With Barcelona, Valencia, Real Madrid and Bilbao all atop the standings it appears that someone needs to step up and separate themselves from the pack. Unfortunately, it’s too early to tell who that will be.
I spent an entire previous column lamenting how the major acquisitions for Real Madrid might derail their entire club: Well, right now they’re making me look good. I said they would start well, and they have. Can they keep it up?
With Leo Messi and the Barca gang not happy about losing to AC Milan I’m not sure how long they can keep it up either. At some point, the dejection of losing in big tournaments will get to you, and big namers like Messi don’t take well to losing. He’s only got two options: 1) He can be a Michael Jordan-type figure and scare his teammates into doing things his way (which probably won’t work, not with European players anyways), or 2) He can keep plugging along and lead by example, thereby growing his teammates confidence in him. His choice of personality may well define Barca’s season.
In Valencia the team seems a little more solid. The team is not filled with standouts, but they are at the top (and even though their club is experiencing financial troubles) I don’t think they have alot to lose so perhaps they will play a little looser than other more high-profile squads. Imagine knowing things aren’t perfect with your club and just waiting to see which top talent is going to have to leave to make the checkbook balance…either you wilt or you shine. If they’re solid like I think they are, they’ll shine!
Bilbao is also not a stand-out club and they would seem to have little to lose. My understanding is that the club and its fans are highly concerned with their tradition and identity and I think that will serve them well as a team like Real Madrid sacrifices whatever identity it had for expensive, big-name players. Once again, the mental aspect of the game comes into play. If you are a team that is driven by tradition and history and pride you can easily overtake teams that are focused solely on winning. (I didn’t say winning is bad. I just mean that it isn’t the only thing to some clubs.)
Now, Madrid is killing it and I’m not saying they’re a bad team, but if I were them I’d start to be concerned that 3 teams (2 of which have almost nothing to lose) are still atop the standings with them. Even so early in the season you would think that a mega-star team like Madrid would have let everyone know who was boss, and currently they have not.
So far, Real Madrid is on track to prove me right. Start big, fade, and generally implode right after that. More traditionalist teams like Bilbao or Valencia won’t implode. They may have a bad stretch, but not an all out “quitting of the players” that a team like Real Madrid might have if they don’t stay VERY strong all season.
Real Madrid fans be on the lookout…you’ve got some Dark Horses behind you!