Welcome to Q&A with the Enemy, our regular series of game previews where we chat with various journalists to help provide some added insight on our upcoming opponent. Today, we reached out to Alexandra Jonson (@AlexandraJonson) — a Swedish freelance journalist covering Spanish football for Marca, among various other publications.
Kiyan: Alexandra, Celta are going into this match with fresh legs. Guidetti, Aspas, and Radoja - along with the majority of Celta's starting XI - all started the match on the weekend on the bench. How risky was this decision given that Real Sociedad - a team in direct competition for a European spot - took all three points?
Alexandra: I think it was a quite risky one. Normally I would say that such a move shows that the league just isn’t a priority for Berizzo, which in this case with Madrid coming up I guess it isn’t. Though it seems to me that Celta’s priority, between the three tournaments, this season is constantly changing. I understand that with the chances against Madrid they want to have their players in best possible condition, but I think it would have been enough to rest 2-3 players and not basically your entire XI. Especially since it was a league game against a direct rival as Real Sociedad. For me it’s definitely a risky move but we will see how it plays out, maybe Celta end up winning the Copa del Rey and then no one will be caring about the three points lost vs Real Sociedad.
Kiyan: Were you surprised at what Celta accomplished in the first leg? In a sense, I wasn't, given how good their attack can be and how many goals they generally put past Barcelona - but I remember how laborious they looked against 10-man Alaves just prior. What was it that you enjoyed the most about Celta's performance last week in the Bernabeu?
Alexandra: Both yes and no. This is a team that I, truly, believe can beat any side if they play their absolute best football. Still, I had expected a lot more from Real Madrid who had just lost their first games after that incredible unbeaten run against Sevilla. I would have expected them to come out and really want to show that it was a one off. Instead, they didn’t seem that motivated and also made sloppy mistakes. Celta took advantage of that. And Aspas - how brilliant is that guy? So, no, I wasn’t surprised that Celta could beat Real Madrid, but I was a bit surprised that Real Madrid let them do it and especially at the Bernabeu.
I think what I enjoyed most by Celta’s performance wasn’t an actual goal, move or tactic; But the psychological aspect of it all, with the entire “Orellana-gate” happening just the day ahead of this game one could have thought it would impact the team in someway. But it didn’t at all. Instead, they went on to do something so difficult as to beat Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. I think this shows a very strong team moral and mental strength within the squad. I think the psychological part is often overseen in sports, but it’s one of the most important elements to succeed, and I truly enjoyed seeing how well Celta as a team managed this situation and didn’t let it affect them.
Kiyan: John Guidetti is the only Swede in La Liga - something I only knew about four days ago when you told me. The poor guy has been a journey-man all his life. Do you think he can finally find a home in Vigo? How do you rate his season so far?
Alexandra: I think he has already found a home in Vigo, the guy absolutely loves it there. As you point out, his career hasn’t been especially easy, even though he already, at the age of 16, was signed up by Manchester City. Since then he's been around in different clubs on loan for City. On top of that he spent almost two years without playing after having picked up a virus eating a bad chicken on his 20th birthday. He basically went from living the time of his life at Feyenoord to being told he’d likely never play football again over a night. He temporarily lost feeling in his right leg and couldn’t do anything for 2-3 months. Then when he finally got healthy he would battle several injuries, and jumping between different clubs that City loaned him out to.
So when Celta signed him on a five year contract from City it was a very welcomed move, more than anything because he could finally settle down at one place for awhile. And he is really loving it and they are loving him. He also just became a father for the first time so right now I think he is just enjoying everything. But with all that said this isn’t his end station and I find it very hard to see him staying at Celta for the remainder of his contract. This is a guy who is extremely determined, as the chicken incident shows, and who at 16 put “becoming the best player in the world” as his main goal. Now I have a very hard time seeing him reaching that goal but he will try to get as close to it as he can. Celta is a stepping stone but eventually he wants to go higher.
I think his season has gone quite well considering, and I know he’s content with it — but I also know that he feels that he can do even better, and that he wants to do even better. He’s developed a lot since he came to Spain — mainly his technique and vision. Though he is a player who need to play more regularly which he, with Berizzo’s rotations, hasn’t really done. This Spring should be a bit of a “break it or make it” period for Guidetti at the club. Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if he left this summer.
Kiyan: Um, the Orellana situation is unideal. Can you tell us a bit more about what happened there? He seems like an important player whose misbehaviour trumped his talent. How does this affect the team in such a crucial part of the season?
Alexandra: So briefly what happened was that Berizzo left Orellana out of the squad ahead of the first leg vs Real Madrid and when he was asked about it in his pre-match press conference where he told reporters that Orellana would never play for Celta again as long as he was the coach. The only reason for this given at the time was that Orellana had showed an “unacceptable lack of respect”. The following day it was reviled by Faro de Vigo that the tension between Orellana and Berizzo has been ongoing for a while but really hit the fan this Christmas when Berizzo turned down Orellana’s request of a longer vacation during his injury. The player then protested by not attending the team’s home game vs Murcia in the Copa del Rey. After that, Orellana went on to say he wasn’t psychologically ready to play, though he’d been given the green light physically, which irritated Berizzo as Celta were in a tight schedule with a lot of games and really in need of the Chilean.
The boiling point came ahead of the return leg in the cup against Valencia when Berizzo wanted to talk to the player in his office. He sent his assistant Roberto Bonano to the dressing room after training to get the player. Orellana answered the request by shouting, in front of his teammates, “Que se vaya cagar no voy” roughly translated to: “You can fuck off, I’m not going”. He then went on to take his shower and leave the training ground without speaking to the coach. That’s when Berizzo is said to have taken the decision, of cutting him from the team, which he later made public the day before the Madrid game.
Here it should be noted that Orellana isn’t just a “squad player”. This is a top, top player we are talking about — one of Celta’s best players for the last couple of years. Before the season started, with Nolito gone, I would have said he was their best player. In fact even the club’s supporters themselves have at times argued he’s actually been too good to play for a club like Celta. But maybe this entire incident shows why he never made it to a bigger one. Undoubtedly however he’s been one of the reasons to why Celta has done so well in the last three years. The attacking trio of Nolito, Aspas and Oreallana last season was just simply brilliant. So it’s no small thing for Berizzo to cut him completely off like that.
In the end though It’s probably the right decision, the entire club have stood behind Berizzo in it and in the long run it’s likely to do Celta good. As it shows very clear — no player is above the team. Still, it’s sad because Celta lose one heck of a player. I do think they will miss him but since he’s been injured a lot this season and actually hasn’t played that many games it won’t affect them as much as it probably would have otherwise. They have already been forced to play without him and with Aspas scoring goals for fun it seems like they can manage doing that, after all. Obviously it’s still a huge piece missing and they are losing a player who can change a game on his own.
Kiyan: Celta are 8th, and are the only team to have beaten both Real Madrid and Barcelona this season. Safe to say they've, at the very least, met expectations - no?
Alexandra: Actually if I’m going to be completely honest, they haven’t really met my personal expectations for this season. As I think they have the potential to do even better. Sure this season they have beaten both Real Madrid and Barcelona which is no small task, still I believe that they played even better (in the home games) vs Barcelona and Real Madrid last season.
Last season was a brilliant one from Celta, especially the first part. Their 4-1 win over Barcelona being one of the best football games played by any team that season. Can’t even remember if I have ever seen a team outplay Barcelona, in the “Barcelona way”, like that before. They were also the better team against Real Madrid at Balaídos, though an incredible Keylor Navas stood in the way that evening. However the problem was that they mixed that kind of brilliant performances with sloppy mistakes, and not being able to keep focus when things started to go against them. I think I counted four straight games in which they scored own-goals or gave away goals. The game vs Real Madrid at the Bernabéu really demonstrated this, as they played a superb first half only to completely lose it in the second losing the game 7-1.
They did lose a key-player in Augusto mid-season which truly affected the team and then Nolito ahead of this season. But with the potential that was shown last season, it felt like if they could just work on the psychological part they would be almost unstoppable this season. But to juggle playing in three competitions Berizzo hase rotated to an extreme. Before Christmas I could only count 2-3 games in which he actually played his best possible XI. Instead, it has been a constant rotation which in times left the team a bit lost. They just barley made it through a rather easy Europa League group and they could have done a lot better in the league then they have. I’m not saying they have played bad or trying to downplay what they have actually archived, but at the same time I don’t think we have yet seen the best of this team. After Christmas the rotations have stopped somewhat and with that they have also won all of their games, except when they rested players vs Real Sociedad. So yes they’ve done good, but I don’t think we have yet seen what they can really do.
Kiyan: How has Celta coped in the post-Nolito era? Looks like Berizzo has done well to bring out the best out of the front three.
Alexandra: I think they coped quite well without Nolito. Aspas has hit an incredible goal-scoring form which definitely has helped. The attack has worked in a different way as before it was pretty much fixed that Nolito - Aspas - Orellana would play every game. This season there have been more rotations in the front three but also in the system, as Berizzo at times played other formations. Obviously Nolito is a difficult player to replace but I think Celta managed well and to be honest I think they suffered more of losing Augusto in the midfield than losing Nolito.
Kiyan: How will Celta line up Wednesday's match?
Alexandra: Since resting a lot of players vs Real Sociedad, I think one can be safe to say that Berizzo will play what he believes is his best eleven. With the players he have available that would likely be: Sergio, Mallo, Cabral, Roncaglia, Jonny, Marcelo Diaz, Radoja, Wass, Bongonda, Guidetti and Aspas.
Kiyan: What's your prediction?
This is a really difficult one. Celta are at home, have two away goals, and rested players. The conditions for them couldn’t be much better. But they are also playing against Real Madrid, a team that until a week ago or so hadn’t lost in 40 straight games. Still Celta are a strong home side, and Aspas is in the best form of his career. Madrid are still favourites but should there be one time when Celta could indeed knock Real Madrid out of the Copa del Rey it would be now. So for the fun of it let’s say 2-2 (4-3 on aggregate).