A half-empty stadium. A running track surrounding the pitch that places the fans further away from the action. Supporters that create less noise and din than those at the Vancouver Olympic Centre, where the Olympic Curling competition is contested. The ONO Estadi hardly constitutes as an intimidating atmosphere, but RCD Mallorca has managed to maintain a perfect ten-for-ten home record in La Liga.
Twenty-seven goals scored and three conceded show their dominance on the Balearic island, but whom they beat in this incredible home record somewhat sullies their sparkling home form. Valencia and none of the Champions League teams have visited the ONO Estadi. Defeating Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo La Coruña, and Villarreal created a few notches on Mallorca’s belt, but their horrific standing away from home means that they need to secure positive results against the top teams in La Liga in order to remain in the final Champions League spot.
The late 10:00 PM Saturday kickoff saw Mallorca play Sevilla, one of their direct rivals competing for fourth place. They knew that Deportivo La Coruña came through victoriously over Xerez 2-1 at El Riazor earlier in the evening and climbed one point over them.
Squad rotation in anticipation of Sevilla’s Champions League first leg against CSKA Moskva on Wednesday and injuries meant that they did not present their strongest eleven against Los Barralets. Sevilla manager Manolo Jiménez omitted Diego Perotti, Luís Fabiano, Adriano Correia, and Julien Escudé, whereas Frédéric Kanouté could not pass a late fitness test.
Mallorca, however, fielded their optimal eleven, although their bench was thin due to injuries for Víctor Casadesús, Tuni, and Alhassane Keita. Eager to quiet the skeptics about their weak home strength of schedule to this point, they wanted to regain their leads over Sevilla and Deportivo La Coruña.
Mallorca’s fans did not receive the memo, as the team’s most important match of the season was not enough to tempt them to fill the ONO Estadi. The status quo prevailed for the islanders as the stadium featured many empty seats and unexceptional support from their fans. Unfazed by this, Mallorca did what they have done all season at home: score first.
Ayoze sent a through ball down the left flank for Gonzalo Castro to run onto, and Castro’s cross into the box avoided the head of Sevilla defender Ivica Dragutinović and bounced straight to the unmarked Borja Valero. He could not take the shot first-time, so he controlled it with one touch, but Andrés Palop rushed quickly toward him to take it off his foot. Valero dribbled past Palop, but his touch took him to the brink of the end line, where he cut back a squared pass to Mario Suárez. Suárez tapped it home for the 1-0, 5th minute lead. Replays only showed inconclusiveness about whether the whole of the ball went out before Valero crossed it, but nevertheless, the goal stood.
Dudu Aouate has been a solid goalkeeper all season and directly contributed to Mallorca’s fifth-place defense, twenty-four goals allowed in twenty-two matches. He plays with an aggressive flair, but this cost him in the 23rd minute, when he inexplicably scurried out of his box to clear a long ball from Fernando Navarro. Aouate had no chance of getting to the ball because the breathless speed of Jesús Navas would always arrive first. Navas took a touch around Aouate and guided a left-footed effort into the open net from just inside of the penalty box.
When Álvaro Negredo received a straight red card in the 24th minute for a deliberate kick on José Luís Martí, another Mallorca home triumph seemed imminent. The red card was a little harsh, but Negredo’s petulancy and skulduggery cost his side a man for the final 66+ minutes. Mallorca controlled the rest of the first half, which included a perfect opportunity for an anonymous Aritz Aduriz to boot in a beautiful Borja Valero early cross, but he could not steer it towards goal. Aduriz and Negredo are currently in a battle for the final spot for forwards in the Spanish national team with Dani Güiza, Fernando Llorente, and Roberto Soldado, and neither Aduriz nor Negredo would give national team coach Vicente del Bosque anything to add to their résumés.
Heading toward a 1-1 halftime score, Mallorca defender Iván Ramis tried to retrieve possession away from Didier Zokora and scissor-tackled him from behind in the second minute of stoppage time. Referee Fernando Teixeira Vitienes was not hesitant in flashing the red card, and Mallorca’s advantage withered away. 1-1 halftime. Although the two teams combined for twenty-six fouls, three yellow cards, and two red cards, the play, as a whole, was neither dirty nor overly physical. Spanish referees tend to call the match a little tighter than most referees, but Teixeira Vitienes’ fastidious nature led to many of these calls when they were not necessarily as bad as he saw them.
When Sevilla scored in the 57th minute to take the one-goal advantage, the invincibility that shielded this Mallorca club at home disappeared for the first time all season. Ivica Dragutinović made Aouate look like a fool as his free kick from near the right touchline curled over Aouate’s outstretched hand and into the top left corner of the net. Aouate cheated and took a couple of steps forward and off his line in anticipation of a cross, and he could not recover once he saw that the free kick was heading toward goal. Two goalkeeping mistakes from the Israeli international, and Mallorca could not recoup.
Sevilla would score a third goal six minutes later, but the defeated attitude that Mallorca displayed for most of the second half meant that 1-2 would have been enough for the Andalusians. Mallorca substitute Pierre Webó became one of the few Mallorca players to display the gusto needed to achieve a positive result against Sevilla, but his efforts were in vain as he did not receive the help needed to overturn the two-goal deficit. Paradoxically, Mallorca played with the spirit and desire required of them to defeat top opposition when they fell two goals behind, but as the full time whistle blew, Mallorca suffered its first defeat at the ONO Estadi in the league.
It was not the final whistle, however, as someone in the crowd ridiculously decided to bring his own whistle and declared the match over before Teixeira Vitienes blew his whistle for fulltime. Less than a minute later, the match was officially over, but the whistle in the crowd meant much more than a fan frustrated with his home team’s effort.
Unless Mallorca can ameliorate their enigmatic road form, they will need to secure points against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, and Atlético Madrid at home in order to maintain a top six spot and be invited into European competition next season. Sevilla righted their ship and are now four points ahead of Deportivo La Coruña and five points ahead of Mallorca for the final Champions League place. Athletic Bilbao crept to within one point of Mallorca with their 4-1 mauling of Tenerife at the San Mamés for the final Europa League spot, so Mallorca cannot afford to be mediocre the rest of the way.
It would be fatuous to declare that Mallorca’s season would be a disappointment if they do not finish in a European place because at this point last season, they were mired in the relegation zone. Their perfect home record was never going to last, but the way in which they conceded the loss to Sevilla unveiled their growing fatigue. Unless they receive a surge of vitality, do not be surprised to see this engaging club fall into mid-table before the season concludes.
Fueras de Juego
– Look at Barcelona’s second goal against Racing Santander to see how not to perform the responsibilities of a player in the wall on a free kick. Thierry Henry’s free kick would have bounced off the middle of the wall if the Racing players were brave enough to take the hit. Instead, the wall broke in the middle as they parted like the Red Sea, and Barcelona was on their way to another easy victory.
– Almería 1-0 Atlético Madrid. Every adjective and description should be and has been used for Los Colchoneros this season. It was almost expected for Atleti to struggle against low-lying Almería after they handed Barcelona its first defeat in La Liga.
– A couple of tributes at the Santiago Bernabéu brought some perspective to the weekly “importance” of football matches. Before kickoff, there was a minute of silence for the death of Real Madrid legend Luis Molowny. Then there was Cristiano Ronaldo’s tribute to his home island Madeira after he scored the opening goal for Real Madrid against Villarreal. He lifted his jersey to reveal the written “Madeira” on his undershirt. A simple and understated message for his homeland, who has endured floods and mudslides that have killed at least forty-three and injured many others with many still missing to this point. He will play in a charity match for the flood victims between FC Porto and an amalgamation of players from the two Madeira-based Portuguese Liga sides, C.S. Marítimo and CD Nacional at a date later to be determined.