to predict the demise of this great attacking
machine, it may also be stupid. Let's face it, you cannot ever completely
disregard the possibility that these players can score one more against any
oppostion. However, it's less easy to believe in them when you know they
will face a series of opponents who will have better balance and less flair,
but enough discipline to see them through. If Bayern don't do them, Milan
will. If they don't, Juventus will. And in La Liga, Valencia will. Well,
somebody will! Who? I don't know. But when push comes to shove, something
has to be seriously amiss in modern-day football if this gloriously-flawed
see-saw side clinches domestic and European glory this season. I, for one,
think they will founder at the hands of the pragmatists.
But Sunday's opponents, Betis, are not of that ilk. One of the true heroes
of Real Madrid's season has been Iker Casillas. Sadly, the goalkeeper, who
was suffering from a high temperature during the game, blundered to conced
the only goal to Valery Karpin last weekend. It was an ironic moment. Like
Oliver Kahn at the World Cup final, Casillas was the fall-guy despite being
the true hero of his side's campaign.
The truth however, is that Madrid, like Germany against Brazil, let their
goalkeeper down by failing to break down a less than impervious defence. On
Sunday night, Casillas faces his Spanish international team-mate, the
superbly gifted Joaquin. This lad can do it all. Imagine Luis Figo with a
complete disrespect of the oppostion and you get something close to Joaquin.
Figo, that fantastic grizzled old warrior is too clever to allow defenders
to kick him and get away with it. The great Portuguese has perfected the art
of skinning defenders, and going down if he can't. He gets clobbered more
than any other player in the league, but he sure as hell knows how to get
his own back by going to ground at the most opportune time. Cynical? Yes.
But a player like Figo has been battered by the most unscruplulous defenders
in football, and he knows how to better them at their own game.
Young Joaquin is glorious precisely because he is raw, inexperienced, and
ignorant of the wiser ways of Figo. Of course, he will soon learn that the
maestro from Madrid is two-steps ahead, but for the moment it is
scintillating to watch somebody do what Figo would do if he wasn't quite so
canny and mature. Joaquin will become as machiavellian in time, but for now
it's great to just watch the kid play his version of street football with
all the insouciant disregard of genius. The comparisons on Sunday will be
invidious. Figo is the proven model. Joaquin, the coming generation. The
same cannot be said of Betis.
Despite the Joaquin- inspired victory over Malaga last week, the Andalucians
are having a mixed time of it. Just two wins in six tells its own story. Far
too inconsistent to be taken seriously, Betis are precisely the kind of team
who are liable to attack Real Madrid while forgetting to defend. This will
probably be their undoing. While the visitors come into the game on the back
of some shaky form, Betis lie just two points above the drop zone with some
legitimate concerns for their survival. Perhaps it's time for a more
Real Madrid welcome back David Beckham from an ankle injury. Raul should be
available as he looks to begin 2004 in a better frame of mind than he ended
2003. His form has been something of a disappointment this season, and his
failure to land the European Footballer of the Year award failed to provoke
the usual concomitant uprobrium in the Spanish press.
Betis: Contreras; Varela, Lembo, Juanito, Mingo; Ito, Benjamín; Joaquín,
Denilson, Tote, Alfonso.
Real Madrid: Casillas; Salgado, Pavón, Raúl Bravo, Roberto Carlosi; Helguera,
Guti; Beckham, Raúl, Zidane; Ronaldo.