The Santiago Bernabéu has been the setting for more drama than the average soap opera this season – and it shows little sign of changing as we begin 2013. José Mourinho chose to keep faith with rookie goalkeeper Antonio Adán over club favourite Iker Casillas for the home game with Real Sociedad, much to the disgust of the Madridistas. The decision backfired after six minutes when Adán received a red card and conceded a penalty. Ironically, this meant Casillas had to come on (and will be the number one choice while Adán serves a suspension), but he couldn’t save the resulting spot-kick. He looked edgy and unprepared to play for perhaps the first time in his professional career as the defence shipped three goals to Xabi Prieto. Thankfully for Mourinho, goals from Karim Benzema and Sami Khedira, plus Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace, ensured Real didn’t allow another three points to bypass them in comical circumstances.
Tito Vilanova felt well enough to return to the Camp Nou dugout for the visit of Catalan rivals Espanyol on Sunday amid his contuining treatment for cancer. Determined not to be beaten by the disease, Vilanova has even taken training sessions long before many had anticipated, and it had the desired effect as Barça saw off their neighbours comfortably, thumping Espanyol 4-0. Xavi tapped home the first before Pedro Rodríguez struck twice in quick succession. Lionel Messi then tucked away a penalty for the fourth as he looks for more personal records this year, all within the space of 30 minutes. Chances came but no further goals in a convincing victory that maintains Barça’s unbeaten record and keeps them 16 points clear of their faltering Madrid adversaries.
José Luis Oltra failed to see in the New Year as head coach of La Liga’s bottom side Deportivo de La Coruña as he was fired in the final days of 2012. Quick to hire a replacement, Depor settled for former Braga boss Domingos Paciência in the hope that he can rapidly change the fortunes of the ailing giants and rescue them from the prospect of relegation. Although it is only the early stages of his tenure, the signs are positive following a shock 1-0 win over Malaga at the Riazor thanks to Pizzi’s wonderful solo strike in the second half. However this is only half of the job that Paciência has agreed to solve as the club look set to announce administration in the next few weeks following unrest behind the scenes. It’d be an understatement to suggest that 2013 will be a challenging year for Deportivo.
Radamel Falcao, Arda Turan and Miranda were all absent for Atlético Madrid’s trip to Mallorca and the club failed to disprove those who claimed there was an overreliance on the Colombian striker as Kevin García grabbed a point for the hosts. The Iberostar Stadium was thought to be an ideal place for Atlético to end their three-game winless run away from home against Mallorca, who hadn’t won there since September, but they lacked the clinical finishing required to seal three points. Raúl García netted with 20 minutes remaining and Atlético looked to be coasting to maximum points until Felipe gifted the ball to Kevin García, who equalised with a cool finish. Giovani dos Santos struck a post late on for Mallorca but the 11-point gap between Atlético and Barcelona is now virtually insurmountable even in early January.
Iago Aspas scored twice in Celta Vigo’s 3-1 win over Real Valladolid at Balaídos on Sunday, taking his tally to eight goals for the season. Considering Celta Vigo as a team have scored only 19 league goals this term, Aspas is rightly being scouted by a number of European and Premier League teams in this January transfer window, with Swansea City rumoured to be showing the most interest. Against Valladolid, Aspas put in his performance of the season, showing off his fine passing and posing a threat to the opposition throughout the game at the head of Celta’s formation. Statistically one of the finest players outside of the top two teams in terms of shot accuracy and passing, he’d be a fine January acquisition for many top-flight teams.
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