Posts Tagged ‘ Barcelona Football Blog ’

Morbo Minute–Round 11

Another great week of La Liga action with plenty of goals and talking points.  Not much changed at the top of the table but things are getting very nervy at the bottom with Galician sides perilously close to dropping back down.

Malaga 1  Real Sociedad 2

Malaga, who qualified for the knockout stage of the Champions League midweek, began the match with a strong lineup. Real Sociedad were without Griezmann but stacked the team with players ready to put in a shift.  The first half was full of energy but lacking in quality.  Carlos Vela gave the visitors a dream start and then the team defended with men behind the ball in central positions.  They appeared to concede the width which frustrated the hosts in two ways: key players could not get on the ball in the congestion and attackers converged on top of the box and could not connect the final pass to create an opportunity.  But an equalizer did not come as the Real Sociedad did not clear a corner and Saviola danced through and smashed the ball home.

Xavi Prieto put the visitors back in front 15 minutes into the second half as the ball deflected into his path off of Onyewu (making his first start in La Liga and trying to get his career back on track) and the captain dribbled around Willy to score.  Santa Cruz came on for Portillo as Malaga looked to get back in the game.  However Malaga were lucky to have 11 players on the field as Iturra could have received several yellows in a short period but escaped with only one booking.  At this point the visitors were playing with almost six at the back and Los Boquerones were not able to ask the right questions.  If anything they regressed and did not create enough opportunities to trouble them, with Isco’s attempt the only one I can remember.

Real Sociedad climbed out of the bottom to twelfth while Malaga remained in fifth as the Betis defeat kept them within touching distance of fourth place.

On a side note, I loved the kits in this game.  Real Sociedad looked very Dutch with their bright orange tops and socks with black shorts while Malaga mimicked Argentina with the light blue and white vertical stripes.

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Articles and Podcasts

Last season it seemed as every other article was about the financial chasm growing between the Big Two and the rest of the league.  Tim Stannard compared the so called problems of FCB and Real Madrid with the real financial and sporting crises faced by Depor and Osasuna.  Both of these teams have had moderate success in the recent past but money talks and these clubs are getting more and more quiet.

As for this season, there have been two stories: Atleti’s fantastic start fueled by Falcao’s exploits and the Real Madrid cantera crisis.  Sid Lowe touched on the latter after giving the literal blow by blow account of soggy, physical, dramatic Levante/Real Madrid encounter.

Phil Ball showcased some of the players at the twilight of their careers a couple of weeks ago.  This week he looked at some future stars and how things have turned out for them—Canales and Krkic (not well); Isco and Ander (going from strength to strength); Muniain and Ruben Pardo (jury still out).  Part of the conundrum is how to bring them through.  Too early, burnout and injury; too late, career stalls or develops too late.  For every Messi and Raul, dozens never quite make it.

Javier Hernandez identified some of the best players in La Liga thus far based on statistics for El Centrocampista.  Outside the top three (Messi, Cristiano and El Tigre) there were some surprises.  Malaga had two players in the list—goalkeeper Willy and defender Demichelis.  Javier also mentioned Leo from Rayo (no real surprise) as well as Joaquin and Pizzi, with being very influential in creating goal scoring opportunities.  One player that he mentioned was Oscar Gonzalez of Valladolid.  Honestly I don’t think I’ve seen a Valladolid game yet this season so I need to get on that.  Anyway, check it out and see if you agree.

Ravi and Elisa of Forza Futbol reviewed a week of ups and downs for Spanish teams in Europe.  For FCB, they wondered if the weakness of the league is catching up to them.  I don’t think so.  If anything, most teams have prepared the Blaugrana for the defensive wall they faced in Scotland but few teams were as organized in both defense and attack as Celtic.  Plus it is hard to hit the heights so often as last year made painfully obvious.  Los Blancos ran into a tough match up in Borussia Dortmund, as the Germans speed, technical ability and youth combined with Real’s injuries has led to the dropped points.  As for Valencia, DDay is next week against Bayern Munich at the Mestalla, and Malaga are through after getting a draw at San Siro.  In the Europa League, two of the three teams have a real shot at progressing with Athletic all but out.  However that’s probably for the best.

I love the Barcelona Football Blog.  Their posts are consistently passionate, insightful and wonderful to read.  A recent post on the state of the Blaugrana defense was fantastic.  The moderators examined why Barca have been giving up so many goals this season and their reasoning looks at all factors: injuries (especially to Abidal), lack of height, the approach of other teams, and a lack of complementing players. I really enjoy writing like this, writing that digs down into an issue as opposed to the crisis/record/glory of the day.

Madridista Mac saw EPL veterans Essian, Alonso and Ronaldo lead Los Merengues over Levante in a game worthy of lower division English football.  Additional praise was given to Callejon, given a rare start due to the injuries, and Mac didn’t pull any punches when it came to Albiol and Di Maria.  Of course most of the coverage went to Morata who scored the winner.  This led to Mac’s breakdown of Mourinho’s comments on the cantera and what it means for the club.  This will probably die down in a couple of weeks but it does make you wonder if the club are re-examining their youth policy.

Finally, Sid Lowe was on Beyond the Pitch to discuss La Liga.  The Doctor started with FCB.  This team doesn’t quite have the control of the Pep teams.  He used the word negligence and this negligence concedes corners and free kicks that they don’t deal with all that well. The importance of Busquets was also touched on, as was the signing of Song, which didn’t really address the issue the Barca are facing.  As for Real Madrid, the winning for club and country has possibly taken the edge off and a lack of concentration may be responsible for many of the goals.  Plus there may be a tacit prioritization of the Champions League over La Liga this season.  Sid mentioned that bridging the gap between defense and attack could be Los Blancos’ biggest tactical shortcoming this season. They moved on to discuss Malaga’s amazing run thus far lead by Pellegrini.  Of course Atleti’s great start was mentioned spearheaded by the goals of Falcao and the focus of Simeone.  Sid and Anto wrapped up by looking at the situations at Athletic Bilbao and Real Oviedo.

Morbo Minute–Bleeding Tiger, Fortunate Lions

Ten games in and the La Liga table is beginning to take shape.  Real Betis are the surprise package, sitting up in fourth behind the Big Two and Atleti.  Down at the bottom, Osasuna, who finished seventh last year, are rock bottom.  They are joined by Granada and Espanyol, with promoted Galician sides and Real Sociedad just above them.

Graham Hunter made some observations on the opening quarter of the season for ESPN FC.  He opened with concerns over the lack of hunger from Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, two teams that had success last year.  The Champions are back on track while the Copa finalists are struggling as the demands of Bielsa wear on them.  He then moved on to Barca, off to a great start despite the amounts of goals they are conceded.  If they tighten that up, Tito may match the success of Pep in his first season.  He wrapped up the column praising Pepe Mel’s leadership at Betis, Falcao’s scoring exploits for Atleti and Soldado’s efforts for Valencia.  Solid stuff and a nice wrap up of the storylines thus far.

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Valencia 2  Atletico Madrid 0

The Mestalla was not even full as Los Che welcomed Falcao and company, and Atleti suffered their first defeat of the season in a stop/start game with lots of niggly fouls.  Soldado opened the scoring with a goal reminiscent of Claudio Lopez in the Champions League all those years ago as he fired in a volley after a great ball from Rami.  Falcao proved to be a handful for the Valencian center backs with Rami having to resort to the dark arts on several occasions.  The Colombian barged into Ricardo Costa and no foul was given, at which point Pellegrino went absolutely nuts and was sent to the changing rooms after tossing a water bottle and berating the fourth official.

In the second half the fouls continued, the game seemingly a series of aerial challenges ranging from legal to borderline assault.  Ricardo Costa was sent off for a soft second yellow card, but Los Che saw out the match with substitute Nelson Valdez grabbing another goal.  Not sure that Valencia were worth the two goal advantage, and it was hard to even put a finger on a man of the match but there you are.

Couple of player notes:

For Valencia, Gago did not have a great match.  Poor challenges and too many turnovers for my liking.  Joao Pereira is a little baby.  He cried and went to ground if anyone was ever near him.  Very disappointed in his attitude.  As I tweeted during the match, unless Diego Alves has knee issues, he should not be wearing leggings.  He was another player who constantly faked injury.

For Atleti, Arda is fat.  Between him and Anderson of Manchester United, I’m not sure who is getting more calories.  Still clever but seems to lack burst.  He moved to central midfield when Emre left and Cristian Rodriguez came on.  Speaking of Emre, was he even on the field?  I guess he was as the Turk was subbed on 56’. Completely anonymous.  Adrian was fantastic.  Up for the match, he continually went one v one and had some delightful touches throughout the match.

SlickR at Club Valencia CF Blog felt the match was exciting (disagree with him there) and his player ratings were much more positive than I would have been.

Martin Rosenow reviewed the match for Atleti Fans, commenting on the referee’s decisions in a very physical match.  The team is still in a good position and Simeone was proud of them after the match.

Granada 1  Athletic Bilbao 2

After an energetic start, Granada fell behind after a weird call in the box (did the defender karate chop Arduriz’s throat?), which resulted in a yellow card for Diakhate and a PK conversion from the fouled party.  The summer transfer from Valencia scored again on 27’ after shrugging off a defender outside the penalty area and firing it into the far post.  Muniain was in offside position (standing right in front of goalkeeper) and not sure how he wasn’t called for that.  Despite not being that dangerous, the visitors, looking pretty sharp in their all black kits, went into halftime up 2-0.

The second half, which started with Bilbao goalkeeper Iraizoz running onto the field as play kicked off, saw pouring rain and a much sharper home side.  Unfortunately they were not wearing their finishing boots as two early chances went begging from El Arabi  and Brahimi.  Eventually El Arabi curled a grass cutter in from 20 yard, although the keeper should have done better.  For a long portion of the half Los Leones were totally pinned back, but Aduriz nearly extended the lead again on 58’ but his header crashed against the post.  This saw a spell in which Athletic was able to put the pressure back on the hosts and the game opened up.

Los Leones were not sharp in possession, especially in getting ball wide, and the team resorted to trying to find Aduriz up top.  Muniain had a hard time getting into the match and only became an influence as the match opened up.  The vertical ball was not working for Granada, and they did much better in quick combinations.  Torje had a fantastic match, giving the visitors problems, and had at least one and maybe two penalty shouts.  Fortunate three points for the visitors but Granada only have themselves to blame.  Lack of cutting edge in first half and lack of finishing in the second prevented them from getting anything from the match.  Now in real trouble at the bottom of the table.

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Round 10

Phil Ball dove into the numbers of La Liga, which led into a discussion about the youth policy of Real Madrid and the reserve team policy of the league as a whole.  He was on hand as Espanyol defeated Real Sociedad at the Anoeta (first away win in 11 months), and he also wondered if Malaga players will continue to perform without being paid, definitely an important figure.

Sid Lowe observed some of the weird happenings in Spanish football (Messi, CR7 and Falcao all not scoring; Essien scoring; and Rayo and Malaga winning away from home), before moving on to look at Valencia’s win over Atleti.  “A proper battle that got nasty without ever really getting nasty, where there were clashes but few confrontations.” Los Colcheneros lost for the first time since April.  Is this a bump in the road or their descent into a third place finish 20+ points behind the big two?

Madridista Mac recapped Madrid’s 4-0 win against Zaragoza for Real Madrid Football Blog, which featured Modric and Essien standing in for Alonso and Khedira respectively.  The midfield had a slight different look, with Modric more selfish and direct, but the results were the same.  Mac was concerned that the team switched off and knows that Dortmund will punish that lack of concentration.  As he commented last week, their participation gives Mourinho plenty of options moving forward.

Staying with Los Blancos, Tim Stannard asked the question for Football365: Why Won’t Mourinho Give Youth a Chance?  The club continues to splash the cash (Modric and Coentrao as recent examples) rather than building from within (read: FCB), and he lists several players playing at home and abroad who left the capital for more playing time.  The simple fact is that the club does not have a youth policy mentality, which is coupled with a manager who stays for a short time to get maximum results.  Mourinho is not in for the long haul, so that’s why Essien plays out of position at left back instead of a natural Castilla player.  The Special One wants trophies and a legacy, and with the club executives and fans urging him on, there is no need for blooding young players.  Furthermore, if they did hire a manager who focused on promoting Castilla players and results did not follow, guess what happens to that unfortunate soul?  The axe.

Speaking of youth, Oriol Romeu’s future was the subject of Richard Thorburn’s post for El Centrocampista.  The young Spaniard “has gone from being tipped for the top to being nothing more than a fringe player in a mere six months.”  Time will tell if he can recover and force his way into a crowded Chelsea midfield or whether he will have to move on to earn his trade.

Total Barca saw Celta Vigo go for it at the Nou Camp, and while the visitors left without any points, their efforts were much better than Rayo Vallecano (playing at home) the previous week.  Tito started with a very unusual lineup, going with Adriano, Mascherano, Busquets, and Alba in the back and Cesc in midfield, which meant there was no “traditional anchor”.  Maybe the coach is saving Song for midweek?  The attack created plenty of chances, with the first two goals of the real quality.  The third goal was offside but Alba took it well.  FCB are now clear at the top of the table heading to Scotland on Wednesday and Mallorca on the weekend.

Lev wrote a highly descriptive post for Barcelona Football Blog, weaving threads of emotion, match reporting and poetry together.  Praising the team’s heart, what the Blaugrana lack in defense they more than make up in attack, creating chance after chance after chance.  Celta came to play but in the end the quality of FCB was too much.

John Pelini broke down the last match on Sunday for El Centrocampista.  Sevilla hosted Levante in a scoreless draw as the visitors packed the center of pitch.  The hosts could not deliver crosses to trouble the strong center backs of Levante and were not able to move the ball quick enough laterally to trouble an organized side.  John did make mention of Sevilla substitute Diawarra who was able to add a spark for the Rojiblancos.

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Table

Barcelona 10 9 1 0 20 28
Atlético 10 8 1 1 11 25
Real Madrid 10 6 2 2 18 20
Betis 10 6 1 3 2 19
Málaga 10 5 3 2 7 18
Levante 10 5 2 3 -2 17
Sevilla 10 4 3 3 1 15
Valladolid 10 4 2 4 4 14
Valencia 10 4 2 4 1 14
Getafe 10 4 1 5 -4 13
Rayo 10 4 1 5 -10 13
R Zaragoza 10 4 0 6 -6 12
Mallorca 10 3 2 5 -5 11
Athletic 10 3 2 5 -6 11
Celta Vigo 10 3 1 6 -3 10
Deportivo 10 2 4 4 -5 10
R Sociedad 10 3 1 6 -5 10
Espanyol 10 2 3 5 -3 9
Granada 10 2 2 6 -8 8
Osasuna 10 1 2 7 -7 5

Morbo Minute–Manitas All Around

Looking back at La Liga teams in Europe last week. . .

The gang at Forza Futbol pod reviewed an incredible MatchDay 3 for Spanish teams in both competitions.  In the Champions League, FCB snagged all three points at the end; Soldado scored a hat trick for Valencia; Malaga have a 100% record and no goals against; and Real Madrid fell to Borussia Dortmund.  Over in the Europa League, Atletico kept cruising while Levante got three vital points in their campaign.  Poor Athletic lost and only has one point thus far.

Sam Thompson analyzed the Malaga/Milan game for his site TTT Football.  The Spanish side started in a 4-2-3-1 with Joaquin behind Saviola and Isco and Portillo coming inside for combinations and allowing the fullbacks to overlap and provide width.  Milan played an unusual 3-4-3, which defended as a 5-2-3 before becoming 5-4-1 towards the end of the match.  Watching the game, the Italians were constantly pinned back and looked blunt coming forward, with the Spaniards living if lacking the final ball.  Joaquin secured all three points with a difficult effort, having missed a penalty in the first half.

Continuing with Malaga, Graham Hunter wrote a wonderful piece on Los Boquerones as they dismissed Milan and look set to qualify for the knockout stages.  After a summer of disorder and scrambling, the team has stuck together and is reaping the dividends—top of the group and fourth in the league.  How far can they go?

Zonal Marking examined the clash of the Spanish and German champions and called the match more of a “German” game, based around pressing and quick transitions, than a “Spanish” game, which tends to be focused upon ball retention.  And what a match it was.  I told several people after watching it that I felt it was a like a game of FIFA on fast speed.  Eventually Dortmund was able to overwhelm Essien who isn’t a LB by nature, plus he wasn’t assisted by CR7.  A big three points for the Germans which should enable them to qualify for the knockout stages.

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Round Nine

I watched Rayo Vallecano v FCB on Saturday afternoon.  David Villa opened the scoring for the visitors and after a tightly contest affair of about an hour, the Blaugrana took absolute control, eventually winning 5-0.  The hosts went down and responded by pushing forward which left them more and more exposed.  Have to admire the fact that they did go for it but it was all for naught.  Leo Baptistao was starved of service and I didn’t see much in the attack.  As for FCB, I am really starting to wonder about Song and Sanchez.  Song was moved into central midfield to support Cesc and Xavi and seemed to be well placed but I don’t know.  Something is still missing.  As for Sanchez, he is channeling his inner Bojan and trying so hard and not getting the results.  On as a sub to grab an easy goal or two and build his confidence, he went the other direction, making things worse, constantly straying offside and usually picking the wrong pass or not delivering the correct one.  Aggravating to watch.

Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog is seeing a different squad emerging this season: Those days (tiki taka and endless possession) are gone, replaced by a different kind of match control, in which brilliant players crawl through a sliver that someone leaves, and put the knife in.  He focused on Fabregas, noting his passing, runs and energy but is reserving judgment to see if he can do it the whole season.   In the end, Rayo ran out of steam and were put to the sword.  It happens.

What happened to Los Leones?  Sid Lowe asked that question for his weekly column in the Guardian.  He correctly states that There is little of the intensity, the sense of mission, that there was last season.  In its place a soap opera:

First there was the fight. Then came the failed escape bid, Martínez going to Germany, Fernando Llorente failing to go to Italy. Then the break in. And then the worst part of all: the secret recordings.

Athletic could be following the Yellow Submarine into the Segunda.  Sitting just above the relegation zone, everyone keeps waiting for the run that will take them to safety so the club can rebuild for next season.  It never came for Villarreal. It may not come for Athletic.

Kieran Canning, writing for Football Espana, brought me up to speed on Levante.  After a slow start in the league Los Granotes have won five in a row and have climbed up to sixth, plus they have six points in the Europa League.  Obafemi Martins is scoring for fun right now and maybe the Nigerian has finally found a home.

Madridista Mac examined a possible plan B for Real Madrid.  With a rash of injuries in the defense combined with the loss of Khedira, Mourinho rolled out a variation of the formation he has built in this time there.  Problem: Madrid’s injury problem at fullback created a two-fold problem: less dynamism on attack in the flanks and lack of depth in the midfield muscle department. Solution: put CR7 and Di Maria on their natural sides and put creative, technical players in the middle.  With the wingers stretching the play wide rather drifting centrally, the dynamic players had time and space in the middle to exploit.  As Mac rightly says, The true test will be if we can play such a system successfully against a team with a very good #10 or with the meanest, baddest, nastiest combo of physical midfield destroyers.

Finally, Phil Ball paid homage to the grizzly old veterans bringing their experience to teams around La Liga.  I remember Juanfran and Valeron from my early days watching the league and here they are still getting a game.  Great column for its personal insight and brief history lesson.

Morbo Minute–El Tigre Strikes

Another weekend of goals in Spain.  The league continues to provide entertainment and storylines in the early going—Falcao, Malaga, the fall of Bilbao, last minute winners.  Only one scoreless draw (Osasuna v Betis) among numerous goalfests.

Jaws must have hit the floor like mine upon seeing Depor 4 FC Barcelona 5.  Even after watching the highlights I was in shock.  Kxevin of the Barcelona Football Blog was still shaking in his post match analysis, which saw the Blaugrana dominate then capitulate then regulate.  He focused on the breakdowns that led to each goal, “born of bad luck and collective failure”, but the team responded against an inspired opponent in a formidable atmosphere.  He touched on the fact that the aura is gone, fading as familiarity and pride and time takes its toll, which will make their fight to reclaim their trophies that much harder.

El Tigre stole the thunder for this round, scoring a late free kick to secure all three points for Atleti and keep them at the top of the table with the Blaugrana.  Sid Lowe focused on Falcao’s amazing run—10 goals in 10 games—in addition to the Colombian’s goal, his first free kick goal as a professional.  Besides recounting his rise from Argentina to Portugal to Spain, Doctor Sid unleashed the stat attack:

  • Falcao has now scored in every game since 24 August, finding the net 16 times in his last 10.
  • At a goal every 60.44 minutes he has a better goals per minute ratio than Messi (61.09) and Ronaldo (78).
  • Take his goals out and Atlético would drop 10 points.

Right now, Los Colchoneros seem to be a sure bet for third in the league.  As for being a true title challenger, we will have to wait and see after their games away at FCB and Real Madrid in December.

Phil Ball went to the Anoeta to see Falcao with his own eyes and almost missed the game winner in order to make the train home.  His comments on the player were complementary but not effusive, and he mentioned that every time the Colombian touched the ball, the crowd, and the defenders for that matter, got anxious.

Staying with Atleti, Mina Rzouki profiled Diego Simeone for Football Espana.  The Argentinean manager has turned things around in the capital over the last 10 months, focusing on each player maximizing their strengths, efforts and tactical awareness for the good of the team.  Right now his approach is paying dividends but it still remains to be seen if he can do it for the long haul as his previous tenures have lasted around a year at most.

Right before the Real Madrid game kicked off, I checked twitter to see how Mourinho handled the many injuries in defense. To my surprise, I saw Kaka, Ozil and Modric all on the team sheet from the off, with a defense of Ramos, Pepe, Varane, and Essien as emergency left back.  Madridista Mac examined the midfield experiment (which only lasted a half) and its impact on the game and on the team.  (Mostly that they missed Khedira most of all.)  Los Blancos won 2-0 and now look ahead to a tough game in Dortmund.

Another exciting game that I missed was Valencia against Athletic Bilbao.  This fixture is typically on my viewing schedule, as it usually showcases the best of the rest and a team for the future.  This year, Valencia has gotten off to rough start, far from the top of the table, with Los Leones in a total funk, which sees them trending towards a relegation fight come the spring rather than challenging for European spots.

Chalk on the Boots shared his observations on the match at El Centrocampista.  He felt that Athletic had one of their best performances of the season, led by Arduiz’s activity and Herrara’s composure.  Unfortunately, once Herrara was sent off, the visitors sat too deep and were undone by late goals.  As for Los Che, the team has struggled this season under Pellegrino, with the absences of Alba and Banega being prominent.  Banega came on for the last 15 minutes so his addition may prompt a turn in fortunes.

John Pelini analyzed the last match of Round 8—Sevilla v Mallorca—for El Centrocampista. Sevilla dominated large portions of the match in terms of possession but found themselves behind for about 20 minutes.  Negredo headed into the level the score on 55’ and from there, Los Rojiblancos took control and secured all three points.  John focused on the 4-3-3 of the hosts against the 4-4-2 of the islanders.  Mallorca conceded the width but Sevilla has pretty good wingers and a strong target man, which proved to be the visitors undoing.

Tough news for Sevilla this week as midfielder Piotr Trochowski, scorer of goals against Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, is out for the season after having knee surgery.  He will be missed as they push for European places.

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Articles and Podcast

Nick Punal looked at every aspect of Espanyol for Forza Futbol.  In a comprehensive post he broke down each part of the club from the players to the coach to the fans to the board to the cantera.  Several key players were sold or loaned out in the offseason and have not been replaced with sufficient quality.  Add to that defensive lapses (see Levante and Athletic Bilbao), a cantera cupboard that is looking a little bare and no money to sign top players, things are looking grim for Los Pericos. They picked up their first points of the season but still have a long way to go to survive.

Is Kaka back?  Frank Tigani asked that question on El Centrocampista.  Cast out by Mourinho, the Brazilian has worked his way back into contention for club and country.  His future at Madrid is uncertain with Modric’s purchase and perhaps a move in January is in the cards.  As for the Selecao, it appears as if the door is open for his participation in the run up for World Cup 2014.  It would be nice to see one last burst before he heads into the sunset.

Elisa and Ravi of Forza Futbol recapped Spain’s performance during the international break, which saw La Furia Roja destroy Belarus but stumble against France.  Perhaps it was fatigue or taking the proverbial foot of the pedal or personnel choices (forced and unforced) that allowed the points to slip away. From there they moved on to discuss La Liga, in particular Valencia and Sevilla’s financial problems, which may see Champions League qualification as a must, and David Villa’s future for both club and country.  They wrapped up looking at Spaniards abroad, especially in the EPL.

Morbo Minute–Contrast in Styles

Only one place to start this week.  I was overwhelmed by the coverage given to this game before and after.  Let’s just say I didn’t get to everything but here some notes on the game from people who actually know what they are talking about.

FC Barcelona 2  Real Madrid 2

There was plenty of pre-match coverage of the big match.  I tried to get as much of as I could, but in the end, I just wanted to see how the game would unfold.  A couple of posts that caught my eye.

Andreas Vou looked at the evolution of Sergio Busquets for Barcelona for Inside Spanish Football.  Busquets made his 201st appearance for Barca in El Clasico and has moved from the pivot to the third center back to the sweeper and back again, which has allowed the Blaugrana to constant tweak the formation and approach.  The quotes from players and coaches at the end are high praise indeed.

I’m sure Graham Hunter was a busy man in days before the game as he gave out his thoughts ahead of the match.  For Soccernet, he commented that the speed of Madrid is beginning to trouble Barcelona. Plus, As a unit the Spanish champions are more confident about their identity, their play and what to do if they fall behind against any rival.  He also posted some interesting tidbits for Paddy Power:

This first Clasico is weeks earlier than normal (more than two months earlier than last season) to allow the second league meeting to take place before the crucial moment in April. Then, both clubs want to be competing in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals but don’t want to be left looking like the cast of Dad’s Army (something which cost each of them dearly against Chelsea and Bayern Munich six months ago). 

That, in itself, tells you something about the degree to which the vast economic attraction of success in Europe is beginning to edge ahead of the absolute need for domestic supremacy.

For my thoughts on the game, you can read them here.  As for what was talked about after the game. . .

Albert Ferrer was on talkSPORT with Richard Keys and Andy Gray to talk about El Clasico and his time with FCB and Chelsea.  He was asked why Busquets did not play at center back and he flat out said that Busquets is too important to the way Barca play to put him back there.  Very interesting take.  He also mentioned that Real Madrid have caught the Blaugrana and can now attack FCB rather than just sit back.  He wrapped up his time recounting his rise through the club before his eventual move to the Blues of Chelsea.

Everyone at the bar was wondering what in the hell was cut into CR7’s hair.  Well Dirty Tackle presented this info:

According to Marca, Cristiano went to hairstylist brothers Jose and Miguel Siero Leal the day before the match and asked for “something different and groundbreaking.” This is how the brothers explain the hair doodle:

“He told us, as he had on many other occasions that he was looking for something different. We know him well and we had the idea of shaving a symbol that represents both peace and the calm a warrior experiences after battle. He agreed”, they said.

Yikes.

Sid Lowe waded through the political elements surrounding the game to get to several interesting points:

  • The match also disguised the fact that Barcelona have not reached their level, for a side that builds its moves with patience and precision it is striking that one goal came from a mistake by Pepe and the other from a 25-yard free-kick. Real constructed both their goals, Barcelona did not.  Hadn’t really thought about it that way but he’s absolutely right.
  • “They used to be here,” Mourinho said, gesturing with his hands. “And we were down here. Now, they’re still up here but so are we.”  So true.  Mourinho really has rebuilt this team that can stand toe to toe with Barca.
  • And of course Messi and Ronaldo, continuing their epic duel for supremacy in the league, on the continent and in the world.

Phil Ball was able to cram in comments on almost every single match of the round besides commenting on El Clasico.  Well played.  He’s not sold on Betis but may be drinking the Atleti Kool-Aid.  Good stuff as always.

Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog felt that the heart of a champion was unveiled Sunday night as Barca overcame a determined opponent and injuries to secure at least a point.  Praising Busquets in particular, he saw a team find their rhythm and almost snag all three points in the biggest game in the world.  He tried to get into the minutiae of the game but kept coming back to the emotions that this game generated.

Passes flew, players flew, and for much of the time, both sets of players were so intent on playing the beautiful game as it was meant to be played, that they forgot to do all of the silly stuff, the flopping, the exaggeration and whining that have come to define the Classíc. Both sides played so quickly, attacked so savagely, moved the ball with such alacrity that it was a joy to watch, even as my heart was threatening to leap from my chest, such was the adrenaline. They are good. Make no mistake about it.

Madridista Mac of Real Madrid Football Blog is no longer afraid.  He is no longer afraid of the giant that is Barcelona because the team that he supports has a coach who has transformed the players into a fellow giant who can look their opponent in their eye and say, Let’s do this. He made some interesting points, namely that CR7 has become the man for the big occasion and that FCB may too Messi-reliant, especially in these big games.  Again, a post that doesn’t dwell just on tactics but on the ramifications both on and off the field for these two teams

For a couple of tactical breakdowns . . .

Chalk on the Boots wondered if the two sides were too conservative in his match recap.  For me, Barca yes, Real Madrid, no.  Mourinho has fashioned a team that absorbs and counters, regardless of opposition.  Against their biggest rivals, this provides a contrast in styles, which results in different permutations each time depending on other circumstances (injuries, cards, lineups, etc).  As for Barca, Tito was handcuffed by injuries. The FCB heat map crystallized what I was screaming at the TV during the match—no one in the box.  For all their possession and pressure on Madrid, there was rarely anyone attacking crosses or distracting Casillas.

Michael Cox of Zonal Marking focused on the position of Iniesta and Barca’s lack of penetration for his post match comments.  With Iniesta drifting centrally, it added a body to an already crowded area and if Alba is not able to overlap, then that side is lost from an attacking perspective.  Michael also echoed the sentiment that Barca is allowed to play in front of Real Madrid as opposed to driving at them.  It will be interesting to see if Villa being at close to full fitness in the spring changes the dynamics of this match.

More praise for Busquets . . .

Lee Roden echoed Andreas’ comments regarding Busquets in his post-match contribution to talkSPORT.  Calling the Spaniard a “rivet” for the Blaugrana, Lee looked at several English teams that could do with this sort of player.  Despite his play acting and occasional loose pass, I hope he retires at the Nou Camp.

And of course there was the political context to the proceedings. . .

Jimmy Burns examined the political overtones of the match, including the mosaic at 17:14.  He identified some of the key players in the desire for independence as the club and the region try to determine their future.  Again, I don’t pretend to understand it all but it is fascinating to watch from afar.

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Articles and Podcasts

The all consuming fire of the El Clasico blinded people to another key game on the weekend—Atletico Madrid v Malaga.  Falcao scored again as Atleti won 2-1 to keep pace with the Blaugrana and give themselves some breathing room from the chasing pack. At the bottom, Espanyol remain winless and Osasuna crashed back to earth and have only four points thus far.

Martin at Atleti Fans looked at the standings and saw Los Colchoneros joint top of the table with Barcelona after a last minute win against Malaga.  He wonders if they can keep up for the entire season but the performance of the squad, Emre and Luis Filipe in particular, was encouraging.

Liam profiled Abdel Barrada of Getafe for Forza Futbol, with the Moroccan generating interest both at home and abroad, namely in England.  I have only seen glimpses of him and look forward to seeing more of him throughout the season.  (Of course he was sent off last week in the win against Real Zaragoza.)

Phil Ball was on the Forza Futbol pod ahead of El Clasico to look at the big game as well as some other story lines in La Liga thus far, including the two Basque teams, Atleti’s title challenge and the problems at Espanyol.

To wrap everything up, the panel at Inside Spanish Football looked at El Clasico as well as some of the key matches of the round.  They felt it wasn’t the best El Clasico but at least everyone is talking about the game for a chance.  There was some discussion about whether Montoya should replace Alves, which could be a storyline for the rest of the season.  Of course there was the Ozil v Modric conversation.  The guys moved on to the other big game between Atleti and Malaga.  Michael Bell, the resident Malaga expert, felt that Los Boquerones can challenge for third.  As for Atletico, Simeone has the team doing well and time will tell if they can replace Valencia as the best of the rest.  Speaking of Valencia, Los Che are in real trouble, with Soldado a shadow of himself from last year.  Finally the panel spent some chatting about Athletic Bilbao.  The vibe is not good and there is some confusion and concern about why Llorente is only making substitute appearances.

Morbo Minute–Sevilla Surrender

Have to say that the La Liga season has been very compelling in the early stages, with a couple of surprise teams at the top (Mallorca and Valladolid) and lots of goals each weekend.

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Sevilla 2  FC Barcelona 3

After watching three EPL games, I picked up my son and headed to the pub for one more game.  Between getting him fed, keeping him occupied and peeking at the MSU/OSU football game, I didn’t take any notes.  Then I got home and got caught up in family activities.  The following day was church stuff and a soccer game and I didn’t even write down thoughts about the game.  48 hours I still can’t believe the Blaugrana won that match.

FCB played well but there is definite room for improvement.  Though Pedro was excellent again, Sanchez is still not firing and Song had a below par game.  Alba did well after his layoff and he’ll be key as Adriano recovers.  Sevilla was well organized and confident, taking the fantastic result against Real Madrid and building on it.  When Negredo skinned Song early in the second half and chipped Valdes, I admit my head sunk.  My pessimistic nature took over and I saw three dropped points at the Sanchez Pizjuan with El Clasico looming.  Eight points down to two in a matter of moments.

All credit to Sevilla.  As they had done a couple of rounds ago against Los Blancos, they sat in, absorbed the pressure and then attacked Barca, with Navas eventually finding the ball.  I thought Rakitic had a great game, covering tons of ground and making good passes.  Palop was in fine form as yet another goalkeeper rose to the occasion.

But then . . . But then what?  The referee?  Substitutions?  Fatigue?  All of the above?  Cesc channeled his inner Rivaldo to get Medel sent off.  There’s no doubt about that.  From there Sevilla still almost held on but Barca would not be denied as Fabregas scored his second and then Villa won the match in the dying moments.

FCB have a 100% record yet there is a sense that they are paper champions.  Between the injuries, form that has been less than spectacular, a tough midweek game against Benfica and Real’s need to win, this weekend’s match against could go very wrong.  Right now I would take a draw.  Maintain the gap, get players back, make it to the winter break with a five to six point lead.  We’ll see Sunday.

Kxevin was recovering from the match as well in his post for Barcelona Football Blog.  Thrilled with the three points, he saw a team full of hunger, who refused to lose a match despite the deficit.  He was also pleased that others stepped up to score the goals, with Messi the provider rather than the savior.  His player ratings were interesting as well, with poor marks given to Alves, Messi and Sanchez, but he was pleased with Busquets, Alba and the manager, who made the right substitutions to get the team back into the match and win, rather than settle for a draw.

Sid Lowe found the “comeback of champions” breathless as the pace and intensity game never dropped.  Praise was given to Michel’s Sevilla but in the end Barca won the day and maintained their lead over Real Madrid.  (Yes I know that Atleti are only two points behind, but they have to prove that they can go the distance.)  Doctor Sid produced a stat during his column: Half of their 24 goals this season have arrived in the last 15 minutes, after he has made substitutions.  Lack of fitness and squad depth were big factors in last season’s shortcomings, and hopefully Tito is turning the corner.

Chalk on the Boots put together a very insightful post after the match, identifying several key items for both teams.  He identified Sevilla’s organization and willingness to defend resolutely and then attack with intelligence, although he does worry about fatigue at the end of matches for Trochowski and Rakitic, who do a lot of running.  He commended Michel for his lineup and substitutions and felt that Los Rojiblancos would have gotten at least a draw had Medel not been sent off.  As for FCB, he focused on Messi’s move to a false 10 rather than a false.  This was also mentioned by Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog.  Chalk expressed it as follows:

Messi moves deeper now into a classic No10 position on the pitch and is more or less laterally aligned with the most advanced of Barcelona’s midfielders. Last night this was Cesc. With Xavi operating slightly deeper alongside Busquets, it’s not unusual to see the two wide players being positioned furthest forward. In this respect, Barcelona often now resemble a loose 4-2-2-2.

While Barca dominated possession, their slow transition allowed Sevilla to recover their shape and clog the midfield.  Finally, he noted that the Blaugrana are trying more crosses (not favorable due to size and congestion of the penalty area) and more direct distribution from Valdes.

A fantastic post with lots of good info and things to consider.

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Articles and Podcasts

Phil Ball had a wonderful time at the Basque Derby as Real Sociedad ran out 2-0 winners.  His column examined the current issues and context of the neighboring clubs.  Real Sociedad are flying high at home with a group of young players that are raising eyebrows, led by Griezmann.  Didn’t realize he was French.  As for Bilbao, Llorente’s position is, in the words of John Terry, untenable.  A substitute these days for a club that is a shadow of the glorious team that ran out last year.  The result leaves Los Leones in 18th while the Txuri-urdin are up to 8th.

Tim Stannard looked ahead to El Clasico for Football 365, taking the view that rather than a battle of heavyweights in yet another game of the century, this match will be between “two sides trying to find their way in la Liga and suffering on-the-pitch problems in Barcelona’s case and all manner of trouble in the dressing room in Real Madrid’s with continued talk of rifts and Mourinho starting to lose his managerial mojo.”  Let the games begin.

On Sky Sports La Liga Extra, Jon Driscoll and Terry Gibson looked at Madrid’s result; FCB’s spirited comeback with the caveat that they are not in “full flight”; Atleti finding a way to win without Falcao; and praise given to Valladolid for their 6-1 thrashing.

It had been a while since I visited Atletico Fans.  I was able to read Martin’s post, which saw a solid performance from Los Colchoneros as they made Raul Garcia’s header stand up for all three points.  Besides Garcia, who is off to a great start this season, special mention was made of Courtois’ efforts between the sticks.  Despite another lackluster second half performance Atleti is in second place ahead of next week’s key clash against Malaga.  A win there, and they can put down a marker as the new third best team in Spain.

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

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

Real Betis 1  Espanyol 0

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

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

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

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

FC Barcelona 2  Granada CF 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles and Pods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Current Table

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