Morbo Minute–The Rain in Spain mainly falls on Bilbao

There’s a lot to get to, so here we go!!

A slow start to this round on Saturday rose to a crescendo by the end of Sunday.  Saturday saw only two goals total in three matches, but Real Madrid lit the match paper on Sunday (12pm local, 9pm in Asia and 6am in the US) and after that, almost every match was exciting and filled with goals.  Later I will talk about this round’s Match of the Season (Athletic Bilbao v FCB) but let’s start with the nightcap on Saturday.

Levante 0   Valencia 2  

This game stood out for me for several reasons: Levante just suffered their first league loss of the season and, after their dream start, I wanted to see how they would respond; and Valencia got a big win midweek against Bayer Leverkusen and their season seems to be coming into form.

The Valencian Derby got off to a cracking start with tackles coming thick and fast and there was almost an opening goal for Levante inside of three minutes. Valencia came into the game with Mathieu finding a lot of joy on the left hand side.  Then a razor sharp pass from Tino Costa let in Jordi Alba (playing more of a Left Center Mid role in this match) on 31 minutes, and his shot trickled in for an early advantage (Later it was ruled an own goal by Javi Venta as he tried to recover defensively).  The early energy had faded from the hosts and they were fouling and scraping, receiving three yellows very quickly, until halftime.

I was hoping that the break would give the Granotes a chance to reorganize but another early foul set up a Tino Costa free kick.  It was well struck but the goalkeeper made a complete hash of it to put Los Che up 2-0 with 40 minutes to play.  After that Valencia exploited their advantage and looked to be in complete control, but Levante didn’t give up and created a series of half chances, but nothing came of it.

Maxwell at SpanishFootball.info hit the nail on the head in his post: Tino Costa was the difference and “Outside of Costa’s play, however, the match was dominated by frenetic energy and brute force.”

The result sees the two teams heading in different directions going into the International Break. Valencia have won their last four in all competitions, while Levante have lost their last two matches.  After the break, it gets tricky for both sides.

Valencia

  • Real Madrid (H)
  • Rayo Vallecano (A)
  • Espanyol (H)

Levante

  • Atletico Madrid (A)
  • Sporting Gijon (H)  Must Win
  • FC Barcelona (A)

————

Athletic Bilbao 2  FC Barcelona 2

Going into the match I predicted a score draw.  Los Leones had been a good run of form both in the league and in the Europa League, plus the Blaugrana usually struggle when they go to San Mames.  Pep started the game with an intriguing lineup, with Adriano, Messi and Iniesta up top (or Adriano out left with Cesc up top, depending on how you look at it).  I was skeptical about how Barcelona would attack, but then Adriano played some neat one twos early before scuffing his shot, so I thought, this won’t be so bad.

Bilbao started the match with great energy and quickness of movement and quickness of thought, putting the champions under pressure in rainy conditions.  Sorry, that’s an understatement.  It was a downpour the entire the first half with spraying with every step, with every pass that zipped along the floor.

I told my friend early in the game I was afraid of Alves or Abidal slipping going forward and leaving the other defenders exposed.  Turns out Mascherano was the one who lost his footing, letting Susaeta in, who looked up and found Ander at the top of the box.  He took a neat prep touch and his composed finish to the far post ended Valdes’ 900 some minutes of clean sheets.

FCB got right back it.  A well worked set piece was saved by Iraizoz and then Abidal took a big touch in the left hand channel and hit a fantastic ball across the six yard box, which Cesc headed in to equalize.  A great first half ended with Bilbao in the ascendancy. Barcelona responded well after going down and took control of the match, playing quickly and with purpose, but Los Leones dug in and gave it right back to the champions.  The question at halftime had to be: could the hosts keep it up for the entire match?

The second half started with lots of fouls.  Added to this were puddles all over the pitch, so the rhythm of the first half was gone.  The half Bilbao defended was in poor shape so they had a hard time countering and were under a lot of pressure, although the Blaugrana had a hard time creating clear chances.  Then in the 80th minute, things got crazy.  Mascherano, in an attempt to play back to Valdes, ended up kicking the ball out for a corner.  The resulting kick came into penalty area and was missed by Pique.  Abidal tried to clear but ended up hitting Llorente and the ball rebounded off the tall striker and then off Pique and into the goal.  Just like that Bilbao were in front.  Pep immediately subbed Pique for Thiago and went to a 3-4-3.  Barca turned up the pressure and after Iniesta and Villa had good chances saved, it looked as if the Blaugrana would lose their defensive record and unbeaten record in the same match and go four points down to Real Madrid.  But a scramble in the Bilbao penalty area fell to Messi and he made no mistake, stroking it in to equalize and scoring his first away goal in the league this season.

An enthralling game which ended in a fair result. Bilbao have made real strides and these kind of efforts give them every chance to qualify for Europe again after a slow start.  Muniain had a tremendous match, energetic and always problematic.  Llorente had several good touches in link up play and did well as the target player.  As for the champions, their tempo was very high in the first half despite missing several key players, and their responses to going a goal down twice earned high praise from this viewer.  Messi was subdued but was hounded all over the field.  Xavi dictated play as usual but his shooting was poor when he had the opportunity.  FCB dropped points and now Real Madrid have the advantage with el clasico just a month away.

Sid Lowe put his gloss on the epic match at San Mames, reflecting on the relationship between Bielsa and Guardiola and lauding a typical Bilbao team that had an edge due to their manager, and commenting that Los Leones’ season seems to be coming good, unbeaten in 10, while FCB remains unbeaten this year in all competitions but three points down to Real Madrid.

Lee Roden (@LeeRoden89) at El Centrocampista summed up the match: It was a match that in reality was far from classic in terms of quality, but top drawer in the entertainment department. He also felt thatBilbao had the upper hand in the conditions.

Kelsey from the Barcelona Offside blog did a much better job of summarizing the game than I did.  However I disagree with several of the ratings that were given.  Mascherano a 6.5?  Responsible for both goals and beaten for pace, there’s no way he gets above a 5.  Adriano a 5?  He was involved more in the attack than I thought he would be and considering he is not a natural attacker and did a decent job defensively, thought he did well and deserved more.

Finally Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog gave a synopsis of the game that acknowledged Bilbao’s pressure and unyielding effort.  His ratings were a little more in line with my thinking but he gave Alvesa 5, which I thought was a little harsh.

————

The rest of the league . . .

Villarreal has had a rough couple of weeks: a pair of 3-0 losses to Levante and Real Madrid; knocked out of the Champions League after losing their first four matches; a 0-0 draw with Espanyol on Sunday; and a host of injuries, which has the left the squad quite depleted.

Graham Hunter took a look at the club and how the absence of their star, Guiseppi Rossi, may affect the Yellow Submarine.  Meanwhile, Sam Parker from footymatters.com examined the current squad and how the recent results have created a negative vide at the club and things may get worse for everyone involved.

La Liga Loca noted that several teams will be looking forward to the International Break and correctly pointed out that Real Madrid, although they have the advantage in the table, still have to play Atlético Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Valencia and Sevilla

Sid Lowe on the Guardian’s Football Weekly went the other way, saying that Madrid do well against the top sides and that they may finally have the edge they need to win the league this year.

David Redshaw at a different liga wrote a quick post mortem on a stunning performance from Getafe in the last match of the round, as the The Dark Blues secured a victory despite being down a player for almost an hour.  The comments from the Atletico Madrid coach Manzano, especially Defeat against Getafe was a total disaster, do not bode well for the team or his future on the bench.

Olly Dawes had some comments on Malaga’s start to the season.  Pellegrini’s squad selection has come into question and everyone is coming up with a list of reinforcements for January.

Here is a little info on Barcelona’s rising star Isaac Cuenca.

Nothing about Real Madrid this week.  They won.  They won a game played at 12 noon local time.  CR7 scores more goals.  Opponents play a dangerous high line and are punished.  That is all.

Finally, Forza Futbol had Chris Clements on to talk about Spanish Stadiums. as he has launched a website: http://estadiosdeespana.blogspot.com/.  He also had some frank and poignant comments about away fans and ticket prices in Spain.  Amazing information and his website is very informative.

Also, the panel covered a lot of ground in a pod with Edu after a round of midweek games during the week of 10/24.  Despite it being a couple of weeks old, there is still a ton of good information about some of the forgotten teams in La Liga.

————

If you’re still reading this post, much thanks.  Here is the table heading into the break and some questions.

  • How long will Valencia stay in touching distance with the Big Two?
  • Can Real Betis turn it around after a soaring start has transformed into a devastating crash?
  • Is Sevilla’s run at the top four over?
  • Can Real Sociedad climb off the bottom?
P W D L GD PTS
Real Madrid 11 9 1 1 32 28
Barcelona 11 7 4 0 28 25
Valencia 11 7 3 1 8 24
Levante 11 7 2 2 8 23
Sevilla 11 4 6 1 3 18
Málaga 11 5 2 4 -2 17
Espanyol 11 5 1 5 -4 16
Rayo 11 4 3 4 1 15
Athletic 11 3 5 3 3 14
Osasuna 11 3 5 3 -10 14
Atlético 11 3 4 4 0 13
Betis 11 4 1 6 -5 13
Villarreal 11 2 5 4 -8 11
Getafe 11 2 4 5 -5 10
Mallorca 11 2 4 5 -8 10
R Zaragoza 11 2 4 5 -10 10
Sporting 11 2 3 6 -6 9
Racing 11 1 6 4 -8 9
Granada 11 2 3 6 -8 9
R Sociedad 11 2 2 7 -9 8
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