Morbo Minute–Part 1 (Game Summaries)

I spent the weekend watching as much La Liga as I could in preparation for an appearance on the Inside Spanish Football Podcast.  With 33 goals in ten matches there was plenty to see–two epic games (Espanyol 3 Athletic 3 and Atletico 4 Rayo 3) that I unfortunately missed; strength sapping heat in several games; and a truly unbelievable performance by Sevilla against the Champions at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

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Malaga 3  Levante 1

The match kicked off with the temperature at 30 degrees C (86 F).  The internet feeds broadcast the game from a wide angle, which gave a feel for shape and formation but hard to see player details, especially in the shaded channel.

Malaga, with some players rested or held out for the Champions League game midweek, played an entertaining first half.  Fluid and aggressive, they deserved their halftime lead.  I could never discern their formation, which is arbitrary to begin with.  Constant changing positions, with Eliseu anchoring the left hand channel and Saviola leading the line.  He scored the opener as he found a pocket of space, something he did for the entire half and was released by Isco.  The goal allowed Malaga to progress through the gears and they really should have added a second as they enjoyed 65% of possession.

Levante had a nice opening spell but resorted to the long ball as they came under more and more pressure, an approach that was not productive.  Felt that Bakero did not see enough of the ball and had a hard time picking out Diop during the match.

The second half started with a bolt from blue.  Malaga went right on the attack, with a player falling down on the by line, and after two seconds, Michel ran at hosts rear guard and slammed a shot past Willy from 25 yards out.  From there Los Granotes played with a little higher line, a little more pressure in the Malaga defensive third, and a little tighter between the lines.  Eventually Malaga regained the lead as Saviola found Joaquin who passed it home.  Both players had solid games, with Saviola scoring and setting up a goal in his home debut while Joaquin put in a good shift with very dynamic movement.

The heat caught up with both sides in the second half.  The hosts were not as sharp and lost the rhythm of the first half, with Levante not having enough to push on and equalize again.  Sergio Sanchez received a second yellow four minutes from time, which set up an anxious finish, but the third goal arrived from Malaga as Duda found Portillo after an exhausted Levante team was completely stretched.

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Getafe 1  FCB 4

Checking out the lineup pre-match, I admit I was a bit nervous—no Messi, Alves, Masch, or Villa.  They were all on the bench but Tito (also in the stands) went with Tello, Montoya, and Thiago in the starting lineup.  The first half went as expected, with Getafe compact and looking for the counter, while Barca dominated possession but had difficulty finding a way through.

The game seemed to be heading towards a nervy finish (you know the game where the Blaugrana dominate, don’t get the killer second goal, and then are undone at the end by a defensive miscue), until Messi entered.  Little more drive, little more tension in the Getafe defense.  Pedro earned a penalty, the Argentinean converted, then FCB kicked on.  With the hosts chasing, Messi added another before Villa scored yet another goal in a substitute appearance.  A deflected shot/own goal from substitute gave Getafe mere consolation.

Barcelona were definitely the better team, (when are they not?), but the Azulones might have made it interesting had the penalty not occurred.  Once they went two down, their organization was lost and the belief of another amazing result had gone.  One of the early background stories to this season has been the decline in fan attendance.  I was surprised that the stadium was pretty empty.  One of the great teams of this generation was in town after all.  Jonathan Cordingley commented on this during the podcast.  The Spanish economic troubles combined with much higher ticket prices for the visits by the Big Two has created an environment in which fans just simply won’t go to games.  Yet another issue with the Spanish game.

A couple of things I noticed:

  • Tello is too dependent on what ESPN’s Jack Edwards would refer to as the “speed move” (ie push the ball past and get on the other end).  Strong, smart defenders just block him and that’s that.
  • Cesc is definitely still trying to find his way in the Barca system.  Too often he stands next to Xavi or runs at the back four and stops his run, clogging the penalty area.
  • The first 45 minutes was one of the worst halves I have seen by Busquets.  Positioning was fine but his touches were awful and slowed the team down.
  • Colunga for Getafe was totally disconnected from the rest of the team, but I’m sure this was by design and it paid off with a run Pique that earned a yellow.

Kxevin’s post at BFB was simply phenomenal, comparing and contrasting the lineups and tactics and results of Barca’s last two games—home against Valencia and away to Getafe.  The team is evolving once again as Tito stamps his authority on the squad—more movement, little more conservative on defense, and implanting some sort of squad rotation (although some has been forced on him by injury).  Can the Blaugrana recapture their titles?  Time will tell but they are well on their way.

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Sevilla 1  Real Madrid 0

With FCB winning right before them, Real Madrid knew three points would be needed to stay within touching distance of their rivals, but Piotr Trochowski dented those hopes on 75 seconds, hammering home a corner kick for the hosts.  After that, I didn’t feel there was much from either side, with the game being pretty ugly to watch.  Sevilla fouled RMFC any time an attack started.  (My unscientific calculation was that if Los Blancos completed more than four passes, Sevilla committed a foul.)  On top of that, RMFC were definitely out of sorts, with CR7 barely touching the ball at the time and Ozil not influencing the game.  He was replaced at halftime.

The Real Madrid fan I watched the game with summed up the game with one word—shocked.  Have to agree.  I really thought Los Merengues would score the equalizer, and depending on when that came in match would determine whether they would they win or not.  Mourinho’s subs at the interval made sense, although I would have subbed Benzema for Higuain, who had a bad day.  The buildout up from back to front was fine enough but the interplay and incisiveness up top was lacking. Modric at least got a shot off, wonderfully saved by Palop.  Eventually, Khedira was shuffled out to right back as they chased an equalizer.

As for the winners, Negredo really should have added a second in the last 20 minutes as the visitors chased the game.  Thought Jesus Navas had a solid performance on the wing, while the entire Sevilla defense stayed to their task.  Real Madrid created a couple of chances, but there wasn’t the lack of concentration and the series of mistakes that marked the corresponding fixture last year.

RMFC is up against it, although last year they won 10 in a row before the first league El Clasico and 11 straight after the loss (and didn’t lose again the rest of the season) to create the winning margin.  Mourinho’s men will have to do something similar during this campaign to make up the ground, while slugging it out in a tough UCL group.

Both Madridista Mac from Real Madrid Football Blog and Ireland 26 at Managing Madrid commented on a perceived lack of focus and hunger from Los Blancos.  Goals conceded from set pieces; lack of interplay between key players; responding to overly physical challenges.  These are all contributing to their poor form, and I will be interested to see if the Champions League sharpens them as they try to win La Decima.  It may be that they write off the league and win the Big One as the teams of the last 90’s/early 2000’s did.

Zonal Marking analyzed the game in fine detail, looking at Sevilla’s approach to the game: (a) pressing heavily, (b) marking Alonso and (c) using an extra holding midfielder

which frustrated a below par opponent.  The early goal allowed Sevilla to battle and Real’s lack of sharpness kept them from getting anything from the match.

Finally, Sid Lowe hopes that Sevilla’s stirring victory is not another false dawn but a step back to competition in the Primera.  Many of the stars of the last six to seven years are gone, but Saturday night’s performance showed what this team and that atmosphere can do.  Time will tell.

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Osasuna 1  Real Mallorca 1

Sam Parker, writing for Inside Spanish Football, was concerned for Osasuna after three rounds.  No points and only one goal for did not bode well for Los Rojillos, but there was an energetic start to the match, with both teams playing at a high tempo.  Mallorca pressured the hosts which made for a choppy start, but Osasuna were positive despite not having any points this season.  The first half strategies could be summed up thusly: Osasuna were composed, making the extra pass, while Mallorca were very direct, feeding Nsue and Pereira on the flanks to create havoc.

The pace faded around the half hour mark and was followed by the major incident of the first half—a double red card.  On 33 minutes, the referee showed red cards to Osasuna forward Llorente, who had barely touched the ball, and Mallorca defender Nunes, who had commanded the defense.  Caparros immediately brought on Pedro Tunon Geromel for Alfaro to keep four at the back and go with one up top.

Osasuna went right back to work after the intermission, putting the visitors on the back foot.  Their pressure created turnovers and but they were not nearly sharp enough in the final third, with the final pass almost always lacking.  With just one target player, Mallorca tried to hold on to the ball and let Pereira and Nsue just run at the back four.  Not very successful

The substitutes raised the quality and intensity of the match.  Kike Solar got Mallorca’s attention, finding pockets of space and working hard with his efforts rewarded as he headed in from close range after great service from Lamah.  He also impressed as his long strides and strength gave the visitors fits on the left hand side.  Mallorca almost responded after a free kick went over everyone, skipped off the surface, and the GK deflected onto cross bar.  Joao Victor kept things lively upon his entrance to the game, driving the team forward and hitting the top of the crossbar with an audacious free kick.  The equalizer did come minutes after the opening goal as a corner zipped through the box and Hemed dove to meet it.  There were anxious moments for the visitors as Osasuna pushed for the winner, but the game ended in a stalemate.

Osasuna picked up their first point of the season but will need better quality in the final third to get themselves out of relegation.  As for Mallorca, they were third until Rayo’s game later in the day.

One note, the best player for me was Cejudo for Osasuna.  He got wide, smartly used the ball and combined well on the right hand side with Emiliano Armenteros and the overlapping full back.  Didn’t see much of him in the second half and he was subbed with five minutes to go.

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