Morbo Minute–Atleti Show Their Stripes
Another round, another Barcelona victory. That story line can be put to bed until March when we’ll see if fatigue or a push from Real Madrid or focus on European glory slows the Blaugrana juggernaut. As for the rest of La Primera, the panel at Inside Spanish Football pod named Cristiano Ronaldo their Player of the Week, as he scored their Goal of the Week and was the only bright spot in another wise dour Madrid Derby. They also touched on Valencia not treating their manager, a former player during a very successful time for the club, with respect before moving on Getafe’s third straight victory and other news and notes. Don’t want to forget to mention Joel Campbell’s cracking goal for Betis as Los Verdiblancos built on their victory over Real Madrid and are now in fourth. Plus Malaga’s third kit made an appearance in their loss to Getafe. Electric lime might not be the proper identification, but whatever the color, not attractive.
FC Barcelona 5 Athletic Bilbao 1
Los Leones came into the match after a rescheduled Europa League game in midweek so I was concerned about their energy levels, but the team started well and maintained a great deal of composure despite being without Muniain. Unfortunately, once the visitors got over midfield, everything broke down, with Aduriz and Ander having very poor games, losing their footing and constantly turning the ball over.
In time, the hosts simply overwhelmed Athletic pushing players forward, interchanging positions and pressuring them all over the pitch. Once FCB broke through, off a direct corner of all things, there was only one result. The Blaugrana immediately scored another goal and created wonderful chances throughout the half, culminating in a simply stunning goal from Adriano with the last kick of the first period.
The second half saw Llorente come on for Aduriz but the big forward had even less of an impact on the game, as Athletic tired, leading to less pressure and organization and poor interplay from all players. FCB took it down a gear but still scored twice. Iniesta laid off a skillful pass for Fabregas; Ibai scored a fine consolation goal; and Messi added his second of the night to complete the scoring.
A couple of player notes.
- Thought Iniesta started poorly but eventually was unplayable. What he can do in tight spaces is beyond comprehension.
- Ramalho was had a ‘mare at right back. Chased shadows and lost possession for a majority of the game.
- Adriano played on his opposite side. Some debate on why he started instead of Montoya, but he made a great run for his goal and showed tremendous energy throughout the match. Definite glue guy for the team.
With Atleti’s loss, the Blaugrana are now six points clear at the top. A result against Los Colchoneros just before the winter break and FCB can start looking at trying to retain their Copa del Rey title as well as regaining the Champions League.
Spoiled. Simply put that is what Barca fans are at the moment says Kxevin from Barcelona Football Blog. The Blaugrana are now on top of the league in record breaking fashion, a league that has decided to stop fearing FCB and tried to take the game to them. Action, reaction. Repeat. In this case, Tito Vilanova has made the team more direct, less patient and focused on results. One thing that Pep’s teams did not do in the last season or two was step on the throat. This current squad rips the throat, dismembers the opponent and revels in the bloodbath. A couple of nervy moments at the beginning of the season have given way to a run of form reminiscent of the amazing run of the 2010/11 campaign with win after win. Yet Real Madrid still came back. Tito’s real test will be rotating the squad to maintain the results and the awe inspiring play while keeping a little in reserve for the trophy with the big ears. Let’s see where things in stand heading into March. Fans are still spoiled though. And it won’t last forever.
(Tangent. This goes for FCB and Manchester United. Once Fergie goes at Old Trafford, United will begin the slow descent into mediocrity. Gone will be Father Figure, the manager who strikes terror in everyone involved, the veteran hand who has seen everything, and the gaffer who can instill confidence and fear in equal measure in his players. So with Barca. The Golden Generations can’t last forever. Time is almost up for Puyol and Xavi, with Villa and Iniesta to follow. Then you have the Messi/Pique/Fabregas group. The Argentinian will be the focus and that may be the problem. Without a strong supporting cast his influence can be reduced. Argentina National Team anyone? Then you have Pedro, Montoya, Busquets and Thiago. Can that group reach the heights of their predecessors? Can they do it with the veterans to lead them? Can they do without heavy investment from the squad? Barca has always hit a lull before remerging. Van Gaal gave way to a barren period before Rijkaard led them to glory. But the Dutchman failed to retain the titles of 2006 and eventually gave way to Pep and a simply historic period of success that we have not seen the end of. But it will end. Always has, always will be. What is the next chapter?
Real Madrid 2 Atletico Madrid 0
What a disappointment. Atleti came into this match with their best chance in a long time of ending the hoodoo and Simeone sent out his troops with one thought—foul the shit of the Los Blancos. I understand the approach, get into Real’s head, get them off their game and sneak in a goal, but Atleti did very little in the way of attacking. With only four or five shots (that might be generous) the visitors focused on the physical attack, with Diego Costa leading the way. If this had been an NBA game, he would have fouled out early, but at least he came to play, not backing down from the hosts and trying to drive forward. Falcao channeled his inner Rivaldo after the Sergio Ramos love tap. Nothing there. You’re a big, strong lad. Get on with it.
Mourinho put out a full strength eleven, and while Ozil was ok, maybe a little better than his 45 minutes against Real Betis, I felt that Di Maria had some nice individual moments but maybe he could have combined better. After minor flare ups from Pepe and Sergio Ramos due to Atleti’s robust style, the defenders were firmly in control. The Special One stated that he didn’t know his team earlier in the season. Yet he continues to roll out the same players. Seems like he should make changes to startle the underperformers into doing a little more.
Cristiano’s goal was spectacular. I can’t remember the last time he scored one like that, but it reminded me of the goal he scored for United against Pompey, maybe 2008 or 2009. Simply unstoppable. Real Madrid found their rhythm in the second half, with nice interchanges in the final third, which kept the visitors pinned back.
The match was reminiscent of the Barcelona and Real Madrid battles early in Pep’s reign, in which Real would just foul and foul and foul, hoping to stop FCB by brute force rather than by organization, anticipation and tactics. In the same way, Atleti tried to outmuscle rather than out play Real. Maybe if they had tried to play straight up, their reward might have been a Real Madrid Manita, but for all the hype and expectation, this match was a huge let down.
One last note, going back through the lineups, I saw Carvalho was on the bench. I didn’t even know he was still on the squad.
Managing Madrid saw Ronaldo open the scoring which forced Atleti out of their shell and from there Ozil took full advantage. These two players have had recent success against their crosstown rivals and again they rose to the occasion.
Martin Rosenow reviewed the damage for Atleti Fans. Ronaldo’s goal took the wind of Los Colcheneros and with Luis Felipe out due to late injury, the team never got going. Nine straight derby losses. Ouch. However, still firmly in second and well above the chasing pack for third. If Atleti can hold on to Falcao, they will have a small window to replace Valencia as the best of the rest. However if the Colombian goes, I fear they will fall away again. We’ll see.
Atleti is one of many clubs in La Liga struggling to find a shirt sponsor. Their last set sponsor was Kia, which cut ties in 2011, so I was surprised to see something across the chests of the red and white jerseys. Based on a post at Atleti Fans, the club signed an agreement with the Republic of Azerbaijan. Not sure what Land of Fire on but if the club is getting money, then more power to them.
Finally, Chalk on the Boots analyzed the game, correctly stating that the match was “instantly forgettable” with 42 fouls and very little in terms of attacking fluency. He identified a couple of key factors to the match: Ozil’s lack of space against a compact Atleti side (until the game opened up in the second half); Cata Diaz, usually a centerback, played at left back, which sacrificed an element of attack; and a lack of wide service for Falcao and Costa.
Sid Lowe focused on Pellegrino’s dismissal in his weekly column. After standing by several coaches in the past, President Manolo Llorente fired his manager as the fans have begun to turn on him. Backed by the players, there are elements of fear and lack of long term planning in this decision and now it is up to Valverde to improve their league position while contending in the Copa and the Champions League.
La Liga Loca also discussed Pellegrino’s termination on Football365. As everyone said at the end of last season when Emery was let go, be careful what you wish far. Despite relative success, Emery was let go, and, after the club failed to get AVB, Llorente turned to Pellegrino. The Argentinean didn’t last long and now the club is faced with financial and managerial instability.
Phil Ball wondered how the seemingly laid back Tito Vilanova gets the Blaugrana to press and attack and bamboozle opponents. Their record start has been inspired by a historic individual performance and an indefatigable team effort. He then moved to the Madrid Derby, where Simeone showed a possible lack of tactical nous. Phil also touched on the cult of Mourinho as his window of influence and abrasiveness is closing. He concluded with Pellegrino’s firing and the reemergence of Javier Aguirre at Espanyol.
Listened to an old Off the Ball pod (11/21) with Graham Hunter, in which he discussed CR7’s future at Real Madrid. The winger’s contract is running out and this prompted a conversation about whether the club should sell the Portuguese player (could go to City or PSG) and possibly buy Neymar. The players are not like for like in terms of footballing ability but there is something to be said in terms of star power.
Staying with CR7, Jonathan Wilson made the argument in the Guardian that Ronaldo is the reason that Real Madrid won’t win La Decima. While he concedes the former Manchester United’s great physical skills, he notes some glaring weaknesses in his game that could keep him from being part of a great team. Isolated as defensive laxity, Wilson notes that full backs create disadvantages for the rest of Ronaldo’s teammates causing undue pressure and goals. On Off the Ball last week Wilson went as far to say that Ronaldo would not be in his starting eleven because “he doesn’t know how to play football.” His premise is that systems and groups win rather than one player who demands the ball, demands the players and demands the accolades. Definitely a provocative argument, especially in a world that sees the current landscape as Messi v Ronaldo.
Finally, My Golden Great is a series that Football Espana is developing, where the site looks back into the history of the league to identify wonderful players of years past. Recently Sam Marsden picked out Rivaldo’s year just before the end of the millennium. Right in my wheelhouse, as this was the time when I started following FCB and La Liga with some regularity. I remembered his amazing performances against United in the 1998/99 Champions League Group Stage and some phenomenal goals in the following campaign, both home and abroad. The Brazilian ended up winning the 1999 Ballon d’Or award after a great year for club and country. I was able to find his Barca goals from in and around that season. As Tim Vickery always says, Rivaldo might be involved 50 times in a match. 48 times he’ll drive you crazy but the other two are simply amazing.