Weekend gale puts wind in the sails of Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid after all
The postponement of Sunday's match between Celta Vigo and Real Madrid has ignited a war of words, with accusations flying between Vigo and the capital with all the venom of the gale force winds that blew a chunk off the Balaidos roof.
The decision to go ahead or not fell on the local authorities, as the stadium is municipal property, and while Celta have kept their counsel, city mayor Abel Caballero, who bore overall responsibility, has revelled in his role as antagonist-in-chief in the aftermath. Referring to Madrid's proposals to honour the fixture, which included shifting the game to a nearby stadium, the keeper of the city keys accused the capital club of "arrogance."
"If they thought they could do this because [Celta] are not like them, well ... Celta is better than Madrid. We beat them already. They are not happy, as we knocked them out of the Copa," Caballero crowed.
Where Real Madrid are concerned, everything tends to get blown out of proportion. However, the idea of a stadium change was farcical: Deportivo Coruna's home game against Real Betis was called off on Friday for precisely the same climatic considerations, and Real Sociedad's Anoeta was otherwise engaged Sunday, as the txuri-urdin beat Osasuna 3-2 under a downpour of Biblical proportions.
Madrid's official statement on the impasse was carefully constructed. The Liga leaders alluded to the needs of broadcasters and the club's desire to "avoid the postponement of the fixture from negatively impacting upon the [Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League and Europa League]," but it might as well have contained a finely printed footnote: Celta coach Eduardo Berizzo made absolutely no secret of the fact that he intended to send out a B team against Madrid with his side 90 minutes away from a potential Copa del Rey final after the 0-0 first-leg result against Alaves.
Also not missing a trick, the Basque side were quick to request that the return leg at Mendizorrotza be postponed, as Celta had been handed an unexpected advantage.
Zinedine Zidane might have allowed himself a smile, as events panned out fortuitously for his designs. Madrid's sick bay has been emptied in the interim. Dani Carvajal is expected to rejoin first-team training this week, along with Luka Modric, Pepe, James Rodriguez and Marcelo.
After his side's 3-0 victory over Real Sociedad on Jan. 29, Zidane has just one fixture to negotiate before facing Napoli in the Champions League at the Bernabeu on Feb. 15. One game in 15 days -- the Real boss would have taken that Saturday, given the injury pileup he has had to contend with this season.
Had the game in Vigo gone ahead under the torrential conditions in which La Real and Osasuna slugged it out in Anoeta, the possibility of further injuries would have been considerable. Real have a fixture list taking in eight games in 25 days between Saturday's match in El Sadar and the return leg against Napoli.
One of those fixtures is the all-important rescheduled game against Valencia in Mestalla. On current form, even the most optimistic fan of Los Che will not be expecting an upset: Voro's side were roundly beaten at home by Eibar last weekend, and if Valencia avoid the drop this year, it will only be because the current bottom three -- Sporting Gijon, Granada and Osasuna -- are doing very little to help themselves.
Osasuna are anchored to the bottom of the table and sinking fast, despite a marginal improvement under their third coach of the season, Petar Vasiljevic, who has gained three points from five games in charge and seen his side bang in 11 of Osasuna's 23 goals this season. Still, a home win will be nothing short of miraculous Saturday. Zidane can afford to rest a few key players with Napoli in mind and hand sufficient playing time to injury returnees to fine-tune his approach to Serie A's top scoring side.
In the meantime, options for rearranging the Celta game are few and far between. If Berizzo's side reach the Copa final on May 27 and go deep in the Europa League -- the Celestes' recent form in knockout competition suggests they might -- then a likely date for the Madrid game will be crowbarred between the final two Liga match days on May 17. The Europa League final takes place on May 24, with the Champions League showpiece on June 3.
If Celta are still in both competitions, Berizzo will chuck on half of Celta B for the postponed Madrid game. His side are unlikely to be in the Liga title running in May, and if their cup aspirations have been thwarted by that stage, there might be an acute case of beach-eye among his players.
It's an ill wind that blows no good, the saying goes, but the tempest in Spain last weekend could provide more momentum in Zidane's sails at the business end of the season. His side are still two games ahead of the fleet.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.