At Christmas, if somebody had
told me Real Madrid would play their last match of the
season trailing Barcelona by two points, I would have
laughed out loud. Barcelona were a shambles and Madrid, if
not imperious, were in a different class. Yet, this is the
current reality. Forget the Barca of Ronaldinho and Davids.
Five months ago they were a joke. The fact they now lead
Madrid by two points shows just how steep the fall of the
galacticos has been. While many in the media have been
overcome by notions that this average Barcelona have
overhauled Madrid thanks to their own brilliance, the truth
is that Barcelona would be a distant third if Madrid had not
experienced a collapse the magnitude of which only Greg
Norman or Jimmy White could fully appreciate. True, Barca
have turned their season around, but they are aeons away
from Valencia in terms of balance and competitiveness. Mind
you, so are Madrid, the team that threatened to take the
title, before football logic restored itself and Valencia
ended the season with the double of Liga and UEFA titles.
For Madrid, all that remains is to finish the season, get it
over with, and resign themselves to the Champions League
qualifiers. Surely, Barcelona, who have come so far, will
not blow it now. While Sociedad visit the Bernabeu, the
Catalans need a draw in Zaragoza to ensure automatic
qualification for the Champions League. Ah, Zaragoza, the
team that started the Madrid demise. The King's Cup final is
but a memory now, but Madrid never recovered, and limp to
the finish line in an embarrassing third place, empty?handed,
humiliated, and exposed. No wonder Florentino Perez was at a
certain wedding yesterday. He eneds to celebrate what he can,
and won't be drinking champagne anywhere else.
With three points from the last 18, Real Madrid's form needs
no analysis. It's the same old story, really. When a
galactico is missing, Real tend to lose. With no defence to
speak of, and a powderpuff midfield, it was entirely
predictable that this team would finish with egg on its face.
Now that they have, they seem to think the purchase of one
Walter Samuel will be the panacea to their ills. As long as
certain players are more interested in "adorning" themselves
with tattoos than on playing at a level befitting their
salaries, this team will remain a busted flush. Beckham's
latest escapade sums up the vacuous thinking behind this
current team. Perez is clueless, and so, it seems, is his
latest prize asset. It should not be forgotten that Beckham
is the first galactico to fail to land a major trophy in his
first year - unless you're counting Rabecca Loos, that is.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Real Sociedad have endured an
appalling season. So close to winning the title last term,
they have spent this hovering above the relegation zone.
Last week's draw with Malaga ensured survival, but the
effervescence of 2003 seems a mirage. The distraction of
Champions League football stretched a thin squad to breaking
point. With no such worries next season, we can expect to
see a better domestic performance from a side that will
surely have recovered from the inevitable burnout induced by
last season's exploits.
David Beckham's tattoo, Zinedine Zidane, Guti, and Michel
Salggado are all suspended for Real Madrid. Mejia, Solari,
Borja, and Jordi should step up in their absence.
Xabi Alonso sits this one out for Sociedad with a muscle
Real Madrid: Casillas; Mejía, Roberto Carlos, Helguera,
Pavón; Jordi, Borja; Figo, Solari, Raúl; Ronaldo.
Real Sociedad: Westerveld; López Rekarte, Schürrer, Potillon,
Aranzabal; Alkiza, Aranburu, Gabilondo, Karpin; De Paula y
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Top scorer for Madrid this season, injuries have blighted
his spring. Still, it's the last day, and Ronaldo usually
likes a few goals on the final day to tide him over the
summer recess. Last year it was the Baaques of Bilbao who
suffered. Those goals cost Sociedad the title.
Valery Karpin (Real Sociedad)
The great Russian mercenary should be right at home at the
Bernabeu. Gifted, inspired, and temperamental, he'll either
hog the limelight or disappear without a trace.