Picking My Madrid Team III: End of Term Report

Better late than never eh?

Well, technically it’s not late as the last Madrid involvement in the 2018/19 season went up until its very last day in that strange time period where it’s technically still 18/19 but the European qualifying rounds for 19/20 are already underway.

So, on to the main business. In true teacher style I’m giving the main Madrid sides a grade and attempting to justify my reasoning behind it. Having spent a lot of the last few weeks summing up the strengths and weaknesses of around 60 students, I’m well used to it now.

Here we go…

Atlético Madrid – Grade B-

The 2018/19 season felt very much like the end of an era for Atlético Madrid.

It all started well with a trophy, defeating arch-rivals Real Madrid to win the UEFA Super Cup, but the failure to mount any sort of challenge to Barcelona for the league title will hurt.

Not as much as the Champions League though. With the Final at their own Wanda Metropolitano stadium, Atleti secured a big last-16 advantage against Juventus by winning the home leg 2-0, but a terrible performance in Turin and a hat-trick from their old nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo saw them eliminated.

The season rather fizzled out after that and in the final weeks, more focus was on the players who would be leaving, Diego Godín, JuanFran, Antoine Griezmann, possibly Rodri and Felipe Luis too.

With so many of the stalwarts of his first great team now gone, Diego Simeone faces a major challenge in rebuilding ahead of next season. Marcos Llorente, crossing the city from Real Madrid, Porto’s Felipe and Benfica wonderkid João Félix all represent highly intriguing signings.

Real Madrid – Grade D

For Real Madrid, this is a season they’ll just want to pretend never happened. Lopetegui seemed doomed from the start, Solari was only ever a placeholder and Zidane, well things didn’t get any better once he returned.

His return in March effectively signalled the start of the longest pre-season in history, with a demotivated squad playing essentially meaningless matches. This was the result of seven days in late February and early March which doomed Solari. Two clásico defeats at home by Barcelona eliminated them from the Copa and killed off any slim chances of challenging for the league, but the most stunning of these was a 4-1 humbling by a vibrant young Ajax side which saw them relinquish their European crown.

Few players can come out of this season with any credit, the exceptions being Karin Benzema, who really stepped up and led the attack in a way he had never been allowed to with Ronaldo there, and Vinicius Jr, the young Brazilian who injected a bit of excitement into the middle part of the season before his campaign was cut short by injury.

Of course, Madrid being Madrid, they’ve gone out and hit the transfer market big time. Eden Hazard, Luka Jovic, Ferland Mendy Eder Militao and Rodrygo have already arrived at the Bernabéu and they have been very public in their interest in several others. Another season like this simply won’t be tolerated.

Getafe – Grade A-

Getafe’s greatest ever league season is nonetheless one which will be tinged with a little bit of regret and thoughts of what might have been.

In mid-March they drew 0-0 at Valencia in what was billed as a shoot-out for the fourth Champions League spot, which kept them six points clear or their rivals (albeit with Sevilla and Alavés also in the mix). But from there on, their form started to wobble.

Geta lost at home to Leganés, drew at Espanyol, needed a 96th minute penalty to escape Valladolid with a point, drew with a disinterested Real Madrid and lost at Real Sociedad. Although they effectively ended Sevilla’s Champions League dream with an impressive 3-0 home win, losing at Barcelona meant their fate was out of their hands on the final day.

Losing the top four spot will have hurt, losing it to Valencia will have hurt even more so, given the animosity which sprung up between the sides following their Copa del Rey ties in the winter.

But… securing only a third ever season in UEFA competition is a huge achievement and the Coliseum will get to enjoy European nights again next season and there’s the chance of a genuinely big club such as Man Utd, Arsenal or Roma visiting. Manager Jose Bordalas is also staying, despite rumours linking him with jobs elsewhere in La Liga.

Leganés – Grade A

On the other side of South Madrid, Leganés also enjoyed their best ever season in La Liga.

Back at the start of the year I said what I thought they needed to do better…

Boss Mauricio Pellegrino 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

Well, Pellegrino did go and fix that, signing Danish forward Martin Braithwaite on loan from Middlesbrough. He scored five goals (including a Copa del Rey winner against Real Madrid) but also contributed seven assists and proved to be an excellent foil for Youssef En-Nesyri, who hit a purple patch of form just after Braithwaite’s arrival, netting seven of his nine league goals in a five game spell in January and February.

It felt like Lega were effectively safe by the beginning of April after a double-header of wins against derby rivals Getafe (certainly sweet given how it dented their Champions League challenge) and relegation rivals Valladolid (with a late, late winning goal), although given the log-jam around the bottom this wasn’t confirmed until their sensational 3-0 win away to Sevilla in May.

They have every reason to look back proudly on a season where they defeated both Barcelona and Real Madrid, took points off each of the top six sides in the league at home and remained undefeated at Butarque between September and March – covering 13 games in all competitions.

Top marks too for the €15 fondo tickets, the lomo sandwiches and of course, Super Pepino!

Rayo Vallecano – Grade C-

For Rayo, it was a predictably shambolic season. It can all be summed up by the video the club released in September of safety checks being carried out at their stadium after issues discovered at their opening game forced the postponement of the next one. It’s hard to imagine that a handful of workmen jumping up and down on the spot (sadly without The Final Countdown playing in the background) passes as a legitimate test of a stand’s structural integrity.

Anyway, on to the matters on the pitch and Rayo ended up finishing bottom and thus ensured a swift return to the Segunda only a year after promotion. Up front, R.D.T. (or Raul de Tomas as some people called him) had something of a breakout season on loan from Real Madrid, but he’s extremely unlikely to be seen back in Vallecas next season. Ironically enough, their best result of the season, a first win against Madrid since 1997, came without him as he was ineligible to face his parent club. It also came too late to really help their chances of staying up.

After a five game unbeaten run either side of the winter break (four off which were victories) Rayo then collapsed. Seven consecutive defeats saw Club legend Michel dismissed and Paco Jemez return as manager. He inspired a couple of good results, a draw with Betis and a shock with over top four chasing Valencia, but a 0-0 draw at home to fellow strugglers Huesca was the moment which more or less doomed them.

Rayo scored 41 goals (as many as Athletic Club, who finished eighth) but catastrophic defending, including a few virtuoso performances from Abdoulaye Ba, saw them concede 70. It’s hard to make predictions about how they’ll fare in a fiercely competitive Segunda next season, but with Jemez staying on, it will definitely be entertaining.

Alcorcón – Grade D

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To quote former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, “First half good, second half not so good.”

It didn’t take long for things to go wrong at Alcorcón. After my second visit of the season (against Real Zaragoza in November) I published a very positive look at their season so far and their unexpected rise to the top of the Segunda.

Then this happened…

Four wins in their final 27 games. One of which was by default because Reus were kicked out of the league in January. There’s not really much more to say than that.

I’d feel justified in knocking off a few points for their bizarre ticket pricing – continuing to charge fans €30 for matches right into May when they had absolutely nothing to play for.

Rayo Majadahonda – Grade C+

It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Rayo Majadahonda. The tiny club from one of Madrid’s affluent suburbs were a brilliant addition to the Segunda, playing attractive football, often involved in goal-fests (except when I visited) and of course, the best anthem of any Madrid club ever.

Yet it all went wrong in the final few months of the season, most notably in their final game when they led 3-1 away to Real Oviedo but eventually conceded in the final minute of injury time to lose 4-3 and have their relegation confirmed.

I’d been at their penultimate game, a 0-0 draw against Córdoba, where they did everything but score. They’ll always have the memories, wins against the likes of Depor, Oviedo, Sporting (twice) and Las Palmas as well as getting to play matches for a while in the Wanda Metropolitano are things that their players will treasure.

But next season they’ll be back in Segunda B, an infamously difficult league to escape, trying to do it all again, minus a few of their key players and Antonio Iriondo, the manager behind their success.

And a bonus entry…

Fuenlabrada – Grade A+

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After a number of near-misses in recent years, Fuenlabrada have finally reached the promised land of La Segunda.

They finished top of the notoriously difficult Group 1 (incorporating teams from Madrid, Galicia and Castilla y León) before defeating Recreativo de Huelva, (😢) who had previously gone 22 games undefeated, and Racing Santander in the playoffs to lift the Segunda B title.

Work has already commenced on expanding the Estadio Fernando Torres to meet the requirements for Segunda football although the news that the eponymous former Spain striker will retire in August, sadly rules out a fairytale return home to play one last season for his hometown club.

Like Rayo Majadahonda this season, they’ll be one of the smallest clubs in the league, but they’re there on merit and will certainly be an interesting addition. Not least for the sight of Barry the Chicken making big-name opponents feel uncomfortable on the touchline.

Elsewhere in Segunda B…

The B teams of both Real Madrid and Atlético both reached the play-offs, losing in the first round. Internacional de Madrid, from Boadilla del Monte, did enough to secure another season at this level.

Unión Adarve battled hard but eventually dropped back down to the Tercera as did the wonderfully-named Artistico Navalcarnero, who I sadly didn’t get to go and see. Maybe next season…

And in the Tercera…

I saw the eventual champions, Getafe B, who did also get promoted at the end of the season so will be competing in Segunda B next season. As will Las Rozas, under the guidance of Lolo Escobar, who will face off with Rayo Majadahonda in a derby next season. That will be one to look out for!

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Of the other teams I saw, Villaverde-San Andres did the best, finishing fifth although ending up eight points off the playoffs. They’ve got a great set up at their ground, a nice bar and some really loud fans in the Bottis Verdes.

The other B teams, Rayo, Leganés and Alcorcón all finished up somewhere between mid-table mediocrity and the fringes of the relegation battle as did Carabanchel and RSD Alcalá. Sadly, Canillas and their excellent bar (and free entry) slipped back into the Preferente on the final day.

It’s also definitely worth mentioning that one of the sides promoted to the Madrid Tercera have, for some reason, changed their name to Flat Earth FC. That’s one that’s definitely worth checking out next season.

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