La Liga Analysis Opinion

Cornella El-Prat, Barcelona – Not many would have expected to see Zinedine Zidane on the touchline this weekend, and even fewer would have expected to see Joaquin Caparros – or, should that be the other way around. This was the week in which two surprising returnees came back into La Liga management.

Firstly, Zidane was welcomed back to Real Madrid like a long-lost son last Monday, having been away for a whole 284 days, following the short reign of Santi Solari as interim coach. Then Caparros was brought in to manage Sevilla through until the end of the season at Sevilla.

Both decisions were surprising, questionable and, perhaps most importantly, telling. Real Madrid had just been eliminated by Ajax from the Champions League for the first time in over three years which at face value does not appear to be the end of the world.

It does though suggest that their phenomenal European record is now beginning to drop to their league levels which has been patchy to say the least. Madrid were rather lucky to win away at struggling Valladolid last weekend and for a while issues at the club that run far deeper than form and playing style have started to surface. Did three consecutive European cups paper over some rather deep cracks?

Well, that was the reason cited for Zidane’s decision to leave the club last summer. Having steered a team of professionals at the peak of their powers, with man-management skills, the odd tactical tweak but also respect and experience, it was a growing belief that Madrid needed a change. So did Cristiano Ronaldo who sought a new challenge in Turin. There was a feeling that Madrid needed new blood both on and off the pitch. Younger players needed to be given more minutes, older players needed to be rested more so that they could still play effectively when required. Julen Lopetegui was brought in with this in mind but, realistically, it never got off the ground.

Solari came close; he was willing to place considerable trust in the likes of Vinicius, Marcos Llorente, Dani Ceballos and Sergi Reguilon amongst others. But as with most interim managers, they are just that: interim. Authority goes somewhat out of the window and minds are already set on the next man. The fact that it is Zidane is quite astonishing.

Whether he is a safety blanket that Florentino Perez needs at the moment is fairly possible but there is no guarantee that it will work out for the second time. This time not only feels different but is different; Madrid is now a rebuilding job. The reasons that Zidane left in the first place now need to be addressed and no one knows if he is the right man.

For the game on Saturday against Celta Vigo, where realistically a victory was all but guaranteed with Celta having only won once since early December, it was like stepping back in time. In came Keylor Navas, Isco and Marcelo to the starting XI gone were Reguilon, Llorente and even Thibaut Courtois.

Ceballos along with Fedi Valverde and Mariano did come on from the bench but the starting lineup painted a picture. If Madrid think that the best way to face their current problems, if to recognize them at all, are to look to the past then it is fairly reasonable to assume that they will only get worse with time. Just to cap off the whole back to the future idea, it was Isco and Bale – two players out of form and favour recently – who scored the two goals for Real.

This season will most likely peter out for Real, they are no longer playing for anything other than a place in the top four, which they should achieve quite comfortably. What will be interesting to see is how they address the transfer window in the summer and the new season. It will be then when Zidane is expected to make the difference being able to attract a type of player and, more importantly, improve the quality of the squad through training, which is something that Zidane did not really do in his previous tenure and neither with the Castilla team when they were relegated from Segunda.

What Zidane does bring though is hope. He is a showbiz manager – in some ways but not necessarily in others – and there is the need for Madrid to be the most talked about even if they are not the most impressive, something which probably failed Solari. The re-appointment of Zidane clearly threw up more questions than answers, especially with the likes of Juventus manager Massi Allegri possibly looking for a new club in the summer.

However, the fact that this was not the most surprising piece of news from the managerial world in Spanish football this week is quite something.

No, that must go to Caparros who returned to Sevilla for the final 11 matches of the campaign. Like Madrid, Sevilla now only have a top-four spot to fight for having been knocked out of the Europa League in spectacular fashion against Slavia Prague, the game that ended the tenure of Pablo Machin.

The sacking of Machin was yet more evidence that Sevilla lack a plan. With Machin they kind of had one, now they don’t. Unlike Madrid, there was little anticipation that Sevilla would be firing and hiring so suddenly. This was more a question of timing rather than personnel. This felt harsh and rather unwarranted. But like Madrid, Sevilla have brought back an old friend to improve the situation; Monchi has returned as Sporting Director, a role he performed superbly for many years but less so during his recent two years with Roma.

Yet the situation at Sevilla is not too concerning and Machin appeared to be getting the best from his resources. An impulse decision following a somewhat embarrassing defeat seems to have happened again, just like when Eduardo Berizzo and Vincenzo Montella were gotten rid of last season.

There was no question, though, that the past few weeks had been the most testing of Machin’s reign at Sevilla up until that point. Signs started to appear that he didn’t have the players for his style of play to work effectively. His work at Girona centred on energetic full backs and crosses being crafted into dangerous areas were a goalscorer – the likes of Christian Portu or Cristian Stuani – would provide an aerial threat.

At Sevilla, he couldn’t quite get it to work and when results started to dip, he didn’t want to change his approach. He remained loyal to playing three at the back and often brought on substitutes that could be perceived as negative rather than game-winners. But the overarching reason for Sevilla’s dip is that they are struggling for fitness and freshness.

Their season started in July and having only gone out of the Europa League and Copa del Rey in the past few weeks, they have amassed over 50 matches already. Fatigue was increasingly becoming a problem and is corroborated with their turn in results and performances.

Some may forget that Sevilla were top of La Liga in November and considered the only real title challengers to Barcelona. Now they are in a fight for fourth. Their pace has dropped, their intensity waned and, with only two league wins in 10 matches, their manager is gone.

Caparros will be expected to steady the team and hopefully steer the team into next season’s Champions League. He is a stopgap, and nothing more. Where Sevilla go from here though is certainly up for debate. And even though Monchi has returned, like Zidane, there is no guarantee everything will fall back into place, the circumstances have changed and at face value, it appears that both clubs have failed to recognise that.

The very fact that this is Caparros’s third stint as a caretaker coach at Sevilla suggests that there’s something fundamentally wrong with how the club are choosing new managers. Either that or the board is just hard to please. It also highlights a lack of long-term planning which is partly why Monchi is back at the club. Yet the here and now rests with Sevilla ensuring they finish in the top four. Sunday’s one-goal win away at Espanyol was a useful if not inspiring victory.

Caparros, with his shirt and cardigan combination, watched on as midway through the second half Wissam Ben Yedder was brought down in the area gifting the visitors a penalty. From the spot, Ben Yedder netted his 15th La Liga goal of the season to give Sevilla their first league win away from home since late September. Some may say that this weekend saw the Zidane and Caparros effect come to fruition, but the longer-term will present the true answers as to whether Madrid and Sevilla made the right choices.

Los Otros Puntos

Talk about late drama, or should that be early drama? At 12:45 on Sunday, Valladolid were a goal down at Ipurua and possibly edging into the relegation zone by the end of the matchday. But by 12:51, Valladolid had won against Eibar and created a four-point gap between them and 18th-placed Celta Vigo.

The hosts had taken the lead through Fabian Orellana early in the second half but having been in control for much of the match, gave away a penalty in stoppage time. Daniele Verdi stepped up to level. But few saw what was to come next. With only moments remaining, Sergi Guardiola showed strength and composure to score the winner and his first goal in La Liga. The win was massive and the circumstances immense; as Marca put it, it gave Valladolid “room to breathe”.

Athletic Bilbao close a terrible week” read Marca’s headline. They inflicted a 2-0 defeat on Atletico Madrid only days after Diego Simeone’s side were knocked out of the Champions League in a remarkable match. Inaki Williams put Los Leones ahead in the 73rd minute and Kenan Kodro doubled the hosts lead with five minutes remaining. It hasn’t been a great week for Atletico and has left Antoine Griezmann “considering his options” according to Mundo Deportivo.

Labelled a cup-tie, the match between Valencia and Getafe certainly had huge ramifications, with six points between the two clubs in the fight for European football next. Naturally, it ended in a goalless draw.

Just when you thought you’d seen it all…

Los Resultados

Real Sociedad 1-1 Levante

Huesca 1-3 Alaves

Real Madrid 2-0 Celta Vigo

Athletic Bilbao 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Leganes 0-2 Girona

Eibar 1-2 Valladolid

Espanyol 0-1 Sevilla

Valencia 0-0 Getafe

Villarreal 3-1 Rayo Vallecano

Real Betis 1-4 Barcelona

La Clasificación

La Liga Analysis