Morbo Minute–You Take the Good, You Take the Bad . . .

I dove back into La Liga this week.  After missing both Copa matches in midweek, I was able to see two league games live, with one possibly the game of the season and the other one to forget.

Saturday

Athletic Bilbao 3  Espanyol 3

I have seen a couple of fantastic games this season—Valencia 2 FCB 2; Bilbao 2 FCB 2; Villarreal 2 Valencia 2—but this game might be the best of the lot.  I picked this game out of the weekend’s program because it featured two teams vying for European places and I had been following both in the Copa del Rey.  I was rewarded with an energetic goalfest featuring fantastic finishes, shambolic defending and end to end action.

Los Leones were in charge for the opening half hour with Espanyol seeing very little of the ball, having only one shot of note. Pochettino sent them out very defensively, with two banks of defenders and trying to hit the hosts on the counter. Bilbao were fluid in attack with Muniain buzzing about, and they missed a couple of quality chances before being gifted the opener.  Didac, who had a mixed bag, headed the ball back into danger and Oscar hit a shot that was initially saved by Casilla but trickled in.

Los Pericos got right back into match after the hosts did not clear their lines and Romaric slammed in a shot from just outside of the box.  After that the game became stretched and Espanyol actually came into the game, with captain Verdu doing a decent job of pulling the strings.  They had a goal chalked off for a marginal offside call and just before the half, they were cut open but the ball was headed wide (although slightly deflected).

Bielsa made two subs at halftime, bringing on Ander and Susaeta for Lopez and Perez.  I figured this was due to their Copa involvement midweek, and he expected the two younger players to step the game up a gear, but Bilbao went immediately behind as Weiss started the half with a bang as his blistering shot gave the visitors the lead.  The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the hosts and Espanyol went for it, with Weiss having a nice spell of play.

Llorente got Bilbao back on track on 58’ as he continued his rich vein of form. Great service from Susaeta and Didac lost him as the big man headed in to equalize.  Espanyol almost responded quickly but Susaeta saved off the line.  Javi Martinez then gave Los Leones the lead with a fantastic header with 25’ to go.

Coutinho (on loan from Inter) saw very little of the ball and was subbed off for Thievy after a possible foot injury.  Albin then came on at the 72 minute mark for Rui Fonte, and Llorente made way for Toquero with 15’ to go.  Another new signing for Espanyol. Uche, entered with 10′ to go.

All of these moves set up the grand finale.  Susaeta made space for himself but his curling effort crashed off the post.  The game looked like it would finish with three points for the hosts but then the ball was played into Uche and as he flicked the ball into space, the defender slipped, and Albin absolutely smashed a shot off the crossbar and in to share the spoils.

Draw might have been a fair result but both teams needed all three points in their quest for Europe.  There is still a chance that one of these teams may claim fourth, which is good and bad.  Good in that both teams can entertain, but bad in that I don’t see either lasting long in the Champions League.

Sunday

Atletico Madrid 0  Valencia 0

Shortly before the Super Bowl started, I watched Atleti v Valencia in a game that I was really looking forward to.   I had not seen Simeone’s Atleti play so was curious to see how they would set out.  Los Che were coming of a grueling game against Barca and I wasn’t sure they would be up for it.  The resulting 90’ were painful in every meaning of the word.

The first fifteen minutes were chippy and scrappy, with not much to speak of.  Ruiz got a yellow after hauling down Falcao, and then on 28’ the first real chance of game fell to Piatti as a poor header provided him a chance to give it a lash which Courtois saved.

Not much more to say about the first half, filled with 19 fouls, other than Adrian had a decent header saved

The second half started with Soldado being played in.  There was a scramble and on another day a penalty may have been called.  Felt like Valencia was coming into the game, with Emery eventually subbing Soldado with Aduriz on the half hour mark.  Probably was looking for fresh legs after a Copa game in midweek and another to follow.

Godin got knocked the fuck out by the GK punching clear and had to be subbed.  Minutes later, Falcao created a chance for himself but it was saved off the line.  Piatti went out around 67’, and I thought he had a decent game.  And by that I mean that he was more involved and influential than he had been in the previous times I had watched him.  Alba nearly punished lazy passing out of the Atleti rearguard, but his shot fizzed just wide.

In the end a forgettable game.  Simeone has stabilized things and if Atleti can sort out their attack, they will be playing European football next season.

Here is my twitter commentary with @AtleticoFans:

this game is awful. if teams would stop fouling each other and knock the ball around, that would be nice. #Atleti #ValenciaCF #LaLiga

@AtleticoFans This is Atleti’s new style I’m afraid. I do hope the forwards will be able to connect a bit better, doesn’t seem to b a plan b

new style as in foul everyone in sight or their build up play? adrian has been decent, diego poor, arda invisible

@AtleticoFans Both, but mostly the latter. Defence has been told not to take risks. Biggest change is that entire team “haunts” opponents

Feel like I’m watching anMLS game. Not a good feeling

Derek at Atleticofans summed up the game perfectly in his post game reviewGood football didn’t seem a priority to either coach, who instructed their teams to play with aggression and intensity.

Paul Wilkes (@laligauk) did a guest post at Forza Futbol to discuss the tactics of this game, which he did far better than me.  Another clean sheet for Simeone’s men, an away point for Los Che, and improvement in fringe players Adrian and Piatti.

—–

Results

Saturday

Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad

Looks like Liverpool aren’t the only club to deal with cat invading the pitch as Meg Ryan at Total Barca looked back on a Barca game that featured youth but also some of the issues that have been plaguing the Blaugrana this season: lack of finishing, injuries and vulnerablility to the counter-attack.

Getafe 0-1 Real Madrid

Bassam gave tongue in check awards to at Real Madrid Football Blog.  He was able to have some fun with Los Merengues as the game against Getafe was not even worth writing about.

Mallorca 1-0 Real Betis

Levante 1-1 Racing

Sunday

Real Zaragoza 1-2 Rayo Vallecano

Sevilla 1-2 Villarreal

Marcelino was fired the next day.  No surprise really.  With their downturn in form, I thought he would have hit the road after last round’s loss to Malaga.  As for the Yellow Submarine, they are slowly pulling away the relegation zone.

Sporting 1-1 Osasuna

Monday

Granada 2-1 Malaga

That can’t be good for Pellegrini.

—–

Articles

Sid Lowe dug into the challengers for fourth place this campaign, finding several candidates but not one that seems ready to take the position and make it their own.  In a weekend of key confrontations, draws were the order the day, and, in the end, nothing much changed.

Phil Ball travelled to Barcelona with his daughter to catch the game against Real Sociedad in a half filled Nou Camp.  On one of the coldest nights in almost 50 years, it was a game with chances for both sides and Tello and Griezmann catching the eye (besides Messi of course).

La Liga Loca praised Sergio Ramos, Espanyol and Atlethic Bilbao among others after a round that produced the sublime or the staid.  More of the latter.  Marcelino went down, Zaragoza is going down and the Atleti/Valencia should be flushed down the toilet.

Olly Dawes recapped the latest transfer window in La Liga.  Several of the middle to bottom sides looked to bolster their squad, while Espanyol made a couple of pick ups to strengthen a team fighting for a European place.

Graham Hunter drew parallels between J. Edgar Hoover and the Special One is his weekly column for soccernet, advising Mourinho to not burn too many bridges in his search for possible leaks.  Hunter also touched on Valencia’s new sponsor and an amazing Copa del Rey.

I did a little research and found Jinko Solar’s press release about partnering with Valencia.  I read their ABOUT section several times and still don’t know what they do other than provide solar energy options.  Maybe it really is that simple.

Graham Hunter’s anticipated book on FC Barcelona, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World is out and SI.com published an excerpt, which retold Messi’s trip from Argentina to Spain and the tense weeks that unfolded until he actually signed with the club.  Fascinating stuff and can’t wait to get my hands on the book.

I wasn’t able to catch the FCB game this week, so I when I read that Tello not only started but scored, I couldn’t wait to see the highlights.  Iain McMullen at El Centrocampista shared a brief history of yet another Barcelona youth product ready to help Pep’s Team.

—–

Here is the current table.  The battle for fourth in Spain should be as dramatic as the one in England.  Stay tuned.

Real Madrid

21

18

1

2

52

55

Barcelona

21

14

6

1

48

48

Valencia

21

10

7

4

9

37

Levante

21

9

5

7

2

32

Espanyol

21

9

5

7

1

32

Athletic

21

7

9

5

5

30

Atlético

21

8

6

7

4

30

Málaga

20

8

4

8

-5

28

Osasuna

21

6

10

5

-10

28

Getafe

21

7

6

8

-5

27

Sevilla

21

6

8

7

-2

26

Rayo

21

7

4

10

-7

25

Mallorca

21

6

7

8

-7

25

R Sociedad

21

6

6

9

-7

24

Betis

21

7

2

12

-7

23

Villarreal

21

5

8

8

-9

23

Racing

21

4

10

7

-8

22

Granada

20

6

4

10

-13

22

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