Competition
  • Champions League
  • Copa Libertadores

Solari faces his fourth and final examination in Vigo

The game had ended at the Metropolitano and suddenly the older fans in the stadium started to say to each other: “The hobbler’s goal!” Diego Godín’s 92nd minute strike in Atlético’s 3-2 victory over Athetic on Saturday conjured memories of a bygone era, when there were no substitutions (in Spain they were introduced in 1969-70) and a time when injured players would do what the Uruguayan did. Although injured, he remained on the pitch, tolerating as best as he could the pain, and was told by Diego Simeone to loiter up front. Every now and again, a goal will come in these instances because defenders tend to pay the injured player little heed. We used to call that “the hobbler’s goal.” There were never many of them, but there were some and they were fondly applauded.

That was the headline of Saturday’s fixtures, the most dramatic ending to a tremendous game of football. On Sunday attention turns to Vigo, where Santiago Solari will take his fourth and final examination for the full-time job at Real Madrid. Due to Spanish Football Federation regulations, he cannot remain on the bench as in interim solution beyond Monday. Florentino Pérez will have to decide whether to stick or twist. It appears likely that he will do the former, because he has little reason not to. Things have been going well. It’s true that applies more to results than performances, but those results have been accompanied by good decisions: the enthusiastic Álvaro Odriozola and Sergio Reguilón have seen a lot of the ball and there has been a greater role for Vinicius, who has been the poster boy for these days of renewed good fortune.

But the main task – getting the side to play well – still remains; getting Gareth Bale to show more interest (Solari told him to eat up the pitch in his press conference) and seeing if he can coax the best form out of Luka Modric, Isco and Marco Asensio. The creative line seems to be deflated and even Solari isn’t happy with his midfield. Waiting in Viago are a Celta side in mid-table but who remain an unknown entity this season, with their direction yet to be fully revealed. Their coach, Antonio Mohamed, saved his job in extremis when he had one foot out of the door but Celta are a side with tremendous firepower in Iago Aspas, Maxi Gómez and the young revelation Brais Méndez behind them. It will be a tough test. But it probably won’t be Solari’s last.