At the beginning of Primal Scream’s brilliant 1990 tune ‘Loaded’ when Frank Maxwell asks Peter Fonda: ‘Just what is it that you want to do?’ Fonda knows the answer.
“We wanna be free to do what we wanna do
“We’re gonna have a good time. “We’re gonna have a party”
And if you asked the Real Madrid fans that same question you’d get exactly the same answer.
Sick of being second best to Barcelona, sick of football they view as pragmatic they want their cake and to eat it.
With champagne, and golden spoons and second helpings.
But if you asked the President, Florentino Pérez or Madrid’s debutant coach, Rafa Benítez the same ‘just what is it that you want to do?’ question the answer might be different.
Much more pragmatic.
Thursday’s Champions League draw gives them a group perfectly balanced not only for an assault on Europe but for the right kind of early season test.
Paris St Germain have shown over the last three seasons with Barcelona and Chelsea [ten games, two wins, four draws, four defeats] that they are on the rise and that they can threaten anyone on their day.
Not a side Madrid have to fear but one which will mean Los Blancos will need to focus and find top gear [no Primal Scream reference there] in order to subdue.
Madrid start at home, and their first away trip is far easier and less tiring than PSG’s.
Their final group game is at home and against, nominally, the weakest team. Even the schedule is on their side.
However, and this might be heretical, is winning the Champions League actually Benitez’s priority?
‘Just what is it you want me to do, Florentino?’ might well be Rafa’s question to the Madrid President.
Los Blancos have won the Spanish title twice in the last eight years.
Their fans and some of their ‘cyclops-vision’ media not only crave it, they crave the opportunity to wave two fingers at their city neighbours, Atlético, who won the title more recently, and Barcelona, who’ve dominated La Liga for a decade.
More, Carlo Ancelotti was shown the door in the summer just 12 months after winning the Champions League so dramatically against Atleti.
A victory which, if you consider the alternative for Madrid, should really have earned him another five years of job safety at the Bernabéu. It didn’t.
Major League Concerns
So whatever the sheen of Madrid’s history says, whatever the threat of Barça closing the European Cup gap between them still further Rafa Benítez must prioritise doing something he’s not achieved since the last time he coached in Spain, eleven years ago – winning the title.
Will that undermine trying to win La undécima? Madrid’s eleventh Champions Cup?
The answer lies with Ronaldo. Whatever the club’s ambitions he wants more Champions Leagues, he wants to haul Messi back in the Ballon D’Or voting and, judging by his variety of sour looks in Monte Carlo on Thursday, he wants to win the UEFA Best Player In Europe back.
Vitally, too, Ronaldo wants to edge ahead of Messi with whom he’s tied at 77 goals apiece at the top of the all-time Champions League scoring list.
With nine games of Rafa in charge Madrid have failed to score on five occasions, usually with Ronaldo absent.
So, I think there’s some fun in the Ronaldo-Messi betting.
The End of His Ron
Ronaldo has significantly outscored his rival over the last four Champions League seasons – by nine.
The last time Messi beat Ronaldo to UCL top scorer was in 2011/12 – coincidentally the last time he had a shot at Bayer Leverkusen or Bate, Barça’s new group rivals.
Against Bernd Leno, Leverkusen keeper, Messi scored six in two matches. In Borisov he put two past BATE.
Clues for this season?
Ronaldo hasn’t faced [and thus not scored against!] any of Madrid’s group rivals.
So, a priori, it might be worth an investment that Messi outscores Ronaldo this Uefa season, finishes Champions League top scorer and, thus, establishes the all-time lead.
Valencia, qualifiers, have a group in which Zenit and Lyon are both within Los Che’s orbit – beatable but, equally, capable of exploiting Nuno Espirito Santo’s team if they perform dozily.
The key to qualification is taking at least seven points from the first three games – home to Zenit, away to Lyon and then home to the weakest club, Gent.
In fact having home then away back-to-back matches with the Belgians is manna from heaven in terms of qualifying for the knockouts.
If you run a fantasy football team or like to look for less than obvious scorers then think about Sofiane Feghouli who just loves Uefa football and consistently rises to the challenge.
Their Group to Luis
Barcelona, who I think are capable of being the first to retain this competition, were given a draw that the naive think was wonderful but which will concern Luis Enrique.
Ex coach of Roma he’ll understand how hostile it is there and that starting at the Olympic Stadium in Italy’s capital is no ‘gimme’.
That their third fixture is also away, in Belorussia, means that the reigning champions need to start with concentration and hunger.
You’re laughing at me? BATE Borisov you splutter?
Beat Athletic Bilbao last season, thumped Bayern Munich the season before. BATE better than Barça, no. A niggly little test, yes.
And Now For Sevilla And Atlético
Which leaves the two sides who play at the Sanchez Pizjuan on Sunday night [19.30, Sky] – Sevilla and Atlético.
Atleti catch Benfica [whose striker Jonas didn’t mind a goal or an assist against the Colchoneros during his time with Valencia] at a good time given their consistent sales policy and the loss of influential coach Jorge Jesus.
Galatasaray and Astana carry their levels of threat/difficulty but Diego Simeone’s side is so hard working, so well balanced and so bloody stubborn that they’ll win the group regardless.
Sevilla? Well aside from the €20m cash windfall of qualifying the Champions League has brought them the reality of fighting for elbow room at Europe’s elite table.
Manchester City, Juventus and Borussia Mönchengladbach [who Sevilla put out of Europe last season] may prove too much for qualification, especially after losing three key players in Vidal, M’Bia and Bacca and needing to integrate new guys like Immobile, Konoplyanka and Llorente.
But, could Sevilla surprise everyone again by qualifying? Might they even retain the Europa League for the second consecutive time if not?
As for Sunday, it’s now six Liga and Cup matches since Sevilla beat Atleti at home.
There’s ill feeling between the sides who jostle to be considered third best in Spain – nearly eight bookings per match, average, over the last four meetings if you are a card-counter.
A splurge of reds in the Copa a couple of seasons ago.
Sevilla are nobody’s mugs though having lost just once at home since March 2014 [2-3 to a Ronaldo hat trick in May]
Griezmann, Llorente and a Coke/Koke any time might pay.
Score draw. 2-2 at 14/1.
Atleti: Oblak; Juanfran, Godín, Gímenez, Felipe; Koke, Gabi, Tiago; Oliver; Griezmann, Torres/Jackson
Sevilla: Beto: Coke, Rami, Kolo, Tremoulinas: Banega, Krykowiak: Vitolo, Iborra, Reyes: Immobile/Llorente
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