Morbo Minute–Copa Letdown

After the drama of the cup, I was let down in the league.  FCB and Real Madrid survived scares in their race for the title, while the chasing pack continue to stumble over themselves.  At the bottom, Real Zaragoza are all but done, while Villarreal is truly in the relegation mire, with Racing escaping for the time being.

Saturday

Sevilla 0  Espanyol 0

I looked forward to this game after watching drama filled cup ties involving these teams in midweek, and apparently the excitement tanks could not be refilled.  Sevilla were knocked out by Valencia on away goals after winning 2-1 at the Sanchez Pijuan.  Espanyol got a late goal to win 4-2 and progress 5-4 against Cordoba.

Sevilla were in charge but both teams made a sloppy start.  Reyes, based on my viewing had a free role behind Negredo as Navas and Manu looked to occupy the wings.  But Espanyol were compact and Sevilla had a hard time picking their way through.  Turns out that was the theme of the game.  Sevilla couldn’t score and Espanyol couldn’t attack.  The Rojiblancos had several half chances that went begging, while Los Pericos would play up to Thievy, who was active but had horrible first touches before finally being subbed.

The game was not much of a spectacle, and I kept the bartender busy getting me more beers until we finally switched to the Spurs/Wolves replay. Sharing the points helps neither team, as Sevilla remains in a funk.  Espanyol might slowly be turning things around after a slow start, with their league form improving and still having a chance to progress in the Copa del Rey.

Madridista Mac returned to savor a Real Madrid victory borne of courage, grit and determination rather than slick, efficient domination. Mourinho made wholesale changes (similar to the ones in the second half of the first leg against Malaga in the Cup) and Los Merengues hammered the islanders into submission. For seventy minutes, the door was open for FCB but Higuain and Callejon and the rest slammed it shut.

Sunday

I wasn’t able to get up for the 6am EST kickoff of Atletico Madrid against Villarreal, despite this being a key match for each team and their new managers.

Derek at Atleticofans.com was pretty happy with Atleti’s performance, with their pressing taking the Yellow Submarine out of the game. Sounds like Falcao, Diego and Arda Turan had good matches and Los Colchoneros will look to build on this result as they try to climb up the table.

For a Villarreal perspective, I visited VillarrealUSA.com, where Allen was not so positive, calling this “as poor as a performance as I’ve seen from Villarreal in the league in a long while.” With the midfield doing very little in front of the backline, it was only a matter of time before Atleti scored. Allen also mentioned the lack of depth, which hurt them all over the field. Before the season I thought Atletico might go down, but it turns out that The Yellow Submarine are the ones in real trouble.

Athletic Bilbao 3 Levante 0

Bilbao continued their great run of form—only one loss in their last ten competitive matches, (PSG in a Europa League game) and unbeaten in last five league games (2 wins and 3 draws).  Los Leones dominated the first half with several great chances and finally broke through as Amorebieta headed in from 12 yards from a corner.  The hosts searched for a second, and it finally came five minutes from the half as Oscar tortured his defender before floating a cross over the keeper for Llorente to head in.

Levante’s form, particularly away from home, has not been spectacular. Since beating Real Sociedad in late October, Los Granotes have only won two of their last eight league matches, suffering five defeats in that time, including the last four away.  They tried to insert some attacking thrust at the interval, subbing out Nano for Valdo, and the visitors were a little more threatening in the second stanza, but Bilbao could have easily added a third or fourth, with several slick moves that didn’t come off.

San Jose added a third at the end after Juanfran had been sent off.  His absence from the post on the ensuing corner and poor marking allowed the defender to head home.  Bilbao deserved the win but two of the goals came from corners, which Levante didn’t deal with at all.  Muniain had another fantastic game and Javi Martinez was particularly impressive defensively and starting attacks out of the back.  Los Leones will need more results like this if they hope to qualify for Europe.

Malaga’s inconsistent season continues as they suffered a late goal against Gijon to lost 2-1, which puts them in eighth place. Mike Barnes at A Different Liga commented on the match, with rumors surrounding several transfer targets but so far it only looks like Kameni is signing. Ruud is not the answer up top and the defense is old and creaky. European qualification will be a tooth and nail affair as no team seems able to assert themselves.

Meg Ryan at Total Barca reviewed a match that saw the best and worst of the FC Barcelona this season—a sizzling start with early goals, complacency in the middle, and a furious finish that, this time, earned results. I was not able to see the game but in watching an extended highlights package, Betis were carved open but created plenty of chances themselves. Another reason to think that Real Madrid might finish on top of the league this season.

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Sid Lowe examined the Diego Simeone’s first home game in charge, a 3-0 drubbing of the Yellow Submarine. A popular choice of the fans, he will provide unity and a link to the past, until the results go against him.

Phil Ball lamented possible “spectacle-fatigue” as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona clash in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. He also scanned the table and identified the battles going on under the Big Two—the fight for fourth and the race to avoid relegation—with this spring surely filled with drama until the last day.

La Liga Loca picked out Racing (unbeaten since Cuper left and out of the relegation zone) and Callejon for praise while identifying that Sevilla and Malaga are in trouble and Valencia have a lack of attacking depth.

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Articles

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Real Zaragoza, and every time I read something about them it has something to do with their finances tanking and the club being run poorly. Liam’s post about the club addresses both, with several board administrators resigning, a new coach in place after a hiring fiasco, and players’ wages not being paid. All of this on top of being rock bottom in the league.

Build it and they will come. Hardly, Spanish stadia expert Chris Clements wrote a piece on Sevilla’s Olympic Stadium, Estadio La Cartuja, built in the late 90’s for attempted 2004 and 2008 Olympics bids which has sat largely dormant since then. A fantastic venue for athletics but not so good for footy. Shame really.

Graham Hunter raised questions about Di Maria’s pay packet ahead of the Cup clash between the Big Two. Surely this season he has earned himself a raise, playing well on the wing, creating several chances in the middle against Sevilla, and getting rid of the unsavory part of his game.

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Pods

Allen from VillarrealUSA.com was on the Forza Football pod to discuss Villarreal, the finances of the league, third party ownership, and Valencia’s deal to move forward with the new Mestalla.  Informative and entertaining as always.

Sid Lowe and Andy May recapped the weekend’s action on Sky’s La Liga Weekly and looked ahead to the Clasico clashes in the Copa.  Injuries, form and desire will impact these games.

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