One down, nineteen to go! I started my journey close to home by making the short (1.4 kms according to googlemap) trip round the corner (literally) to see Real Madrid vs Deportivo La Coruña. The reason for starting here was not so much the close location but the significance of the match. This was Real Madrid´s first official match since big spending Florentino Perez returned. That meant a debut for Cristino Ronaldo, Kaká, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Albiol and Arbeloa. After being well and truly humilated by Guardiola´s Barcelona last season, Real Madrid are desperate to reassert themselves as the biggest and best in Spain. Florentino Perez has returned promising success and good football and has put his money where his mouth is. So this match took on special significance as everyone in Spain and Europe waited to see how this new team would gel and whether they could handle to pressure heaped on them.
To understand the excitement around Madrid at the moment you have to understand the sheer depression of last season as their arch rivals Barcelona won a historic treble (the first Spanish club to ever do so) playing some wonderful football which culminated in a historic 2-6 victory in the Bernabeu. This domestic humiliation was made worse when Real were thumped 5-0 on aggregate by Liverpool in the Champions League. At the end of last season there wasn´t one player in the Real Madrid team, with the possible exception of Casillas, who could get into the Barcelona starting eleven.
Furthermore, you have to understand the mentality of the club. Real Madrid have a firm belief that they are god´s chosen club, that it is their destiny to win everything and dominate football globally. Real Madrid love drama, they love creating myths and legends. This season could be one of their legendry years as the Champions League final will be held in their stadium. Nothing would be more Real Madridish than to win their tenth Champions League final in their own stadium. Then again, there is another possibility. Don´t say this too loud around here but there exists the very real possibility of Barcelona winning the Champions League in Real´s stadium. The thought of the Catalans celebrating on Real´s sacred surface and on the streets of the capital is too much for many Madridistas to bear. But that is the drama that is Real Madrid, that is why this season is so important and that is why yesterday´s match was a real test.
As part of Real´s constant fight to prove they are number one, Usain Bolt was paraded before kick-off. The fastest man in the world is now a Real Madrid fan, another great piece of theatre from Florentino Perez. The weather was perfect, the pitch as immaculate as Real´s all white strip. The scene was set for Real to lay down a challenge and send shivers down Guardiola´s spine.
It all got off to a good start with semi-God Raul opening the scoring for Real however Deportivo showed they weren´t there just to make up the numbers and hit back with an excellently worked equaliser. Real went back in front from the penalty spot and guess who scored? The most expensive player in the history of football, Cristiano Ronaldo. Surely Deportivo wouldn´t have the gaul to come back again, well they did. Seconds into the second half and veteran Valeron was given far too much time to pick his spot and fire home. So we were back level again. Then we had one of those match changing moments. Deportivo hit Real on the counter attack, the ball was squared to Valeron and although it looked harder to miss he somehow contrived to knock the ball wide from a couple of yards out. With this miss the capacity crowd inside the stadium started to get restless however there was still time for one more twist and it was Lass Diarra of all people who popped up with the winner to settle the home crowd´s nerves and break Deportivo´s resistance. There were no more goals and so the match finished 3-2. For the neutral it was a good match but for Real Madrid it was a bit of a letdown. As the Real manager rightly pointed out, a win is the most important thing and it will take a while for the team to gel but he also knows that Real supporters are famously impatient, as is Florentino Perez. Real will come up against much better teams than Deportivo this season and they know they need to do more. For the time being at least, Guardiolas spine is relaxed.