Morbo Minute–Sunday Slaughters

European games are back on the calendar.  I was able to watch the Barcelona game against Leverkusen and found it hard to get into the match, especially in the first half, but the goals from both sides were quite good, especially Sanchez’s first and Messi’s one at the end.  Once Bayer hit the woodwork down 2-1, their moment was gone and they will really be up against it at the Nou Camp.  I caught only bits and pieces of the Real Madrid game.  Managed to see CR7’s goal but missed most of the second half including the shock equalizer at the death.  I doubt CSKA will avoid a drubbing at the Bernabeu in a couple of weeks.

As for La Liga teams in the Europa League, SpanishFootball.info gave a quick round up.  Might have to find some time in the schedule to see if Bilbao can turn it around against Lokomotiv at San Mames.

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This weekend’s action saw lots of goals with Real Madrid putting four past Racing, an 8 goal extravaganza between Rayo and Levante, Barca’s five past Valencia and the Yellow Submarine surrendering four to Real Mallorca.  This round also saw Levante slip from fourth place.  Their slide down the table has been put on hold because none of the chasing pack can get their act together, but I don’t see Los Granotes finding the hand brake.

I can tell that Madrista Mac is really excited about this Real Madrid team and with good reason.  With Benzema and Granero giving Mourinho different options, this Los Merengues squad will take some stopping.  He also focused on Real gaining every single point they can during this relatively easy period before the anticipated war of April with battles in the Champions League and another Clasico.

Athletic Bilbao 3  Malaga 0

Searching for this game on US TV, I was at a loss.  It wasn’t on GolTV or ESPN3, so I had two options: illegal internet feed or miss it.  But thanks to the Washington Post’s Soccer Insider, I saw that it was on DirecTV channel 477, so I headed up early Sunday morning to the Lansing Claddagh to watch it.

Bilbao had a midweek game in Russia, which they lost 2-1, so Bielsa sent out a squad without Llorente, Martinez, and Amorebieta, which gave Toquero a rare start.  Malaga started with a mostly first choice side, although Joaquin was on the bench.  Los Boquerones got off a to a flyer, with Bilbao goalkeeper Iraizoz having to make several smart saves, and stayed on top of the match for the opening 15 minutes.

There wasn’t much in the middle part of the half as Los Leones came into the match.  Munain got involved and was able to get past his defender at will.  Isco for Malaga did not see much off the ball as the half progressed and his influence faded.  Toquero showed himself to a different player than Llorente, more all action, sort of like a poor man’s Tevez.

The second half started 0-0 and Bilbao substituted Susaeta and Ekiza for Llorente and Amorebieta, and the defender opened the scoring on 57 minutes after a poorly cleared corner kick.  Another corner kick was rammed home by San Jose before a 1 v 1 by Ander was roofed home by Toquero.

The second half petered out as Malaga was all over the place.  The visitors proved the adage that you must take your chances, and their profligacy in front goal cost them as much as their lapses in concentration in the second period.  Bilbao, thanks to Levante’s loss, climbed into fourth, while Malaga are mired in ninth.

Mike Barnes at A Different Liga saw a Malaga team in control but wasteful in front of goal and absent on set pieces.  Seems like the only way they can make the Champions League is to immediately correct their away form, which Mike stated:  Pellegrini’s men haven taken only eight points from a possible 36 on their travels.

FC Barcelona 5  Valencia 1

Barcelona and Valencia recently played in the Copa del Rey, and it was a tight two legged affair in which the Blaugrana could have put the tie away, but, due to poor finishing, they allowed Valencia to stay within touching distance.  This league game was a chance for Los Che to get within five points of the Champions, a gap that would have been the closest this late in the season for quite a while.

In case you have not heard, playmaker Ever Banega broke his ankle and is out for the rest of the season.  Bad enough.  But how did it happen?  His car ran over his leg because he didn’t have the handbrake on.  Wrong on so many levels.

From the start, FCB was all over the visitors and could have scored several times from the outset but it was Valencia that struck first as Feghouli hoofed the ball into the box and VV either misread it or was out of sorts and Piatti knocked home the opener.  At that moment I didn’t write off the league—if you have been following me over the last several weeks, I conceded the title to Real Madrid several weeks ago—rather I just slumped in my chair and waited for what was next.

The resulting 80 minutes or so was an absolute masterclass from FC Barcelona as they ripped apart Valencia time and time again, and if it had not been for a brave performance by Diego Alves, the match could have reached absurd heights.

The first two goals were wonderful to behold, with the first down to a moment of magic from Messi and the second involving great team play.  These goals were followed by two almost goals from the sick drawer, as in so sick in their quality and technical ability and creativity—Fabregas off the crossbar and Iniesta’s curling effort that went just wide.

But the third goal would not come and when Valdes made a nice save on Feghouli on 66′, the nerves started to show.  Eventually breathing room did come on 75′ as Messi fired home from close range after a shot from Tello (who was very active on left and created a lot of danger) was initially saved (again) by Diego Alves. FCB tore Valencia open again on 84’ and Messi scored a fourth with a delicious chip over Alves.  All the work was done by a beautiful ball from Busquets and a great run from Messi.  Xavi came on as a late sub and even scored after Valencia made a complete hash of a clearance and he flicked over the keeper.

Just a couple of more player notes. Sanchez struggled in front of goal.  Although Alves was in good form, the Chilean should have one or two.  Thought Pedro was far from his best on the left but there is still time for him to come good this season.  Nice to see Montoya out there.  Still doesn’t solve the long term problem in the middle but gives Pep options out wide.  As for Valencia, Piatti again had moments but disappeared after his goal and made way for Jordi Alba on 65 minutes.  I saw some rumors on twitter that FCB was interested in Rami.  Based on his performance this match, that interest needs to be over.  Slow, awkward, poorly positioned.  Yikes.

In the end, a spellbinding ninety minutes from the Blaugrana.  The league is gone but that doesn’t mean they can’t generate moments of the magic, of which this was one.  They have one foot in the last eight of the Champions League, and there is still the chance of a cup double this season, giving them five of the six titles on offer.  Still a nice haul.

Really enjoyed Kxevin’s recap of the game at Barcelona Football Blog as he echoed many of my sentiments but with greater embellishment and passion.  He gave big ups to Sanchez’s overall performance and thoroughly enjoyed Messi’s four goal haul while noting some areas of improvement.

I did a little searching at a couple of Valencia blogs, but they didn’t have their comments up yet.  I did find this player rating, which was pretty harsh.  Gave Alves a 5.5?  Seriously?  The man kept you competitive.  Blame your defense not the keeper.

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Odds and Ends

Sid Lowe tried to shift through the truths and lies over the site of this year’s Copa del Rey Final, featuring Athletic Bilbao against FC Barcelona.  Bilbao don’t want it at the Mestalla because it holds too few fans, ie too few Bilbao fans, and the Bernabeu doesn’t want to host because Barcelona are involved.  There is the stadium in Seville but that is not centrally located.  Who knows where the game will end up or even what date it will be played.

Connor at El Centrocampista asked the question this week: Are the rest catching the best in La Liga?  Yes Valencia is improving and, as the first of the rest, has not been completely cut adrift so far this season, but I don’t see much for the rest of the league.  There is more parity from fourth to ninth or so, but none of the chasing pack is really closing the gap on the Big Two, and I would be surprised if any of them can challenge in Europe.  I think FCB may come back to the pack as the torch is passed from Xavi and Puyol to the new players, but once they bed in, there could be another dominant cycle in the future.  As for Real Madrid, their status will depend on the manager after Mourinho and whether the club buys wisely.  Los Merengues are well placed to challenge on all fronts for the next several years, but if the Special One is not there, will they be able to keep it together?

As for the rest of the league . . .

Listened to a fantastic pod from Forza Football this week as they had Dean Burrier Sanchis (@BurrierSanchis) to discuss how he found Levante as his club, and they discussed their great start to the season and expectations for the final months of the season.  Love hearing fans’ stories, especially for the smaller clubs.

Sid Lowe looked at all of the factors at Malaga—finances, players sales and purchases, and injuries—in his weekly column for the Guardian.  As bad as they have been this season (and they have been awful at times), they could still qualify for Europe.  Don’t see it, mainly because they don’t have a backbone, which was reinforced by Sid’s stat:  only Barcelona have committed fewer fouls this season.

Graham Hunter’s column for Soccernet.com chronicled the long and winding tale of  Jose Luis Mendilibar, currently of Osasuna.  Celebrating a year in charge, here is a manager who has been around the block a couple of times and has a knack for getting the most out of players.  Unfortunately the clock is ticking as he has only lasted beyond two years at one job.

Mando at Forza Football used a Valentine’s Day metaphor to explore how clubs choose their managers and how success and failure at a club can be a matter of chance rather than work or talent, focusing on Clemente’s recent hire at Gijon.

Finally, Phil Ball continues to entertain and inform every week.  This week’s column focused on Spinoza’s idea of associations.  Who is Spinoza?  Answer, an 18th century Dutch rationalist philosopher.  Anyway, Phil explained the associations that have prospered (Iniesta/Messi, CR7/Benzema) and associations that have been severed (Nilmar/Rossi, Borja/Cazorla) in La Liga this season.  Great read.

I’m out of town this weekend so will not posting next week.  Enjoy the next round of games and the Morbo Minute will be back in two weeks.

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