Their neighbours from the capital’s suburb of Vallecas were obliging opponents as Real sought to keep pace with title rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid who had both won earlier in the day.
The scoreline was 5-0, keeping Real 3 points behind Atletico and 40 ahead of Vallecano who sit in mid-table still conscious of the threat of relegation.
The score represented the huge gulf in class, each goal equating to just over 100 million Euros as Real’s squad cost over 500 million to assemble, Vallecano’s costing nothing. Zero. 0 Euros.
In the Bernabeu, they started with 4 loanees while 2 more were introduced from the bench. Ze Castro, Sebastian Fernandez, Raul Baena and Alberto Bueno were all cast-offs from other La Liga clubs last summer and Razvan Rat arrived in February after being released from West Ham in the Premier League.
The club’s links to South America managed to discover the talents of Christian Cueva and Leonel Galeano while Joaquin Larrivey and Nery Castillo were brought back to Europe after stints in the Mexican league.
After Leo Baptistao was sold to Atletico Madrid for 7 million Euros, Vallecano drafted in 15 free transfers and spent not a single penny.
It is a ragbag squad adhering to a strictly austere wage-bill within La Liga’s lowest bracket of 11-14 million Euros, a fraction of that of Real Madrid’s.
Yet still, in the surroundings of the Bernabeu Vallecano refused to be overawed, winning the possession battle at 55% and registering 15 shots at the Real goal.
It was typical Vallecano, it was them who back in October became the first club for five years to edge Barcelona in the possession battle.
It was Los Vallecanos who last season saw less of the ball of just Barcelona and Bayern Munich in Europe’s top leagues. This season they are at it again, averaging 59.4% possession, the fourth highest in Europe.
However possession has not correlated with results. On 18 defeats only Real Betis have lost more while they have La Liga’s worst defence with 68 goals conceded at a rate of 2.19 per game.
Earlier in the season they went on a run of 6 straight losses at an aggregate score of 21-2. But somehow they have remained in touch, partly due to out-scoring more than half the league and the notable lack of draws, just 3, against the 10 wins they have picked up.
The do or die approach is a mirror-image of their manager, Paco Jemez, the 43 year old who shoots from the hip, cherishes style over substance and refuses to entertain any mention of compromise.
“If, as well as being small, you’re a coward, you’re going to get a beating from all sides,” the coach told Panenka magazine. “Of course you’re always improving things, making adjustments, but the fundamental idea is the same. If it hadn’t been, we would not be as strong now: you can’t go changing every day.
“We never thought of taking a different path. I wouldn’t do it any other way,” Jémez said. “But I have never wanted to die with my ideas; I have always wanted to win with my ideas, to live with them. I don’t do this to die.”
Even after the crushing against Madrid Jemez was still beaming with pride over his side’s performance. “Real Madrid has an amazing ability to easily hurt you and score.
Nobody likes giving up five goals, but I prefer giving up five goals like that than give up three running behind the ball,” he told Inside Spanish Football. “The team made an incredible effort. I don’t care if they would’ve scored four or eight against us. This serves as a lesson for the remaining matches.”
Results before the the defeat at the hands of their city neighbours had improved greatly with Vallecano heading into the game 5 unbeaten with a 1-1 draw at Valladolid the only points dropped in a run of 13 from 15 which took them to mid-table, 7 points shy of the 40 that is likely to be the required amount to stay up.
“We played at our highest level against Real Madrid and it didn’t work. We won’t change our style”, said Jemez of the relegation battle. “The fight for the league title will go down to the end of the season and this would be a very positive thing for La Liga.”
In a favourable run-in, 5 of their last 7 fixtures are against teams in the bottom half of the table but the relegation fight is just another hurdle for Jemez in the run of difficulties the former Real Zaragoza centre-half has experienced since taking charge of Madrid’s third club in 2012.
After joining from Cordoba, he was immediately stripped of Vallecano’s top-scorer for the previous season as Michu left for Swansea for £2 million amid the massive debt that had reached 40 million Euros, and the court-issued administration, the season before.
Jemez took over, duly spent nothing and astonishingly led Vallecano to an eighth-placed finish, their best ever position, which yielded a European slot they were unable to take up because of the financial crisis.
In the summer, Espanyol took Jordi Amat back from a loan spell and sold him to Swansea, Javi Fuego went to Valencia and as well as the exit of Baptistao, top-scorer Piti, who had hit 18 goals the year before, went to Grenada for free.
Jemez was charged with building a new squad, bringing in a raft of new players while 11 departed. Initially, losing such fire-power caused them to struggle despite the large amounts of possession, an opening day 3-0 win over Elche was the only time their fraught attack managed to score more than 1 in a game before match-day 12.
That match was the home game with Real Madrid, coming after Jemez’s defiant defence of a 1-3 loss in Osasuna.
“If Rayo want to play a different way, they should sign a different manager,” he said, before he welcomed Carlo Ancelotti’s team which was worth in the region of $600 million. Vallecano’s annual budget meanwhile was $7.5 million and they were 3-0 down within 48 minutes.
Jemez then withdrew a full-back, turned to a back three and took the game to Madrid, earning two penalties and scoring them both.
The home side bossed possession 60% to 40%, completed 142 more passes than Ancelotti’s side and the shot count eventually read 23-11 in Vallecano’s favour but Real held out for a 3-2 win.
The Italian praised Jemez and asked if he could sit in on a Vallecano training session, testament enough to the coach’s admirable conviction and why he still refuses to steer away from his enduring philosophy.
“We’re the shittiest team in the league and unless we realise that we will suffer” is another Jemez sound-bite, though he is simply unwilling to admit to such a view by conventionally shutting teams out and defending.
“All you need to play football is one ball and two bollocks”, he said, reason enough for every neutral to want Vallecano and Jemez to remain fighting on at Spain’s top-level, although not in the way so many expect them to.