Our three Winter signings (L-R) Gio Gonzalez, Sergio Rico and Vedat Muriqi. | T. AYUGA

0

After a week when a man collapsed while riding on the London Eye – paramedics were quickly on the scene and said “He’s slowly coming round!” – Real Mallorca have a tricky home game Monday night (21:00) when the Basque “destroyers of the big clubs” At. Bilbao are the visitors.

After their hard fought 2-1 win against Cadiz last Saturday, RCD Mallorca face a key month in February and early March which should help us find out if the team are back on track or will we continue to struggle down the wrong end of the La Liga table? Between February 14 and March 2, we have four tough games against teams from the higher echelons of La Primera – At. Bilbao (H), Real Betis (A), Valencia (H) and Real Sociedad (H). It’s also a chance to find out if our three Winter signings are up to the task of keeping us in top flight Spanish football. Also will the team be capable of competing against these sides that are superior in budget and quality?

As well as our three new signings, perhaps the biggest player to return after six months out with an ankle problem that required surgery, is centre back and new captain Antonio Raillo. There’s no doubt he’s been sorely missed and he emerged once again as the leader of our defence, making his team mates play better, especially Valjent whose performance last Saturday improved significantly.

Although Raillo’s return to full fitness has been long and frustrating he strolled through the Cadiz game like he’d never been away. He’s been our fourth and best Winter signing. Raillo is now the only remaining member of the squad that was relegated to Segunda B.

If Mallorca can play the way they did in the first half against Cadiz then there are reasons for optimism and we may even get back to back home wins, something we haven’t done in two years.

Three of our next opponents are immersed in the Copa del Rey semi-finals. At. Bilbao, Betis and Valencia have to play a second leg in the first week of March. Real Sociedad, who have only won once in 10 games (a poor record for a team forced by budget and squad to compete every year in Europe), have a Europa league game against the powerful Red Bull Leipzig just before they come here in three weeks’ time.

Athletic Club, commonly knows as Athletic Bilbao or just Athletic have started 2022 in spectacular fashion. They’ve won three of their last four league games and have sneaked into the Copa del Rey semis after beating Barcelona and Real Madrid in San Mames.
In addition they’ve only lost one away game all season, played 12, won three, drawn eight.

Monday’s game will see them without several key players giving Mallorca some hope of what could be an upset. Bilbao will be formidable opponents and are one of the few Spanish sides that regularly beat La Liga giants Barcelona and Real Madrid once or twice in a couple of seasons.

It should be interesting to see if our new Albanian/Kosovan striker 27-year-old Vedat Muriqi (who speaks very good English) can replicate the form that won over the fans last Saturday. In less than a week, he’s been getting rave reviews from fans and the media alike in what has been a roller-coaster ride; one journalist going as far as saying Muriqi has transformed suspicion into hopeful anticipation at an alarming rate, as his first home performance seduced the fans. One thing’s for sure, he’s given us aerial power in the penalty area, something we’ve been missing of late.

In an interview in Spanish paper El Pais, he’s been telling his story about how as a child he had to flee Kosovo because of the conflict with Serbia and head for nearby Albania. The story goes on that his sharp chin and sunken cheekbones, highlighted by a beard, enhance his look of the weathered guy. After a spell in Kosovan football, he signed for Turkish giants Fenerbache, scoring 17 goals in 36 games.

That tally saw Lazio snap him up. He found the move tough, saying “In the Italian league there’s more quality than Turkey and I was injured for a while. Then I got Covid and suffered because of Lazio’s high level. I wasn’t lucky in Rome but it’s true when they gave me a chance I didn’t do well.”

About his penalty goal against Cadiz he said “I wanted to take the first penalty, forwards need to score goals and a penalty is an opportunity. For the second penalty I said nothing. Salva came and handed me the ball. He realised I needed to score, he is a good guy and he has a lot of character. I am very grateful to Salva for giving me his trust.

I had lots of offers but Mallorca called me directly and made me see that they loved me.” Muriqi hasn’t had time yet to find out the differences between Serie A and La Liga but he warns “In Italy the duels are stronger, here when you jump and a player shouts, the referee signals a foul – that’s not good.”

PS For Monday’s game, Baba will miss out again through a niggling thigh muscle problem and Amath, who’s contributed very little to the cause this season, is suspended. That probably means a repeat of the midfield double-pivot role of Galarreta and Salva Sevilla.

And finally

A friend of mine in Scotland has booked a table for Valentine’s Day for himself and his wife. It’s all going to end in tears, though, as she’s s**t at snooker!