Saving face at Madrid

If anyone thought that the New Year could signal a fresh start for Real Madrid in 2013 after their disastrous end to one that promised and delivered so much in 2012, they were sadly mistaken.

For on Spain’s closest equivalent to playing on Boxing Day, ‘El Dia de los Reyes Magos’ – The day of the Magic Kings – their clash with Real Sociedad delivered a villain, a hero and the biggest pantomime you could ever wish to see.

Indeed, for those scribbling in the Press box, the story had appeared to have been written before it had even started. Jose Mourinho’s continued pig-headed decision to sit Iker Casillas in favour of Antonio Adan drew cat calls from the crowd as the Portuguese’s name was announced, whilst the ovation for the Spanish captain despite being on the bench literally spoke volumes, but then the real drama truly began.

Madrid were ahead within 90 seconds and a bit of order had been restored, until the one thing Mourinho must have most feared played out before him. A slack pass by Adan gifted the ball to Carlos Vela and, as the Mexican went round the ‘keeper, his trailing leg was taken from him. Penalty, red card and Casillas called upon. Despite again being welcomed like the hero he is to the thousands inside the Bernabeu, Casillas could do nothing to stop Xabi Prieto levelling the scores from the spot and then surprisingly refused to take the captain’s armband when offered to him by Cristiano Ronaldo.

The gesture could be interpreted as a sign of faith in Ronaldo or Casillas refusing to play second fiddle to the Portuguese, but either way it was an important symbolic gesture because while Casillas may be the leader and defender of the traditional Real Madrid values than many feel have been lost under Mourinho, Ronaldo continues to lead the team by his example.

By half-time it was 2-2 with Sami Khedira and Prieto having added further goals, but after the break Ronaldo took over, driving the champions forward despite their numerical disadvantage and eventually reaping his rewards with two goals in two minutes – albeit one thanks to a goalkeeping error by Claudio Bravo.

Prieto pulled another goal back to add another angle to an incredible day as he completed the amazing feat of scoring a hat-trick at the Bernabeu still leaving empty handed.

Afterwards Mourinho tried to turn the blame again on the fans and media for having a lack of respect towards Adan, but as the discussion on the popular late night radio show ‘El Larguero’ debated, those in Mourinho’s camp are becoming fewer by the day simply because his actions are indefensible.

For now at least he has his compatriot, who has marked all his great successes in the Spanish capital, to rely on. Whether Ronaldo will be enough to overcome a 2-1 first-leg deficit against Celta Vigo in the next episode of the Real Madrid soap opera in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday remains to be seen.

Despite all that drama though, it was a relatively good weekend for Madrid. Their neighbours Atletico stupidly dropped two points late on in a 1-1 draw away to Mallorca as they missed the presence of the suspended Radamel Falcao to kill off the Islanders before Kevin Garcia fired in an 87th minute equaliser for the hosts, leaving Atleti just five points clear of their city rivals.

Atleti’s dropped points also meant Barcelona’s lead at the top extended to 11 points as their destruction of all before them continued with a 4-0 hammering of Espanyol. All the goals arrived in the opening half hour with Pedro’s return to form with two goals another ominous sign for those hoping to stop the Catalans at home and abroad.

At the bottom meanwhile it was a good weekend for Deportivo la Coruna as they won for the first time since early November in their first game under Domingos Paciencia, as Pizzi’s wonderful individual effort handed them a 1-0 win over Malaga. It now means the Galicians are just a point off survival after defeats for Granada and Osasuna.