Football Features

“That mythic and totemic figure that others rally around” – Winners and Losers as Real Madrid beat Mallorca to go top of La Liga

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 23:18, 24 June 2020 | Updated: 9:58, 30 March 2021

In an entertaining night of football, Real Madrid beat Mallorca 2-0 at Valdebebas.

The win takes Los Blancos back to the top of La Liga, level on points with Barcelona but ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker. Who were the winners and losers?

Winner: Vinicius Junior

Vinicius Junior is a beguiling figure to watch until you remember he’s just 19-years-old and Real Madrid agreed to sign him when he had barely played at all for his club Flamengo. He’s very much a work in progress who will make silly mistakes as many young players do. What’s important is that Madrid continue to support him and give him a platform to succeed, as they did today.

Vinicius was lightning against Mallorca. Pitted against fellow young star Take Kubo, the Brazilian perhaps wasn’t as rounded and influential on the overall tempo of the game as the Japanese but he was the one who helped decide the outcome. He had already missed an easy(ish) chance when Luka Modric played him through 19 minutes into the game. The Brazilian had Gareth Bale run into his path but kept his cool and belied his reputation as a poor finisher by gently lifting the ball over the onrushing Manolo Reina.

What’s crazy is that Vinicius missed another easy chance a few minutes later when Karim Benzema put him through because he once again went for the chip instead of just slotting it low. He had three great chances and honestly scored the hardest one. A bizarre, beguiling player but an absolute firecracker on the field for Real Madrid.

Winner: Luka Romero

Luka Romero made his debut for Mallorca today, coming off the bench in the 83rd minute trying to claw something back for Real Madrid. The young Argentine who was born in Mexico (hence his nickname of “Mexican Messi“) showed bravery and hints of quality but couldn’t make anything happen. Yet everyone was talking about him after the match. Why?

Oh, well he’s 15-years-old.

15 years and 219 days, to be exact. He was born in November 2004, that’s one month after the actual Leo Messi made his La Liga debut for Barcelona. Or one month after Gerard Piqué made his debut for Manchester United. Or a good nine months after Sergio Ramos had debuted for Sevilla. Those three have had world-class careers that have spanned the length of his life so far and, now that they are in the latter stages, on the very day Messi turns 33, here comes this teenager to make history as the youngest-ever player in La Liga.

A true winner.

Winner: Sergio Ramos

Real Madrid’s captain fantastic is a figure of constant entertainment. Whatever else you want to say about Ramos, and there is plenty to say, no centre-back offers as much pure absurd footballing joy as he does. Sure Raphael Varane, Gerard Piqué and Diego Carlos have been better as actual defenders this season, but that’s not what Ramos is about!

Sure, he’s a good defender, but in a Real Madrid side that has quality but is short of a really electric personality, a true superstar to draw headlines (Eden Hazard has the talent but not the nature) – Ramos’ main role is that of leader, legend. That mythic and totemic figure that others can look to and rally around.

Today he thundered a free-kick into the top corner of the net, his 8th goal of the season (a personal best) that has him as Madrid’s second-top goalscorer and also as La Liga‘s all-time top scoring defender. Utterly absurd records for a man whose charisma defines Real Madrid. Sergio Ramos, football would be boring without your presence. We salute you.

Loser: VAR

For what seems like the fourth game in a row, Real Madrid were the beneficiaries of some bizarre refereeing decisions that VAR, in all its infinite wisdom, failed to correct. These changes were small, and don’t change that Madrid dominated the game and deserved to win, but they had an impact on Los Blancos’ goalscoring.

To begin, Dani Carvajal begins the move that led to Madrid’s first goal by barging Dani Rodriguez off the ball. VAR looked at it but somehow decided a clear shoulder barge was, in fact, not a foul. Then moments before doubling Madrid’s lead, Sergio Ramos committed what was clearly a second yellow card offence with a flying body smash of a foul, yet he escaped censure and was thus on the field to kill the game off.

Real Madrid hold no blame for getting the benefit of refereeing decisions of course, they are just doing everything they can to win every game they play, this is solely on the shoulders of VAR and the referees.

Winner: Zinedine Zidane

Whatever you think about referees, you can’t deny that Zinedine Zidane has played it perfectly since La Liga’s restart. Not only do his side look fit and confident, but the way the Frenchman has rotated his squad has been exceptional. Obviously he does have one of the best squads in the world available to him, but he’s used it so well.

Players have been rotated, rested. James Rodriguez came in from the cold. Gareth Bale played a little when needed. Fede Valverde has been plugging any number of holes. Sergio Ramos has been taken off to keep him fresh. Vinicius has been unleashed but not in every game. It’s been a masterclass in squad management from Zinedine Zidane, and it should end with him winning the title.

Loser: Barcelona

Barcelona beat Athletic Club 1-0 with their young players putting on a show and that lifted the mood around the Camp Nou. Coming to tonight, they must have been hopeful that “hey, we’re back atop La Liga, now maybe someone will finally fluke a result against Madrid. They’re due.”

Barcelona would have then watched as Los Blancos buried Mallorca with two spectacular goals from Vinicius and Sergio Ramos. Goals that knocked them back down to second place and firmly established the sensation that this title does belong to Real Madrid. That crushing, inevitable feeling that this is a side that is too good, too lucky and too determined to ever slip up.

Madrid will not stop going, and they will win La Liga – most crushingly they will do so on the head-to-head rule meaning that it’s the Blaugrana‘s own fault for failing to win a La Liga Clásico for the first time since 2007/2008. Losers in more ways than one.