Posts Tagged ‘ A Different Liga ’

Morbo Minute–Season Review

I have been getting deeper and deeper into La Liga over the last couple of years.  This season I dedicated myself to following the league and writing a weekly recap, which I posted at this blog.  Also, El Centrocampista graciously allowed me to publish my thoughts at their site on occasion.  So I thought I would take a couple of minutes and run through some of the story lines that appealed to me from the recently completed season.

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It’s cliché to start with the Big Two but I have to.  What a season for Real Madrid.  Going into the season I felt that Los Merengues would win the league as a combination of Mourinho, drive from the players, and fatigue in the FCB camp would allow Los Blancos to reclaim the title.  I was proven right (for once) as Mourinho’s men had two minor wobbles in rolling to the title, but smashed the league goals record and gained vital points on the road which had been their shortcoming in the past.  As for the Blaugrana, they gave everything, but after almost five years of constant competition for club and country, when it came to find the extra gear, they were found wanting.  Pep has exited, handing the reigns over Tito Vilanova, and this off season will be crucial—preparation, adjustment to new manager, and possible signings—if FCB want to get back to the top.

One of my most ill advised posts was one I wrote about being Bored with Barcelona.  In late September, things were humming along as it looked like FCB was cruising towards another sextuple.  Having high entertainment standards and a low attention span caused me to write comments that were worthless the moment they hit the screen.  I have been properly chastised and look forward to next season’s challenge on all fronts, regardless of results.

Next, Valencia were a mixed bag.  Clearly first of the rest for the opening half of the season, 2012 proved a different proposition all together.  Poor league form saw them overhauled by the chasing pack before they righted themselves to finish third again despite another summer of player sales and financial constraints.  They also had a decent Europa League run, making the semis before being disposed of by Atleti.  In the end Emery left and now Pellegrino will have a go at trying to keep the club at its current level.

Malaga kept everyone guessing, as a poor start saw them well off the European places, but eventually Pellegrini got Los Boquerones firing on all cylinders.  They rose up to the table to get all the way to third before a couple of stumbles at the end caused them to finish fourth.  The squad still needs improvement, especially at the forward position but they have a solid core that will allow them to compete next year.

What can you say about Levante?  Los Granotes were probably THE story of 2011/12, a plucky side with the oldest back five ever in La Liga, a forward who couldn’t score for Sevilla but couldn’t stop finishing for his new team, and a team spirit that kept them fighting all the way to the end.  They eventually finished sixth and will participate in the Europa League next season.

Falcao was one of the best players outside the Big Two, with his goals firing Atleti to Europa League glory and keeping Los Rojiblancos alive in the race for Europe next season as they finished fifth, two points behind Malaga.  Who knows if he will be playing for Simeone next year as the third party that owns his registration may try to cash in on a phenomenal season.

Los Leones were another great story of the last season, with Bielsa creating a team that played scintillating football at times.  Their game against Barcelona at San Mames was one of the matches of the season and their destruction of Manchester United in the Europa League opened the eyes of the English media.  They had two great runs in the cup, making the finals of both the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, but success on multiple fronts exposed a thinness of squad that lead to poor form in La Liga, finishing tenth.

Osasuna don’t get a lot of pub, but their Jekyll and Hyde performances have to get a mention.  The finished with 54 points (13W 15D 10L), not too shabby, but their goal differential was -17.  Only five teams in the Primera were worse.  Their defense was water tight except when it wasn’t.  In five matches, they gave up 30 of their 61 goals against.  In the other 33 matches, they gave up less than a goal a game.  Sort that out.

Finally there was the battle at the bottom.  For most the season, Zaragoza and Gijonwere nailed on relegation candidates, having no chance at survival.  And then something happened, as both teams starting amassing points putting pressure on the teams ahead of them.  Racing became the new whipping boys and were resigned to Segunda football early in the summer.

Going in to the final day, five teams were involved in the relegation battle.  Villarreal had been sucked in to the relegation zone early in the season after selling Cazorla, a shaky defense and injuries to Rossi and Nilmar.  I kept waiting for them to go a run and pull themselves clear, but instead the Yellow Submarine remained within touching distance of the bottom three, eventually going down on the last day as they lost to Atleti and Rayo scored a last gasp goal against Granada to survive.  These were my thoughts on the dramatic last day of the La Liga season.

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During the season, here were the best games I saw:

*Valencia v FCB

Los Che gave the Champions all they could handle, taking advantage of a shaky defense to put the Blaugrana on the rack.  The Alba/Mathieu pairing was fantastic.

*Athletic Bilbao v FCB

In a rain soaked San Mames, a game of rare intensity, quality and grit occurred.  Los Leones twice led but were eventually pegged back in the waning moments.  A preview of the season for both sides.

*Valencia v Real Madrid

Here is where Real showed their title credentials.  Los Blancos traveled to the Mestalla, played an incredible match, equaled by the hosts and held on to for the victory after Los Che made it 2-3 and threw everything at them.

*Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol

A back and forth match that featured a fierce hit by Romaric and a couple of nice free kicks before a late, late equalizer by Albin for Espanyol.

*FCB v Real Madrid

The end.  For now.  Cristiano’s goal was of such quality that all anyone can do is stand and clap.  Mourinho’s broke the hoodoo in the finest way possible—winning at their opponent’s home, matching them in technical and physical terms, and staying away from the unsavory elements that had come before.

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To wrap up, I wanted to share  thoughts from some of the other writers and sites that I follow:

Sonja (@sopra1988) summed up the season for Inside Spanish Football, touching on the high notes: Messi’s goals, Real Madrid’s record breaking points and goals scored, Bilbao’s brave effort, Mallorca’s surprise finish, the departure of Kanoute from Sevilla, and the tense last moments in the relegation zone on the last day of season, to name a few.

Tim Stannard picked out five for the future in his Spanish Thing column for Football365.com: Courtois, de Marcos, Isco, Iñigo Martínez, and Varane.  I saw a lot of de Marcos and Isco this season so totally concur.

Andy May and Sid Lowe, along with several guest contributors, looked back at the 2011/12 La Liga season for Sky Sports La Liga Weekly.  The beginning of the pod focused on the Big Two—Barcelona’s failure to win in Spain or in Europe, Pep leaving and the future of the club and trying to put the team into context, as well as evaluating Real Madrid, who seem to be going from strength to strength and could start a cycle of their own.  They also discussed Atleti’s prospects for next season, whether they will kick on or go back as usual, before moving onto Athletic Bilbao, who were an attractive side, gaining supporters around Europe, but wondering if the can they hold on to players.  Finally there was a brief mention of the teams that battled it out at the bottom, with Sid reiterating that Lotina, who went down with the Yellow Submarine as he went down with Depor, had too negative of an approach to survive.

Finally, Heath Chesters shared his personal journey finding and following Granada up through the divisions of Spanish football.  He makes the case for teams like Granada, well run, financially stable and having strong away support as the model for the league rather than the overspending and snobbish super teams.  Great stuff.

Just wanted to thank a couple of sites that I followed all season:

A Different Liga

Inside Spanish Football

SpanishFootball.info

Atletico Fans

Villarreal USA

Athletic Bilbao Offside

Barcelona Football Blog

Total Barca

Real Madrid Football Blog

And I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sid Lowe, Graham Hunter and Phil Ball all season.

Plus, many thanks to Elisa at Forza Futbol for great content and retweets and conversations, and the guys at El Centrocampista for allowing me to have a bit part at their great site and engaging me on social media.

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Morbo Minute–Lions Slain by the Vampire

Over the last couple of years La Liga has been compared to Scotland, with the crutch of two big teams and the rest of the league easy to use, but this season, the tale of the campaign seems to be mirroring England.  Both leagues have had two leaders, with one faltering, although Real have not choked completely as MCFC seem to have done, and one maintaining the pressure after a dip in form.  Another comparison is a third place team (Valencia and Tottenham), almost assured of their place, being caught from behind and possibly losing a coveted Champions League place.  Then there is the similarity of Arsenal and Malaga, with both teams getting off to poor starts but surging up the table, even matching results this weekend with shock loses to take the edge of the momentum.  At the bottom, clubs have found a doppelganger as Wigan and Zaragoza were nailed on relegation candidates, but recent points have been grabbed, giving each team a glimmer of survival hope.  (Although Zaragoza are four points behind Villarreal and six behind Granada).  Further comparisons could be made between Newcastle and Levante and Liverpool and Athletic Bilbao or maybe Atletico Madrid I suppose.  Anyway, another round has come and gone, with both of the Big Two surviving tough tests, while Valencia, Malaga and Gijon failed theirs in their respective matches.

Kaushik at Real Madrid Football Blog feels that Madrid are peaking just in time for the run in as the Trident produced more goals with Ozil pulling the strings.  In addition, Di Maria is coming back, plus Mourinho is getting everyone ready for combat, drafting in Albiol and Granero for the weeks ahead.

Blogger Chalk on the Boots did a guest post on El Centrocampista about the Real Madrid game and examined the game plans of each squad.  Focus was given to Roversio’s role right back, which failed as he was caught out time and time again putting pressure on the rest of the team.  Also Lekic could have started instead of coming in and occupying the center backs after the game was lost.  As for Los Merengues, their pressure, composure and finishing turned a tricky fixture into another rout.  Really enjoyed the insights into this match.

Tim Stannard (aka La Liga Loca) tempered the praise of fans and the Madrid media, reminding readers at Football365.com that Los Blancos still have several tough matches ahead of them: Valencia at home this weekend and Atleti away during the week, plus away to Bilbao later with probable games against Bayern looming the Champions League.  Based on the form of Los Che, Los Colchoneros and Los Leones, I’m not sure Mourinho’s men will break a sweat, but games against Die Roten might just take the wind out of the sails enough to let Barcelona back in before the weekend of 4/20.

Real Madrid seem to be over their momentarily blip.  If you take away the FCB game in December, they have been dominant in the League except for two two game stumbles: Levante (L) and Racing (D) in the fall and Malaga (D) and Villarreal (D) a couple of weeks ago.  Removing those five matches they have everything single one of the 25 on offer.  Color me impressed.  No more blips and they are campeones.

FCB v Athletic was the only game I got to see over the weekend and what a game it was.  The game at San Mames was rainy, sloppy and intense as the Blaugrana had to give everything to get a draw.  The return match was a spectacle—again intense, crisp and razor sharp.  I tweeted afterwards: if there is anything like a moral victory then #athletic earned it tonight v #FCB. what a game. copa final should be fantastic.

Los Leones, who had essentially booked themselves a Europa League semi-final spot less than 48 hours earlier, came and played their hearts out, giving some of their lesser players a chance, bringing on the stars in the second half to try to rescue something. Irazioz was outstanding in goal and gave the visitors every chance to win.  As for Barca, they gave a good showing and ran out worthy winners, even though they must have had one eye on the Milan game.

Twelve Point Courier reviewed the tactics of the game for Total Barca, emphasizing how the hosts were able to use their spare center back to start attacks, thereby disrupting Bilbao’s man to man strategy.  He also broke down the opening goal, showing how Barca’s movement and quickness created the opportunity for Iniesta.

Jack for the Athletic Bilbao Offside page summed up the match up with his post title: Respectable result given the circumstances and his concluding statement: With the lack of rest and priorities elsewhere, it was a respectable scoreline and the players deserve credit for not giving up. Gorka did little wrong in goal and Ekiza has surely staked a claim for a regular first team place.

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Articles

Javier at El Centrocampista used his statistical wizardry to reveal some very illuminating facts about some of the teams and players in La Liga.  For instance Reyes (Sevilla) and Dani Benítez (Granada) should stop shooting.  Each have over fifty shots without scoring.  He goes on to look at the impact players have in goal scoring opportunities and even how certain players affect wins and loses.  Interesting reading, especially for any Fantasy Futbol players out there.

Sid Lowe looked at the current captain of the sinking ship known as Sporting Gijon—Javier Clemente.  Doesn’t look like he is going to save the club for relegation as they are now rock bottom and Clemente is making enemies on and off the pitch.

Graham Hunter looked at unlucky #19 worn by Senna at Villarreal (I seem to remember Messi wearing the number after starting with #30) as the veteran midfielder tries to lead the Yellow Submarine away from relegation.  He also touched on Mourinho’s dealings with the players and the press and what impact that may have on Madrid’s pursuit of La Liga and the Champions League.  Finally, Hunter gave readers a heads up on Dongou, the latest and greatest young prospect at FC Barcelona, who scored his first goal for the B team.  Let’s let Tello and Cuenca develop first, shall we?

David Redshaw at A Different Liga wrote a quick piece on the cost of watching La Liga games, both live and on PPV.  Based on his information, Spanish broadcasters are reducing game fees to less than €1 per game while matchday ticket prices are some of the highest in Europe.  Yet another issue that needs to be addressed as the league seems to be heading towards some sort of breaking point.

Finally, El Centrocampista got a snippet from Scott Oliver’s Blizzard article on the rivalry between Athletic Bilbao and FCB during the 80’s.  A fantastic read and convinced me I really need to start buying the Blizzard.

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.

Morbo Minute–Yellow Submarine Sinks Blaugrana

This last week was dominated by the Copa del Rey, with Mirandes stunning Espanyol, Valencia thrashing Levante, Athletic Bilbao easing past Mallorca, and of course El Clasico, which I reviewed on a previous post.

Sid Lowe commented in the aftermath of yet another Clasico that the game was enthralling and, if Barcelona close the gap, there could be a truly historic confrontation in April.

Graham Hunter chimed in post Clasico as well, praising both sides after a wonderful game of football.

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For the second week running, I did not watch any La Liga games.  Last week Epic Sunday got in the way; this week life prevented me.  A quick run down of the results of this weekend . . .

Saturday

Llorente scored his first hat trick as Bilbao have moved up to sixth after defeated Vallecano 3-2; Espanyol responded to their shock cup defeat with a hard fought 1-0 win over Real Mallorca; Real Madrid recovered from another early deficit to crush relegation locks Real Zaragoza; and Villarreal drew with FC Barcelona 0-0.

Mike Barnes at A Different League wrote an interesting piece after the Madrid match, using a piece from the Sunday Times to paint the picture of the Special One leaving Real in the summer and heading back to England.  If he wins the Double, bet on it.  If not, he may try to have one more go in the Spanish capital.

Madridista Mac sees Los Blancos coming into form as the Year of the Dragon begins, with CR7, Kaka, Ozil spearheading the attack and Carvalho and Granero providing depth and experience in the midfield and defense.  The league is over, and now the next test for Mou’s men will be the Champions League.  Avoid FCB and it surely must be the magical tenth title.

As for Barcelona, Pep’s men went into the Villarreal game with 14 fit first team players.  I won’t list the injuries but they are significant, causing the call ups of Cristian Tello, Sergi Roberto and Jonathan Dos Santos.  Villarreal, according to VillarrealUSA.com, went into the game with Perez as a scratch and Ravi didn’t even put in de Guzman or Zapata (who has been underwhelming thus far) in his projected starting lineup (and they didn’t start). 

I found an article on twitter from twelve points sports regarding FCB’s tactics against Villarreal.  Basically the author argued that the Blaugrana had very little width to break down the bus presented by the Yellow Submarine.  Furthermore, the substitutions came too late to effectively change the game. 

Honestly, if you have the time, read Euler’s recap of the game at Barcelona Football Blog.  Amazing writing coupled with sharp insights and just the right amount of reality.  The post goes on for a while but nothing is wasted.  He identifies fatigue and injuries as the FCB’s main opponents.  If those go away, the two cups will be theirs.  I tend to agree.  The Blaugrana seem to be missing that extra one or two gears that take them into something beyond belief.  The league may be gone but there is still much to fight for.

Kari at Barcelona Football Blog reminds readers to enjoy this team, regardless of what they win the rest of the season.  This Barcelona team is in the middle of legacy building, something that we can tell our kids and their kids about when we end up in the old folks home. Remember Pep’s Team?  Now that was football.  The comments section of her post is quite entertaining and informative as well.

Sunday

Granada made two first half goals stand up at Real Betis; Levante’s poor form continues after losing to Getafe; Sporting Gijon were hammered by Real Sociedad; Valencia have not won a league game in 2012 as they drew away to Racing; and Malaga got three vital points for Pellegrini with a 2-1 win over Sevilla. 

I visited VCF Central to get their take on the game.  Brian felt the game could have been beyond Los Che by halftime but Aduriz started the recovery but a late equalizer kept the visitors from earning all three points.  Also seems like there were a lot injuries during the game. 

Monday

Atletico Madrid beat Osasuna 1-0 as Simeone has really gotten off to a remarkable start.  Three wins, one draw, no losses and no goals given up, and has brought Atleti up to seventh.

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Phil Ball and I share a similar trait, missing goals at games.  Never fails when I’m watching a game I take a phone call or check twitter or hit the restroom and boom, goal.  Very frustrating.  Anyway, Phil talked about his trip to Real Sociedad and wnet on to give his take on Mirandes’ miraculous run to the Copa semis and other Copa stories.

Manuel Preciado is a survivor according to Sid Lowe, but he may not survive this season at Sporting Gijon, as the goals and wins have been few and far between. 

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Articles

Jimmy Areabi remembers 15 years ago when Ronaldo, Il Fenomeno, was the best player in the world.  As always, we forget in this era of immediacy that players came before who were just as good, just as magical as Messi and CR7 and others.

Visiting the soccer page of si.com, I see the headline, Xavi: Madrid’s players bad losers, animals, so of course I’m going to click on it.  The link is five or six sentences, with a brief quote, a comment from the writer that these statements will not help the relationship between the clubs, and final note that Real Madrid has only won one of the last 14 Clasicos.  Then I read Lee Roden at El Centrocampista and get more details. Turns out the comments were supposed to be off the record but the camera was still rolling (remember, it’s always on) and then released via the proverbial mole.  I would love to be in the Spanish National Team camp in March when they get together again.  How do they handle this latest round of games?  Does it affect them this summer?  Or do they have it all under control and the media and fans blow it out of control?

Javier broke down the first of the La Liga season by the numbers.  Couple of key items:

  • Real Madrid and Barcelona have scored about 25% of the goals in the league thus far.
  • Falcao accounts for almost 50% of Atleti’s goals this season.
  • Osasuna has conceded 31 goals this season but 15 came in two matches.
  • 23 0-0 draws
  • The streakiest team has been Real Betis, “who began the season winning the first four matches, but then went 10 matches without a win including six straight loses, before winning three straight games and now are on the move for another streak not winning in the last two.”

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Here’s hoping I get out to the bar this weekend and watch some games.  Would really like to watch

Athletic Bilbao  v  Espanyol  on Saturday and Atlético Madrid  v  Valencia on Sunday.  We’ll see.

 

Morbo Minute–Halfway to finding out who will finish Fourth

With family and work responsibilities, plus an Epic Sunday in the EPL, I didn’t get to see much of La Liga this weekend, only catching the second half of Barcelona’s demolition of Malaga.

Saturday

In checking the scores and reports  Espanyol picked up three easy points, against Granada, which cost Fabri his job; Racing’s mini-revival may be over after suffering a home defeat to Getafe; the Sevilla Derby ended all square, which helps neither team and probably can’t help Marcelino’s position as manager of the Rojiblancos.  Simeone’s Atleti have not conceded a goal since he took over and maybe he really can turn things around in the capital.

Sunday

I noticed that Valencia drew with Osasuna, and Los Che need to be careful to not get sucked into the race for fourth; Mallorca pulled even with Rayo after beating them 1-0 in Madrid; and basically no one has anything good to say about the scoreless game between Levante and Real Zaragoza.

As for the Big Two . . .

Kari at Barcelona Football Blog thought that Barcelona’s 4-1 win at Malaga was their best away match of the season thus far, largely thanks to Victor Valdes (for saving the proverbial bacon in the first half) and to Messi (for being Messi).  I watched bits and pieces of the second half, in between beers and conversations on the EPL games, when the game was in control.  Good to see FCB back among the goals on the road.

Mike Barnes at A Different Liga examined Malaga in the wake of another defeat.  Seems like I have seen a lot of these posts on different sites lately.  Pellegrini demands change the headlines read, yet nothing really happens.  Performances don’t improve, new players do not come in, Ruud still plays.

To further complicate issues, David Redshaw posted that Malaga will not be able transfer players due to a LFP ban.  I haven’t been able to corroborate this, but if this is true, that can’t be good for the image of the club and their goals for this season.  (Note, Andy May tweeted that Malaga has stated it was an administration error and they do not have financial problems.)

Real Madrid went down early to Athletic Bilbao, but eventually turned things around with two second half penalties (not the most definitive PK’s ever called) to win 4-1 in the last game of the day.

I appreciate Madridista Mac’s analysis of Real Madrid.  In the aftermath of another Clasico loss, he does not abandon ship but does what Real does: they pick themselves up, make a tweak or seven, and go out and win another match.  FC Barcelona are the exception for Los Merengues as he puts it, but the team continues to march forward.

Jonny Mullins gave a quick tactical breakdown of the match at SpanishFootball.info, focusing on both teams close combination passing and movement and the lack of pressure from each side. Bilbao were eventually undone by the two penalties, which caused them get stretched and led to the fourth goal.

Monday

Villarreal won three vital points after a 3-0 defeat of Sporting Gijon. (Reuben’s goal even made US ESPN’s Top Plays.)  Gijon falls back into the relegation zone while the Yellow Submarine sit just outside thanks to their superior goal differential.

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Articles

Graham Hunter examined how Pepe fits (or rather doesn’t fit) into Real Madrid’s plans for victory on the field and in the public arena, as Los Blancos fell again to FC Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa.

Sid Lowe gave his two cents about the apparent furor in the Real Madrid dressing room.    I think it will blow over in time, especially if Real create a shockwave and beat FCB at the Camp Nou in the Copa.  Otherwise, results will keep coming, Los Blancos should progress in the Champions League and there is possible silverware at the end of the season.

Miguel Delaney chimed on the recent feud between Mourinho and his players.  He argues that roles of Real Madrid and Barcelona have flipped in that FCB are stable, with a clear purpose, while Real are in constant crisis, trying to buy players and changing coaches in a quest for success.  Makes for interesting reading.

Phil Ball ranked each team based on their position at the halfway point.  Levante are 1 (no issues) and Valencia are 20 (namely because they are simply the third best team in Spain and that’s where Los Che sit).  Positions 2 through 19 might surprise you.

La Liga Loca classified the Best and Worst of the last round, with praise for Real Madrid’s attacking lineup and Simeone’s tightening up of Atleti at the back.  In his criticisms, he picked out Malaga, who “have now slipped back to tenth place, are without a win in six and that must be putting Manuel Pellegrini and his project under pressure despite constant claims of patience.”

Richard Thorburn looked at La Liga players off to the African Cup of Nations and how their absences may affect the squads they left.  Teams at the bottom could be most affected.

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Podcasts

One of Forza Futbol’s latest pods discussed statistics in La Liga with Javier Hernandez (@JavierJotah).  He explained what he looks for in stats at each position and how players are stacking up this year.  Interesting stuff especially in a league where players and teams don’t necessarily fit into neatly defined boxes.

Andy and Sid spent a lot of time on La Liga Weekly looking ahead to the second leg of FC Barcelona and Madrid but did squeeze in some thoughts on the race for European places and which clubs might get them.

Also, the SpanishFootball.info pod is back up.  Make sure to look for it.

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So here are the standings at the halfway point.  Really hoping that Bilbao can make a push for fourth.  Would really like to see them in the Champions League next year.  If Malaga don’t improve their form, they may slide into the relegation battle instead of pushing on for a European place.  Here’s hoping the Villarreal can escape the tractor beam of relegation.

Real Madrid

19

16

1

2

49

49

Barcelona

19

13

5

1

47

44

Valencia

19

10

5

4

9

35

Levante

19

9

4

6

3

31

Espanyol

19

8

4

7

0

28

Osasuna

19

6

9

4

-9

27

Athletic

19

6

8

5

4

26

Atlético

19

7

5

7

3

26

Sevilla

19

6

8

5

0

26

Málaga

19

7

4

8

-6

25

Getafe

19

6

6

7

-5

24

Betis

19

7

2

10

-5

23

Rayo

19

6

4

9

-7

22

Mallorca

19

5

7

7

-7

22

R Sociedad

19

5

6

8

-10

21

Racing

19

4

8

7

-8

20

Villarreal

19

4

7

8

-10

19

Granada

19

5

4

10

-14

19

Sporting

19

5

3

11

-15

18

R Zaragoza

19

2

6

11

-19

12

Morbo Minute–Copa Letdown

After the drama of the cup, I was let down in the league.  FCB and Real Madrid survived scares in their race for the title, while the chasing pack continue to stumble over themselves.  At the bottom, Real Zaragoza are all but done, while Villarreal is truly in the relegation mire, with Racing escaping for the time being.

Saturday

Sevilla 0  Espanyol 0

I looked forward to this game after watching drama filled cup ties involving these teams in midweek, and apparently the excitement tanks could not be refilled.  Sevilla were knocked out by Valencia on away goals after winning 2-1 at the Sanchez Pijuan.  Espanyol got a late goal to win 4-2 and progress 5-4 against Cordoba.

Sevilla were in charge but both teams made a sloppy start.  Reyes, based on my viewing had a free role behind Negredo as Navas and Manu looked to occupy the wings.  But Espanyol were compact and Sevilla had a hard time picking their way through.  Turns out that was the theme of the game.  Sevilla couldn’t score and Espanyol couldn’t attack.  The Rojiblancos had several half chances that went begging, while Los Pericos would play up to Thievy, who was active but had horrible first touches before finally being subbed.

The game was not much of a spectacle, and I kept the bartender busy getting me more beers until we finally switched to the Spurs/Wolves replay. Sharing the points helps neither team, as Sevilla remains in a funk.  Espanyol might slowly be turning things around after a slow start, with their league form improving and still having a chance to progress in the Copa del Rey.

Madridista Mac returned to savor a Real Madrid victory borne of courage, grit and determination rather than slick, efficient domination. Mourinho made wholesale changes (similar to the ones in the second half of the first leg against Malaga in the Cup) and Los Merengues hammered the islanders into submission. For seventy minutes, the door was open for FCB but Higuain and Callejon and the rest slammed it shut.

Sunday

I wasn’t able to get up for the 6am EST kickoff of Atletico Madrid against Villarreal, despite this being a key match for each team and their new managers.

Derek at Atleticofans.com was pretty happy with Atleti’s performance, with their pressing taking the Yellow Submarine out of the game. Sounds like Falcao, Diego and Arda Turan had good matches and Los Colchoneros will look to build on this result as they try to climb up the table.

For a Villarreal perspective, I visited VillarrealUSA.com, where Allen was not so positive, calling this “as poor as a performance as I’ve seen from Villarreal in the league in a long while.” With the midfield doing very little in front of the backline, it was only a matter of time before Atleti scored. Allen also mentioned the lack of depth, which hurt them all over the field. Before the season I thought Atletico might go down, but it turns out that The Yellow Submarine are the ones in real trouble.

Athletic Bilbao 3 Levante 0

Bilbao continued their great run of form—only one loss in their last ten competitive matches, (PSG in a Europa League game) and unbeaten in last five league games (2 wins and 3 draws).  Los Leones dominated the first half with several great chances and finally broke through as Amorebieta headed in from 12 yards from a corner.  The hosts searched for a second, and it finally came five minutes from the half as Oscar tortured his defender before floating a cross over the keeper for Llorente to head in.

Levante’s form, particularly away from home, has not been spectacular. Since beating Real Sociedad in late October, Los Granotes have only won two of their last eight league matches, suffering five defeats in that time, including the last four away.  They tried to insert some attacking thrust at the interval, subbing out Nano for Valdo, and the visitors were a little more threatening in the second stanza, but Bilbao could have easily added a third or fourth, with several slick moves that didn’t come off.

San Jose added a third at the end after Juanfran had been sent off.  His absence from the post on the ensuing corner and poor marking allowed the defender to head home.  Bilbao deserved the win but two of the goals came from corners, which Levante didn’t deal with at all.  Muniain had another fantastic game and Javi Martinez was particularly impressive defensively and starting attacks out of the back.  Los Leones will need more results like this if they hope to qualify for Europe.

Malaga’s inconsistent season continues as they suffered a late goal against Gijon to lost 2-1, which puts them in eighth place. Mike Barnes at A Different Liga commented on the match, with rumors surrounding several transfer targets but so far it only looks like Kameni is signing. Ruud is not the answer up top and the defense is old and creaky. European qualification will be a tooth and nail affair as no team seems able to assert themselves.

Meg Ryan at Total Barca reviewed a match that saw the best and worst of the FC Barcelona this season—a sizzling start with early goals, complacency in the middle, and a furious finish that, this time, earned results. I was not able to see the game but in watching an extended highlights package, Betis were carved open but created plenty of chances themselves. Another reason to think that Real Madrid might finish on top of the league this season.

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Sid Lowe examined the Diego Simeone’s first home game in charge, a 3-0 drubbing of the Yellow Submarine. A popular choice of the fans, he will provide unity and a link to the past, until the results go against him.

Phil Ball lamented possible “spectacle-fatigue” as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona clash in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. He also scanned the table and identified the battles going on under the Big Two—the fight for fourth and the race to avoid relegation—with this spring surely filled with drama until the last day.

La Liga Loca picked out Racing (unbeaten since Cuper left and out of the relegation zone) and Callejon for praise while identifying that Sevilla and Malaga are in trouble and Valencia have a lack of attacking depth.

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Articles

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Real Zaragoza, and every time I read something about them it has something to do with their finances tanking and the club being run poorly. Liam’s post about the club addresses both, with several board administrators resigning, a new coach in place after a hiring fiasco, and players’ wages not being paid. All of this on top of being rock bottom in the league.

Build it and they will come. Hardly, Spanish stadia expert Chris Clements wrote a piece on Sevilla’s Olympic Stadium, Estadio La Cartuja, built in the late 90’s for attempted 2004 and 2008 Olympics bids which has sat largely dormant since then. A fantastic venue for athletics but not so good for footy. Shame really.

Graham Hunter raised questions about Di Maria’s pay packet ahead of the Cup clash between the Big Two. Surely this season he has earned himself a raise, playing well on the wing, creating several chances in the middle against Sevilla, and getting rid of the unsavory part of his game.

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Pods

Allen from VillarrealUSA.com was on the Forza Football pod to discuss Villarreal, the finances of the league, third party ownership, and Valencia’s deal to move forward with the new Mestalla.  Informative and entertaining as always.

Sid Lowe and Andy May recapped the weekend’s action on Sky’s La Liga Weekly and looked ahead to the Clasico clashes in the Copa.  Injuries, form and desire will impact these games.

Morbo Minute–New Year, Mixed Results

This was the round of the new managers as three new gaffers attempted to turn the fortunes around of their respective clubs and were underwhelming to say the least.

Simeone at Atleti led out his charges away to Malaga in the last game on Saturday. Sid Lowe gave his two cents on Simeone’s appointment at Atleti, stating that while El Cholo may have a history with the club, he alone cannot turn the club around. But it will be fascinating to watch him try. His presence was not enough as Los Colchoneros could only get a 0-0 draw. Spanish Football gave a quick recap of the gameDerek at Atleticofans.com was happy with a clean sheet and a point away from home for Atleti.  Big game against Villarreal next week at the Calderon.

Earlier in the day, Jimenez traveled with Zaragoza to Racing for a true six pointer and fell by a single goal. I cut them adrift awhile ago and I don’t think a new manager is going to change anything.

David Redshaw at A Different Liga summed up the rest of the Saturday’s action, which were light on goals except for Real Madrid and Granada.

Speaking of Los Merengues, Kaushik (@_kaushik7) at Real Madrid Football Blog examined a slightly weakened Real team who dismantled poor Granada.  Twitter was abuzz with praise for Varane after the match and Kaushik joined in.  With Carvalho on the way out, it looks like Varane will provide long term cover for Pepe and Sergio Ramos.  I guess Lass has become the new right back of the Evil Empire.  He does well there when I’ve seen him but will he be up to scratch against top flight Champions League competition?  Real are now five points up and assuming they don’t get too fatigued during their cup run, I can see them pulling away by late March.

On Sunday, former Spanish goalkeeper Molina took charge at the Madrigal. The Yellow Submarine could only manage a draw after throwing away a 2-0 lead, and the result leaves them in the relegation places.

Villarreal 2  Valencia 2

In the lead up to this match I saw that Marcos Senna was starting for Villarreal, which I thought was a surprise.  Haven’t seen him much this season, either on the field or on the team sheet.  Again Pablo was on the bench for Valencia as Emery went with Alba and Feghouli out wide.

An entertaining first half came to an end with the hosts up 2-1. Valencia had a positive start early but was lacking the final ball.  Villarreal opened the scoring on 14’ after a mix up in the Valencian rearguard. Rueben did a quick combo with Nilmar and kept his composure to finish.  Again Valencia had more of the ball but the hosts won a free kick that was whipped in and headed home by Frankie Hejduk’s younger brother (Gonzalo)—2-0 to the Yellow Submarine.  With their slick play frustrated, defender Miguel airmailed a ball into the area which found the head of Feghouli, so Los Che went into the break only down 2-1.  Seemed like Borja was not seeing much of the ball in first half from his left interior position, and I was interested to see if Molina would change this in the second half.

The second half involved both sides going end to end, when they weren’t fouling each other, with Valencia having the better of exchanges.  Emery brought on Pablo, Aduriz and Costa in search of equalizer while Molina took off Gonzalo and Cani for two younger players (Castellani and Lejeune) to keep things fresh.  Nilmar came off with five minutes to go and should have been taken off sooner, not really getting into the match.  Villarreal were close to three vital points but Valencia equalized as Aduriz made the most of his opportunity.  Zapata made a hash of the clearance and the striker passed it in to the far corner.

Villarreal did well with their opportunities in the first half, but Valencia actually tried to win the game so fair play to them.  With the draw and Racing’s win on Saturday, the Yellow Submarine are officially in the relegation zone. Molina’s Job #1: Avoid Relegation.

For a Villarreal perspective I visited VillarrealUSA.com where Siempre_riquelme looked back at the Valencian Derby, and took positives from Molina’s first game, but I can’t really agree with his statement: A decent result on paper, but blowing a two-goal lead at home is painful. Particularly against your bitter rivals, whom you outclassed on the day.   Valencia were on top for long stretches and Villarreal rarely threatened, Borja’s fierce shot being the exception.

Speaking of throwing away a lead, Espanyol pegged back FCB in the final match of Sunday’s action. I was not able to watch the game but followed proceedings on the twitter and on the soccernet gamecast during church and gasped when I read Espanyol equalized. The Blaugrana were not able to score again and now Real have a five point advantage. The momentum of the Clasico is gone and the engraver may be able to start working on the La Liga trophy.

Kari at Barcelona Football Blog recapped the Catalan Derby with passion and analysis and love and hope as FCB dropped points against their rivals.  I really enjoyed this post as she praised Espanyol for dictating the game instead of letting the Blaugrana just passing them into submission.  She is optimistic that Los Merengues can still be caught.  I’m not.

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Sid Lowe explained that Espanyol’s draw with FCB was part of the narrative between the neighbors.  It is Los Pericos not Real Madrid who have taken the most points from the Blaugrana in the Pep era.  Yes there was a penalty shout but these things happen and now FCB must hope Real Madrid regress if they hope to catch them.  Sid also mentioned the fight or rather lack of for the last Champions League spot: This weekend only one of the top 10 won – Real Madrid. No one wants to take the fourth place, which looks set to be one of the cheapest Champions League slots there’s been.

La Liga Loca echoed a theme that I have come across, which is that Benzema has completely transformed his play, his attitude and fans’ appreciation in year.  Betis seem to be off the slide, with three wins on the bounce, as they head into the Nou Camp.  His comments about Sevilla’s Marcelino were interesting as well:

The Sevilla manager’s instincts are always to avoid defeat rather than go for the win, and this is costing Marcelino’s men badly, with the club now on a run of three league defeats. In the final half an hour, Sevilla showed how well they can go forward when two strikers are played after the introduction of Freddie Kanouté, but it was too little, too late.

Phil Ball put Diego Simeone’s return to Atleti into context as the former hard man returns to manage the team he lead to League and Cup Double in 1996.  Simeone displayed other parts of the game during his playing career, and the hope is that he can turn the ship around in the capital and return the club to their rightful place, which is in the broad shadow of the Big Two.

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Articles

Olly Dawes sifted through some the transfer possibilities for this window. I was intrigued by Guardado to Valencia. Think that would be an excellent move, especially if they lose Alba over the summer. Saviola to Granada kinda blew my mind. Talk about the penthouse to the outhouse. I’m also interested to see who Malaga get to continue their project.

David Cartlidge at SpanishFootball.info looked at some transfer options as well, with the Big Two relatively quiet. Sevilla were also discussed with Caceres possibly off to Juve (NICE!!).

———–

Podcasts

Forza Football had a highly entertaining and informative pod about Barcelona’s other team, Espanyol. Mark, Nick (aka @PERICOZ), and Mando (@espanyolUSA) talked the club ahead of the big game against FC Barcelona. The gang appreciates the club trying to be fiscally responsible but hopes to hold on to some of their good talent. The panel also backed Pochettino and feel he needs to stay on no matter what, including relegation. They were also pretty positive in their predictions, seeing a tight game, which turned out to be pretty close to what happened.

Andy May and Sid Lowe on Sky’s La Liga Weekly discussed Barca’s draw at Espanyol and how this affects the title chase and RealMadrid’s ability to change gears against Granada, with Benzema and Varane playing well.  Andy interviewed Malaga defender Kris Stadsgaard and asked about the form of the team and his possible exit from the squad in this transfer window. Sid examined the rest of the pack, including Molina taking charge of Villarreal; Sevilla, who added Reyes; and possible transfers.

———–

After doing my reading, I really regret missing the Catalan Derby.  I planned to watch the replay but time got away and then it was on to the Copa and the next round of games is almost up on us.  The 3:30pm EST time start is tough for me, and guess what, FCB play Betis this Sunday at 3:30.

Some other games I’m hoping to catch this weekend (all time EST):

Saturday

12:00p             Sevilla v Espanyol

Sunday

6:00a               Atletico de Madrid v Villarreal

12:00p            Athletic Bilbao v Levante

3:30p               FC Barcelona v Betis