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.
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.
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?