Morbo Minute–Listen all y’all, it’s a sabotage

Went up to the pub on Saturday for Real Betis/Espanyol and FC Barcelona/Granada.  The first match was dire, with not many chances and it rarely held my attention.  The FCB match was fascinating as the Blaugrana could not break down the visitors until El Capitan made the breakthrough minutes from time

Real Betis 1  Espanyol 0

Real Betis started strong and deserved their halftime lead after spurning several chances early, with Paulao breaking the deadlock on 18’ after great service from Benat.  Juan Carlos had a fantastic first half, troubling the Espanyol RB time and time again.  I was not impressed by Ruben Castro of Real Betis.  He lacked vision and didn’t finish a couple of quality chances.

Los Pericos were very poor going forward, with very little interchange and relying on an overly physical approach without the ball.  I did a double take when I saw Simao on the teamsheet for Espanyol.  Long gone are the days when he was threatening for teams.  They showed a little more endeavor in the second half, as their subs made an impact and Betis began to tire.  Wakaso received his marching orders on 66’ and instead of killing off the game, the hosts allowed their opponents to hang around, with several half chances going begging before the referee blew full time.

With the three points Betis moved into the European places and play their match in hand against Atleti on Wednesday.  Espanyol are off to a rough start, with only one point and need to start getting points on the board.

After Saturday’s result, Adam of Forever Betis wondered if the club’s start could be sustained.  The defensive frailties may be exposed eventually, but the team’s counter attacking style has made them enjoyable to watch for him.  Plus there are a couple of young players on the rise.  Regardless of their result against Atleti they are in the top six but must improve their team shape and fitness if the Verdiblancos want to achieve success this season.

FC Barcelona 2  Granada CF 0

Last week saw an experimental lineup, highlighted by Messi on the bench, while this week Tito put out a side with Xavi and Pedro on the bench and no natural centerbacks in the lineup due to injuries.  The longer the first half went on, the more I thought, screw the FIFA virus, what about the Champions League virus?

All credit to Granada in the first half (and for the entire match for that matter, as they played a very narrow 4-4-2 forcing Barca wide and clogging the midfield.  Alves was picking the passes, especially early, and nearly undid the strategy several times.  Additionally, the visitors threw themselves in front of every Barca shot, denying Messi on at least two opportunities.

Halftime came with no score and the second half saw more of the same.  I wanted to see more of Torje from Granada, but with a philosophy of defend and counter, there were not many chances.  Tito added on Xavi and Pedro on 52’ and their introduction brought about the desired change, although not without a couple of scares.

FCB continued to search the opening goal but Granada sensed opportunity and began to counter with real verve.  With six minutes to go, my greatest fear was almost realized as GCF countered and should have won but VV was strong on the breakaway.  Cue El Capitan.  On the resulting move, he received the ball and unleashed a wicked shot that crashed off the underside of the crossbar.

Again, I can’t give enough plaudits to Granada for their effort during this match.  Just as Sevilla stuck to their game plan last week against the Real Madrid, so did El Grana against the hosts.  Unfortunately, defeat leaves them on two points after five rounds and more is required than moral victories.  The points were important for the Blaugrana as they continue to take care of business.  The Evil Empire cannot be thrown any life lines before El Clasico in two weeks.

One thing came to mind watching the game.  During Phil Jackson’s tenure with Bulls, he would purposefully not call timeouts so that his team would have to solve problems on the court. Tito should do same with FCB. Force them to figure out a way to win games without Xavi.  Time is ticking and for this team to move on in the coming years, they either need to find a direct replacement or adapt their way of playing.  Something to consider moving forward.

Heath Chesters heaped praise on Tono and the entire Granada team for their efforts during the match in his Player of the Week post for Inside Spanish Football.  Only a very special effort beat the goalkeeper, with his fine performance reminiscent of Varas for Sevilla last year.

Kxevin covered a lot of ground in this week’s post for Barcelona Football Blog.  He made some excellent points, discussing the current tactics of the Blaugrana and their opponents; the roles and performances of Song and Fabregas; and the fact that 2009 is in the past.  The last point struck a chord with me as last year I found the team boring to watch until after the New Year when it was too stressful.  This team is very good but not great, so they will have to earn every thing, which makes the games more entertaining (and still stressful) as FCB fights for silverware.

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Articles and Pods

Sid Lowe gave his thoughts on a strange night in Vallecas as he and a number of journalists wandered around a half lit stadium while fans waited outside, staff tried to solve the problem of damaged floodlights inside and Real Madrid anxiously waited.  Word around the campfire is that disgruntled fans cut power to Rayo’s stadium, postponing the match against Real Madrid.  That’s kicking it up a notch, sending a message that extra fees for games already paid for is not a sound marketing strategy.  Real ended up winning the game on Monday 2-0 and look to get their season back on track.

Bassam posted his thoughts on the Real Madrid Football Blog after the match.  Despite the three points and fine games from Essien and Alonso, he is concerned with the midfield possession, which may put undue pressure on the backline over time, and a drop in quality against lesser teams.

Phil Ball focused his attention this week on dressing room dynamics in light of the supposed Messi/Villa spat.  How can players who have trained and played and sacrificed their entire lives not demand more of each other?  Phil mentioned his son’s attempt to climb the footballing ladder before moving on to scenes between Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid.  Never a dull moment.

I came across several articles this week from a Spanish economist preaching doom and gloom for La Liga.  Jose Maria Gay de Liebana, Spain’s most prominent football economist, is positing that league’s TV deal is a large source of the blame, focusing on the Chinese markets instead of the US and Japan.  Also, he suggested an Iberian league to bring glamour and relevance back to the region.  At first glance, I like the idea but don’t see the big clubs (FCB, RMFC, Porto, Sporting and Benfica) giving up their power bases.

Chalk on the Boots analyzed the scoreless Athletic v Malaga game, which saw one team exhausted from their Champions League efforts and the other just exhausted.  The pace and frenzy of Los Leones is gone from last season and with key injuries, they are a shadow of last year’s side.  This was touched on as well as Malaga’s organization, especially away from home after their first proper Champions League match.  Los Boquerones find themselves third early in the season, if they keep their defense watertight, future success awaits.  As for Bilbao, they are just outside the relegation zone and now have to deal with re-integrating Llorente back into the squad.

Elisa and Ravi had Phil Schoen on the Forza Futbol pod to discuss his switch from Gol TV to BeIN sports as well as news from around La Liga.  While I don’t always enjoy his commentary, he did have some decent insights into the early days of this campaign, including Match Day One of the Champions League.

The panel at Inside Spanish Football reviewed the latest round of games, looking at Granada’s impressive performance (especially goalkeeper Tono) against Barca; Valencia’s stumble against surprising Mallorca; and possible relegation candidates Osasuna, Getafe and Espanyol.

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Current Table

Barcelona 5 5 0 0 11 15
Mallorca 5 3 2 0 4 11
Málaga 5 3 2 0 4 11
Sevilla 5 3 2 0 4 11
Atlético 4 3 1 0 6 10
Betis 4 3 0 1 3 9
Real Madrid 5 2 1 2 3 7
Rayo 5 2 1 2 -1 7
Levante 5 2 1 2 -2 7
Deportivo 5 1 3 1 0 6
Celta Vigo 5 2 0 3 0 6
R Zaragoza 5 2 0 3 -1 6
Valladolid 5 2 0 3 -1 6
R Sociedad 5 2 0 3 -3 6
Valencia 5 1 2 2 -2 5
Athletic 5 1 2 2 -4 5
Getafe 5 1 1 3 -4 4
Granada 5 0 2 3 -6 2
Espanyol 5 0 1 4 -4 1
Osasuna 5 0 1 4 -7 1
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