A Fine Line
It’s undeniable: there was something in the air at the start of last night’s game, something that had Atlético fans sitting nervously as they awaited the fate of their inconsistent team. To say that confidence at the Calderón was low is an understatement. Despite being favourites to win on reputation, there was a genuine fear that the energetic islanders were coming for all three points. But, like a villain in the final act, they were banished by the home side, who provided irrefutable evidence that Mallorca’s bark was bigger than their bite.
There was a strange duality about how the game started for the visitors. The stadium was tense and Atlético couldn’t manage to get out of the gates, with Los Bermellones piling on all the early pressure. But when Mallorca created their first good chance it was at once both positive and negative. Víctor Casadesús threw himself in for the shot, which rose over the bar, but injured himself in the process. It was a good opportunity and enhanced the away side’s optimism, but by the time the striker decided he had to come off, Mallorca were already a goal down.
Somewhere in-between these two moments Los Bermellones’ momentum simply disappeared, and in a game where they were expecting to capitalise on a struggling team’s troubles, it was Atlético who took full advantage of a few lapses in concentration.
The result is a harsh reminder to Mallorca that they can’t take anything for granted, and that expectations shouldn’t be built up too much. All of their fantastic results this season have come when they were firmly the underdog, in truth expecting nothing. Against Atlético, though, there were murmurs of anticipation, disregarding the danger the home side possessed. They seemed to think they were all but entitled to add to the home side’s woes, given their poor form and inconsistency.
But inconsistency has a flip side. Poor form eventually translates to bursts of sharpness, and it was Mallorca who received the full force of this last night.
That’s not to say that Los Bermellones shouldn’t enter a game with belief and positivity, thinking that they can come away with all three points. But there’s a fine line between belief and expectation; one inspires optimism, the other breeds complacency.
The biggest worry for Mallorca on the night was the performance of Rubén, responsible for Atlético’s second goal and, in some ways, for giving the home side the confidence to attack with vigour. Los Bermellones sorely missed Iván Ramis for the duration of the game; when the central defensive pairing of Nunes and Ramis is disrupted, it very rarely spells success for the team. On last night’s form the traumatised Rubén proved that he isn’t up to the task of stepping in for Ramis on a regular basis, and this could spell real trouble for the club given that Ramis has been linked with a move away. If a deal materialises, it would be a hammer blow for the club’s aspirations.
A further upset, and it’s the same old story that’s been playing out all season long, is Michael Laudrup’s continued lack of faith in Fernando Cavenaghi. When Víctor came off due to injury it seemed the perfect opportunity to throw on the Argentine and give him a chance in a straight swap, but instead Laudrup chose to bring on a winger, Chori Castro, instead. Cavenaghi has proved, when given the chance, that he can score goals; with Mallorca needing a route back into the game and with the perfect reason to introduce him, Laudrup still stood by his stubborn decision to leave him on the bench. By the time he did get on the pitch late on the team’s intensity – what little there was – had faded away, and he never really got the chance to get into the game.
In fairness to Castro, though, he was one of Mallorca’s best performers on the night. Full of running throughout, he seemed to be the most eager to create something and tested Atlético a few times with some decent efforts. It’s worth reminding ourselves that, although he may be on his way out, it was not his choice. The club put him up for sale; he did not request a transfer or begin his own search for a bigger team. Even with all of the uncertainty surrounding his future, he has shown that he will still work hard and play to the best of his ability, and for this he should be commended.
Mallorca stay in Madrid to face their next opponent, Real Madrid, who last week suffered at the hands of Almería, allowing them to hold on for a hard fought point. In the opening game of the season, Los Bermellones did the exact same.
In response to both results, one would think that Real will do everything in their power to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Some may look at that result and claim Mallorca have a real shot at coming away from the Bernabéu with something to show for their efforts: Madrid’s confidence may have been dealt a blow as they realise they aren’t as invincible as they thought, and if La Liga’s bottom side can do it, why can’t anyone else? The reverse, of course, is that Real will be doubly motivated to keep up with Barcelona and make amends for that slipup. There’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal, as Atlético proved last night.
One thing’s for certain: it will require a vastly improved performance compared to yesterday’s. But if Mallorca can tread that fine line between belief and expectation, then there’s no reason lightning can’t strike twice.
by Phil Montgomery