Posts Tagged ‘ Chalk on the Boots ’

Morbo Minute–And Now for the Second Half of Our Show

The halfway point has Barca well out in front with a string of surprises behind them in the European spots.  Valencia seems to be slowly climbing out of the mire while their opponents from the weekend, Sevilla, slide farther and farther down.  Down at the bottom, it’s too close to call and viewers will probably in store for dramatic final day scenes around the country.

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Malaga 1  FC Barcelona 3

When I saw Roque Santa Cruz on the teamsheet for the hosts I feared for their chances.  I still don’t feel the Paraguayan offers them much, and thought Saviola would have been the much better option, as his movement and quickness would have troubled Barca.  The visitors started with a strong team, the only major change being Mascherano in for Puyol.

Malaga pressed in a variation of a 4-3-3 and made the Blaugrana struggle in the early going.  The surface was a problem for both sides as there was constant slipping and it appeared as if the players were on roller skates.  As the game progressed, Malaga goalkeeper Willy was luck to stay on the field as he touched the ball with his hands (barely) trying to clear the danger.

The opener came from Camacho’s horrible backpass that Messi intercepted and put home.  I jotted down in my notebook that he did a lot of dribbling in the first half which allowed Malaga to keep Barca at arm’s length as the ball was turned over instead of being circulated.

In the second half, an early goal from Fabregas put some daylight between the two teams and from there the Blaugrana took over, making Malaga look quite inept at times.  The hosts were made to chase shadow for the second 45 minutes and their strong early work was undone by two mistakes—the backpass and losing Fabregas for the second.

A third was added by substitute Thiago before Buonanotte sent in a free kick.  The teams now face each home and away in the Copa, with the winner probably getting Real Madrid.  Will be interested to see how Vilanova and Pellegrini rotate their squads to take the competition seriously while keeping an eye on the league.

I visited Total Barca this week to get their thoughts on the match.  Maria Ines saw the Blaugrana rise to the challenge presented by Malaga, who pressured Tito’s men all over the pitch.  Once the visitors found their rhythm, they produced a couple of quite breath taking sequences.  In the end Malaga gave a great effort but the gap between the two teams was revealed.  Will Tito’s changes for the Copa matches close the distance or not?

Manuel Traquete did the player ratings for the site, which I felt were quite high. Barca had a decent game, especially in the second half, but in the first half, several players were not at their best , which allowed Malaga’s pressure to keep the game tight.  Busquets was probably worth the 9, not sure about Messi.  Felt that Alves might be closer to his best.  Still needs to improve his crossing.

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Articles

I was able to catch parts of the second half of Friday’s game between Athletic and Rayo at San Mames.  The visitor’s opening goal caught Los Leones cold.  The second was a diabolical cock up from the referee and allowed Rayo some space.  Athletic fought back but could only pull one back.

Sid Lowe used his weekly Guardian column to explore two items: one, Rayo Vallecano’s fantastic first half of the season, and two, the crazy La Liga schedule, which sees games stretch from Friday from Monday.  Rayo are just outside the Champions League places, filled with players found on the cheap who will probably be gone next year, but they just keep winning and may yet make their second European appearance.  As for the La Liga schedule, it’s crazy, with game times released only two to three weeks before the game take place and an onslaught that starts Friday night and continues all the way to Monday night, games seemingly every hour on the hour.  Of course if I was unemployed and could watch every game, might get used to that.

Phil Ball gave his half-term report for ESPN FC, looking at the biggest surprises thus far.  Betis’ amazing first half topped the list as Los Beticos sit in fourth place, led by the goals of Castro and the all action talent of Benat.  Phil’s team by team breakdown gives a quick snapshot at the turn and is worth the read.

With a title of Why La Liga Looks Like Michael Flatley, I had to give Tim Stannard a read at Football365.  He also looked at the halfway point of the season, echoing Phil Ball’s praise of Real Betis’ and Sid’s glowing words regarding Rayo before moving on to Valencia and the fact that the title is over.  As for his Riverdance reference:

A footballing Michael Flatley if you will. Whilst there’s not an awful lot of movement from the neck upwards to watch, there’s quite the hullaballoo of activity taking place just below if you care to look.

Speaking of Valencia, SlickR summarized the 2-0 victory over Sevilla for Club Valencia, as Los Che have stopped the rot and climbed back up the table, currently sitting seventh.  Two goals from main man Soldado were enough to overcome a rather lackluster performance by the rest of the team based on his player ratings.  Can’t imagine how bad Sevilla were.

Michael Cox returned from his Winter Break to analyze the game for Zonal Marking.  He noted that Valencia “enjoyed dominance of both possession and territory” and that the game lacked the quality and energy one would associate with this fixture over the years.  He picked out a couple of individual battles and noted that Reyes offered Navarro very little defensive cover, but did not have the harsh words for Banega that SlickR had.  In the end set pieces decided the match, which saw the losers fire Michel and bring Unai Emery back into the La Liga fold.

Chalk on the Boots examined Real Madrid’s poor performance at Osasuna.  Los Merengues were constantly caught offside, using a direct style orchestrated by Modric, who he noted has a better passing range that Ozil but does not have the lateral movement.  Time will tell if the Croatian will remain in the capital.  As for the hosts, their high line caused the champions problems but their lack of cutting edge cost them more points in this match and will probably cost them their Primera place.  14 goals in 19 matches will not keep them up.

Ireland 26 of Managing Madrid saw Real Madrid drop points as they travelled to Estadio Reyno de Navarra with a make shift lineup.  Without CR7 and Ozil, the team failed to trouble the hosts enough.  Di Maria did not have good game in his opinion but was glad to see Higuain pick up minutes, even if he didn’t pick up any goals.  With three consecutive games against Valencia due to the Copa, Mourinho’s men will need to pick up the pace before the epic confrontation with United in a month’s time.

Back to Doctor Sid, who commented on the extraordinary results of the Ballon D’Or, which saw the Best XI all named from teams in Spain.  While this might seem like a good thing, Sid pointed to a couple of troubling points: 1, no player from either Champions League Final team was on the dais; 2, no Spanish player has won since 1960, even more troubling as Spain have won the last three major competitions; and 3, of the eleven players, 10 came from the Big Two, which emphasizes the gulf between them and the rest of the league.

CBS’ 60 Minutes did a profile of FC Barcelona.  While there were some great shots of the crowd and inner levels of the Camp Nou, the piece seemed superficial.  Anyway, give it a watch and let me know what you think.

Finally, Connor Andrews updated readers on Villarreal’s plight in Segunda for El Centrocampista, as the Yellow Submarine struggle to return to the Primera.  Gone are Valero, Rossi, Nilmar and Diego Lopez and the team sits off the playoff places.  Can they return to the top flight?  Better yet, can they afford not to?

Table

Barcelona 19 18 1 0 44 55
Atletico 19 14 2 3 22 44
Real Madrid 19 11 4 4 25 37
Betis 19 11 1 7 1 34
Malaga 19 9 4 6 13 31
Rayo 19 10 1 8 -7 31
Valencia 19 9 3 7 0 30
Levante 19 9 3 7 -3 30
R Sociedad 19 7 5 7 3 26
Valladolid 19 7 4 8 2 25
Getafe 19 7 4 8 -6 25
Sevilla 19 6 4 9 -5 22
R Zaragoza 19 7 1 11 -7 22
Athletic 19 6 3 10 -16 21
Celta Vigo 19 5 3 11 -5 18
Espanyol 19 4 6 9 -10 18
Granada 19 4 5 10 -13 17
Mallorca 19 4 5 10 -15 17
Deportivo 19 3 7 9 -17 16
Osasuna 19 3 6 10 -6 15

Morbo Minute–Back to Work

La Liga returned from the Winter Break and the goals were plentiful. Again no scoreless draws, with a crazy game at the Bernabeu, a thrashing at the Nou Camp, a dramatic turnaround at Los Carmenes (Granada) and three points for Depor under new manager Domingos Paciencia.

After Round 18’s results, a greater net has been cast around relegation candidates as six teams are within four points of each other at the bottom.  This aspect of the league will probably be the story of the season along Levante’s quest to return to Europe.

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FC Barcelona 4  Espanyol 0

Before we get talking about the game, (not much to say), glad to see that Alves and Alba found their razors over the festive period.  Cesc, however, was still doing the quasi-beard thing and I’m still looking for confirmation that he got a new tattoo on his elbow.

The first half was a feast of attacking play as Barca put their city rivals to the sword in under 30 minutes.  Los Pericos came out in a narrow 4-1-4-1 with Forlin shielding the backline.  The visitors conceded width allowing Iniesta to hang on Barca’s left hand fringe ready to attack.  Espanyol’s central players switched off and allowed Xavi to walk in and turn in Iniesta’s cross to open the game. From there, Pedro scored two (hopefully getting him back on track) before Messi converted a dodgy penalty.

After that, tactics and the result went out the window.  Espanyol had very little to offer and FCB tried for 40+ minutes to get Pedro his hat trick, which went unfulfilled due to two very tight offside calls.  The defeat was Aguirre’s first in charge of Espanyol and keeps them firmly in the relegation battle.  As for the Blaugrana, they continue their record setting season thus far.  Dropped points are on the horizon but for now they are out of sight.

Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog worried about this match, identifying the possible ingredients for failure: holiday break, resurgent opponent with something to play for, rust.  In the end Barca overwhelmed their opponents, putting them under pressure from the first moment to the last.  The second half, as he rightly noted, was a testament to this team’s hunger and desire.  With the match all but over, every turnover was immediately challenged, Valdes kept a clean sheet with a big save and the search for another goal continued.  Kxevin encourages everyone to keep watching, to keep admiring, to keep appreciating.

Chalk on the Boots focused on the passing of Busquets and the movement of the Barca players in the demolition of Espanyol.  Iniesta and Fabregas interchanged on the left, supported by Alba, while Pedro cut in from the right, all the while Messi drifted around the field.  At its peak, the dynamism was breathtaking.  Add to this a poor effort from the opponent, which he also touched on, and you get Sunday’s scoreline.

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Podcast, Articles, and Kits

Inside Spanish Football produced a winter break podcast, which broke down the season month by month.  Then the panel shared their moments of the season thus far.  Definitely worth a listen as it put the opening months in perspective and set the stage for the rest of the season.

Phil Ball returned to Spain just in time to stop by the pub for Real Sociedad’s visit to the Bernabeu.  Mourinho went with Adan again only for the young keeper to be sent off and replaced by Saint Iker.  Prieto’s hat-trick was not enough as the hosts survived with a makeshift defense (Arbeloa, Varane, Carvalho and Essien) and playing with 10 men for 80+ minutes.

I was able to catch the last nine minutes plus injury time so I missed all off the goals.  Prieto’s finishes were nice but a lot of attention was given to Ronaldo’s free kick.  It was well struck but the goalkeeper really should have done better.  Any touch by Bravo and the shot would have been saved.

Los Merengues gained two points on Atleti to cut the gap to five, but alarm bells must be going off in the defense.  Real Madrid has given up 20 goals this season, conceding 10 in last four games.  They now turn their focus to the return Copa match against Celta.  Down 2-1, Real Madrid will need to put their internal conflicts behind them in order to progress.

Sid Lowe also examined the Real Madrid/Real Sociedad game for his weekly column, noting the special circumstances with which Iker Casillas arrived on the scene over 10 years ago: coming on as substitute in the European Cup Final and taking over for Canizares before the World Cup after the Valencia keeper injured himself just before the tournament.  Since then Saint Iker has been an institution and Mourinho has been playing with fire by demoting him to the bench, and the Special One looks to burn all of his bridges before exiting the capital.

Kaushik took over for Madridista Mac at Real Madrid Football Blog, lauding the midfield performance of Alonso and Khedira and giving special praise to CR7, who was captain for the match.  This game also saw the return of Higuain, giving Los Blancos much need depth as they fight on three fronts.

For the other side of the capital, Martin Rosenow recapped the game for Atletico Fans and saw Los Colchoneros give up a late equalizer away to Mallorca.  The visitors were without Miranda, Turan and Falcao, and manager Diego Simeone was pleased with his team’s performance, which including fine efforts from Diego Costa, Koke, Tiago and goalscorer Raul Garcia.  Atleti should progress in the Copa and then get back at it against Zaragoza on the weekend.

Tim Stannard commented on the return of La Liga for Football365.  Besides Barca’s destruction and Real’s crazy victory, he looked at Atleti’s possible prospects next season without Falcao and Turan and Betis’ continued success before concluding with Depor’s vital three points.

Garreth Nunn did a La Liga Top 11 for 2012 for Forza Futbol, with one small tweak—no Real Madrid or FC Barcelona players.  He has a much better grasp of the league than I do, so his picks made sense to me.  Imagine his proposed midfield—Joaquin, Isco, Benat and Turan. Wow!  I would have gone with Leo Baptistao up top instead of Vela but not sure how the young Brazilian striker did in the second of half of the 2011/12 campaign.

Peter Alegi turned me on to Spanish Football Tales, a blog that looks at snippets from the history of the Spanish league.  I read a post called the Tenerife Leagues, which saw Real Madrid surrender the league title to FC Barcelona two seasons (91/92 and 92/93) in a row against Tenerife in the most dramatic circumstances.  Nice slice of history and shows how narrow the margins of victory were for Cruyff’s Dream Team.

A Football Report released their best of football writing of 2012, broken into the following categories: Most Compelling, Most Creative, Best Research, and Best Storytelling.  The list is overwhelming and not sure when I’ll find time to go through it, but I clicked on Brian Phillips’ eulogy for Pep Guardiola from last spring as he examined the “cocoon of silence” created in a world of noise and hype and tension.  Not only did Pep fashion a team that was pleasing to the eye, but the players performed with a joy and a spirit that was captivating.  Eventually Mourinho came in and upset the balance, yet for a short period the Blaugrana were the greatest show on Earth and under Tito Vilanova they are returning to those levels.

Many times I have stressed that this cycle will end and hopefully everyone can enjoy this moment now instead of waiting for time to pass and being forced to remember, to put it back together.  It’s happening, right now. We are in the midst of a glorious epoch in footballing history.  Take a second to let it wash over you because it will be gone soon enough.

Couple of kit related items:

Tom Conn reported on Inside Spanish Football that Atletico have finally secured a shirt sponsor—Chinese communications brand, Huawei.  The company has partnered with the club in the past but now look to go full time.  Currently Los Colchoneros have Azerbaijan: Land of Fire across their chest.

According to Football Fashion, Celta Vigo will be changing kit manufacturer’s next season, switching from Li-Ning to adidas.  The brand with the three stripes is already getting a jump on proceedings and released a special kit that the club will wear against Real Madrid during the second leg of the Copa del Rey.

Morbo Minute–El Tigre Overshadowed by La Pulga

Only in La Liga can amazing efforts by CR7 and Falcao and Soldado and others be overshadowed.  Messi’s two goals against Betis saw him break Gerd Muller’s 40 year old record of 85 goals in a calendar year. After he almost broke twitter in midweek after going down against Benfica, the Argentinean recovered to start and play the entire 90 and boy did Barca need him.  A hungry and energetic opponent nearly took points off the Blaugrana but Messi’s goals were the difference.

Elsewhere, Bilbao gained three vital points and Malaga and Levante each put four past their opponents.  At the bottom, Espanyol threw away two more points after getting pegged back twice against Sevilla to stay in the relegation places with Granada and Depor.  Mallorca and Osasuna are just outside the drop zone as the battle to stay in La Primera begins to take shape.

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Real Betis 1  FC Barcelona 2

An entertaining first half came to a close with end to end action.  Real Betis set up with a similar approach to the Real Madrid game a couple of weeks ago, but rather than just conceding possession the visitors were more deliberate going forward.  The Verdiblancos created an early opportunity but eventually Messi stole the show, with two very classy goals.  On the top of box he went 1 v 3, froze two defenders as he drifted to the left and fired back across the goal.  Sanchez (in for Fabegras who left the game ten minutes in) made a nice run to create the space. Messi scored his second as the Blaugrana took advantage of Betis being a man down due to injury.  Winning the ball and charging upfield, Messi and Iniesta combined with the vampire flicking the ball back with bottom of his foot and Messi buried in the far right corner.

Watching the second goal again Canas did not really keep track of Messi after he passed to Iniesta, plus there were several defenders ball watching.  And that was the difference in the first half, as Barca were going through the motions against a Betis team not at the same intensity as the Real game.  Tom Conn put portions of Pepe Mel’s post-match press conference up on Inside Spanish Football.  The manager was disappointed with the start of his team, calling the squad unrecognizable, but praised their second half effort–”During the second half was the Betis I wanted, which tightens up and exposes opponents.”

Ruben Castro reduced the damages on 38’ with fine composure in front of goal to slot past VV.  Alba didn’t hold the line and allowed the striker in on goal after a great pass from Vadillo.  Then the second half started and things got crazy.  As @leeroden tweeted early in the half: Amid all of the euphoria Barca seem to have forgotten that there’s a game to win.  Betis haven’t.  After the interval the hosts put FCB under all sorts of pressure, using a high line and a physical approach.  Actually they looked very similar to how Bilbao approached their game at the Nou Camp last week but Los Verdiblancos were able to execute their plan where Los Leones failed.

Betis were all over Barca in a nerve shredding second half. They hit the post several times and had balls on the goal line but just couldn’t grab the equalizer.  Had that come, they might have won all three points.  Having said that, FCB had chances to finish the game off but Barca players took turns squandering the opportunities.  In the end, all credit to Betis. More efforts like this and they have every chance of securing a European place.

A couple of player notes:

  • Thought Benat had an influential second half after not seeing much of the ball in the first.
  • Several player injuries to both sides, with Fabregas out for a month and Puyol removed as a precaution.  Could be important come Sunday against Atleti.
  • I originally wrote for this post that Sanchez is awful and is simply not up to snuff.  Why? Can’t hold the ball; can’t go by defender without falling down; can’t score.  Yet does run about and his movement created the opening goal.  I don’t know.  I’m still ready for Tello to get more time and for Cuenca to recover from injury.

Adam at Forever Betis saw his team give Barca too much time and fall behind 0-2, but Reuben Castro’s goal and a change in formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a pressing 4-4-2 saw the visitors turn it around and only some bad breaks kept them sharing the spoils or taking all three points.  In the comments section, excitement was generated about Vadillo, who set up the goal.  Found this little tidbit: became Betis’s youngest ever player (at 16) when he made his debut in August 2011, picked up a cruciate knee ligament injury at the Bernabeu in October 2011, spent six months recovering and another six months getting his confidence back with Betis B, returned to the first team in the cup about two weeks ago.

As for Barca, Kxevin identified the three phases of the game as a way to break down the match for his Barcelona Football Post: Our dominance, which was as much Betis lying in wait as anything else, the pressing, in which we came undone in the face of a vigorous, concerted effort on behalf of an opponent, then the regaining of control, late in the second half as players who were struggling, suddenly got it right.  Barca survived a game that they might have drawn or even lost last year, but the team continues an incredible run of form led by Messi’s phenomenal year.  Next up is Atleti.  A win at the Nou Camp on Sunday and everything is set up for something beyond records—TROPHIES.

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Articles and Podcasts

Sid Lowe broke down Messi’s record but in the end commented on the Argentinean’s consistency: At times the consistency can serve to make it seem mundane, but it is exactly that consistency that makes it so extraordinary. Messi will probably set the bar pretty high this season, with a couple of league games to go and we just need to take a second and appreciate all of his goals (all 86 this season) and his assists and his combination play and everything.  Simply amazing.

Phil Ball couldn’t stay away from leading with Messi’s record breaking performance in his weekly column ESPN FC, but he quickly moved on to the Spanish Armada in the Premier League, who scored a ton of goals in the last round.  Most of his time was spent on the future of Real Madrid and Mourinho, as it looks as if the Special One has worn out his welcome.  What next for each party?  Tough to say.  I would like to see Low come to Madrid and fine tune what Mou has put in place.  And Mou to Manchester City could usher in the transfer of power in the city of Manchester and in the Premier League.  The elements are there (money, desire, talent, the current power on the wane); just needs the catalyst.

Tim Stannard marveled at Levante’s continued success in his latest Spanish Thing offering on Football365.  Hard to believe that this team was almost relegated in 2010.  Now Los Granotes are thriving—currently sixth, still alive in the Europa League and back in action Thursday against Zaragoza in the Copa del Rey after overturning a 1-0 deficit.  He mentioned the club’s ability to take cast off strikers on the cheap and sell them on for vital income: Caicedo, Kone and now Martins.  The Nigerian’s goals will be essential if the team is to continue to fight on three fronts.  The organization will be the there; the effort will be there; and the desire to make the opponent suffer will be there.  What’s the next chapter for Martinez’s men?

Graham Hunter saw the current San Mames say goodbye to European football for this season and forever, as the club was knocked out of the Europa League with a game remaining and will move to a new stadium in the coming months.  Hunter also discussed Llorente’s situation, which has deteriorated further (if that is possible).  The big forward is gone for sure now and the only question is where his next destination will be.  A transfer to Real Madrid is possible but I would imagine it would be down to the next coach, but who knows.  Maybe Perez will buy Llorente and then choose the manager based on having a target player as opposed to the current options: an active, lateral, combination forward in Benzema or a strong, instinctive, poacher like Higuain.

On the Forza Football pod Elisa and Ravi looked back on the performances of Spanish teams in Europe this season as six of the seven progressed to the next round.  Then they looked ahead to the next round of fixtures, focusing on the managerial changes at Espanyol and Valencia, asking the questions: Does Valverde have the players at Valencia to suit his style and Can Aguirre overcome the institutional problems at Espanyol?

SlickR touched on Valverde’s tough road ahead for Los Che at Club Valencia.  Under contract for six months, his task will be to improve the squad’s performances, which have been erratic this season.  Second in the Champions League Group, including fine endeavors against Bayern Munich, and victory against Atleti cannot mask abject matches in the league, losses to Real Sociedad and Malaga come to mind.  Currently in tenth place.  Valencia must start earning points, especially on the road, where they were without a victory since March.

Moving on the Osasuna/Valencia match, Chalk on the Boots broke down a game low on quality as both teams needed a win for different reasons.  Valverde made several changes in his first game, bringing Albelda and moving Guardado to left back.  Up front he played almost all of his attacking options form the start (Feghouli, Piatti, Tino Costa, Soldado and Banega).  One point he made was this:

What must concern Valverde, even this early, is the need to link the midfield and attack to prevent Soldado being isolated. Banega cannot play too high, he needs to be on the ball in the midfield area. Either Jonas must start, when he is not suspended, or the wingers must become more inverted and reach Soldado quicker to offer support.

Analyzing the game Osasuna pressed Valencia in attempt to break up the rhythm of their visitors.  Not many chances were created and the both teams resorted to long balls and the hosts tried to attack an out of position Guardado.  Some of the best chances came from set pieces, but Oier had a great chance in the second half from the run of play. In the end, Valencia won on a scrappy goal by Soldado after Piatti’s chip/cross hit the far post.

Finally, Madridista Mac saw Real Madrid fall afoul of the “deadball disease” before overturning the deficit due to creative substitutions by Mourinho.  Manucho took advantage of poor defending on set pieces by Los Blancos in general and Sergio Ramos in particular to give the hosts the lead twice.  Ozil’s equalizer at 2-2 just before halftime gave the visitors the platform to go for the lead.  The Special One moved Callejon to LB/LM before shift Alonso to the back to accommodate Modric.  Once Ozil scored a wonderful free kick, the manager then brought in Varane to slot in at right back to get Real Madrid back to a more formation in order to see out the match.  Love the tactical nuances explained in the post and it shows how having a clever manager with tons of toys can pay dividends.

Morbo Minute–Atleti Show Their Stripes

Another round, another Barcelona victory.  That story line can be put to bed until March when we’ll see if fatigue or a push from Real Madrid or focus on European glory slows the Blaugrana juggernaut.  As for the rest of La Primera, the panel at Inside Spanish Football pod named Cristiano Ronaldo their Player of the Week, as he scored their Goal of the Week and was the only bright spot in another wise dour Madrid Derby.  They also touched on Valencia not treating their manager, a former player during a very successful time for the club, with respect before moving on Getafe’s third straight victory and other news and notes.  Don’t want to forget to mention Joel Campbell’s cracking goal for Betis as Los Verdiblancos built on their victory over Real Madrid and are now in fourth.  Plus Malaga’s third kit made an appearance in their loss to Getafe.  Electric lime might not be the proper identification, but whatever the color, not attractive.

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FC Barcelona 5  Athletic Bilbao 1

Los Leones came into the match after a rescheduled Europa League game in midweek so I was concerned about their energy levels, but the team started well and maintained a great deal of composure despite being without Muniain.  Unfortunately, once the visitors got over midfield, everything broke down, with Aduriz and Ander having very poor games, losing their footing and constantly turning the ball over.

In time, the hosts simply overwhelmed Athletic pushing players forward, interchanging positions and pressuring them all over the pitch.  Once FCB broke through, off a direct corner of all things, there was only one result.  The Blaugrana immediately scored another goal and created wonderful chances throughout the half, culminating in a simply stunning goal from Adriano with the last kick of the first period.

The second half saw Llorente come on for Aduriz but the big forward had even less of an impact on the game, as Athletic tired, leading to less pressure and organization and poor interplay from all players.  FCB took it down a gear but still scored twice.  Iniesta laid off a skillful pass for Fabregas; Ibai scored a fine consolation goal; and Messi added his second of the night to complete the scoring.

A couple of player notes.

  • Thought Iniesta started poorly but eventually was unplayable.  What he can do in tight spaces is beyond comprehension.
  • Ramalho was had a ‘mare at right back.  Chased shadows and lost possession for a majority of the game.
  • Adriano played on his opposite side.  Some debate on why he started instead of Montoya, but he made a great run for his goal and showed tremendous energy throughout the match. Definite glue guy for the team.

With Atleti’s loss, the Blaugrana are now six points clear at the top.  A result against Los Colchoneros just before the winter break and FCB can start looking at trying to retain their Copa del Rey title as well as regaining the Champions League.

Spoiled.  Simply put that is what Barca fans are at the moment says Kxevin from Barcelona Football Blog.  The Blaugrana are now on top of the league in record breaking fashion, a league that has decided to stop fearing FCB and tried to take the game to them.  Action, reaction.  Repeat.  In this case, Tito Vilanova has made the team more direct, less patient and focused on results.  One thing that Pep’s teams did not do in the last season or two was step on the throat.  This current squad rips the throat, dismembers the opponent and revels in the bloodbath.  A couple of nervy moments at the beginning of the season have given way to a run of form reminiscent of the amazing run of the 2010/11 campaign with win after win.  Yet Real Madrid still came back.  Tito’s real test will be rotating the squad to maintain the results and the awe inspiring play while keeping a little in reserve for the trophy with the big ears.  Let’s see where things in stand heading into March. Fans are still spoiled though.  And it won’t last forever.

(Tangent.  This goes for FCB and Manchester United.  Once Fergie goes at Old Trafford, United will begin the slow descent into mediocrity.  Gone will be Father Figure, the manager who strikes terror in everyone involved, the veteran hand who has seen everything, and the gaffer who can instill confidence and fear in equal measure in his players.  So with Barca.  The Golden Generations can’t last forever.  Time is almost up for Puyol and Xavi, with Villa and Iniesta to follow.  Then you have the Messi/Pique/Fabregas group.  The Argentinian will be the focus and that may be the problem.  Without a strong supporting cast his influence can be reduced.  Argentina National Team anyone?  Then you have Pedro, Montoya, Busquets and Thiago.  Can that group reach the heights of their predecessors?  Can they do it with the veterans to lead them? Can they do without heavy investment from the squad?  Barca has always hit a lull before remerging.  Van Gaal gave way to a barren period before Rijkaard led them to glory.  But the Dutchman failed to retain the titles of 2006 and eventually gave way to Pep and a simply historic period of success that we have not seen the end of.  But it will end.  Always has, always will be.  What is the next chapter?

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Real Madrid 2  Atletico Madrid 0

What a disappointment.  Atleti came into this match with their best chance in a long time of ending the hoodoo and Simeone sent out his troops with one thought—foul the shit of the Los Blancos.  I understand the approach, get into Real’s head, get them off their game and sneak in a goal, but Atleti did very little in the way of attacking.  With only four or five shots (that might be generous) the visitors focused on the physical attack, with Diego Costa leading the way.  If this had been an NBA game, he would have fouled out early, but at least he came to play, not backing down from the hosts and trying to drive forward.  Falcao channeled his inner Rivaldo after the Sergio Ramos love tap.  Nothing there.  You’re a big, strong lad.  Get on with it.

Mourinho put out a full strength eleven, and while Ozil was ok, maybe a little better than his 45 minutes against Real Betis, I felt that Di Maria had some nice individual moments but maybe he could have combined better. After minor flare ups from Pepe and Sergio Ramos due to Atleti’s robust style, the defenders were firmly in control.  The Special One stated that he didn’t know his team earlier in the season.  Yet he continues to roll out the same players. Seems like he should make changes to startle the underperformers into doing a little more.

Cristiano’s goal was spectacular.  I can’t remember the last time he scored one like that, but it reminded me of the goal he scored for United against Pompey, maybe 2008 or 2009.   Simply unstoppable.  Real Madrid found their rhythm in the second half, with nice interchanges in the final third, which kept the visitors pinned back.

The match was reminiscent of the Barcelona and Real Madrid battles early in Pep’s reign, in which Real would just foul and foul and foul, hoping to stop FCB by brute force rather than by organization, anticipation and tactics.  In the same way, Atleti tried to outmuscle rather than out play Real.  Maybe if they had tried to play straight up, their reward might have been a Real Madrid Manita, but for all the hype and expectation, this match was a huge let down.

One last note, going back through the lineups, I saw Carvalho was on the bench.  I didn’t even know he was still on the squad.

Managing Madrid saw Ronaldo open the scoring which forced Atleti out of their shell and from there Ozil took full advantage.  These two players have had recent success against their crosstown rivals and again they rose to the occasion.

Martin Rosenow reviewed the damage for Atleti Fans.  Ronaldo’s goal took the wind of Los Colcheneros and with Luis Felipe out due to late injury, the team never got going. Nine straight derby losses.  Ouch.  However, still firmly in second and well above the chasing pack for third.  If Atleti can hold on to Falcao, they will have a small window to replace Valencia as the best of the rest.  However if the Colombian goes, I fear they will fall away again.  We’ll see.

Atleti is one of many clubs in La Liga struggling to find a shirt sponsor.  Their last set sponsor was Kia, which cut ties in 2011, so I was surprised to see something across the chests of the red and white jerseys.  Based on a post at Atleti Fans, the club signed an agreement with the Republic of Azerbaijan. Not sure what Land of Fire on but if the club is getting money, then more power to them.

Finally, Chalk on the Boots analyzed the game, correctly stating that the match was “instantly forgettable” with 42 fouls and very little in terms of attacking fluency.  He identified a couple of key factors to the match: Ozil’s lack of space against a compact Atleti side (until the game opened up in the second half); Cata Diaz, usually a centerback, played at left back, which sacrificed an element of attack; and a lack of wide service for Falcao and Costa.

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Articles

Sid Lowe focused on Pellegrino’s dismissal in his weekly column.  After standing by several coaches in the past, President Manolo Llorente fired his manager as the fans have begun to turn on him.  Backed by the players, there are elements of fear and lack of long term planning in this decision and now it is up to Valverde to improve their league position while contending in the Copa and the Champions League.

La Liga Loca also discussed Pellegrino’s termination on Football365.  As everyone said at the end of last season when Emery was let go, be careful what you wish far.  Despite relative success, Emery was let go, and, after the club failed to get AVB, Llorente turned to Pellegrino.  The Argentinean didn’t last long and now the club is faced with financial and managerial instability.

Phil Ball wondered how the seemingly laid back Tito Vilanova gets the Blaugrana to press and attack and bamboozle opponents.  Their record start has been inspired by a historic individual performance and an indefatigable team effort.  He then moved to the Madrid Derby, where Simeone showed a possible lack of tactical nous.  Phil also touched on the cult of Mourinho as his window of influence and abrasiveness is closing.  He concluded with Pellegrino’s firing and the reemergence of Javier Aguirre at Espanyol.

Listened to an old Off the Ball pod (11/21) with Graham Hunter, in which he discussed CR7’s future at Real Madrid.  The winger’s contract is running out and this prompted a conversation about whether the club should sell the Portuguese player (could go to City or PSG) and possibly buy Neymar.  The players are not like for like in terms of footballing ability but there is something to be said in terms of star power.

Staying with CR7, Jonathan Wilson made the argument in the Guardian that Ronaldo is the reason that Real Madrid won’t win La Decima.  While he concedes the former Manchester United’s great physical skills, he notes some glaring weaknesses in his game that could keep him from being part of a great team.  Isolated as defensive laxity, Wilson notes that full backs create disadvantages for the rest of Ronaldo’s teammates causing undue pressure and goals. On Off the Ball last week Wilson went as far to say that Ronaldo would not be in his starting eleven because “he doesn’t know how to play football.”  His premise is that systems and groups win rather than one player who demands the ball, demands the players and demands the accolades.  Definitely a provocative argument, especially in a world that sees the current landscape as Messi v Ronaldo.

Finally, My Golden Great is a series that Football Espana is developing, where the site looks back into the history of the league to identify wonderful players of years past.  Recently Sam Marsden picked out Rivaldo’s year just before the end of the millennium.  Right in my wheelhouse, as this was the time when I started following FCB and La Liga with some regularity.  I remembered his amazing performances against United in the 1998/99 Champions League Group Stage and some phenomenal goals in the following campaign, both home and abroad.  The Brazilian ended up winning the 1999 Ballon d’Or award after a great year for club and country.  I was able to find his Barca goals from in and around that season.  As Tim Vickery always says, Rivaldo might be involved 50 times in a match.  48 times he’ll drive you crazy but the other two are simply amazing.

Morbo Minute-And Then There Were Two

Round 13 saw FCB and Atleti win again, Real Madrid fall out of the title chase, Malaga consolidate their credentials for fourth and Sevilla crash back to earth; while at the bottom, all three teams lost.

Saturday I crammed in a lot of La Liga action.  I have given beIN Sport a lot of grief for their crappy internet site, crazy programming schedule and highlights hosts, but I will give them credit for two things: an amazing HD picture and their 90 in 30 show.  I was able to catch the end of Rayo Vallecano/Mallorca show before watching the condensed version of Real Valladolid against Granada.  All of this was in preparation for the Real Betis/Real Madrid and Malaga/Valencia double header.

Leo Bapistao had a fantastic last five minutes for Rayo.  He scored the opening goal with a fine finish from the corner of the area and absolutely skinned the Mallorca defender before setting up Delibasic for the second.  In the other game, Valladolid put plenty of pressure on Granada before the visitors rebounded.  Unfortunately Granada were blunt in attack throughout the game, and a powerful goal from Manucho for the hosts settled the proceedings.

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Malaga 4  Valencia 0

Despite my best efforts, I knew the score of the match before the TV replay kicked off.  As I didn’t know the details, I anticipated Los Boquerneros putting the visitors to the sword with slick passing and crisp finishes, but the longer game went, I wondered when the goals would happen.  It was 1-0 (8th minute goal from Portillo) for over 70 minutes before the hosts put three past Diego Alves in the last quarter of an hour.

Couple of initial thoughts as the match kicked off.  Why didn’t Soldado start for Los Che?  (Per Club Valencia, Ruiz and Soldado were suspended; Pererira, Mathieuand Canales were all injured.)  Valdez is a totally different proposition, and not a good one.  Another thing that I (and everyone else) notice was that the pitch at La Rosaleda was in horrible condition.  Too many games?  Weather related?  Groundskeeper asleep at the wheel?  Finally, Valencia wore their new third kit, which looked pretty sharp, sort of a Valencian twist on the Ajax kit, with a black top accented by a horizontal orange stripe, orange shorts and black socks.

For the match itself, neither team was particularly sharp going forward or energetic around the pitch.  Both squads had tough Champions League matched midweek, so that wasn’t really too much of a surprise.  Valencia were just disappointing as a whole.  Guardado continues to underwhelm.  Maybe he’s having an off day every time I watch but this isn’t the same player I see for Mexico or watched for Depor a couple of years ago.  Malaga had the upper hand for the most the match and should have ended it much earlier.  Playing more of a 4-4-2 than I had seen previously, they constantly pinned back the visitors and deserved the three points.  Didn’t feel Isco was not up to his usual high standards this season (others disagreed), but his goal was well struck.

Chalk on the Boots produced an extensive and informative breakdown of the match.  Both teams started nominally in a 4-4-2 with a support striker (Joaquin for Malaga and Banega for Valencia).  While the Spaniard moved wide and allowed others to fill the space, the Argentinean dropped off into midfield which isolated an ineffective Valdez.  Moving on, Malaga were organized all over the field and only poor finishing kept Los Che in the game.  This was contrasted by Valencia’s lack of cohesion throughout the pitch.  Other points were addressed but I wanted to make one final note.  He mentioned that Valencia had not won an away league match since March 2012.  I double checked and confirmed that.  Ouch.

Zonal Marking praised Isco’s performance, noting his position of “central winger”, which allowed him to combine and overlap the defenders of Valencia.  He disagreed with Pellegrino’s choice of Banega instead of Jonas to support Valdez and the visitors never got in rhythm.  He also stated that the game should have been over as a contest in the first half, but the end result reflected the difference in the two teams.

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Real Betis 1  Real Madrid 0

Once again, the champions went to Seville and lost 1-0.  Earlier this season, an early goal and a valiant performance from Sevilla saw Los Merengues fall.  This round, Benat fizzed in a shot on 16’ and the visitors could not find the equalizer.

The match was not easy on the eye.  I’m sure the fans were looking for a response after last week’s 5-1 loss in the derby, and Pepe Mel and his squad provided one.  The Verdiblancos were organized in defense and deliberate in attack and were able to take all three points from the Evil Empire.  Benat and Canas shielded the back four, who were able to keep Real Madrid offside all evening.  Going forward, the hosts settled for the long diagonal ball to Salvador Agra and Juan Carlos.  Although this resulted in turnover after turnover, it kept the ball from central areas were the Madrid center mids could get on the ball.  The front three rarely got involved and the goal came from a poor clearance from Di Maria after a throw in.  He lumped the ball into the middle, Benat glided past Khedira and found the back of the net.

As for Los Blancos, one word poor.  The visitors had problems moving through the gears, a combination of Betis’ efforts and a lack of urgency from the Real Madrid.  Ozil got off to a great start, moving laterally to open space for other players, in particular for Khedira, who made late runs to unbalance the Betis defense, but after that Ozil was off the pace and was replaced at halftime.  In the second half Kaka and Modric were introduced, as well as Callejon for Di Maria.  Eventually Mourinho went with three in the back, moving Sergio Ramos up front, and their strategy devolved into Coentrao launching balls from the left center back spot into the penalty area.  The champions started with a full strength eleven, and maybe it was post Champions League fatigue, but maybe Mourinho should have freshened things up to match the energy of the hosts.

Pepe Mel did not turn away from the fan disappointment throughout the week, saying that he and players needed to “endure the downpour” from the fans, which Olly Dawes talked about for Football Espana.  A brilliant, if fortunate, result will hopefully get the fans back onside as Betis pushes on for a European place.

Adam of Forever Betis dismissed the vocal minority who were displeased heading in to the game and complimented Pepe Mel for getting his team to produce an effort that was praised by Mourhino.  He was also glad to see the goalkeeper Adrian bounce back after a poor performance last week.  Finally he acknowledged the efforts of the make shift center back paring of Amaya and Dorado, who gave their all in keeping a clean sheet for the hosts.

Tim Stannard wanted the Real Betis fans to get some perspective.  Yes the team played poorly against Sevilla but look at their standing in the league.  Far from the expected relegation battle (only promoted last season), the Verdiblancos are challenging for Europe and play some attractive stuff.  He wonders if the same fans who verbally abused the players last week will cheer them after the brave victory against the champions.  Doubt it.

Madridista Mac took some time to decompress after Real’s poor performance at the Benito Villamarín before posting on the Real Madrid Football Blog.  He had many of the same comments as I did about the team’s performance in general (lackluster, not good enough) and some of the players specifically (Ozil and Di Maria).  He also addressed Mourinho’s comments but felt that the manager was merely speaking the truth.  Should be an interesting derby.

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Articles

Sid Lowe made an interesting point about how opponents set up against Real Madrid in his weekly column for the Guardian. As teams do against FCB, Real Betis gave the Evil Empire possession and did not allow them to counter.  Their Formula One football (credit Real Madrid Football Blog) can be frustrated against banks of defenders and attackers who are very conservative.  Doctor Sid also talked about the huge task ahead of the champions if they want to overhaul the Blaugrana as well as Malaga’s fine performance against Valencia and Falcao amongst the goals again.

Phil Ball discussed La Liga’s recent TV schedule wrinkle as Round 13 kicked off with Real Sociedad hosting Osasuna on Friday night.  This led into a response to Mourinho’s comments for the fixture list for this round, with Real Madrid having to play Wednesday/Sunday while FCB played Tuesday/Sunday. Finally he praised Isco’s performance against Valencia and wonders where the midfielder will be playing next year.

Gareth Nunn laid out some interesting thoughts for Forza Futbol concerning the presentation of the La Liga product.  The scattergun TV schedule (Friday through Monday); late kickoffs (9,10, 11pm); and the state of the playing surfaces are all factors contributing to fans staying away and TV viewers being less than impressed.

Barcelona Football Blog’s review was provided by Levon who saw Levante hang on for a half before conceding to a Blaugrana onslaught.  FCB, fielding a team of all La Masia products, put four past the hosts and kept their three point lead over Atleti while increasing the gap to eleven over Real Madrid.  Iniesta was the star of the match, scoring once and providing three more.  Levon also acknowledged the influence of Cruyff over the years, with his arrival in 1973 paving the way for future glory and Sunday’s historic teamsheet.

Graham Hunter took things one step further.  In his wonderful post for ESPN FC, he used the results from the Barcelona and Real Madrid games and wove a compelling argument that a single philosophy is the way forward for sporting institutions.  Using FCB’s playing style as his paradigm, he briefly traced the steps from Cruyff to Van Gaal to Vilanova.  Reminding readers that Van Gaal promoted some of the core group despite results, the club has now reached a point where they can play eleven former students from La Masia and win.  Then he holds the mirror up to Real Madrid.  Mourinho, on staff at Barca under Van Gaal, has a system but that system isn’t working this year.  (Tangent: it could be argued that Mourinho is fixer rather than a philosopher.  His time at Chelsea and Inter as well as his time at the Bernabeu inidicate that he can come, forge a fighting spirit, but eventually he wears out his welcome with the club, players and fans and moves on.)  Los Blancos have regressed lately and have had differing approaches to team building over the years.  Hunter challenges the club to reevaluate their operations and look at instituted a unifying system that will pay off in the long run.  Fascinating article and well worth the read.

Finally, Mauricio Pochettino was the first manager to be fired this season.  Mando made the case at the Ball is Flat that although the club has had troubles both on and off the field, the manager was also responsible for the team’s performance and finally had to go.  He’s a big Espanyol fan so it was interesting to get his take.

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.