The Wheels of Spanish Soccer Go Round and Round

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What’s the only thing more tedious and boring than a dispirited duopoly? No, not paint drying. No, not grass growing. A monotonous monopoly. We can all sit back and gawk at Leo Messi’s interplanetary skills, but….but….but haven’t we seen this story before? I understand my own bias – as a Real Madrid fan, I do feel slight pangs of pain every time Barca snag another three points. However, haters and fan-boys aside, the eyelids of neutrals grow heavier by the day. They ask: when does a dynasty devolve into a monopoly? When does a consistent plot-line become redundant?

Yesterday looks pretty similar to today. Can tomorrow offer any respite?

Familiar plot lines will likely soon recycle themselves: Real Madrid and Barcelona look set to square off in the King’s Cup semifinals, assuming Barca can nick a 1-0 win at Malaga in the return leg. A Champions League showdown is a possibility, although both face formidable opposition in AC Milan and Manchester United. More importantly, one of the big two has already raced to a gi-normous lead in La Liga. Barring a Barca collapse and Atletico consistency, two rarities, the cules will lift the league trophy at season’s end.

Great team plays great and wins. What’s the problem, you ask? Well, competition. You reply: there is competition. Each team competes against Barcelona and Barca kicks their tails. True. However, the lack of even a two-horse race turns a long and at times thrilling league campaign into a bit of a slog. Gamblers may get a rush by beating the spread for that Barca 4:0 win over Getafe, as opposed to a 3:0 win, but the rest of us see the matches as somehow empty. The view of the forest prevents us from looking with any focus at a particular tree. The big picture obscures our view.

Granted, a few new twists have emerged. Alexis Sanchez’s honeymoon is officially over – the Chilean still has not found his feet tactically, and his finishing has been atrocious. Meanwhile, David Villa returned from injury to find himself exactly where he was before the World Club Championships two years ago: struggling for confidence and form. Pedro is Pedro. Cristian Tello is Cristian Tello. Which is to say – Messi has had a record-breaking season, but just imagine Barcelona without him. If you are a cule, you just suffered a mild stroke. Yes, Messi-dependency has only gotten worse with age.

At Real Madrid, the lack of major signings has led to complacency from all but Cristiano Ronaldo. Modric has added a bit of creative passing, competing with Ozil and signaling the death-knoll for Kaka’s chances. However, Essien has failed to capably stand in for often injured Sammy Khedira. The center backs have only gotten older and slower, while Varane has yet to turn his potential into playing time. On the wing opposite of CRon, Di Maria has dipped in form and Callejon’s flashes of brilliance are too often followed by silence. The ideal Starting XI is basically the same as last year. Thus, injuries to Higuain and Marcelo have played a part in derailing any hopes of a La Liga run.

How boring has the on-the-field action grown in La Liga? Real Madrid fans spend their time worrying about the expiration of Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract in 2015, two years away. Meanwhile, Barcelona fans debate about the looming summer departure of an above average goalie, Victor Valdes. Six months away….twenty-four months away….only the future offers the hope of an end to this Messi monotony.

True, La Liga’s version of middle class clubs, Atletico de Madrid, Valencia, and Malaga, have offered some bits of entertainment. If you have a pulse, then your hair stands on end every time Falcao touches the ball within forty yards of the opposing goal. Ever Banega has recovered from injury and learned how to use a car handbrake; he has delighted Valencia fans with slide-rule passes to the always offside Roberto Soldado. Manuel Pellegrini has earned respect for still coaching Malaga, despite the fact that he is, well, coaching Malaga. The team has overcome the loss of Cazorla to advance in the Champions League and King’s Cup, even if nobody knows if, when or how anybody at Malaga will ever get paid.

So we munch on popcorn and watch Real Madrid thrash Valencia for the five hundredth time. We hear Sammy talk about hard work paying off, when a more likely explanation for Real’s resurgence are the return of Sammy and Higuain. We think that maybe the unexpected just might happen – Real Betis in the Champions League?!?! But we don’t hold our breath. The wheel spins around a few times, but ends at the same point.

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