Ok - time to breathe.
The September nightmare is over. Real Madrid’s start to the season sees them undefeated after 8 games total. In the four games from hell - Sporting Lisbon, Villarreal, Las Palmas, Borussia Dortmund - Zidane’s men picked up six points out of a possible 12. On the surface, that seems disastrous, but the reality is that Real Madrid lead the league, are joint-leaders in Group F of the Champions League - trailing by a hair due to goal differential - and overall look like they’ll improve game-by-game given that, you know, the team still hasn’t been at full strength yet due to health issues.
October provides some breathing space. The journey begins this Sunday at home against Eibar, then the squad have a 13-day break before travelling to Sevilla for a match against Real Betis. To help us preview our upcoming match against minnows Eibar, we reached out to Eibar journalist Paul Reidy. Give Paul a follow if you’re interested in some good coverage for not only Eibar, but also Rayo Vallecano, and Spanish football in general.
Kiyan: Paul, tell us about the facelift Eibar went through over the summer. What are the key differences between Eibar of last season than that of this season's? Who's been the most important signing, and who's been the biggest loss?
Paul: As is the case with a smaller La Liga club, the summer was a hive of activity with the sporting director busy administering the in's and outs. Borja Baston and Keko moving to Swansea City and Malaga respectively were the biggest losses, but Eibar invested well in bringing in tried, tested and experienced La Liga players (Fran Rico, Arbilla, Bebe, Yoel).
Kiyan: Pedro Leon looks lively this season. He's scored a freak goal, and a couple really nice ones. This past weekend will forever be remembered for his penalty that bobbled into the clouds. How would you rate his importance to the squad?
Paul: Yes, the Madrid born player is one of the finest dead ball experts you'll find in the Spanish game (apart from the spot kick last Satutday ; )
He's certainly one of the more creative players in the side.
Kiyan: Who is Eibar's best player?
Paul: I'd probably have to say Fran Rico at a push, however the strength of the Eibar team - and has been the case since their promotion to the top flight - is the collective. Eibar don't really go in for big limelight signings as it's not the philosophy of the football club.
Kiyan: 10 points, 8th place, +2 GD - not bad. How are Eibar doing compared to your expectations so far?
Paul: Eibar's expectations every season are the same .... finish 17th or above, anything over and that is a bonus for the smallest team in the Primera. Another season and another good start though as we saw last season, and even more dramatically in the 2014/15 campaign, Eibar have a tendency to start well and fade as the season comes to the closing stages in March-May.
Kiyan: General tactics - can you give us a scope of what we should expect from Mendilibar? Will his approach change against Real Madrid?
Paul: I think when any of the smaller La Liga teams go to the Bernabeu, the philosophy is damage-limitation. As Joaquin Caparros famously said ahead of a trip to Camp Nou when at Granada... "It's like going to the dentist, you have do it once a year, so you just want to get it out of the way and carry on with things as normal."
Kiyan: What is an adjustment that you'd like to see Mendilibar make, that he hasn't already made, that would be conducive to their success this season?
Kiyan: At the moment there's little ground for complaint. Things are gelling well which is remarkable given all the new faces and beaware of the curse of the 2a vuelta when Eibar do tend to slip.
Kiyan: What should Real Madrid be most worried about against Eibar? What is the x-factor here?
Paul: Nothing at all. Eibar could play Real Madrid 100 times at the Bernabeu and Madrid would win 99/100. That 1 in a 100 is the great motivation factor that as football fans keeps our illusion alive.
The difference in economic muscle (Madrid having a budget of 12-15 times that of Eibar's means that Madrid can call upon full international substitutes (James, Lucas Vazquez, Morata) whilst Eibar can call upon the likes of journeymen such as Adrian.
Kiyan: What should Eibar be most worried about?
Paul: About avoiding another heavy defeat...
4-0 last season and 3-0 season before ... yet to score against Madrid in the top flight!
Kiyan: Give us your prediction, Paul!
Paul: Head - RM 2-0 Eibar
Heart - RM 1-2 Eibar
Scoring, playing well and being competitive would be Mendilibar's objective for Sunday.