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Spanish Football 2014-15: what to watch for this season

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The 2014-15 Spanish Football season has begun--the two-legged Spanish Super Cup went to Atletico Madrid, over Real Madrid, and four La Liga games were played yesterday--and already we are seeing three major trends unfolding, all carry overs from the World Cup.

First, this is already beginning to look like it could become one of the roughest Spanish Football seasons on record. In the combined Super Cup and first four La Liga games we had 28 yellow cards and six reds. The reds were three direct-reds, two double-yellows and one direct red for coach Diego Simeone.

Second, the officiating in most of these matches (particularly the Super Cup and the Malaga vs. Atletico Bilbao) was abysmal. The officiating in the Brazilian World Cup should have given FIFA pause, if the trend continues the individual federations must act in the game’s best interests.

Third, stars galore have moved from team to team and many are still awaiting transfer papers while sitting out team matches. La Liga stars James Rodriguez, Ivan Rakitic, and Toni Kroos, are already making waves, ex-La Liga stars Thibaut Courtois, Diego Costa, and Cesc Fabregas, are enthralling the Premier League, and in flux stars, Angel di Maria, Luis Suarez, and Radamel Falcao, are waiting to exhale. Many of these changes could produce seismic movements in the teams if not the leagues they land in.

Atletico’s Simeone and Referee Fernandez win Spanish Super Cup

Friday at the Vicente Calderon Stadium in Madrid, Atletico Madrid was gifted the Spanish Super Cup by referee David Fernandez. The 1-0 score line was the only aspect of the game that featured the teams of Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup. The actual stars were Atleti’s coach, Diego Simeone, and game referee David Fernandez, with an assist from his sideline teammate the fourth game official.

Curiously, Simeone, who was sent off at the 22nd minute for slapping the back of that fourth official’s head (and should have for incessantly arguing with all the officials and for standing in the field during play), still managed to affect the game’s outcome. As he left, Simeone egged his home crowd on in ridiculing the red car with an ovation. Then, after all this, the coach did not really leave, he simply stood in the first row of stadium seating, right behind the Atletico bench, and continued to both coach and orchestrate the home crowd’s reactions to the action on the pitch.

Simeone’s assistants and players could clearly hear him as he was no more than a few feet behind the bench. The understanding fans who were blocked from enjoying the game by the coach’s incessant back and forth pacing seemed resigned to allow the theatrics. A Real Madrid official approached the fourth ref to let him know of Simeone’s presence and role but the ref sent that messenger away.

Meanwhile, on the pitch, Fernandez somehow missed seven consecutive fast-break-stopping fouls by Atletico during the first half, aside from a treble each of disguised fouls committed by Raul Garcia, Mario Mandzukic, Diego Godin, and Juanfran. Eventually, Fernandez missed major altercations between Cristiano Ronaldo and Godin, Sergio Ramos and Madzukic, and everyone against Gareth Bale.

At the post-match press briefing Simeone attempted to both apologize for having “done something wrong” and been ejected, while spending most of his time explaining that a smaller club, competing against the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, has to come up with a formula that works for them “a formula that works with what we have to work with.” That what he had to work with boiled down to devising a foul-fest by way of strategy and then orchestrating the home crowd’s unsportsmanlike behavior is bewildering.

Unfortunately, coaching and officiating like this may become the year’s theme.

Barcelona quietly awaits its time in the spotlight

Meanwhile in the Catalan capital, FC Barcelona, the 6-0 winners of the Joan Gamper trophy over luckless Mexican champions Club Leon, are fine tuning their hungry roster and giving their new coach, Luis Enrique, time to assimilate the lessons of their recent collective experiences.

Neymar is healthy, Lionel Messi seems his old self, Suarez looked rusty but strong in his one, short showing, and the rest of the squad clicked well in their Gamper run. Barca is ready.

Two or three horse race domestically?

For some the only question is whether Atletico will join Barca and Real in vying for domestic and European silverware this year. The obvious answer was provided by referee Fernandez earlier. If talent rules the two giants will be the ones contesting everything Spanish, if the refs rule, all bets are off.

How many European contenders?

Finally, with a chronically injured Ronaldo a distinct possibility, will Real Madrid still be the favored team to win the Champions League? Will we instead see a wide open contest with Barca, a Mou-ized Chelsea, an inspired Arsenal, a Pep-led and World Cup-happy-Bayern, an ever spending PSG (as Zlatan contemplates retirement), and an Italian surprise, be in the thick of it too?

I believe the European stage is ripe for the taking and it will be the bold who prevail. If Ronaldo continues to miss games Barca will be the only Spanish giant anyone has to contend with. On the broader arena the above mentioned teams seem the most obvious to contend for glory, while Man U’s van Gaal tries to build up steam on the way to next year’s European club clashes.

In short, we will be in for a roller coaster ride this year that just live up to last year’s.

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