Posts Tagged ‘ Atletico Madrid ’

Morbo Minute–Part 2 (Articles and Pods)

Here’s some stuff I came across during the last week or so.

Eduardo Alvarez went undercover to the Vicente Calderon to watch Atleti v Rayo, a game that saw Simeone’s razor sharp squad almost throw it away in the waning moments of the match.  Plus he commented on the trouble across town as Mourinho’s men slumped to defeat.

Speaking of Los Colchoneros, Tim Stannard examined how Falcao remained at Atleti despite setting La Liga and the Europa League alight last season.  He made the case that as an out and out striker, several teams would have to spend big time money to reinvent the squad in order to accommodate the Colombian.

Last week, I saw posts on twitter that Malaga and Atletico Madrid were not going to receive their prize money from UEFA due to outstanding debts.  I haven’t quite gotten to the bottom of that but several journos and the Swiss Ramble were trading tweets about that and other things, which made me realize I had not read his blog in a while.  Skimming recent posts, I came across his analysis of Atleti’s current finances.

For the last 15 months at least, La Liga fans have been made aware of the huge discrepancies between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in terms of TV money.  Barca and Real each received 140 Euros in 2011/12 from TV, while Los Coloconeros only picked up 46 million Euros, which was fourth in the league but only 1/3 of what the Big Two picked up a piece and only 16% of the total amount they received.  Ouch.  Year after year of this creates a chasm that is now creating a player drain from the country as footballers look to other countries for better compensation.

European success has hidden the fact that Atleti are in trouble financially.  Not only can any improvement they make in media, match day revenue and sponsorship not compete with the big boys, but they are trying to overcome massive tax debt and several years of poor purchases.  Now that anyone still reading has fallen asleep, I will just say, read the Swiss Ramble for the details.  I don’t pretend to understand it all but I know enough to know that it is not a rosy picture.

SlickR was not happy with Valencia’s performance against Celta Vigo.  (2-1 win.)  The team was missing a couple of key players due to injury and the FIFA Virus, but Los Che allowed the visitors too much time and made the game harder than it needed to be.  Sounds like Feghuoli had a solid match.  Have never been impressed by him, but his early goal was quite nice.

I found the website Barca Central in my wanderings around the interwebs and Nic looked at the season after three rounds, focusing on how Tito has maintained the same tactics and shape as Pep (while making small tweaks); the signings of Song and Alba, who have added solid depth to the squad; and the form of Cesc, which has been a source of tension in the camp.

A recent post by NZM on Barcelona Football Blog is another I reason I enjoy the blog so much.  She broke down the Blaugrana’s activity in the recent transfer window and used it as a launching off point for how the club deals with young players and their progress from La Masia to the first team.  There is definitely a conflict between the club’s philosophy of promoting from within and the financial and squad realities.  The rubber hits the road when a thin squad is stretched as FCB were last spring in the Chelsea/Real Madrid/Chelsea sequence that asked too much of the players.  Great post and definitely food for thought.

Finally, have to mention the Inside Spanish Football pod.  Not only did it look back on the talking points of Round Four, but I made my podcast debut.  Many thanks to Ben for having me on, and to Jonathon and Michael for the insightful commentary.  Give it a listen!!

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Morbo Minute–Cristiano is sad, Adriano is wonderful, & Falcao is dominating

My coverage of La Liga for Round Three was a series of scheduling screw ups.

Saturday I was just too busy and with a limited selection on US TV, I was out of luck.  Sunday was supposed to be FCB v Valencia at 2pm.  The possibility of an entertaining game and a couple of pints was very enticing but when reviewing the weekend’s fixture and TV grids on Friday, I noticed the match was moved to 4pm EDT on Sunday, which put it in conflict with church.  Blurgh.

Monday was Labor Day so I planned to spend the afternoon watching Real Betis and Atletico Madrid at a bar instead of my usual work M.O.—sneaking a peek on the internet while pretending to work.  Wrong again.  Between Atleti’s participation in the European Super Cup and Monday being a FIFA date, the game was postponed.  (Moved to 9/26.)  How the LFP did not see that coming, I have no idea.  Chelsea already solved their problem, moving the Reading fixture up to the opening week of the season.

So my viewing was relegated to catching the highlights on various websites.  Quickly commenting on a couple of matches: What a goal by Adriano for Barcelona!  Made up for a poor performance in the Super Cup second leg.  The pitch at La Romareda looked awful for Zaragoza’s loss to Malaga.  The match day attendance continues to be an issue, especially at Estadio Anoeta where there were very few in the stands for Mallorca’s win over Real Sociedad.

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Articles and Pods

Sid Lowe did his weekly post for the Guardian a day late last week due to the Atletico/Athletic game not being played until 11pm local time on Monday (8/27) night.  His comments were tinged with doom as Bilbao were run off the field and Bielsa in dire straights.  Martinez has finally been sold to Bayern while Llorente remains on the team, but not on the field.  Los Leones victory in round three got them off the bottom of the table and time will tell if they can turn it around this season.

Staying with Atletico, I finally got around to reading La Liga Loca’s preseason thoughts on Atleti, which were optimistic and have been rewarded with four points out of six (away draw to Levante and a 4-0 thumping of Athletic) and a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea in the European Super Cup.  To be honest with all of the changes in the last 12 months, I’m not too familiar with the side but know that historically promise and usually fail to deliver.

Phil Ball got caught up in Falcao Fever as the Colombian put on a show in the European Super Cup.  He then moved on to address CR7’s supposed “sad”ness at Real Madrid after a weekend where he scored twice to get Los Merengues their first league victory of the season.

Liam Morgan gave his early thoughts on Levante for Inside Spanish Football, and I agree with him that the Europa League draw could have been much worse.  A huge comeback against Espanyol earned them all three points in the last round and could get Los Granotes back on track.

Back to Sid.  His post this week centered on Caparros at Real Mallorca.  Los Bermellones went top of the table for a minute over the weekend.  While they may not stay there, Caparros will do everything he can to make sure that his team have a chance at survival in La Primera.

Meg Ryan summed up the Barcelona/Valencia game for Total Barca, which saw FCB in control but failing to put Los Che to the sword.  For a Valencia perspective, I visited SlickR at Club Valencia CF, who acknowledged that FCB were superior but he sees hope for the rest of the season, as Valencia have played the Big Two already, both away, which I had not considered.  But he is concerned about the condition of the defense and the form of Guardado, although he is hoping that the return of Gago will help give cohesion to the team.

Madridista Mac turned in a fantastic post for the Real Madrid Football Blog in the wake of three points and Ronaldo’s shenanigans.  He focused his match comments on the midfield, examining what Modric brings to the squad and the possibility of a healthy Essien for Los Blancos.  As a fan of the EPL, the thought of both of them hitting the heights is a frightening prospect.  Mac then turned his attention to CR7’s post game pout and looked at possible reasons: money and institutional support.  The media machine has almost two weeks to go crazy with this and I’m interested to see where things stand at kickoff for round four.

Along those lines, Graham Hunter gave his opinion on Ronaldo’s antics as the superstar angles for a new deal.  He then moved on to Isco’s great start to the season at Malaga and how smaller clubs can catch lightning in a bottle every once in a while with extended scouting and shrewd deals (see Villarreal and Sevilla from the middle of last decade).

As for podcasts, Sid Lowe was on Beyond the Pitch to talk about La Liga.  He and Anto covered a ton of ground including the issues facing Athletic and Malaga, the upcoming campaigns for the Big Two, the TV money distribution, and the exit of players from the league.

The panel on the Inside Spanish Football pod touched on a lackluster performance by Real Madrid, Sevilla’s penalty kick woes and the parity of the league outside the Big Two, among other topics.  Plus Jonathan gave some betting tips to think about for the upcoming season.

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Transfer stuff

The transfer window closed, and to be honest I was so overwhelmed with players changing squads in England, I didn’t have a real good feel for what happened in Spain.

Some transactions that did catch my eye:

  • American Carlos Bocanegra escaped Rangers and moved to Racing Santander.
  • Giovanni dos Santos continues his footballing odyssey and moved to Real Mallorca.
  • Michael Essien moved to Real Madrid.  Could be great coverage for Mourinho if he can stay healthy.
  • Roque Santa Cruz stayed in Spain, moving to Malaga.

Zonal Marking looked at the Modric and Song signings for the Big Two, with Modric giving Mou options while hopefully Song gives FCB some teeth in midfield.

Finally, James Burn looked at some of the big signings in La Liga this offseason for Inside Spanish Football.  He heaped praise on Barca for getting Song and Alba, Valencia for adding Pereira and Canales (although his time might have passed), and Granada for picking up Iriney and Torje.

Old Futbol Buffet–#SurvivalSunday

Survival Sunday was all that Fox could have asked for.  Goals, tension, flashpoints, a constantly updating table and a title that was literally won with the last kick of the last game.  Hours after the final whistle, I am still emotionally spent.

We set up a Watch Party at the local Buffalo Wild Wings so that we could watch all of the games at the same time on several TV’s.  Keeping track of five matches was much more difficult that I had imagined, especially as one game affected another.  Spurs scored early, Arsenal immediately responded.  Then the Gunners went behind as did Newcastle.  United took the lead at Sunderland, and then minutes later City were gifted a goal by poor goalkeeping.  And so on.  Next year, if we get this lucky, I need to do a minute by minute to show how circumstances changed throughout the two hours.

I had conceded the title after the Everton draw but when QPR scored to go up 2-1 with ten men, I actually started to believe.  I was screaming for United to get a second to give fans (namely me) some breathing space, and as the minutes ticked away, I told a fellow United fan, we’re almost there.  And then the most unbelievable two minutes since the United Treble happened.  I knew that City would score a second so when Dzeko scored I was concerned that time was still on the clock.  Time for the shift, the shift from the red half of Manchester to the blue.  When the ball was hoofed into the box, everything slowed down.  Super Mario couldn’t quite control the ball so he just prodded it along.  Aguero started dribbling, slowly fooling defenders and creating just enough space to agonizingly wind up and send a laser that found its way, frame by frame, into the back of the net.

Having just finished Fever Pitch (again), the thrill of a last minute goal to win the title was fresh in my mind.  As I told my friend moments after the game, in between disappointed sobs, this is as close as we will get to the 1989 Championship moment.  James Tyler at soccernet tweeted it perfectly: Aguero is the new Michael Thomas.  And then it was over.  City were champions and the disappointment and the pain and the taunting and the second guessing and the what ifs could begin in earnest, fueled by beer and whiskey.

My best friend, who is a United fan, called moments after the final whistle and we commiserated.  Fergie was so close to his greatest coaching job ever.  He lost Vidic and Fletcher yet patched a team together, dusting off Paul Scholes in midseason, to get United within goal difference of the title, finishing with the most points by a second placed team in the history of the Premier League.  What now for the Reds?  For the first time in five years, the Red Devils finished the year without a trophy.  I don’t have a coherent plan right now.  Maybe in time it will come to me, and hopefully this is just a blip and not the end of an era.

Man City

38

28

5

5

64

89

Man Utd

38

28

5

5

56

89

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After all that, the Philadelphia Union hosted the New York Red Bulls, the first MLS game I had watched this season.  I had planned to do two things during the match: one, watch Thierry Henry because I had heard he was off to a great start, and two, take a nap, so that I was well rested for the La Liga games.  Well came to find out that Henry was hurt and may be out for the season.  As for the nap, I had to park further away than I had planned so I couldn’t sneak out to the car and I couldn’t really take a nap in a sports bar.

New York scored early but the Union was able to equalize pretty quickly with a nice header.  Then came the game changer.  Adu received the ball in the box, tried to split two defenders, was tripped and went down.  Whistle goes.  Penalty to Philly right?  Wrong.  Yellow to Adu, which was his second and he was sent off.  The card was harsh.  There was contact and the ref may not have given a penalty but you can’t give a card.  When Adu emerged from the locker room to watch the second half, he was given a standing ovation by the fans.

The Union came out firing to begin the second half, scoring a fantastic goal through Pajoy.  The ten men from Philly were able to hold out for another twenty minutes before the Red Bulls equalized.  Then a defensive mix up ten minutes later allowed the visitors to score their third.  Philly had a chance to win it at the end but couldn’t quite put it in.

Next up was the remainder of La Liga games, which I will get into later this week.

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Adam Digby examined a couple of stats in Juventus’ run to the championship for Who Scored.  How did they win?  Here’s a couple of reasons: tops in Italy in possession percentage, passing accuracy, and shots, combined with an ironclad defense—least amount of goals conceded and shots allowed.  Adam also noted that Pirlo was integral to the team, proving that he still had gas in the tank.  Forza Juve.

Football Italia posted comments from Antonio Conte in the aftermath of Juventus’ scudetto clinching win, and he expressed his belief in himself and the squad, noting that getting buy-in from Buffon, Del Piero and Pirlo was key at the beginning.

Last Wednesday, Off the Ball talked to Xavier Rivoire about the French squad preparing to train for the Euros, and the curious process of calling up players in phases.  As for the squad itself, core players from the disastrous 2010 campaign are out—Henry, Anelka, and Toulalan.  Xavier also mentioned that Trezeguet may be back in the frame.

Jonathon Wilson looked at the prospects for Athletic and Atletico the Europa League Final for Fox Soccer.  Economics are likely to heavily influence the futures of both clubs, as fantastic performances from players such as Falcao, Diego, Muniain, and Llorente mean that bigger clubs will come calling.  He also talked about the impact of both managers—Simeone’s fierce intensity and Bielsa’s attacking verve.

Grant Wahl wrote a piece on Giuseppe Rossi’s change in fortune from the 2009 Confederations Cup to this season, which was devastated by 2 ACL injuries.  He also addressed some of the vitriol expressed by US fans toward the player. The next chapter for this player should be very interesting.

Doron Salomon examined Manchester United’s season for Stretford-End.com.  Among the issues he looked at: Fergie slipping regarding tactics and mind games; finances (it’s worth pointing out that United have had £500m drained out of the club by their American owners (who’ve not put a penny in)); United seemed not ruthless enough and their fans are not giving them the fervent support that is needed; the squad will need improvement, perhaps a marquee signing, as City will upgrade.

Paolo Bandini looked back at Alessandro Del Piero’s emotional farewell at Juventus Stadium, commenting that Del Piero’s career is not to be expressed in statistics as much as memories.  His departure, added to those of Nesta, Inzaghi, Gattuso and Seedorf, will leave a big hole in Serie A next year.

The Guardian crew put together a review of the Premier League season, including comments on great goals, great matches and the frantic last moments of the season.  Worth a watch.

In the same vein, Off the Ball’s podcast on Monday recapped the last day, cutting together audio commentary from half a dozen sources to give the reactions of broadcasters, fans and players.  The first half hour of the pod is epic.

Morbo Minute–Down to the Wire

The drama continues to build in Spain as the fight for European places and relegation spots will go down to the final day.

Graham Hunter praised Real Madrid as they clinched the La Liga title at San Mames, focusing on how Mourinho has shaped a team that has reclaimed the title from FC Barcelona.  Despite players not being first choice or completely buying in, the Special One evoked performances of the highest order both at home and on the road (where they slipped numerous times last year) to claim the championship.  The foundations are there for another magical cycle a la Inter of 2010 as Los Merengues look to stamp their authority both in Spain and in Europe.

Reading Kxevin’s review of the Barcelona game, which he described as “an extraordinary series of events that elevated a maudlin, sad event into something celebratory and memorable“,I felt disappointed that I had not found time to watch the match.  Watching the highlights and post game celebrations did not do the game or Kxevin’s post or the moment justice.  The Pep era is almost over and the players made his final game at the Nou Camp an evening of appreciation for everyone.

Chalk on the Boots was slightly more muted in his analysis of the game, reporting that both teams pressured each other but did not take advantage of some of the weaknesses (the visitors did not press high enough when Pinto had the ball at his feet and FCB exploit the width that Espanyol’s narrow formation provided).  In the end Messi was the difference as he converted the opportunities provided to give Barcelona a home win.

The one match I wanted to watch from Round 37 was Atletico Madrid against Malaga.  Life got in the way and I missed it, so I visited AtleticoFans.com for Derek’s round up of the match.  Looks like the visitors could have put the game away in the first half and were punished as Los Rojiblancos recovered to win 2-1, a victory gives them an outside shot at Champions League football next season.  Martin also wrapped up a week that sees Los Colchoneros with a chance for everything and nothing.

Eduardo Alvarez quickly moved past the top three places to look at how the “invisible hand” has shaped a truly heart-stopping relegation battle, with five teams looking to secure top flight football on the final day of the season.

Momentum is with the two teams currently in the relegation zone: Real Zaragoza and Sporting Gijon, while fortune is not favoring Rayo Vallecano or Granada.

Sid Lowe tried to come to grips with the crazy scenes following the final whistle of Granada and Real Madrid, with players and staff attacking the officiating crew, leading to the suspension of at least three players. Granada’s loss sees them well and truly sucked into the relegation battle and they play fellow struggles Rayo on the final day.  Doctor Sid gave a quick summary of the relegation possibilities:

Granada 42; Villarreal 41; Rayo 40; Zaragoza 40; Sporting 37.

• Rayo and Granada face each other, Villarreal go to Champions League-chasing Atlético, Zaragoza travel to nothing-to play-for Getafe and Sporting go to Malaga, who are also chasing a Champions League.

• If Sporting, Rayo andZaragozaall end on 40 points, Sporting survive. If Rayo, Zaragoza and Villarreal end on 41 points. Rayo go down. If Rayo and Villarreal end on 41 points, Rayo go down. If Villarreal and Zaragoza both end on 41 points, Villarreal go down. If Rayo and Zaragoza both end on 41 points, Zaragoza go down. If there is tie on 42 points between Granada and Villarreal,Granada go down.

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Pods

On Sky’s La Liga Weekly, Andy and Sid looked back at Pep’s final home match at FCB before moving on to the relegation possibilities.  Finally Sid related the poor behavior and conspiracy theories that came out of the Granada/Real Madrid match.

At Forza Futbol, Elisa and Ravi looked back at Real’s 32nd championship.  They also talked about the all Spanish Europa League Final and wrapped up with the relegation scrap and fight for Europe.

Old Futbol Buffet–Blues, Yaya & Third Star

Originally I had May 5th all worked out.  Get up, go for a quick run, then head over to the pub for the FA Cup Final, and back to my house to get ready for a community event.  Plan the work; work the plan.  Then the FA decided to move the game to 5:15p local time, which threw off my finely constructed plans.  So I got up, went for my run, checked the score of the Arsenal game (HOLY COW!) and started my media blackout.  After the event, I took a nap and headed up to the pub to watch the replay.

I should have taken a longer nap or drank more at home or done something else because the first half made me want to poke my eyes out with a fork.  LFC were awful, playing 60 yard balls to a striker who is like 5’8”.  The Reds also could not play down the middle and constantly pinned themselves in the channels which led to turnover after turnover.  But Chelsea were not exempt from criticism either despite heading into the interval up 1-0.  Cech’s distribution was terrible as over back pass to him ended up as a throw-in at midfield.  Drogba had obviously been working on passing with his chest during training as that was only the way he could connect a dot.  Finally, I know Mikel does something, I just don’t know what it is.

The second half was a little better as some good build up play led to Drogba’s goal, with Skrtel and Reina very unlucky as the ball went through the Slovakian’s legs to give the goalkeeper no shot.  Carroll was immediately introduced and thought he played well.  I missed his goal.  Why? Liverpool played another wasted ball into the channel, so I immediately went back to my beer.  I looked up to see the big Englishman celebrating. After some more Liverpool pressure came the controversial non-goal.  To be honest, I still don’t think it was a goal.  Between the freeze frame and how the ball came out, just have to give Cech kudos.

In the end, Chelsea got the measure of the game right, doing just enough to ease past a poor Liverpool side.  And did I mention that Jose Enrique is shambolic?  Wow! What a bad game at the end of a poor season for the Spainard.  No way he’s getting a ticket to Poland and Ukraine.

John Brewin summed up the game for Soccernet, noting that Chelsea now has four FA Cups in six years, with four different managers.  As for the Reds, he focused on their poor start and a lack of presence from Suarez and Gerrard.

Zonal Marking saw the game as basically two completely separate games – Liverpool before Carroll, and Liverpool with Carroll, with Chelsea following their game plan and getting the result.

As for the league, Villa secured Premier League football next season (despite only winning seven times) and put a real dent in Tottenham’s chances for the Champions League.  Yaya led the way for City against Newcastle, scoring both goals to give every advantage to the Citizens next week.  United rebounded with a home win against Swansea(entirely predictable) and will now need a favor from former United great Mark Hughes next week.

The panel on the Manchester United Redcast tried to get excited for a final day in which the Reds are not in control.  They looked ahead to next season and identified five players to get rid of: Park, Anderson, Berbatov, Owen and the twins.  Funny as always, we’ll see how Sunday shakes out.

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What a day in Serie A.  After the Buffon blunder in midweek, which I feel partially responsible for*, things were tense as Juventus travelled to Cagliari for Match 37.  The game was moved to the same time as the Milan Derby, so that the league leaders played at the same time to increase the drama.  Juve took care of business, winning 2-0 while Milan fell 4-2 to Inter, results that meant the Old Lady was crowned champion officially for the first time since 2003.

Giancarlo Rinaldi tied this success back to the 2003 victory in his post for Football Italia, noting the presence of Conte, Buffon and Del Piero threading throughout both triumphs.

Paolo Bandini commented on the proceedings as Conte delivered the title for Juventus through a mixture of man-management and tactics.  Plus he hit the highlights of a crazy night at San Siro.

Juventiknows.com assembled some great videos and pictures of the celebrations.

The celebrations of Juventus’ scudetto game continue to hit the web, including this great video compilation from Sky Italia of the build up, dramatic moments at the end and raucous scenes afterwards.  Plus Del Piero wrote a letter praising the fans and the players who supported the club through thick and thin.

*I haven’t watched a Juventus game since mid-March and they have been winning almost every match, barely giving up a goal.  I tune in for the last 15 minutes of theLeccematch and watch in horror as Buffon loses the ball in front of the goal.  Had they lost the title, I may had to into hiding.

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Pods

Ken Early interviewed Roy Keane for Off the Ball and they discussed Keane’s future while also revisited the Irishman’s bust up at World Cup 2002.  Things get frosty.

The panel at the SI Soccer Roundtable wrapped up the Manchester Derby and looked at the battle at the bottom going into the weekend.  Plus they discussed Hodgson’s hiring for the England job.

Another great pod from the World Football Phone In.  Couple of highlights:

  • The legacy for Poland and Ukraine after Euro 2012 especially as Ukraine are struggling with infrastructure.
  • Status of Brazilian league and the CBF and possible call ups for 2014.
  • Anderson trade for James Rodriguez from Porto.
  • Great venues. Vallecas, Velodrome, La Bombonera, etc.

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Article

A friend on Facebook and twitter posted this article.  It struck me as interesting because of the political and ecopinomic comparisons that seem to be ignored by the uniformed.  I really don’t care if you hate soccer.  That’s fine.  I don’t enjoy other sports but I don’t go around railing against.  There are dozens of games; you can’t like them all.  Just keep your opinions to yourself, especially if you have a platform like Beck orRome or Kornheiser.

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Europa League Final

To be honest I missed first 15 minutes of the match, getting my son situated and all that at the pub, so didn’t even see Falcao’s opener live. After that Bilbao had plenty of possession but lacked the necessary quality in final third. The second goal was a stupid turnover and then an amazing finish from Falcao. To be fair Los Leones were slipping all night with both goals indirectly caused by defenders playing on roller skates.  Bielsa went right to the bench for the start of the second half, but it didn’t do much to change game. Eventually Diego completely killed the game off with the third goal minutes from the end.

Overall, Simeone’s side got everything just about right.  An early goal, disciplined defending from all players and a quick, dangerous counterattack.  For Athletic, Muniain had a good game but wasn’t able to influence the game enough; Ander was poor; Llorente was isolated; and Amorebieta struggled all match.

Zonal Marking assessed the game, noting that Atleti’s early goal set them up perfectly to sit back and counter.  With Bilbao having a hard time breaking through the middle and also not being able to stretch the play wide, the winners were able to absorb pressure and get forward quickly, with special praise given to Falcao.

Billy at AtletiFans.com reveled in the fine performance of Los Colchoneros, appreciating the actions of the rearguard, Diego and Falcao.  Their twelfth win a row in this competition saw Atleti raise a European trophy for the second time in three years.

Meanwhile, at the Athletic Bilbao Offside site, the title of Jack’s post match wrap said it all—Heartbroken. Maybe the occasion was too big for Los Leones as their sharp, incisive game was blunted by an organized Atleti team.

Morbo Minute–La Liga dominates Europe

The only Champions League Quarter Final I wanted to watch was FCB and AC Milan.  Two European giants, a good test for the Spanish Champions, a real possibility of elimination.  The rest of the ties didn’t get the juices following.  Marseille could only survive by digging in and making things difficult for Bayern Munich; APOEL couldn’t possibly hope to beat mighty Real Madrid; and Chelsea and Benfica was mildly compelling but I couldn’t find time.  In the end Bayern and Real cruised while Chelsea got the away goal in the first leg and then held on at the Bridge.

The confrontation between the Blaugrana and the Rossoneri was tense and exciting, filled with talking points in both legs.  Ultimately the tie was decided by finishing or lack thereof.  AC Milan could have scored several goals in each leg but Robinho and Ibra weren’t sharp enough.  If your only goal comes from Nocerino then you’re in trouble.  Having said that, what a wonderful goal it was.  But Barca were not sparkling either.  Messi in particular has set the bar so high that you expected him to score with the numerous chances he was given.  At the Nou Camp, with the tie on a knife edge, he kept firing at Abbiati or just wide, making the pit in my stomach bigger and darker.

I was very nervous for the return leg, feeling that AC Milan could score at least one, which they did, and had nightmares about Inter in 2010 when FCB needed two goals and it took forever to just get one.  So when Messi scored the first penalty, the work was only half done, because Nocerino scored, putting the pressure back on Barca.  The second penalty was dodgy.  Very rarely called, complicated by the Puyol pick, the hosts were lucky to get that one.  Plus Ibra might have had a shout early in the second half.  Iniesta’s goal was quality and put the result beyond doubt.

AC Milan were positioned to advance.  They acknowledged that FCB were better and dug in, hitting the ball early to their forwards for a moment of magic, with KPB running around as another option.  And it almost worked because Barca were in control but not necessarily sharp.

Zonal Marking examined the match and looked at how Barca’s starting 3-3-4 affected the match. Cuenca provided the width that was missing the first leg, while equal or superior numbers in midfield kept the Blaugrana in control.  Zonal Marking felt that they did not create many chances.  I disagree.  In the first half, they had chances but Barca, Messi in particular, fluffed their lines.  Robinho’s improved tactical contribution was noted, but the conclusion says it all:

Barcelona are a far better football team than Milan on paper – but over the two legs, they only looked marginally better. Milan didn’t do anything special to frustrate Guardiola’s side, but a combination of an over-cautious approach in the first leg, and a slightly confused formation in this second game meant that Barca struggled to demonstrate their natural superiority in the final third. In the tie, the goal that was most Barcelona-like was Nocerino’s equaliser.

Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog skipped the tactics and focused on the result—victory.   He advised cules to take the high road, that no matter what FCB do, haters are gonna hate.

On to the Semis with mouthwatering matchups that could provide an all Spanish final or Bayern home field advantage or Mourinho coaching against his former club.  Real have to be a favorite because if Bayern really go at them, whatever attacking formation Los Merengues go with will tear them apart. Chelsea have a puncher’s chance and an inspired performance at Stamford Bridge could give them a platform for an upset.  Bayern vChelsea is the least likely matchup and would be a let down in most circles, but stay tuned and see what happens.

Can’t end without mentioning La Liga success in the Europa League.  Last year it seemed to be the year of the Portuguese and this year it is dominated by the Spanish.  Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid and Valencia all progressed to the semis, pretty comfortably I might add.  I didn’t watch a minute of the quarters but may have to carve out some time for the semis.

Atletico could win this competition for the second time in three years and salvage something from the season.  Valencia, who are in free fall in the league, could use a little boost that this trophy would provide heading into the summer.  (Chalk on the Boots had a nice post on the second leg at El Centrocampista.  He mentioned thatValencia are missing Banega, which could be crucial in the run-in for the league and this cup.)  As for Athletic, the Champions League push is all but over, so they are pursuing a cup double, which would be nice return from an up and down season.

Morbo Minute–You Take the Good, You Take the Bad . . .

I dove back into La Liga this week.  After missing both Copa matches in midweek, I was able to see two league games live, with one possibly the game of the season and the other one to forget.

Saturday

Athletic Bilbao 3  Espanyol 3

I have seen a couple of fantastic games this season—Valencia 2 FCB 2; Bilbao 2 FCB 2; Villarreal 2 Valencia 2—but this game might be the best of the lot.  I picked this game out of the weekend’s program because it featured two teams vying for European places and I had been following both in the Copa del Rey.  I was rewarded with an energetic goalfest featuring fantastic finishes, shambolic defending and end to end action.

Los Leones were in charge for the opening half hour with Espanyol seeing very little of the ball, having only one shot of note. Pochettino sent them out very defensively, with two banks of defenders and trying to hit the hosts on the counter. Bilbao were fluid in attack with Muniain buzzing about, and they missed a couple of quality chances before being gifted the opener.  Didac, who had a mixed bag, headed the ball back into danger and Oscar hit a shot that was initially saved by Casilla but trickled in.

Los Pericos got right back into match after the hosts did not clear their lines and Romaric slammed in a shot from just outside of the box.  After that the game became stretched and Espanyol actually came into the game, with captain Verdu doing a decent job of pulling the strings.  They had a goal chalked off for a marginal offside call and just before the half, they were cut open but the ball was headed wide (although slightly deflected).

Bielsa made two subs at halftime, bringing on Ander and Susaeta for Lopez and Perez.  I figured this was due to their Copa involvement midweek, and he expected the two younger players to step the game up a gear, but Bilbao went immediately behind as Weiss started the half with a bang as his blistering shot gave the visitors the lead.  The goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the hosts and Espanyol went for it, with Weiss having a nice spell of play.

Llorente got Bilbao back on track on 58’ as he continued his rich vein of form. Great service from Susaeta and Didac lost him as the big man headed in to equalize.  Espanyol almost responded quickly but Susaeta saved off the line.  Javi Martinez then gave Los Leones the lead with a fantastic header with 25’ to go.

Coutinho (on loan from Inter) saw very little of the ball and was subbed off for Thievy after a possible foot injury.  Albin then came on at the 72 minute mark for Rui Fonte, and Llorente made way for Toquero with 15’ to go.  Another new signing for Espanyol. Uche, entered with 10′ to go.

All of these moves set up the grand finale.  Susaeta made space for himself but his curling effort crashed off the post.  The game looked like it would finish with three points for the hosts but then the ball was played into Uche and as he flicked the ball into space, the defender slipped, and Albin absolutely smashed a shot off the crossbar and in to share the spoils.

Draw might have been a fair result but both teams needed all three points in their quest for Europe.  There is still a chance that one of these teams may claim fourth, which is good and bad.  Good in that both teams can entertain, but bad in that I don’t see either lasting long in the Champions League.

Sunday

Atletico Madrid 0  Valencia 0

Shortly before the Super Bowl started, I watched Atleti v Valencia in a game that I was really looking forward to.   I had not seen Simeone’s Atleti play so was curious to see how they would set out.  Los Che were coming of a grueling game against Barca and I wasn’t sure they would be up for it.  The resulting 90’ were painful in every meaning of the word.

The first fifteen minutes were chippy and scrappy, with not much to speak of.  Ruiz got a yellow after hauling down Falcao, and then on 28’ the first real chance of game fell to Piatti as a poor header provided him a chance to give it a lash which Courtois saved.

Not much more to say about the first half, filled with 19 fouls, other than Adrian had a decent header saved

The second half started with Soldado being played in.  There was a scramble and on another day a penalty may have been called.  Felt like Valencia was coming into the game, with Emery eventually subbing Soldado with Aduriz on the half hour mark.  Probably was looking for fresh legs after a Copa game in midweek and another to follow.

Godin got knocked the fuck out by the GK punching clear and had to be subbed.  Minutes later, Falcao created a chance for himself but it was saved off the line.  Piatti went out around 67’, and I thought he had a decent game.  And by that I mean that he was more involved and influential than he had been in the previous times I had watched him.  Alba nearly punished lazy passing out of the Atleti rearguard, but his shot fizzed just wide.

In the end a forgettable game.  Simeone has stabilized things and if Atleti can sort out their attack, they will be playing European football next season.

Here is my twitter commentary with @AtleticoFans:

this game is awful. if teams would stop fouling each other and knock the ball around, that would be nice. #Atleti #ValenciaCF #LaLiga

@AtleticoFans This is Atleti’s new style I’m afraid. I do hope the forwards will be able to connect a bit better, doesn’t seem to b a plan b

new style as in foul everyone in sight or their build up play? adrian has been decent, diego poor, arda invisible

@AtleticoFans Both, but mostly the latter. Defence has been told not to take risks. Biggest change is that entire team “haunts” opponents

Feel like I’m watching anMLS game. Not a good feeling

Derek at Atleticofans summed up the game perfectly in his post game reviewGood football didn’t seem a priority to either coach, who instructed their teams to play with aggression and intensity.

Paul Wilkes (@laligauk) did a guest post at Forza Futbol to discuss the tactics of this game, which he did far better than me.  Another clean sheet for Simeone’s men, an away point for Los Che, and improvement in fringe players Adrian and Piatti.

—–

Results

Saturday

Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad

Looks like Liverpool aren’t the only club to deal with cat invading the pitch as Meg Ryan at Total Barca looked back on a Barca game that featured youth but also some of the issues that have been plaguing the Blaugrana this season: lack of finishing, injuries and vulnerablility to the counter-attack.

Getafe 0-1 Real Madrid

Bassam gave tongue in check awards to at Real Madrid Football Blog.  He was able to have some fun with Los Merengues as the game against Getafe was not even worth writing about.

Mallorca 1-0 Real Betis

Levante 1-1 Racing

Sunday

Real Zaragoza 1-2 Rayo Vallecano

Sevilla 1-2 Villarreal

Marcelino was fired the next day.  No surprise really.  With their downturn in form, I thought he would have hit the road after last round’s loss to Malaga.  As for the Yellow Submarine, they are slowly pulling away the relegation zone.

Sporting 1-1 Osasuna

Monday

Granada 2-1 Malaga

That can’t be good for Pellegrini.

—–

Articles

Sid Lowe dug into the challengers for fourth place this campaign, finding several candidates but not one that seems ready to take the position and make it their own.  In a weekend of key confrontations, draws were the order the day, and, in the end, nothing much changed.

Phil Ball travelled to Barcelona with his daughter to catch the game against Real Sociedad in a half filled Nou Camp.  On one of the coldest nights in almost 50 years, it was a game with chances for both sides and Tello and Griezmann catching the eye (besides Messi of course).

La Liga Loca praised Sergio Ramos, Espanyol and Atlethic Bilbao among others after a round that produced the sublime or the staid.  More of the latter.  Marcelino went down, Zaragoza is going down and the Atleti/Valencia should be flushed down the toilet.

Olly Dawes recapped the latest transfer window in La Liga.  Several of the middle to bottom sides looked to bolster their squad, while Espanyol made a couple of pick ups to strengthen a team fighting for a European place.

Graham Hunter drew parallels between J. Edgar Hoover and the Special One is his weekly column for soccernet, advising Mourinho to not burn too many bridges in his search for possible leaks.  Hunter also touched on Valencia’s new sponsor and an amazing Copa del Rey.

I did a little research and found Jinko Solar’s press release about partnering with Valencia.  I read their ABOUT section several times and still don’t know what they do other than provide solar energy options.  Maybe it really is that simple.

Graham Hunter’s anticipated book on FC Barcelona, Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World is out and SI.com published an excerpt, which retold Messi’s trip from Argentina to Spain and the tense weeks that unfolded until he actually signed with the club.  Fascinating stuff and can’t wait to get my hands on the book.

I wasn’t able to catch the FCB game this week, so I when I read that Tello not only started but scored, I couldn’t wait to see the highlights.  Iain McMullen at El Centrocampista shared a brief history of yet another Barcelona youth product ready to help Pep’s Team.

—–

Here is the current table.  The battle for fourth in Spain should be as dramatic as the one in England.  Stay tuned.

Real Madrid

21

18

1

2

52

55

Barcelona

21

14

6

1

48

48

Valencia

21

10

7

4

9

37

Levante

21

9

5

7

2

32

Espanyol

21

9

5

7

1

32

Athletic

21

7

9

5

5

30

Atlético

21

8

6

7

4

30

Málaga

20

8

4

8

-5

28

Osasuna

21

6

10

5

-10

28

Getafe

21

7

6

8

-5

27

Sevilla

21

6

8

7

-2

26

Rayo

21

7

4

10

-7

25

Mallorca

21

6

7

8

-7

25

R Sociedad

21

6

6

9

-7

24

Betis

21

7

2

12

-7

23

Villarreal

21

5

8

8

-9

23

Racing

21

4

10

7

-8

22

Granada

20

6

4

10

-13

22

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