Real Madrid have often been accused of being on the right end of some favourable decisions in the race for La Liga down through the decades. A lot of the time those accusations tended to emanate from the Catalan region, but there’s no doubt that during much of their history, they have been rewarded for being distinctly more Spanish than their biggest rivals. They had a special place in the affections of General Franco and were afforded decisions often for no reason other than it would upset los Cules.
Such favouritism has long since disappeared as witnessed by the fact they were the victims of a harsh – possibly not incorrect – decision on Sunday against Espanyol. More specifically, it was Iker Casillas who was dismissed less than 2 minutes into the game. It was harsh, but after several replays, it looks like there was contact and although Jose Callejon could possibly have stayed on his feet, such behaviour is now the exception rather than the rule in the modern era.
He may have been a little hard done by, but the decision to sprint out of his penalty area wasn’t the best of his career and the Real captain left himself in a very vulnerable position. In the short-term, Real recovered to record a win in a potentially tricky away tie, but there may be a longer lasting headache. He’ll now serve a suspension and thanks to other events over the weekend, any prolonged absence could have a bearing on the Special One’s admittedly slim chances of landing the La Liga title in his first season at the Bernabau.
It assumes significant mainly because although the Barcelona players look like more than mere mortals, they’re still not quite Gods and the hard work of Sporting Gijon did more than most to halt the breath-taking momentum. Having racked up an awesome sequence of wins, they could only manage a draw at Gijon. In the end, the two points dropped may mean nothing more than a smaller margin of victory, but it’s a timely reminder that this could yet turn into a title race. With another league Superclassico to come before the season ends, there is a chance to close the gap, but it’s likely to require near perfection from Real.
With Jerzy Dudek still injured presumed basically retired, Real are now likely to turn the man who played the remaining 88 minutes on Sunday – Antonio Adan. They are arguably the biggest glove to fill in the world – especially so when you’re 23. I’ve said countless times that what stands out about Casillas is not just superb athleticism, but a remarkable ability to concentrate and make saves at crucial times – tipping a game from ‘the the balance’ towards Real’s grip. Plus there’s the more intangible benefit of defenders knowing they have Iker Casillas behind them to bail them out should things not go exactly to plan.
Emulating Casillas won’t be an option in the short-term, but Adan is more than capable of doing a job. Although largely a reserve for much of his time at the club, the system of allowing La Liga reserve teams to compete in lower divisions has meant he has been able to amass decent amount of first team experience – albeit away from the pressure of top flight football. Having watched him on the few occasions when he has got a first team run out, the has the tools to do well. His hands look good and he has no problem throwing himself at the feet of attackers.
This relative unknown could yet be the biggest factor in deciding whether or not we see a title race in Spain.