Early in the second half, before Angel di María opened the scoring with a sublime curler to the right far post to give Real Madrid the 0-1 lead, “El Especial,” José Mourinho, lambasted referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz for showing a yellow card on Sergio Ramos for an apparent trip on young Real Sociedad starlet Antoine Griezmann. Replays showed that Griezmann fooled Mateu Lahoz by tripping himself and baited the referee to flash yellow. Whether Mourinho actually saw what transpired or merely stood up for his player, he infused a renewed energy into his team that had frankly been outplayed in all facets of the match by the Basques from San Sebastián. One minute later, di María gave Madrid a one-goal cushion.
Some teams respond to a manager that stays calm despite the chaos surrounding them. Last season, Manuel Pellegrini led Los Blancos with this type of tranquil and stolid style, and they earned their highest point total in their illustrious history and in the history of La Liga prior to last season. The only problem was that Barcelona also broke this record and pipped them at the end by three points with an astonishing ninety-nine points out of a possible one hundred fourteen.
In their three most important matches of last season, the two El Clásico fixtures and the second leg against Olympique Lyonnais in the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League, Real Madrid could not muster the strength and character to overcome the deficit in any of these matches. Was it Pellegrini’s fault that they lost these three matches? Not in the least. Did Pellegrini do anything extra within the match to lift his team above the level at which they were playing? Unfortunately for the Madridistas, the answer again was no.
José Mourinho, whether coincidental or intentional, affects his team from the technical area in each match they play, and when Mourinho feels that he needs to berate the referee, the linesmen, or the fourth official to get his point across while catalyzing his players at the same time, he will do so. With Real Sociedad outplaying and beating Real Madrid to most of the loose balls in the first half, Mourinho needed to perform some of his world-famous magic to pull his team across the sea of blue and white at the Estadio Anoeta.
Real Madrid somewhat got shafted by the schedule makers who slotted them into the late Saturday kickoff after dismantling Ajax in the Champions League a mere seventy-two hours prior whereas both Valencia and Barcelona received Sunday kickoffs after playing in the Champions League on Tuesday, two extra days to recover from their exertions in the midweek. Despite this quick turnaround, Mourinho did not make any changes to his starting eleven.
As for Real Sociedad, manager Martín Lasarte also kept his lineup mainly intact from the team that gave up the late equalizer to Almería on Monday to prevent a perfect two-for-two start, the only change being the 19-year-old Antoine Griezmann slotting into the left attacking midfield spot in place of Francisco Sutil.
That modification proved a brilliant move as Griezmann, along with Raúl Tamudo and Xabi Prieto created several chances that cut through the Real Madrid defense. Two opportunities, in particular, should have given Real Sociedad at least one goal but probably two goals to send Real Madrid into panic mode within the first half-hour of the match.
In the sixth minute, Xabi Prieto provided the perfect curling cross from the right wing for Griezmann, who was unmarked in front of the penalty spot, but Griezmann struck his header over the bar. He could do nothing but place his hands over his face in bewilderment and disgust about wasting a well-engineered opening.
In the twenty-fifth minute, Griezmann again missed a golden chance to give Real Sociedad the lead when he missed a yard right of Casillas’ right near post. From a long ball from goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, it eventually led to Raúl Tamudo sending Griezmann in with a nicely weighted through ball into the box, but Griezmann’s left-footed effort, that fooled Casillas as he dove to his right, went wide.
On a handful of occasions, man of the match Ricardo Carvalho prevented the culmination of well-worked Sociedad moves to keep his club level with the Erreala. Just after the half-hour mark, Carvalho slid in and toe-poked away a certain goal for Tamudo after Xabi Prieto provided the squared cross across the face of goal to the right back post. Without Carvalho’s intervention, Tamudo had a sliding tap-in from two yards away.
A few minutes after Real Sociedad equalized at 1-1, Carvalho again prevented a potential scoring chance as he stuck a foot out to prevent Xabi Prieto’s through ball that would have certainly put in Tamudo toward goal. Mourinho has managed Carvalho at three different clubs, FC Porto, Chelsea, and Real Madrid, and even when Mourinho coached at the San Siro for Inter Milan, he wanted to purchase Carvalho from Chelsea to consolidate his central defense. Like Gerard Piqué currently and Fabio Cannavaro from the recent past, Carvalho’s strengths as a central defender are not necessarily in his pace or physical strength (although he has both) but in his positioning and passing ability from the back, and Saturday’s match against Real Sociedad showed this characteristics in full display.
The familiar story read through at the fulltime whistle, and Real Madrid somehow left the Estadio Anoeta pitch with the three points and left their Basque hosts in disbelief. Madrid’s second and decisive goal propitiously came off a massive deflection from Pepe’s back after he could not duck away from Cristiano Ronaldo’s free kick, and despite Sociedad creating more and better chances, the indomitable spirit that has not enveloped this team often enough pulled them through a tough match on the road.
When a lower side achieves a victory over a top-level club, they capitalize on small number of breaks they have during the course of ninety minutes. Real Sociedad deserved to share the points with Real Madrid, but whereas Hércules converted twice on the few chances they had against Barcelona, Sociedad were not efficient with their numerous chances.
Real Madrid will not score 102 goals as they did last year, far from it. They will not sparkle in attack as their extravagant eternal rivals to the northeast in FC Barcelona. While some of the Madridistas will loathe Mourinho’s lack of flair when it comes to the play on the pitch, Mourinho only cares about winning and not necessarily pleasing the supporters (sorry Alfredo Di Stéfano).
The following statement is no slight to previous manager Manuel Pellegrini, but Real Madrid likely would have not won this type of match last year when they were not playing their best. José Mourinho provides that belief in self that has characterized all of his previous teams. Despite their relatively mediocre performance, they stuck with it and got the winner, however fortunate that goal was. With this kind of fight and non-wavering spirit, Real Madrid might have that little extra to pip Barcelona to the title.
Fueras de Juego
– FC Barcelona broke Atlético Madrid’s hoodoo over them at the Estadio Vicente Calderón with an entertaining, yet physical 1-2 victory on Sunday evening, but Tomáš Ujfaluši took this physicality over the edge when he flew into Lionel Messi ankle in stoppage time and immediately received a red card for the challenge. Messi’s ankle visibly swelled within seconds of the tackle, and while the Culés can breathe a sigh of relief that he will only be out for a couple of weeks, there are calls for the competition committee to invoke Article 97 that could raise Ujfaluši’s suspension from 1-3 matches to 4-12 matches. Article 97 is conjured when an incident “occurs in a violent manner, resulting in harmful consequences considered serious by its nature.”
– Through the first twenty-five minutes, Hércules looked hungover from their monumental victory over Barcelona as their derby rival Valencia brought the Alicante club down to Earth with two splendid goals from Juan Mata and Pablo Hernández. To Herculés’ credit, they rose from the canvas after Valencia punched them in the mouth with a penalty kick goal from David Trézéguet after David Navarro handled the ball in the box and a commencement of an assault on Valencia’s goal after Navarro received a rather dubious second yellow card. Valencia held on for a 1-2 road victory and is now the only team in La Liga to earn the maximum nine points from their first three matches.
– Levante and Real Zaragoza appear doomed to relegation this early in the season after they both looked awful on Sunday afternoon.