La Liga: Real Madrid and Barça ponder life without Guardiola
Spain’s top two soccer powers have pushed each other to incredible heights during the 2011-12 season, a trend they expect to maintain even though Barcelona will have a new coach this summer. But the bottom of the country’s primera division has also provided drama, particularly Villarreal’s relegation.
By Halima Ali
Another La Liga season has ended, but you can be sure that many of this season’s themes will carry on into the next. It was a truly exceptional year for Spanish football and in much the same way that the top two have been pushing each other to new heights in the last few years, the Real Madrid and Barcelona rivalry will ensure more records are broken in the coming season.
It is a fact that Cristiano Ronaldo was quick to admit in a recent interview with CNN: “I think we push each other sometimes in the competition, this is why the competition is so high. This is why Madrid and Barcelona are the best teams in the world because everyone pushes each other, not just me and Messi, but other players.”
The competition between the two sides only seems to get more intense and this was a breakthrough year for the Madrid club. A Copa del Rey trophy last year was to serve as an appetiser for José Mourinho’s men, whose record numbers this year brought the liga trophy to Madrid and the goddess Cibeles for the 32nd time – and the first in four years.
Having learnt from his first season at the club when he saw just how tight the margins between winning and losing were, The Special One knew his side would have to raise their game. Only two seasons ago, Pep Guardiola was quick to exclaim that having reached 71 points in a league is “una puta barbaridad” and while that may have been true then, this year saw Madrid hit a record 100 points, finishing nine points clear of their Catalan rivals in second place and beating the 99 points set by Barça in 2010.
In addition, Los Merengues have only lost twice all season – against Barcelona and Levante and netted an unprecedented 121 strikes in La Liga.
The recently de-throned European and Spanish champions Barcelona will have their work cut out for them in what is sure to be another fight to the death next season, both domestically and in the Champions League – which Madrid so desperately want to win.
It is also a battle Barcelona will have to wage without Guardiola, the coach who has guided them to 13 trophies since taking charge in the summer of 2008 despite his insistence that “La Liga existed before I came and it will continue to exist without me”.
New coach Tito Vilanova has a lot to live up to but then so too did Pep, when he was promoted from Barça B team coach to replace the departing Frank Rijkaard, who had also ushered in a period of success for the club.
Mourinho may have drawn first blood when he poked Vilanova in the eye in a post-match fracas last summer, but the real war will commence come August.
At the bottom end of the table, while Sporting Gijón and Racing Santander dropped into the Segunda División, the biggest shock came as Villarreal, who were playing in Europe against the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Napoli before Christmas, were relegated on the final day of the season, ending over a decade of top-flight football.
The small club, which had become accustomed to competing in Europe – and in 2006 were only one missed penalty away from a place in the Champions League final – were condemned with just two minutes of full time remaining by an Atlético Madrid goal
The yellow submarine may be hoping to bounce straight back up next season, but the drop leaves leading scorer Giuseppe Rossi’s future in limbo.
The Italy striker, who tore knee ligaments in October, was readying for his return when he suffered a relapse last month which will keep him side-lined well in to next season.
Despite his dire injury situation, his agent is looking on the bright side, insisting his cut-price client is now a more attractive option for clubs as he will come with a significantly lowered price tag.
A year ago Rossi finished his breakthrough season with 32 goals in 56 appearances in all competitions, and despite much speculation in the press he remained at Villarreal, but his loyalty will likely not stretch to a season in the lower leagues.
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Published: May 21 2012
Category: Spain News, Sports
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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