They have, they really have! Hercules are making something of a splash in La Liga this season in that way teams do just before they lose 28 games on the trot. But the new Diego? Tim Hill would like you to squint. Lots.
There’s a small murmur on the east Coast of Spain. It’s neither from the slightly arrogant yet well-loved Catalonian powerhouses Barcelona nor from the previously predicted to be doomed yet remarkably still alive Valencia. It’s also (somewhat surprisingly) not from the rambunctious British ex-pats based in Benidorm either, who from my experience, make an ungodly amount of noise early in the morning. Admittedly, a bit further down, there is a small fanfare down in Alicante as Hercules striker David Trezeguet is proving to be a bit of a smash hit of ‘Maradona’ proportions.
In fact, the small emanates from small town of Villarreal (population 51,000) whose El Madrigal stadium holds 25,000. The whispers about their team playing with a bewitching style of play with a magnetic partnership up-front hold true – their team may be playing the most attractive football in La Liga at the present time.
Up front, the Brazilian Nilmar and the most-loathed American as voted by all American soccer fans, Giuseppe Rossi, have looked telepathic in their movement and passing. With the ball on the deck, they’re able to move the ball through defences much better than how Byron Moreno moves heroin through airports. They stoked the ball around with the poise and panache usually only seen at Camp Nou against Malaga, where they won 3-2. Rossi capped a lively performance with a subtle, maybe arrogant, finish past Malaga goalkeeper Ruben. Nilmar was on hand to provide another assist for Villarreal’s winner; this time combining with Santi Cazorla with an audacious back heel that exuded confidence. If kept fit, both Rossi and Nilmar could provide the basis for a top-four position.
El Submarino Amarillo have now added defensive steel in the form of cynical yet imposing Carlos Marchena, who carries the smile of someone who you know you’d never choose to be your best man. Last year, they nearly conceded as many goals as they scored, (58 scored, 57 conceded – only six teams conceded more, three of them finished in the bottom three spots).
As well as having the finishers and defensive reliability, they have creators on either flank. Santi Cazorla and West Brom-loanee Borja Valero look spritely and creative cutting inside and providing clever passes for the front two. Veteran defensive midfield stalwart Marcos Senna is ever reliable, even if his legs look like they carry 10lbs more lead with each game he plays.
This is all a good story for their coach Juan Carlos Garrido, who worked eight years as the Villarreal B coach before being handed the job at the forefront of Villarreal in February this year on a somewhat interim deal. At Villarreal B he oversaw the promotion from the Tercera División after finishing third, fifth, first and then second. This saw them get promoted to Segunda División B, and after two seasons, saw them get promoted to the Spain equivalent of the Championship, the Segunda División. Seen as the visionary director of Villarreal, Garrido has laid the foundations for future success at the grassroots of the football club.
It’d probably come to no surprise that there are also murmurs emanating from the Spanish capital after Mourinho’s Los Blancos failed to break down a stubborn, yet not overly impressive Levante side at the Estadi Ciutat de València. The visitors missed a host of chances, notably Gonzalo Higuain failed to put away a few clear cut opportunities.
Here, have some statistics that will show you how poor Real Madrid’s finishing has been. From five games, they’ve had 105 shots – resulting in only six goals. Cristiano Ronaldo needs to change his diet before his next match, there’s got to be a footballing diuretic in there somewhere, as he continues to ‘urinate’ away good chances by putting all of his weight behind the ball and smashes it towards Row Z. He’s taken forty-one shots, resulting in only two goals. We say goals, more a deflected free-kick and a penalty. Does that even count?
Meanwhile early pace setters Atlético Madrid won in a feisty match at the Vicente Calderón against Jermaine Pennant-less Zaragoza side. There were ten yellow cards and one straight red, the lucky player who received such an accolade was Jose Antonio Reyes. Felipe, a signing from Deportivo La Coruna over the summer scored the only goal in this tense and fractious match.
Athletic Bilbao failed to challenge a Lionel Messi-free Barcelona side in the San Mamés. Even with the most English of all weathers, torrential rain, behind them they failed to put the visitors under much pressure. This was compounded by Fernando Amorebieta’s inability to stop on the pitch which carries much resemblance to a child’s slip’n’slide, after he slid in and got sent off for going in studs up. Barcelona’s first goal was a highlight, with a delightful pass from David Villa sent Seydou Keita through on goal. Iniesta’s pass drew the full-back and centre-half out of position, by the time it had reached David Villa’s feet, Keita was running through the gap left by their fervent closing down, Villa just stuck it through said gap for Keita to chip over the keeper.
League leaders Valencia still lead La Liga with 13 points after a two-nil win away at Sporting Gijon. Goals from Mehmet Topal and Roberto Soldado sealed the game after ten minutes. Juan Mata continued his exhilarating form, providing the assist for Soldado’s tap in as well as nearly landing a goal of the season contender with the most wonderful of chips over Juan Pablo, who then watched it land just over the bar and post. Juan Mata looks to be stepping into the several pair of shoes, perhaps a few sizes too small, left by David Villa and David Silva without much discomfort.
Gijon 0 – Valencia 2
Levante 0 – Real Madrid 0
Athletic Bilbao 1 – Barcelona 3
Racing 0 – Getafe 1
Deportivo 0 – Almeria 2
Espanyol 1 – Osasuna 0
Mallorca 2 – Real Sociedad 0
Hercules 2 – FC Sevilla
Atlético Madrid 1 – Zaragoza 0
Malaga 2 – Villarreal 3
Nilmar, Villarreal – 4
Diego Forlan, Atlético Madrid – 3
Fernando Llorente, Athletic Bilbao – 3
Rondon, Malaga – 3
Giuseppe Rossi, Villarreal - 3
Tim writes regularly for IBWM but if you would like to read more from him, please visit his very fine blog.