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.

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.

—————-

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.

—————-

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.

——-

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.

——-

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.

——-

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.

———–

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.

———–

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

Morbo Minute–Looking Back before Moving Forward

La Liga is back this weekend after a busy winter break. Three managers gone and replaced; Reyes still heading to Sevilla; Kaka up for sale; and Freddy Adu is set to train with Rayo. Several Primera teams are involved in the Copa and success in that competition will mean two games a week for most of this month. So get ready for intriguing and important games right from the off—Racing v Zaragoza, Malaga v Atleti, and Villarreal v Valencia—and some drama in the Copa del Rey.

———–

Articles

Andy Mitten looked back at the year that was in La Liga, touching on Barca’s dominance, key stories thus far and great games from the first half. His top five non-Barcelona/Real Madrid list looked a little light. What about Cazorla or Muniain or Negredo (who admittedly has cooled off lately) or Alba?

Connor wrote a piece examining some of the top La Liga signings from last summer. Granted, I have a small visual sample to draw from, but I would say Cesc would have to be one and Falcao two. Two of Malaga’s signings—Cazorla and Isco have done quite well so they would be up there. Considering Kone didn’t really score at Sevilla, his time at Levante has been quite productive.

Moving on to the clubs, Garrido is out at Villarreal. Not new news and not surprising as results have not gone his way this season, but a tough week (throwing away a lead at Osasuna and defeat in the cup to a third division team) proved to be the end. They have promoted B team manager Molina and David Redshaw at A Different Liga gave a quick intro to the new coach, who will have to focus on climbing out of the relegation places and regroup for next season.

Graham Hunter used the Beatles production of the Yellow Submarine to create a metaphor for Villarreal—Make a big noise with cheap instruments. Villarreal rose to success on youth players and clever signings, and Hunter hopes that the Yellow Submarine can get back on track and rise up the table.

Manzano at Atleti was also given the sack and replaced with Diego Simeone. Mando at Forza Football shared some thoughts on the dismissal of the two coaches, looking at each club’s context and possible direction. The days are gone when a coach could work through a rough patch and come out the other end stronger. Results now, and positive results at that, are what presidents are looking for.

Olly Dawes looked at possible transfer targets for Espanyol as they look to improve their attack. I admit I hadn’t heard of some of the names, but if Los Periquitos want to stay out of the relegation fight they need to find some goals.

While watching American College Football, I came across news from Football365.com that Joaquin has suffered an injury and won’t be back until February.  Malaga has a tough schedule this month, so that will be a big loss.

Finally, Catalunya played a friendly against Tunisia that ended in a scorless draw, but it sounds like the Catalans dominated possession. Lee Roden asks the recurring question: should Catalunya have their own team? I admit I don’t know enough about everything involved, but I would say no. They are a Spanish region and are not their own country. If they want to form their own entity then everything will take care of itself.

———–

Podcasts

Forza Football had Tim Stannard (aka @LaLigaLoca) on to talk all things La Liga. It was a great conversation with thoughts on El Clasico and predictions for the two teams for the rest of the season; Valencia’s plan to move forward with the new Mestalla; Atleti’s continued problems, with insight into the leadership cultural there (ie two leaders working at cross purposes); the impending relegation fight and who might go down; and the upcoming European Championships that LLL feels confident that La Furia Roja can win. Tim provides context and depth to the events in the Spain and was a fascinating guest.

The panel on the Villarreal USA pod discussed the choice of Molina as the next manager, with the accompanying pros and cons. Their schedule after the break is tough and it will be interesting to see if the new man can survive his trial by fire. They also examined possible signings to help bolster the squad and looked at the club’s finances.

La Liga Weekly reviewed the last 12 months in La Liga. A lot of time was spent on the battle between FCB and Real Madrid. Also, revisited an interview with RVN, which led into a conversation about Malaga’s ambition to challenge for European places and beyond and a look at the rest of the table including Villarreal’s troubles. Plus the Atleti situation was touched on as well as the Levante story that keeps on chugging along.

Morbo Minute–Sevilla Smashed and Malaga Driven Batty

A Different Liga wrote a quick summary of Round 17.  The results of the last round of 2011 are below with quick comments from yours truly.

SATURDAY

Mallorca 1-2 Getafe

All the goals came in the first half and Getafe earned the victory.  Don’t know enough about either team to guess at their chances for survival in the second half of the season.

Sporting Gijon 1-2 Espanyol

Sounds like the visitors won an entertaining match at El Molinón, with Sergio Garcia scoring the winner moving Espanyol in to the top half of the table.  Sporting are in the last relegation spot and may need a miracle like a couple of years to go to keep their Primera spot.

Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Real Zaragoza

I don’t know who the Mexican National Team coach is but he should be worried because Aguirre is on his way out at Zaragoza.  Los Blanquillos could not capitalize on a man advantage and fell to Los Leones when Toquero scored late on.

Sevilla 2-6 Real Madrid

Headed up to my favorite pub to catch this match.  I hadn’t seen Sevilla yet this season and wanted to see how the Evil Empire would react to being slapped around by Barcelona.

As the match started, I noticed that there was no Ozil, which was fine, but it seemed as if Di Maria was playing the attacking midfield role, with Callejon on the right. Before I could sort that out, I ran into an acquaintance at the bar, so I totally missed the opening exchanges and looked up to see CR7 slot the ball home.  The replays revealed a delicious ball from Di Maria, who it turned out, really was playing in the middle of the attacking three in midfield.

Sevilla responded well and were denied by St Iker and poor finishing.  They didn’t capitalize when Real Madrid were on the back foot and were punished as Di Maria floated a ball which Callejon dummied and the ball the trickled into the net.  I’m not giving the spiky haired attacker credit no matter what the official scorer might say.  Anyway, the result was me getting my fork out and putting it in Los Rojiblancos because they were done.  The home side were in shock and CR7 hit a 30 yard bomb to make it 3-0 and the game became a training session.  Even Pepe’s sending off couldn’t make a difference, and I called to my friend to tell him to not even bother coming out for the second half, which I spent answering emails, scanning the twitter and calling my best friend, a MUFC supporter, to figure what’s going on with the Red Devils.

Don’t have much to offer in terms of analysis.  My interest was piqued by the use of Di Maria.  I tweeted during the match: So Jose, you’ve got millions of monetary units wrapped u in a #10 & you play di Maria there instead. Experiment or revolution?  and Hope Kaka kept his house in Milan.  I like the change but why do it one game before the break?  Seems like you would introduce it after the break when you’ve had some time to work on it.  It does give Real Madrid a ton of options, but I’m not sure that’s what they need.  We’ll see if Mou continues with this in January.

SUNDAY

Atletico Madrid 0-2 Real Betis

Looks like Manzano will be out of work as 2012 begins as Atleti suffered their first home defeat of the year.  Betis hope that they can turn their form around after the break and stop their free fall down the table.

A Different Liga reported on Tuesday that former Atleti player Diego Simone may be in the frame for the job.  Seems like he has mixed results as a manager.

Granada 2-1 Levante

Granada got another three vital points in their survival push as they are halfway to safety at the break.  As for Levante, more dropped points and only the inconsistency of the group under them is keeping them in fourth.

I did a little research on their form.  Their unbeaten start to the season ended on October 30 with a loss to Osasuna.  Since then Los Granotes have lost three of their five games.  The fixture list after the break isn’t horrible Real Mallorca at home, Athletic Bilbao away and Real Zaragoza at home.  Maybe they can stay up there.

Osasuna 2-1 Villarreal

Two teams heading in different directions?  Osasuna have climbed to fifth and the Yellow Submarine are just outside the drop.

Racing Santander 0-0 Real Sociedad

I’ll take the word of SpanishFootball.info:

Racing Santander and Real Sociedad played out a dull, inspiring draw that helps neither side in their quest to pull away from the relegation zone. Both sides seemed nervous throughout, unwilling to make a mistake that would allow the other in, as both coaches made sure their sides showed more caution than creativity.

Valencia 2-0 Malaga

Coming into the match, a win for Los Che would consolidate their place in third (read first of the losers) while a Malaga victory would take them up to fifth just two points behind Levante, who lost again.

There was good early pressure from the hosts as they looked to put the visitors on the back foot.  Emery made a couple of changes to the line-up.  He welcomed back Banega back from injury and moved Feghouli inside to get Miguel forward from the back. Los Che played with Mathieu and Alba doubled up on the left hand side, with Alba looking to be more advanced to me.  Here’s a question: Where is Pablo?  Haven’t seen him play or on the team sheet in a while.  (Came on as sub with 12 minutes  to go.)

As for Malaga, Rondon led the line with Juanmi behind him, and I didn’t see much from Cazorla.  Slowly Malaga came into the  match with Joaquin and Juanmi getting involved, and, as Malaga grew in confidence, the game really opened up, with Joaquin feeling the good feeling and causing the Valencia rearguard all kinds of fits.  Let me just say that Malaga away kit is truly horrific.  Phil Schoen called them magenta.  I don’t want to get my color wheel out but I don’t think that’s magenta.  And the black shoulder things make it worse.

Valencia made the breakthrough shortly before halftime, with Soldado keeping his great run going.  The Valencian midfield turned Malaga over, fed the ball to Jonas, who split open the Malaga rearguard (with a pass that rivaled Di Maria’s the night before) and Bradley Cooper Soldado walked around Willy to score.

In response, Isco and Joaquin switched sides and Isco took his turn running at the hosts defense.  Halftime came with Malaga asking the right questions but not finding the answers.  The average position on soccernet showed Malaga only having Monreal on the left hand side, which surprised me because it seemed like that’s where the visitors had some success.  As for Valencia, it showed them playing almost a  2-5-2-1 with both backs very high and lots of numbers in the midfield.

The second half continued to be open and Malaga had a  four on two off a Valencia corner, which resulted in almost nothing.  They got a corner but it should have been a real chance.  Just after the half hour mark, Jordi Alba embarrassed an exposed DiMichelis and whipped in a fantastic cross that Soldado volleyed home for a lovely goal.

Pellegrini’s substiutions were not very inspired.  Seba Fernandez and Duda in for Rondon and Isco respectively.  Maybe Isco was tiring but I would not have minded seeing him continue to go at Valencia.  As for Seba in for Rondon, just one more ineffective striker for another. Malaga had a couple of half chances to make it interesting, but Diego Alves kept a clean sheet.

All in all, a nice victory for Los Che.  Little shaky at times but their cohesiveness and class proved the difference.  As for Malaga, feel like the Champions League is slipping farther and farther away.  Pellegrini still has a lot of work to do, and they still have to play FCB twice, and while Levante may fall, Osasuna and Sevilla may yet hold Malaga off.

Omar at VCF Central summed it up: Soldado’s clinical finishing was the difference in the clash. Malaga caused problems but had trouble breaking down the Valencia rearguard and then couldn’t finish the chances when they did.

Mike Barnes at A Different Liga analyzed Malaga’s season thus far after the match against Levante.  Not sure what Pellegrini and Co are selling but I’m not buying.

“I am satisfied with our level of play, but that has not been reflected in our results or our position,” he said. “I would have liked to finish the year higher up. The table is very tight and we must continue working, but now we’re looking to go as far as possible in the Copa.”

I’ve watched Los Boquerones a couple of times this season and, until Sunday, had been less than impressed.  Their “level of play” is not going to get them into the European spots and they will need more than a striker to turn things around.  That being said, I thought Joaquin was particularly good against Valencia, rolling back the years and causing constant turmoil for Los Che.  If Isco can match that on the opposite side, then Cazorla should be a little more joy in the middle.  In the back, DiMichelis is a joke, especially when isolated one on one.

Maybe a cup run would make up for their inconsistent league form, but if they continue their horrible run away from home, then I’m not sure how far they’ll get.

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Doctor Sid examined the usual frustrating, underwhelming and ultimately meaningless Atleti situation.  Manzano has been undermined from the start, with the results not really following and now the team will have a new coach shortly whose job will probably be to keep them from the burgeoning relegation battle rather than a push for European place.

Phil Ball took the temperature of La Liga heading into the break.  The Big Two are in charge but there are several stories percolating just below the surface: Valencia’s consolidation of third; Levante’s decent start; Atleti’s consistent implosion; Osasuna getting beat 15-1 on aggregate by the FCB and Real yet in fifth place; Villarreal’s horror show; and the congestion at the bottom.

La Liga Loca gave a quick nod to the Evil Empire and then moved on to plucky little teams spread throughout the table—Osasuna and Betis—and the teams in complete disarray—Sporting, Atleti and Zaragoza.

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Articles

Connor  (@_ConnorAndrews) gave a quick history on the Yellow Submarine and how their current performance is affecting the club.  With their loss to Osasuna, they are mired in a relegation battle without major weapons, and while they may survive, things may actually get worse next season.  The loss of Villarreal would be a blow to the Primera but encapsulates the crisis in the league—teams dependent on owner infused money; teams dependent on European money; and clubs forced to sell key players that keep them from developing a solid team to contend at home and abroad.

Looks like Valencia will continue to strengthen their defense, as soccernet is reporting that van der Wiel is moving to Valencia from Ajax.  Of course does this mean that Alba is on the way out?

Heath Chesters at El Centrocampista wrote a quick piece on Guilherme Siqueira who is doing great things at Granada as a left back.  Maybe one to keep an eye on.

Sam (@SamIanHughes), another writer at El Centrocampista looked into the future of the Blaugrana and told his readers about Sergi Samper, a youth team prospect that has real potential to play in the midfield.  Sam warns of like for like replacement, but speaks of Samper’s vision, range of passing and positioning.  It could be Sergi, Oriol Romeu and another anchoring the midfield in a couple of years.

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Podcasts

The guys at Forza Futbol had Vaishali Bhardwaj (@VaiBhardwaj) on to discuss a wide range of topics from the English view of La Liga, Spanish players in the EPL, and the striker possibilities for La Furia Roja, which seems to be the second most consistent story this season beyond the gulf in the TV contracts between the Big Two and everyone one.

Graham Hunter did a piece about Athletic Bilbao, which featured their English roots, San Mames, and background for Pichichi and Zarra awards.

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So here is the table as La Liga heads into the break.  From Atletico on down, it is a crap shoot as to will join Zaragoza in the Segunda next year.  Barca are six points off last year’s total, with several away draws being the culprit.  Real Madrid look strong and their focus will be on building a cushion before the next clasico.

Real Madrid 16 13 1 2 41 40
Barcelona 16 11 4 1 42 37
Valencia 16 10 3 3 10 33
Levante 16 9 2 5 6 29
Osasuna 16 6 7 3 -7 25
Sevilla 16 6 6 4 1 24
Málaga 16 7 3 6 -2 24
Espanyol 16 7 2 7 -3 23
Athletic 16 5 7 4 4 22
Atlético 16 5 4 7 -4 19
Betis 16 6 1 9 -5 19
Getafe 16 5 4 7 -6 19
Granada 16 5 4 7 -6 19
Mallorca 16 4 6 6 -7 18
R Sociedad 16 4 5 7 -7 17
Rayo 16 4 4 8 -8 16
Villarreal 16 3 6 7 -10 15
Sporting 16 4 3 9 -11 15
Racing 16 2 8 6 -10 14
R Zaragoza 16 2 4 10 -18 10

Morbo Minute

Obviously almost all eyes were focused on the Big One, but there were some surprising results in La Liga this round.  La Liga Loca was kind of a Debbie Downer this week, perhaps affected by all the awful football and situations going on at the bottom of the table. Or maybe he was just depressed after Atletico were destroyed by Espanyol.

Saturday

Real Betis stunned Valencia, and probably the entire world, with two late goals.  They had earned one point in the their last 30, but Castro scored twice in the dying moments to take three points off Los Che and officially end Valencia’s title fight.  Glancing at Valencia’s line-up, it was not the usual suspects.  Looks like they were missing Pablo and Jordi Alba, with Albelda and Parejo on the bench.  Nice to see Banega at least on the bench and hopefully he will be back after the winter break.

Levante beat Sevilla 1-0, which is a great result for Los Granotes after getting stuffed last week against FCB, but another loss for Sevilla, as the air is definitely going out of that balloon.  Also a Sevilla win would have kept them within touching distance of the fourth CL spot, but the loss leaves them five points back.  Since their amazing 0-0 draw at the CampNou in October, they have only picked up eight of the 21 available points.

Sunday

Again, another Sunday with La Liga.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is watch more Primera games on Sunday.  The guys at SpanishFootball.info do an excellent job of giving quick and informative summaries.

Rayo Vallecano     1-3          Sporting Gijon

Getafe                        1-0         Granada

Villarreal                 1-1          Real Sociedad

The Yellow Submarine continue to struggle.  Can they turn it around in 2012?

Málaga                      1-1          Osasuna

Malaga drew at home against Osasuna and just can’t seem to get a streak going.  They are stuck on 24 points with Sevilla, and it will be interesting to see if either team will be able to capitalize on Levante’s anticipated swoon after the break.

Real Zaragoza        0-1         Mallorca

The trap door is agonizingly wide open under Real Zaragoza.

Athletic Bilbao      1-1          Racing Santander

San Mames has not been a fortress lately, with Los Leones only picking one point from their last two matches.  I read there was not Llorente, which I’m sure was a factor.

Espanyol                  4-2          Atlético Madrid

Surely Manzano is on his way out.

Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, on to El Clasico.

Real Madrd 1  FC Barcelona 3

The biggest game of the year and I scheduled a community event on that day.  I realized as soon as I started publicizing the event that I had made a scheduling oversight.  I immediately started worked on a strategy and coordinated with a friend to tape the game so that we could watch it later that night.  The next step was to go into media blackout so that I wouldn’t know anything about the match. No twitter, no facebook, no soccer sites.  The final step was to pick up beer.  I picked up a bottle of Guinness and a bottle of Harp to make Half and Half, Shiner Bock, Killian’s, Stella, and Goose Island 312.

After my event and clean up and nap, I had absolutely no emotion regarding the game, but the closer I got to my friend’s apartment, the more and more nervous I got.  I sat down to watch the game and was immediately confronted by a complete fuck up by Valdes.  I was stunned for the first fifteen minutes and didn’t even realize that FCB was playing a 3-4-3 with Alves pushed high up on the right. (Or were they?)

As with previous matches Real Madrid came out with high energy, putting pressure on the Barcelona players, upsetting their natural rhythm, and it paid dividends.  Slowly but surely FCB got into the match and Sanchez equalized just before half.  Messi was not able to run at the Real Madrid rearguard with much success and when he finally passed instead of dribbled, it resulted in a goal.

The second half saw FCB having more of the ball but Real Madrid were quite dangerous.  For me the changing point of the match was Xavi’s deflected goal.  Once that went in, Real Madrid slipped, and once they slipped, the edge that they had was gone and FCB was back in the ascendancy.  For all of the talent and organization and quality of Los Merengues, there is a sense of mental fragility.  They are great when their tails are up, but when confronted with an obstacle, or immovable force, in this instance, they cannot respond.

One of Barcelona’s issues this season has been putting teams to the sword, but Fabregas’ goal took care of that.  Forget the games against Real Sociedad and AC Milan, where the Blaugrana allowed their opponent a chance to equalize.  Alves, in his advanced position, whipped in a cross which Fabregas nodded home and injected real life into the La Liga campaign.  There was no way back for Los Blancos, and they headed back to their compound losers once again.

In the end, it was an odd game, with a bizarre start, CR7 missing two gilt edged chances, and a strangely subdued finish at the Bernabeu.  At the beginning of the season, I picked Real Madrid to win the league.  After the shock results against Levante and Racing, that prediction looked to be in jeopardy, but after FCB’s defeat at Getafe, my guess looked pretty good.  After Saturday’s match, I don’t know what to think.  FCB has reduced the deficit but the Blaugrana still remain three points behind. Logic says that Mourinho tells his team, start another winning streak, maintain performances and come into April’s game, the Evil Empire will still be three points (or more) ahead.

One more question about the game, what now for Villa and Pedro?  Sanchez continues to impress and Villa looked horribly off the mark when he came on.  Pedro can only make substitute appearances as Cuenca improves with every match.  Maybe it will be an embarrassment of riches, but it could also cause tension in Pep’s Wonderland.

As always, Zonal Marking gave a thorough breakdown of the game.  His comments were very interesting and he saw things that I didn’t pick up while watching.  I would argue that Barca morphed into a 3-4-3 with Alves advanced, but what do I know?  I didn’t really notice Busquets dropping into the back four.  Messi did see the ball but was not able to slice and dice as he did on several occasions during the Champions League games.  As for Real Madrid, Mourinho started his typical formation and went right at the Blaugrana.  They were in the match but conceded control after 30 minutes or so.  After going down 2-1, I didn’t like the Benzema move to left mid.  Thought he was wasted there.  All in all, a thrilling match with so much going on below the surface.

Jonathan Wilson echoed Zonal Marking’s analysis and went a step further, focusing on the backline of three and a half, with Busquets doing two jobs in one.  Both writers identified that Ozil was either not the right choice or possessing the right ability for this match.  Funny how one of the best signings of last year has been made a possible scapegoat a third of the way into this season. Wilson also mentioned the Three Year Rule, which may hold true in typical leagues, but La Liga is far from typical.  Long runs are just 20 (Cruyff’s Dream Team of 1990-1994) and 25 (Real Madrid’s 5 in a row from 1985-1990) years away for the Big Two and, with their current financial stranglehold, it’s possible that we could see dominant cycles domestically in the future.

For the Real Madrid perspective I visited Real Madrid Football Blog.

Kaushik (@_kaushik7) was very frank in the aftermath of the match.  He felt that Real were playing the same game–“Same in terms of us not putting our chances away, same in terms of us failing to track spaces and let Barca score those goals, rather easily“–as the last two years and are still too far away from FCB, especially mentally.  He had some sharp criticism for CR7:

What can I say, I am not pissed with him, or calling for him to benched like many extremists are, but I am just disappointed. Not upset, just terribly disappointed. He is our best player, and so much is expected from him. To set him apart from the great players to the legends, it is in matches like these that these best players, these leaders carry their teams. And he did not. Holding him responsible for not converting chances sounds criminal, but aren’t we as fans allowed to set that high standards to those that we bank on most? More than the chances, he was just not influential at all. I don’t know what it is with big matches or clasicos, its a different Cristiano. Does he put too much pressure on himself? Or does he simply not have the mental strength? I think the latter is too harsh, and hence I’ll choose to pick the former.

Madridista Mac was sick after El Clasico but as he sorted through his thoughts, he urged Madrid fans and the Madrid Team to rise to the challenge of this Barca squad.  He echoed the CR7=choker sentiment, second guessed the tactical choices of the Special One, and questioned the character of the current Real Madrid squad.  He urged them to not wallow in despair but to respond, to start preparing for April when they will have to measure themselves again.

Barcelona have become the measure to true excellence in football and we’ve only got one remaining chance left this season to test ourselves against them. If this team truly wants to earn its rightful place in the football world, then it must begin counting the days for the next encounter – they should in fact pray to the football Gods that we meet them in battle once again in the Champions League or the Copa Del Rey. Times and defeats like this are not cues to cower or shudder in fear: these are moments for Madridisimo to bang their fists on the table to demand another go.

For the Barcelona side of things, I visited Barcelona Football Blog:

Euler did a two part review of the match.  My response to the first part: Wow.  He started by dismissing the premise that most pundits had coming into the match—that FCB were regressing or stalling, while Real Madrid were progressing.  His response:

We saw once again how this Barcelona project is never satisfied.  It always wants to win.  It isn’t complacent or interested in resting on the past or on a particular generation of talent.

We saw a team that is starting to evolve its core, a team that has been drastically turned over from 2008/09 yet still continues to achieve wondrous results.  We saw a new group of players emerging to contribute.  We saw a squad that is getting younger at key positions.

We saw a squad that Guardiola is constantly pushing to get better.  A squad organized by strategy and tactics that are always evolving playing a system that is constantly designed and redesigned.  If anything – this season we’ve seen these issues pushed even harder.

Surpassing Barcelona will not be an event because Barcelona will not sit still.  This is the challenge for the opposition. Barcelona is a moving target – one that is competing not only against other teams – but against itself.  Surpassing this Barça project will require a process, a process that will only attain weight and meaning over sustained time.

The longer that process goes on for the opposition though, the more difficult it will become in some ways because with each achievement this Barça team learns more and more deeply how to execute at the highest level, how to stay composed and focused.  It explores new dimensions of how to win.

What a post, thoughtfully considering the now in the context of history and what lies ahead in the future.  His comments were beyond FCB and were more about life, success and the desire to evolve.  Forget TACTICS!  Consider the sentiments in this post.  Really well done.

Just to note, Messi didn’t score against Real Madrid, once again proving Surreal Football’s point that he is rubbish.

In the all of the reviews of El Clasico, I’ve certainly gotten my fill of Sid Lowe.  La Liga Weekly, the Guardian pod and the Guardian site.  His weekly recap of La Liga took a unique approach to the fallout of the biggest game in the world—he praised the bravery of Valdes and Barcelona.  Despite giving up a very early goal, Valdes continued to play the way the Blaugrana play, and his teammates did likewise, until they took control of the match and eventually won.  A telling quote . . .

When people talk of bravery in football, they tend to conjure up Terry Butcher’s bandage. The image of bravery is of the hardnut centre-back flying into lunatic challenges. But it’s tempting to conclude that that’s not brave at all – surely kicking people is the opposite – and even if it is, there’s another type of bravery. The player who keeps his head when all around others are losing theirs, who stays strong after a mistake, who overcomes the pressure. A brave player is the one who loses the ball three times and still wants it; who keeps attacking. The goalkeeper who makes the biggest mistake on earth – and doesn’t take the easy, if short term, way out. The team that have the courage of their convictions.

Phil Ball offered his analysis of the Big One, examining the strange things that seem to happen mentally and psychologically in this match, along with assorted tactical points.  He also mentioned the complete dog fight going on at the bottom of the table, as a few points separate relegation from a Europa League place.

Mando at Forza Futbol wrote a quick piece in the aftermath of El Clasico and examined how both teams got to this point—coaches, players and tactics.  Really enjoyed the comments as both teams act and react to each other’s moves, yet FCB remain on top.  Give it a quick read.

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Pods

Forza Football had the filmmakers behind El Clasico on in preparation for the big game.  Elisa had mentioned this in previous shows, and I really want to catch it in a theater or buy the DVD.  Amazing what you can do with some fortitude and knowledge of another language.

Sid and Andy reviewed El Clasico on La Liga Weekly right after the match.  This was Real Madrid’s chance.  Again.  And yet they were found lacking.  Barca are completely devoted to their identity, and right now, this belief is able to overcome the athleticism and tactical ability of Los Merengues.  Who knows what the landscape will look like in April, but I’m sure we’ll in for another fascinating confrontation.

The panel on the SpanishFootball.info pod had some strong comments on El Clasico.  One member called CR7 a luxury player and everyone commented on the gap between CR7 and Messi.  According to David, Valencia has received the necessary financing to move forward with their new stadium that will seat 75,000.

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Articles

Saw this headline on El Centrocampista-MALAGA COULD DO BETTER SAYS VAN NISTELROOY-so I clicked on it. Not much too it, but then I came across this little bit of transfer rumor from A Different Liga.  Valero to Malaga would really be a kick in the teeth to the Yellow Submarine, while Parejo to Valencia makes sense for the player if he wants to stake his claim, but not, as the article points out, for Valencia, as it would strengthen a direct rival.

I had heard that Oriol Romeu was playing at Chelsea, but didn’t realize he was doing so well.  From Lee Roden’s post on El Centrocampista, it sounds like there may be a battle for his services in the next year or two.  I believe FCB inserted the same clause in Bojan’s contract in Roma (not that they would ever exercise it).  As Lee correctly states: “One should never underestimate the will of a player, just ask Cesc Fabregas. The door is still open, but it will be up to Oriol Romeu to walk back through it.”  Time will tell.