With a freshly-inked and heavily-reduced contract on its way to Kensington, I prepare my team for the arrival of our closest chasers: Real Sociedad. Much like Betis, their success is something of a mystery; their top scorer is our former tormentor Aitor Aldeondo with just ten goals, and Franciso Javier de Pedro has ten assists, but clearly they’re doing something right since most of their squad are averaging well above 7.2 for the season so far. Left back Agustín Aranzábal is somehow on a 7.74 despite not really displaying any outstanding stats for tackles, assists, goals or dribbles. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but it’s there, and his teammates are right up our butts as a result.
We’ve lost Anklebiter Batty to suspension and Ronaldo is still injured, but we’ve got one returning face in the form of Wor Al, who makes the bench in place of Batistuta. I’ve pretty much lost faith in both Moukoko and Lundén at this point, instead reigniting my love for Sergio Sestelo and his impossible, attribute-defying performances — he remains in the side after his 9 and assist against that rabble from Valladolid. In times of trouble you should fall back on the bulldogs that brought you to the dance, even when poodles are available. Come on, Sergio. Give us the business. We really need to shaft this lot today.
From kick off, it appears that Mikel Aranburu is a little too up for this game, and he proves it a minute later with a scything challenge on Cherno Samba that earns him one of the earliest bookings I’ve ever seen. Tsigalko then heads over from a Recoba cross under pressure from Djorovic and Aranzábal — maybe that’s why he’s got such a good average rating — before Darko Kovacevic joins Aranburu in the book for pulling Duffman to the ground, preventing him from reaching the byline. It results in a free kick to the Wet Bandits wide on the right; Jamie Victory whips it into the box, Tsigalko gets above Khokhlov and thumps his header past the static Alberto and in for 1–0 to the good guys! What a start!
Sociedad are less enamoured with going a goal down, and boss Gonzalo Arkonada bellows his players into our half for a full five minutes, during which time they manage to put two shots off-target from the edge of the box and one low drive onto Costanzo’s target, which he does well to turn away for a corner. De Pedro swings it in, Andrielos heads away, and Arteta knocks it down for Bergtoft on the edge of our area. The Swede looks long to Samba, who’s up against two Real defenders; he twists and turns as support comes screaming forward behind him, but eventually ignores all the passes and cracks a shot at goal — it clips the inside of the post, Alberto is beaten, it rebounds back into play… SERGIO SESTELO IS THERE! SESTELOOOOOOOOO!!
GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL COLADEROS!! SERGIO SESTELO! CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE IT? I genuinely have no idea how he does it, but my god, when you need someone to come up with the goods, Sergio Sestelo is the only man for the job. La Cartuja rises and bows to its mightiest hero as he knee-slides into the corner flag to celebrate his 50th goal for the Rainmakers, and after just 19 minutes in Seville, we’re 2–0 up against our closest challengers!
The two sides then exchange several chances that really ought to lead to the game’s third goal. Costanzo saves spectacularly from a Kovacevic header and Aranburu nods the corner over the bar; Arteta bends a shot just over the bar from range; Sestelo clips into the box for Samba to head wide under pressure from La Real’s entire back four; then Aitor Aldeondo hits three raking, dipping drives in a row that all find our target, but also find Franco Costanzo in inspired form as he punches and parries all of them away to safety. I have to admit that this is by no means a 2–0 game on the balance of play, but hey — I’ll take it.
Costanzo then makes an incredible double-save from Kovacevic as the half time whistle is on its way up to the referee’s lips, but there’s still time for him to smash a long goal-kick downfield that drops for Tsigalko to drive towards the Sociedad penalty box. He bends a shot from long range that deflects off Aranzábal but spins wildly back to the Iceman, who lays it into the path of Álvaro Recoba — Recoba strikes furiously!! IT’S THERE! It’s 3–0! Right on the stroke of half time!! What a goal, what a lead! YES! HAVE SOME OF THAT!!
The second half starts in a similar fashion, but with rather different outcomes. We spend six or seven minutes playing around with balls on the edge of their box (that’s what she said?) but can’t quite find the target or a killer pass — and then, we’re counter attacked with ruthless efficiency. Aldeondo and Kovacevic combine for the umpteenth time today for the latter to plant another header on target, Costanzo saves yet again, but to the surprise of nobody in the stadium, the man I highlighted in my pre-match notes as a player who gets good ratings despite doing nothing of importance, Agustín Aranzábal, shoves my words right down my throat by arriving unmarked to pick off the deflection and smash his first goal of the season — of course — into the unguarded goal to reduce the score to 3–1 with most of the second half still to play.
I’m pleased to report that we make it over the hour mark without allowing our visitors to have any more sights of goal, and in fact, it’s only Alberto in the away nets that prevents us from extending our lead. He saves from Sestelo and Tsigaklo before Arteta slashes a wild shot into the stands, allowing him to relieve the pressure with a long goal kick. It, however, drops right onto the toes of Jamie Victory, who charges straight back where it came from and makes serious tracks down the left. He eventually reaches the final third, where he whips a cross into the box, Cherno Samba gets above Lembo, and this time Alberto is powerless to stop the Great Man from extending our lead back to three goals, and with half an hour to go, it’s 4–1 to the Wet Bandits!
Costanzo is then called into action time after time to deny mostly Kovacevic and Aldeondo, but they just can’t beat the Argentinian stopper despite all their best efforts; I make a few subs, including giving Shearer a run for the last ten minutes to get his match fitness back up to where we need it, and the last action of the game sees Sergio Sestelo cruelly robbed of a second goal for offside against Recoba despite, as usual, him not being mentioned in any of the build up. It’s a shame, but you aren’t going to hear any gripes from me, because we’ve just thrashed Real Sociedad at La Cartuja to put us, at least temporarily, back to the summit of La Liga. That’s right, I said thrashed. The stats pretty much confirm it.
Barcelona blow Espanyol back to the mid-90s the following day with a crushing 4–0 win, but they’ve got Sociedad away midweek, which could well be a game they lose, given the performance they just put in against us. I anxiously drink the days away and await the result with bated, boozy breath…
Useless gits. In better news, my back line for next season is going to contain a little more steel and experience, as my newest one-year veteran agrees terms — and there’s no question that he’s still got it. Nostrils out, Ultras. Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?
I’d rather be signing John Terry, but I’m working with what I’ve got here. Believe me — if we ever get the £8m I need to activate his minimum release clause, you can bet it’ll be the first place I go.
Right then, seven games left and seriously running out of time to catch Barcelona. They’ve got a similar run-in to us — we both still need to play Real Madrid, and they’ve got to go away to Sevilla as well, but looking at the fixture lists, we’re genuinely going to need a miracle to overhaul them now. The first thing we’re going to need to do is dismantle Espanyol, who are hopefully still punch-drunk from the beating they took from the defending champions just four days ago. I don’t really want to change my team, but I’ve learned from bitter experience that keeping faith with players who have just performed out of their skins usually means a huge crash in the next match — so even despite that tremendous result against Real Sociedad, the tinker train is back on the tracks.
Nikolaos Tobros is a fallen god with the consistency of a politician so he’s out for the man I’m calling “ever-dependable” despite not really meaning it, Teddy Lucic; meanwhile, Recoba and Arteta’s 7s against La Real mean they’re banked for the returning Ronaldo and Mikel Alonso, plus David Batty retakes residence just in front of my back four with Jonathan Soriano firmly in his crosshairs. I’m not happy about the sight of Ruslan Nigmatullin between the Espanyol posts, but at the end of the day, if we can’t beat him, we don’t deserve the title.
Espanyol change up their tactics for this game, of course, but it actually plays right into my hands as long as my man-markers do their jobs — Duff, Victory, Batty, Alonso, Andrielos and Lucic are told to stick to their men like magnets glued together. My attackers, meanwhile, are allowed the freedom to roam the field, and it pays dividends after less than ten minutes. Alonso, Batty, Ronaldo and Sestelo combine to feed Tsigalko inside the penalty box, and he cuts the ball back for Cherno Samba to destroy the net with a thunderous 12-yard finish to give us the early lead we really needed.
Barring a single Raúl Tamudo strike that Costanzo saves and holds brilliantly, the rest of the half is all us. Nigmatullin, as expected, is in fine fettle to deny Tsigalko (2), Alonso, Sestelo and Ronaldo before the half time whistle sounds, but when it does, the players return to the dressing room firmly on top, and with a one-goal lead to show for it.
Unbeknownst to me, Espanyol switch formation at half time and spend the first 15 minutes bearing down on our goal over and over again, and we’re lucky Costanzo is paying attention because he has to be alert to block close-range efforts from Tamudo, Navas and Peña. However, the entire game shifts on 59 minutes as extreme daredevil Savo Milosevic walks up behind David Batty and smashes him in the head with a left hook. I’m not sure if the Serbian has a death wish or not, but fortunately for him, he’s shown a straight red card and is ushered down the tunnel to relative safety before the Biter can return to his feet. I imagine the car park will be an interesting place to be after the game.
After that, Espanyol collapse, and while we aren’t able to add a second goal due to the fully-expected superhuman heroics of Nigmatullin in the home nets, we still round out this game with a superb performance and victory. Samba and Tsigalko end up with 7 shots on target between them, and honestly, how one of them hasn’t gotten a hat-trick is beyond me. Tobros comes on for the last half an hour under no pressure and is still complete wank. I wish I could get to the bottom of what’s wrong with him.
Unfortunately our hopeless neighbours Sevilla, who we play next, can barely lay a glove on Barcelona at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, and the Catalans run out with a routine 2–0 win to maintain their five-point lead at the top of La Liga with just five games to play. At this point, we’re going to need a miracle to catch them — and if it’s going to happen, it’ll be next weekend, as Barcelona face Real Madrid in one of the most important Clásicos of recent times… for me, anyway.
I’m not particularly concerned about Sevilla. Sure, it’s a derby game, but our visitors are closer to the bottom of the league than the top, and despite the best efforts of José Antonio Reyes, they really shouldn’t trouble us unduly. I make a few cosmetic changes, namely Tobros, Recoba and Arteta for Andrielos, Sestelo and Alonso, and awaaayyy we go.
It’s exactly what I expected. We limit Sevilla to just three shots on goal, all of which Costanzo is more than equal to, and at the other end, we end up having a bit of a party. Tsigalko opens the scoring in the 19th minute after a Recoba pass to Samba goes dreadfully wrong but the Iceman makes the most of it, and then, in the second half, I introduce Wor Al to the fray and he goes mental, grabbing two goals with his first two touches of the ball. The first is a header from Tsigalko’s centre literally seconds after coming on, and the second a ridiculous half-volley from just inside the box after another tee-up from the Belarusian. Sevilla are well beaten, my defenders are all outstanding for possibly the first time in Coladeros history, we disappear down the tunnel with all three points — but the real story today will be what happened at the Camp Nou…
…they bloody well drew. A 0–0 draw, earned by some excellent door-shutting from Iker Casillas, Patrick Vieira and Ivan Campo, reduces Barcelona’s lead at the top to three points with five games to go. They still have a superior goal difference, so winning the title remains a remote possibility, but it’s just become that tiny bit more achievable. I can’t believe I’m saying this, lads, but… we’re still in this thing.
Next up? Ah. It’s Real Madrid at the Bernabeu. Perhaps not for long.
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