By: Olawale Adigun

 

ZIZOU’S UNBEATEN ARMY

This was supposed to be a job too big for him. How was he supposed to cope with the high demands of Florentino Perez ?  How was he going to deal with the ego of Cristiano Ronaldo, was he ready for Barcelona? Can he even retain the Champions League ?

These were questions posed when Frenchman , Zinedine Zidane was appointed as Real Madrid manager, but, 55 games later, Zizou has shut his critics with results, performances and trophies. Infact, Zidane has won more trophies than he has lost games (lost 2, but won the Uefa Champions League, Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup).

Real Madrid produced another effective performance against Granada to make it 39 games unbeaten, equaling Barcelona’s record of 2015/2016 under Luis Enrique. All through Zizou’s reign as manager till date, some sections of the media have still questioned Zidane’s ability as a manager and gradually he’s winning them over, same way he’s won over his players. Managing Cristiano Ronaldo has not been an easy feat, but the 1998 World Cup winner has done that effectively, kept him out of the last laliga game of 2016, same as the first game of the new year but restored him back at the weekend against Granada. Although, Ronaldo’s position on this rotational policy is not publicly known, one feels that CR7 is cool with it.

Anyone who feels Zidane is still lucky, would need a brain MRI because the results don’t lie. Real are four points clear at the top and five clear of Barcelona and guess what, the World champions still have a game to spare. Players like James Rodriguez and Isco might be discontent with the game time they are getting but Zidane still offers them a chance to fight for their place, but to be objective, when everyone is fit, its difficult for James and Isco to break through. And if everyone remains fit, Real Madrid would be on their way to the second Liga title in nine years.

 

PIQUE’S CONSPIRACY THEORY

Gerard Pique remains a divisive figure in Spain, at political and at football levels and the reasons are not far fetched. The Catalonian has always advocated for Catalonian independence from Spain, this makes him an easy target especially when he plays against teams based in the capital, Madrid. Pique speaks three languages, can form opinion, arguments that are purely non-football, very intelligent, seen as a future Barca president.

But Pique has to stop being a cry-baby and focus on getting Barcelona’s flailing title charge back on track. At the Ceramico, (Villareal over the weekend re-christened El Madrigal to El Ceramico) Villareal couldn’t hold on to Nicola Sansone’s goal and Lionel Messi’s magical freekick (30th of his career) in the 90th minute rescued a point for Barcelona.

After the game, Gerard Pique was seen pointing fingers at Laliga Chief, Javier Tebas shouting “Did you see that, yes You, you, you !” . Pique was obviously furious with referee Ignacio Igliesas who failed to spot Bruno’s handball in the area but Shakira’s boyfriend has to realize that whatever campaign is on to stop Barca from retaining the title only exists in his head. Real have won the title once in 8 years, its been his Catalan club dominating everybody.  Villareal could have also had a penalty of theirs and it was still Pique who would have been the culprit.

Pique has to realize that creating a siege mentality wont work in Barcelona’s favour, they have enough problems to deal with, problems Luis Enrique’s future, Neymar’s form, Ivan Rakitic’s on and off involvement with the team and the general air of vulnerability on the pitch .

Five points behind Real is worse, but if Zidane’s charges beat Valencia (game at hand) that makes it eight, even a Clasico victory won’t solve any problem. There’s also the case of Sevilla who are a point and place above Barca. Maybe its time to focus more on the Copa and the Champions League.

 

RESULT IS KING FOR ATLETI

2016 ended with plenty questions rather than answers for Diego Simeone, but he will be happy with Atleti’s start to 2017, a comprehensive result away from home in the Cup and another away win at Ipurua where Eibar threatened fire and brimstone with nothing to show for it at the end.

Saul Niguez and Antoine Griezmann got the goals (it was Grizzy’s first Liga goal in 10 games). The performance wasn’t up there but Simeone would take the result  as it puts them in touching distance between them and Barcelona and Sevilla. Winning the title shouldn’t be in the discussion for now but staying touch with the top 3.