The sports programme El Chiringuito on Tuesday night hosted a discussion about the opening week of La Liga and in particular asked the question "Can Rafa Benitez stand the pressure?" Thus the show mirrored the current media thoughts about the new manager, following Madrid's failure to take all three points from the opening fixture at Sporting Gijon. Appropriate debate followed and the underlying theme was "Are we being too pessimistic about Real Madrid?"
The overall response from Madrid fans was that we've only played one game (!) and that making judgements after a single match was way too early even for those who have already written off the title at this stage.
This despite the statistics - published earlier in AS online - that revealed Madrid's passes totalled 638 on the night; with 899 touches of the ball all in. The passing total, it was reported, had only been bettered on three occasions in the past three years; with the number of touches more than in any Real Madrid fixture in the whole of last season. Madrid had 22 shots on goal on Sunday night, and 68% possession. The latter was also higher than in any away game last season.
So, is all the present criticism justified? Are we being too pessimistic? Can we really write off the forthcoming campaign based on the performance on Sunday night in Gijon? The stats revealed Madrid's superiority over their Asturian opponents and that turned out to be the theme of the night. Is it really appropriate to judge, therefore, after only a single fixture?
There seems to have been an air of pessimism around the Bernabeu in the last few weeks despite an encouraging pre-season campaign - or at least as encouraging as any pre-season campaign can actually be. The competitive spark that differentiates the real thing from games that effectively turn into fitness trials is always missing from the pre-season offerings where settled team selections are rare and numerous substitutions are usually the order of the day.
The whole atmosphere is different in the league fixtures and players' attitudes and approaches can vary. The early opening rounds of the league often throw up results that are rarely reflected in the return games as the season progresses. La Liga's fixtures last weekend saw Malaga and Sevilla play out a goalless draw as did Deportivo and Real Sociedad, Rayo Vallecano and Valencia, while next weekend's opponents Real Betis needed a late equaliser from Ruben Castro to salvage a point at home to Villareal.
Thus, the reality of life in La Primera was reflected by the results across the division largely in unexpected points dropped where three were predicted. Of the three promoted clubs, only Las Palmas lost to Atletico; and that by a single goal.
This weekend Real Madrid entertain another of the promoted clubs, Real Betis, whose own pre-season form has been less than spectacular. That said, the Andalucian side will nonetheless be expected to provide a stiff test for Madrid in the first home league match of the season, albeit minus Rafael van der Vaart who is still recovering from a recent ankle sprain.
Few of Madrid's pre-season games with the possible exception of the Audi Cup matches in Munich could honestly be said to match the intensity of the Sporting game last Sunday, and the visit of Betis is likely to be just as intensive. The competitive edge referred to earlier is always present in league fixtures during the opening rounds and is a great leveller in the early part of the season; making accurate predictions difficult to make.
The intensity of the Gijon game maybe took a lot of people by surprise but fixtures like this one are never easy. The promoted clubs are inspired just by being in La Primera and this is reflected in their attitude towards opponents, particularly at home, such as in Sporting's case on Sunday. It was never going to be an easy ride in Gijon and although chances were missed in Asturias on numerous occasions, as the season levels out a fair proportion of those that didn't go in will hit the net in similar situations as the momentum builds and Real Madrid as a team raises their game.
Although no doubt disappointed and frustrated by the loss of the two points at the weekend, Rafa Benitez will have happy not to have conceded all three. The priority for many a head coach is not to lose the opening fixture of the season and to that extent Madrid succeeded although the result wasn't ideal.
As to the question of whether Rafa Benitez can stand the pressure? Well, in many ways he's been having to stand it virtually from day one as critics who have questioned his suitability for the job now use the Sporting result as justification; despite the fact that we've only played one league fixture to date.
So are we being too pessimistic or not? Granted, points have been conceded that have given Barca an early edge, but the season is still in it's infancy and there's a lot to play for in the coming weeks. As the season settles over the next few weeks and a pattern emerges things will become a lot clearer. At that point there might be grounds for pessimism, but for the moment, maybe everyone should let the season get underway first and not get too carried away over the result of the opening fixture.