Four weeks into the season and the team at the bottom is … Sevilla?!
Victorious in their first Champions League game, the Europa league winners have already lost more home games than in the whole of last season. This time last year they had ten points; now they have two.
Changes over the summer had an impact of course — and Carlos Bacca, who has started well in Italy, is missed — but the consensus was that they had rebuilt well and no one expected this.
Their two home defeats were hardly a disgrace and they could perhaps consider themselves a little unlucky against both Atlético Madrid and Celta de Vigo. Nor is anyone talking crisis yet: there is too much stability and too much belief in sporting director Monchi and coach Unai Emery for that.
Still, it is concerning. Injuries have not helped either, particularly at the back where they’re currently missing Pareja, Carriço, Tremoulinas, and Rami.
“I don’t have the players right now to play Wednesday and Sunday,” Unai Emery says.
With a minute to go, Mestalla erupted into chants of “Nuno, go now!”. On the face of it, those chants are absurd: Valencia have not had a good start to the season and the way that they are playing is, as El País neatly put it, “alarmingly mediocre”, but they have only been beaten once in the league in twenty-two games going back to last season.
That said, they have gone three home games in a row without winning. And besides, there are underlying institutional problems too, with some fans blaming Nuno for the summer departures of president Amadeo Salvo and the sporting director Rufete, plus his assistant Ayala. All three were popular. Valencia now has three key powerful figures: owner Peter Lim, manager Nuno and the agent Jorge Mendes. Of the three, Nuno is the most visible.
Pressure builds for David Moyes too, with the media closing in, results deserting the team and his relationship with the players a little tense too.
After his side scored their first goal of the season but went down to ten men, had goalkeeper Rulli sent off and lost 3-2 at home with Espanyol, he complained publicly that the substitute goalkeeper should have saved the visitors 90th minute winner. That did not help.
La Real have still not won after four games.
Granada went for Real Madrid and almost got a victory at the Bernabéu: El Arabi and Success made chances but could not take them … and when they did the linesman’s flag went up wrongly, denying them a legitimate goal.
Manager José Ramón Sandoval was furious at the decision and what he saw as a lack of respect, saying that everyone had underestimated his team. Granada left pointless; they probably deserved more.
Don’t mix football and politics, they say, but football and politics are always mixed. Not least because sport has a reach that nothing else can match. For all the arguments, for all the debates, it feels like the most powerful threat of all is: your team won’t be able to play football any more.
Spain’s Secretary of State for Sport Miguel Cardenal and the president of the league Javier Tebas both delivered dire warnings as Catalonia prepares to go to the polls in elections that many think will be a stepping stone towards some sort of declaration of independence.
If Catalonia does leave Spain, they say, Espanyol and Barcelona will have to leave the league. “Barcelona could end up like Ajax or Celtic,” Cardenal said.