Morbo Minute–The Day of the Frogs

A couple of Spanish National Team notes from the international break. . .

Sid Lowe took a look at Spain, examining the team selection for the recent internationals and forecasts what the team might look at next summer in Poland and Ukraine. La Furia Roja will need to sort out these areas: left back (Jordi Alba), a backup center back (several possibilities), and one more striker (Negredo, Soldado, or Torres).

@LaLigaLoca focused on David Silva’s reintegration into the squad.

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As for the league, Olly Dawes (@OllyDawes) examined Espanyol’s slow start to this season going into this round of matches.  This is almost the exact opposite to their fantastic start to the last campaign.  Los Periquitos slumped after returning from the winter break, only winning 6 of their 22 matches (6W 3D 13L) and finishing 8th.  This year they have started with six points from their first six matches and are mired in 15th.  Not good.  Note: Espanyol picked up three vital points against Rayo Vallecano.

Higuaín and Messi continue to score at will, which @LaLigaLoca led his Good Day, Bad Day off with.  Neither struggled after the international break, with Real Madrid and Barcelona consolidating their spots at the top of the table, as Valencia and Real Betis slipping again.  Levante continue to be the surprise package, as Sid Lowe put into context: player wages, average age of the squad and historical success of the club.  Phil Ball went the other way in the top of the table clash against Malaga, mentioning the inconsistencies of the Malaga Project before moving on to talking about David Villa and the rise of the media punta or false #9 in La Liga and La Furia Roja and beyond.

The round featured another candidate for goal of the season, as Helder Postiga pulled of this for Zaragoza against Real Sociedad.

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Sunday afternoon, I watched Levante v Malaga.  Going into the match Levante (their nickename is Granotes meaning Frogs) was joint top of the table (behind FCB on goal difference) and Malaga was fourth.  For Malaga this was expected as their project continues to take shape, but for Levante, who barely survived last year (only winning three of their last nine matches), these are heady times.  Back from the international break, Levante was close to full strength, with Xavi Torres’ (his transfer from Malaga contained a clause that meant Levante would have to pay if the midfielder played against his former club) replaced by Francisco Farinos.  For Malaga, they were without Julio Baptista (injured in a friendly against Real Jaen during the international break).

Both teams started with lone strikers with Malaga very fluid behind Ruud van Nistelrooy.  Carzola was pulling the strings with Isco and Joaquin switching flanks, Maresca picking up the ball from the back, and Toulalan sitting in between the center backs a la FCB.  Monreal made his first start of the season, his chance at making the national team slipping away with every good Jose Enrique performance.

The first half was full of incident. Malaga had tons of possession in the first half, but were not dangerous in the final third.  Levante seemed content to keep Malaga at arms length and counter if possible, which paid off after 13’ as Juanlu got to the byline to square for Barkero, who made no mistake. Malaga continued to knock the ball around without any real threat.  Then on 27’, a long ball got Kone in on goal, which Willy (his given name is Wilfredo Caballero) came out to meet but he used his hands, received a second yellow and was sent off.  The resulting free kick trickled through the wall and Juanlu was first to react, poking it past Ruben (Maresca was sacrificed) who came on in goal.    Ruben had a rough 15’, totally misplaying Valdo in the corner, which was saved off the line, and then making a complete hash of a ball over the top, which Kone walked in.  Halftime couldn’t come soon enough for Malaga, down a man and down 3-0.

Pellegrini made two subs at half time, Rondon for van Nistelrooy and Seba Fernández for Cazorla.  Once I saw those, I knew the Chilean was laying down and getting ready for next week.  Rondon was a little more active and Isco seemed to get on the ball more with Santi out but again no cutting edge.  Levante were content to let Malaga knock the ball around and hit the visitors on the break.  They had a few chances but nothing too dangerous.  The last 20 minutes or so became a series of individual dribbling contests as the fight of the game was gone.

A fantastic result for Levante, who are away to Villarreal next week.  With the Yellow Submarine out of sorts this could be a chance for one or all three points to help the Frogs’ cause.  As for Malaga, it doesn’t get any better because they host Real Madrid in the next round, and with Los Merengues firing in the goals (and Ruben looking terrible between the sticks), this could be a rough one.

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Mando (@espanyolusa) at Forza Football shot off a quick rant about the state of fan support in La Liga.  He gave some troubling stats and some legitimate points about the future of the league–ticket prices, start times, financial disparity.  Again, this is the issue that’s not going away.

Finally SpanishFootball.info (@espanafutbol) had Tim Vickery (@Tim_Vickery) on their latest podcast. Jaime McGregor and Vickery covered a lot of ground, starting with Neymar’s possible (ie eventual) transfer to Europe.  There was a real chance of him joining Chelsea but now Real Madrid look to be the favorites, although it probably won’t happen until 2012 or 2013 due to Santos’ participation in the World Club Championship and the upcoming Olympics.  As for Santos’ chances against FCB in December (assuming they both qualify for the final), Vickery feels that, unlike previous finals, the South Americans will be able to go toe to toe with the Europeans, as Santos has kept Elano, Ganso, and Neymar for the time being.

There are many South Americans in Spain—Rondon, Montero, Gago, Banega to name a few.  Vickery told listeners to keep an eye out for Edwin Cardona (’92) from Colombia (midfielder playing with Atleticon Nacional), Rui Dias from Peru and Bryan Carrasco (’91) from Chile (outside back or winger playing for Audax Italiano).  Marcelo Bielsa to Athletic Bilbao was also mentioned.  Vickery worries that it may not be the right move due to Los Leones lack of attacking options and resources.  The movement of South Americans to Europe led to a discussion of Riquleme’s transfer to Barcelona at the beginning of the century.  Vickery said it was the right time but the wrong club as Riquleme didn’t really fit in with the Blaugrana of van Gaal.

The guys also discussed players’ roles on their national teams.  Dani Alves plays a different role on the Brazilian team, and there is a lot of competition at both outside back spots, with Marcelo probably on the outside looking in.  There is also the disconnect between Messi’s play with Barcelona and Argentina.  With Argentina there is no system and similar personnel so it is no wonder that he can’t replicate the same sort of performances.  Vickery mentioned that because of the rise of club football, it may not be necessary for Messi to win the World Cup to be considered one of the all time greats.  Finally, Mascherano was discussed, due to his use at FCB as a center back.  While this works for the Blaugrana, his lack of height would be exposed at the international level.

All in all, very entertaining and informative, as always with the Vickipedia is on any show.

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Fixtures this weekend:

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 22, 2011

12:00 ET           Racing Santander          v           Espanyol                       El Sardinero

12:00 ET           Sporting Gijon               v           Granada                        El Molinón

2:00 ET             Málaga                         v           Real Madrid                   La Rosaleda      ESPN3

4:00 ET            Barcelona                     v           Sevilla FC                      Camp Nou         GOL TV

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2011

10:00 ET           Real Sociedad   v          Getafe               Anoeta            ESPN3

11:00 ET           Sporting Gijon    v         Granada

12:00 ET           Atlético Madrid  v          Mallorca                        Vicente Calderón           ESPN3

12:00 ET           Osasuna           v          Real Zaragoza               Reyno de Navarra

2:00 ET            Valencia            v          Athletic Bilbao               Mestalla                        GOL TV

4:00 ET             Villarreal            v          Levante             El Madrigal                                GOL TV

6:00 ET             Real Betis         v          Rayo Vallecano             Benito Villamarín

Find a bar stool or set your DVR or both.  Lots of quality matches this weekend, with the US TV audience having a chance to catch most of them.

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