As any teacher will know, the Christmas holidays mean a chance to relax and get away from the classroom for a couple of weeks. But before you can do that, there remains one challenge – the report card.
Summarising the performance and attitude of a student over three-and-a-half months in just a few words is never easy – and this year, for the first time, I had to do it in Spanish! (Many thanks to Sarah for making this a lot easier than it seemed at the outset)
So with the Spanish leagues coming back from the winter break last weekend and the seasons more or less half over (except the Segunda, but that’s very much a special case) it’s as good a time as any to send home the reports. So here’s my opinion on who among Madrid’s teams has been Sobresaliente and who has a page with Necesita Mejorar written over and over again.
Real Madrid – Grade: C-
It’s not been a good season so far for the European Champions. From losing to Atletico in the European Super Cup, to the final humiliation at the hands of Barcelona in the clásico, Julen Lopetegui’s reign at the Bernabéu was nothing short of disastrous. And under his replacement Santiago Solari things haven’t got significantly better, prompting rumours of a move for the newly available Jose Mourinho in January.
There are lots of issues to be worked on; the World Cup hangover affecting many of their top players, the constant question marks over Gareth Bale’s fitness, the rumours about Isco’s future and his relationship with Solari and most crucially, the lack of goals following the departure of Ronaldo which led Madrid-based sports daily AS to proclaim “Este Madrid aburre’ (This Madrid is boring) following their recent 1-0 with over Rayo Vallecano.
Atlético Madrid – Grade: B-
In many ways, this has been a typical season for Simeone’s men. Grinding out lots of victories, the best defensive record in the league, comfortably in the top four and through to the Champions League last 16 (which is an improvement on last season at least.)
But there are some deeper issues which mean that there are question marks hanging over them. Atleti started slowly, with only five points after four games and have dropped a lot of points away from home with poor performances at Villarreal, Leganés and Girona. With Barcelona and Madrid not quite the force of old, many are looking at this as a missed opportunity for los colchoneros to set down a marker in the league. In the Champions League, they may be hosting the final, but their path there has become a whole lot more complicated after being drawn against Juventus in the last 16.
That tie, Diego Costa’s poor form, rumours of squad unrest caused by Antoine Griezmann’s pay packet and a defensive injury crisis mean it’s going to be a roller-coaster start to 2019 at the Wanda.
Rayo Vallecano – Grade: C
Promoted back to La Liga after two seasons away, Rayo have found the going extremely tough on their return to the big time. Capable of playing wonderful football in the middle of the pitch, it just doesn’t quite click in the places that really count. At times their attempts at playing out from the back are best watched through your fingers and their finishing is far too profligate.
Their match against Alavés in September is almost their season in microcosm. Out-shooting, out-passing and having more possession than their opponents, but losing 5-1. Yet this season they have also been unlucky to lose 1-0 at both the Wanda and the Bernabéu and went toe-to-toe with Barcelona in Vallecas before going down 3-2. Some recent victories have given them much-needed hope in the battle to avoid an immediate return to the Segunda.
Leganés – Grade: B
Los pepineros finished 2018 on an excellent seven match unbeaten run. They were also one of only two sides to have beaten both Real Madrid and Barcelona in the calendar year – Levante being the other. Yet they also ended the year only four points above the relegation zone.
Too many draws have been Lega’s undoing and on numerous occasions, notably the derby with Getafe at the start of December, they’ve failed to capitalise on their dominance in terms of possession and chances. With only Huesca really looking like being cut adrift in the relegation battle and a number of big clubs having been dragged in, it’s going to be an extremely tight battle at the bottom. Boss Mauricio Pelegrino will be hoping the bring in some fresh striking talent in January to solve their goal scoring woes otherwise their fairytale spell in the Primera could come to an end.
However, if we were just grading clubs based on their sandwiches, Lega would get an A*. Love that bocata de lomo!
Getafe – Grade: A
Of all the Madrid teams in the Primera, only Getafe could truly claim that the first half of their season has been an unqualified success. Under manager José Bordalás they are an extremely efficient outfit, not scoring many goals, but crucially not conceding many either. In the first half of the season only Atlético could boast a better defensive record than them.
On both occasions I saw them play, they exhibited this resilience, first when dealing with Quique Setien’s possession-focused Betis team, who had almost all of the ball but crucial Getafe made sure they never got it into dangerous areas and any time they got it back, they looked like scoring, eventually doing so twice. Then away to Leganés they again came under pressure, but stood strong in defence to limit their opponents’ chances.
Their style of football and physicality might not win them many admirers among the neutrals but they’re a side that no opponent will relish playing and will aim to ruffle a few more feathers in 2019.
Alcorcón – Grade: A-
Oh Alcorcón, it was all going so well! The tiny club from the south of Madrid were riding high at the end of November, proudly sitting atop the Segunda, boasting the best defensive record in Spanish professional football and looking like a realistic contender for a most unlikely promotion.
Then they lost three in a row and plummeted out of the automatic promotion spots and back into the pack scrambling for a play-off place. The Segunda is a ridiculously unpredictable league and it still has a long way to go yet, so if they can find form again, it isn’t out of the question that they could stay in the mix as the season reaches its climax.
Rayo Majadahonda – Grade: B
A tiny club rubbing shoulders with some of the most historic names in Spanish football, by reputation alone Rayo Majadahonda have no right to be where they are, but make no mistake, they are there on merit.
Despite the handicap of starting the season playing matches at the Wanda Metropolitano, they have adjusted well to the rigours of playing at a higher level and pulled off a number of eye-catching results, one of which – a 1-0 win over Real Oviedo – I witnessed back in October. Being back in the more familiar surroundings of Cerro del Espino will definitely help, their performance in holding Depor to a draw in December was highly impressive, but with the Segunda being such an unpredictable league they’ll need a lot more performances of that level to avoid slipping into the relegation battle.