Real Madrid came away with a clean sweep of the awards in yesterday’s UEFA gala, and like Atlético, didn’t do so badly either in the draw for this season’s group stage. Barça and Valencia on the other hand weren’t quite so lucky – especially the latter, which is understandable seeing as they landed in Pot 3. A priori, their place in the knockout round could be decided in the MatchDay 6 meeting with Manchester United at Mestalla; and I think they could be in with a good chance. United have a tremendous history behind them but they have started the season in a state of confusion – maybe under the effects of the so-called ‘Mourinho third season syndrome’, which usually produces disputes and fallouts. Valencia have just signed Guedes, have managed to hang onto Rodrigo and are a well-constructed side, doing well under Marcelino’s firm supervision. There’s every reason why we can dream about seeing all four of the Spanish teams make it through to the Play-Offs.
Madrid run off with the individual awards
Barça’s group isn’t easy, but then they do have Messi and other great players on their side. Madrid and Atlético look the strongest candidates in their respective groups. All three were among the top seeds in Pot 1, underlining the potency of LaLiga’s clubs, which was further highlighted by Madrid scooping the lion’s share of the individual awards: Keylor, Sergio Ramos, Modric and Cristiano were elected the best in their respective positions. Cristiano, who is no longer at Real Madrid and didn’t grace the event with his presence, won his award for his performances as a madridista. Until a clearer explanation comes to light as to why he didn’t attend, it seems he decided not to go because he didn’t win the big award – the UEFA Player of the Year, which went to Modric.
Modric finally gets some credit
Fully deserved too. It’s been Modric’s year – a player who may not possess the dazzling brilliance which the two titans of this era, Messi and Cristiano have but he carries the blueprint of the game in his head. Both with Madrid and Croatia, he’s the man who dictates the rhythm of the game, accelerating or stepping on the brakes when he sees fit; an omnipresent figure who makes everything tick. He’s also a person who represents the best possible images of football. The award for the best defender, which went to the rough and ready Ramos, was also equally deserved. As was the goalkeeper award which was given to Keylor, an accolade which carries its own little dynamite charge because it flies in the face of Florentino - who has been going out of his way to find a substitute for him and has finally found one in Courtois. That’s going to be a major headache for Lopetegui...