Posts Tagged ‘ El Centrocampista ’

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–Who’s Finishing Second?

Larry Bird arrogantly asked the locker room before 1988 NBA Three Point Contest–Who’s finishing second? Barcelona can simply look at the table after 16 matches and ask the same question.  Round 16 started slowly and was fairly muted on Monday in terms of goals, but in the middle were two fascinating games—Real Madrid v Espanyol and FC Barcelona v Atletico Madrid—which produced drama and astonishing goals.  More on that shortly.

Thus far a couple of tiers have emerged in the table: Barca alone at the top, with the Madrid teams below them; then the contenders for fourth including Malaga, Betis, Levante and Getafe; the middle of the table sees seven teams separated by three points from 8th to 14th; finally there is the relegation zone with six teams under threat.   One more round before the holidays could change all that, but the teams are at the bottom are in real danger, with goals at a premium.

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Sevilla 0  Malaga 2

John Pelini analyzed Malaga’s tactics through the first half of season for El Centrocampista.  Los Boquerones have been lining up in a 4-2-3-1 with full backs supporting the attack from wide positions.  Two holding midfielders control the central part of the field and supply the ball to a fluid attacking group that interchanges positions and likes to combine through the final third.  They have been able to turn some of their dominance into goals and results this season as they have progressed to the knockout stage of the Champions League and headed into the Sevilla match tied with Betis in fourth place.

I anticipated this contest as Sevilla needed three points to keep pushing up the table while Malaga looked to consolidate fourth place.  The first half was lacking in excitement, even with the hosts’ energetic start.  Negredo hit the post early and was a strong physical presence up top against Welington and Demichelis (no place for Onyewu, even on the bench).  Navas was active but had a hard time getting on the ball.  Defensively, the Rojiblancos were organized as they tried to keep track of the varied attack from the visitors.

As for Malaga, they were able to bring a little balance back to the match but lacked thrust in the final third. The attacking players interchanged positions in an attempt to create spaces and mismatches but Joaquin did not see much of the ball and Santa Cruz lacked the activity to cause much trouble.  How does RSC fit into this team?  Malaga don’t cross for him, preferring to keep the ball on the ground, and he doesn’t seem to show for the ball.  RSC was always a half step behind and had two chances in the match that a poacher or striker in a rich vein of form would have finished off. Anyway, Los Boquerones struggled to switch the point of attack from right to left, leaving Eliseu forlorn figure in the left hand channel.  The back line was strong after the opening scare as Negredo’s influence faded.

Demichelis opened the scoring on 48th minute as his hopeful header floated into the far post to give the visitors the lead. The method of the goal was surprising, because up until that point set pieces had rarely threatened the hosts’ goal. The corner kick appeared to be slightly overhit but the Argentinean center back somehow scored. Later Willy made a hash of cross and Rakitic went down as Camacho tried to clear.  Not sure if it was a penalty.  Maybe on a different day.

Malaga finally got separation on 70 minutes as Joaquin made a lung bursting run through the middle and was awkwardly taken down by Fazio, who earned a red card and a penalty for the opponents.  The move was set up by RSC’s run wide (an example of what I would like to see) and then the Spanish winger filled space down the middle.  Eliseu (surprise choice) stepped up and buried it, giving the visitors a commanding 2-0 lead with 20 minutes to go. Saviola immediately came on for Joaquin who had worked his socks off.  The game tailed off and Malaga are in fourth, ahead of Betis on goal difference, while Sevilla are 13th, now behind Bilbao, who are finding points.  Expected a better match, or at least a better performance from Sevilla.

Paul Wilkes analyzed the game for La Liga UK.  In the end, Sevilla paid the price for squandering the chances of the first half.  Michel’s double substitution early in the second half was blunted as Rakitic went off injured and Fazio was sent off, leaving the manager with no additional subs to get back into the match.  One thing Paul noticed was Demichelis moving into a defensive mid position in the second half.  To be honest I missed that.  Pellegrini’s men withstood an early battering and managed to capitalize on their few opportunities to secure three points on the road.

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FC Barcelona 4  Atletico Madrid 1

As Morrissey says, stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.  Opponent gives FCB fits for a while but eventually capitulates.  Atleti played a brilliant first half, toning down the physical approach used in the derby.  They added a layer of intelligent and swift counterattacks, which saw them isolate mismatches between the forwards and the Blaugrana rearguard.

Playing a narrow, compact 4-4-2, they frustrated Barca for over thirty minutes, with the hosts barely getting a sniff of goal while El Tigre got closer and closer.  Los Colchoneros took a deserved lead but Adriano pegged the visitors back with a stunning effort and proved his worth yet again.  In a team full of stars, the Brazilian has scored vital goal (six this season, including the solitary goal against Valencia), played all across the back and provided energy and width and competence in every match.  Busquets’ goal was so composed it makes you wonder what he can’t do. . . besides chase down Falcao on a breakaway.  (Sidenote: again Barca has gone with direct corners, which resulted in another goal.  Will be interesting to see if they use that tacitc in the knockout rounds of Europe where they will encounter bigger, stronger teams.)  That goal turned the match as FCB came out full of confidence in the second half and proceeded to pass Atleti into submission.  Messi’s sumptuous finish finally gave the cules some breathing room and from there it was something of an exhibition.

Atleti were second best, and that’s because they are the third best team in the league.  Maybe if Falcao had been more clinical in the opening exchanges, the game might have gone differently.  But he didn’t.  They are worthy of the “best of the rest” this season, a spot occupied lately by Valencia, but they simply can’t compete.  Starved of the oxygen needed to burn against a great team, the legs finally went as they couldn’t tackle what they couldn’t catch and couldn’t attack without having the ball.

I simply hope that FCB win the lot.  The league is over.  Barring a catastrophic injury to Messi, this team will cross the line early and regain one of their crowns.  The question remains as to whether they can retain the Copa and reclaim the Champions League.

Kxevin posted on Barca’s victory for Barcelona Football Blog while nursing an ankle injury, which was a result of celebrating Adriano’s golazo.  He commented that Atleti did everything they had to yet were still down 2-1 at halftime.  Why?  He sees the difference in the Blaugrana this year thusly:

Last season, you could give Guardiola’s Barça the ball, like a plaything with which to amuse a child. They would pass it around, make wondrous things with it, but you would mostly be okay as long as you retained your shape and didn’t do anything silly. Give Vilanova’s Barça the ball, and it will kill you, because it is impatient. It shoots from distance, it rushes the box, it eschews the magic of tika-taka for one dude saying to the others, “Watch this!” And the longer Vilanova’s Barça has the ball, the more likely it will kill you with a moment of magic.

He does remain readers that Barca hasn’t won anything yet but if the team continues their wondrous passing and maintains a ruthless attitude, it’s only a matter of time.

Martin Rosenow, writing for Atleti Fans, saw Simeone’s troops tease fans before succumbing to a deeper and more clinical Barcelona team.  Still as Martin points out, having a chance to finish with 40 points before Christmas as opposed to the 19 last year is nothing to gripe about

Zonal Marking saw Simeone’s 4-4-1-1 keep a relatively passive Barca at bay and made the point that perhaps Atleti scored “too early” and FCB had time and motivation to move through the gears.  Looking at Barca’s goals– the first goal was long-distance scorcher, the second was from a set-piece and the fourth from an inexplicable defensive mistake—there may be a case that the visitors could have a better shot at the Calderon in May.

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Articles

I caught the second half of 2-2 draw between Real Madrid and Espanyol at the Bernabeu.  Ireland 26 of Managing Madrid saw the hosts dominate large portions of the match but still share the points.  Callejon started up top with CR7, Modric and Ozil behind him, but Mourinho brought in di Maria at the start of the second half as Los Blancos reverted to a more traditional line up.  Madrid battered Espanyol for most of the second stanza but failed to capitalize after Coentrao’s go ahead goal.  I thought Ozil had a fantastic second 45 minutes, as he drifted from the middle to the right, which created space for others to run into.

Mando (The Ball is Flat) saw Los Pericos grab a late point at the Bernabeu as Real Madrid conceded on yet another set piece.  He makes the point that Mourinho doesn’t quite have the loyalty that he had at his former teams, and while I agree to a certain extent, Chelsea got off to a slow start during the 2007/08 season, which saw Abramovich get rid of the Special One.  Mourinho’s schtick wears thin with everyone, and this will definitely be his last season in the capital.  The question now is: will he make it to the end of the season?  As for Espanyol, another point towards safety for Aguirre’s men.

Sid Lowe reported on fantastic match that saw Barca all but seal the league as it was the tiger versus the flea, and the flea prevailed again.  Barca continue to make the amazing ordinary—controlling games with metronomic passing and scoring astonishing goals.  The result leaves Real Madrid clutching at the cups as Mourinho searches for La Decima to add to his legacy before exiting for the next challenge.

Phil Ball focused his attention on the game between Mallorca and Bilbao, which saw the hosts slump to another defeat.  Phil put Los Bermellones’ run in perspective: Mallorca have now gone 11 league games without a win (two points from 33), plus three cup matches either drawn or lost. Aduriz, a former Mallorca player, scored the goal against Caparros, former Bilbao boss, as these two teams appear to be headed in different directions.

Frank Tigani drilled down into Mallorca’s poor run for Football Espana.  The goals of Tomer Hemed have dried up, leaving Mallorca with no punch as goals are shipped at the other end.  14 goals in 16 matches have seen them slip into the relegation zone, and Caparros has gone from a possible contract extension to the chopping block.  The islanders have a fight on their hands entering the New Year.

Looking ahead to the January transfer window, Francesc discussed Barca’s current strategy—promote from within—for ESPN FC.  Still feel they lack depth at center back unless they plan to play Bartra more in the second half of the season.  Further injuries to Pique and Puyol will put a possible dream season at risk.  Other than that, Xavi and Tello have signed until the 2016, which does two things: for Xavi, it keeps the midfield maestro part of the club to educate his successors; for Tello it gives the predators hovering around the player a number from which to negotiate.  The young forward is in a tough situation.  FCB will probably continue to play Sanchez because of the money spent, which reduces Tello’s chances for minutes.  Add to that the Villa factor and it’s hard to see how Tello gets on the field.  If Villa is unhappy, ship him off and get Tello on the field and by this time in 2013, FCB should make a decision.

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–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–Los Blancos Sing the Azulones

Another weekend of goals and intriguing results in La Liga, with the champions suffering against Getafe while Rayo continued their 100% record.  Valencia drew again and FCB is on the horizon for Los Che, with the Blaugrana making hard work of it against Osasuna.  In the final match of the round, Atleti crushed Bilbao 4-0 to put Los Leones rock bottom of the league.

Real Betis 1 Rayo Vallecano 2

Saturday night saw me try to expand my La Liga knowledge as I watched the replay of Real Betis against Rayo Vallecano.  Didn’t know the result and didn’t have a rooting interest for each side, so just watched the game to see what these two teams had to offer.

The first half saw a spellbinding opening 15 minutes:  two goals in the first four minutes, and then each team hit the woodwork with excellent strikes.  Real Betis came out in what looked like a 4-3-3 and pressured Rayo all over the field, with the visitors replying with some sort of 4-5-1 and composed possession.  The great start to the match eventually wore off and set the template for the rest of the match—moments of quality amongst a series of cynical and professional fouls.

The second half saw Betis on the front foot but a lack of urgency in front of goal saw nothing come of their dominance.  Rayo’s composure and interplay of the first half seemed to have disappeared and they were just hanging on to a draw, but everything changed on 62 minutes.  A Betis turnover in midfield allowed Leo to start the counter with a ball out wide left to Lass.  Leo supported his pass, maintained his balance and slotted the ball under the keeper, who probably should have done better.  It was a well deserved goal for his efforts, and I really enjoyed watching him, as he was full of running, decent going at people and his flicks and first time passing allowed Rayo to create several chances, including the opening goal.

Once Rayo went ahead, they were back on track, keeping the ball away from the hosts and letting time tick away.  The movement and crispness of the opening half returned and they looked quite good at time.  Los Verdiblancos reacted by driving forward with a lot of energy but little sharpness, almost trying to equalize by sheer force of will, which was not enough

A couple of other player notes:

  • Salvador: The Betis midfielder was like a Portuguese Theo Walcott: one direction one speed, very little finished product .
  • Benat:  Thought he had a good match, particularly in the first half with his passing and creativity giving the hosts some sort of direction.
  • Campbell:  Guess he is on loan from Arsenal.  Thought he gave Betis a little impetus upon his introduction.
  • Lass:  Critical sub as his pace really unbalanced Betis their right hand side.  Looking to see more of him.
  • Trashorras:  Just love his name.
  • Casado:  The left back for Rayo was sure on the ball, usually finding the right pass, but his defending left a little to be desired.

Both teams went for it, which was enjoyable for the neutral, but the lack of quality in front of goal kept the game from really hitting the heights.  As the game wore on, the fouls and dark arts became prominent and the game eventually petered out with three points to the visitors.

Adam at Forever Betis found it hard to find the positives in the match, starting his post with Betis looked tentative, lightweight and rudderless right from the start and were deservedly beaten by a competent Rayo side.  He was especially critical of the keeper among other players as the home side were undone.

Osasuna 1 FC Barcelona 2

After church I headed into work so that I could get on the internet, find an illegal feed and join the match late.  Finding a feed and getting my computer to cooperate took much longer that I had anticipated, so I missed the first half.  I got caught up via highlights and analysis on Sky and sat down for the second half.  It was like watching the Chelsea Champions League semi all over again as the Blaugrana hit their head against a wall that would not crumble.  There was a lack of sharpness and drive combined with a team determined to hold on to their lead.  Eventually the substitutions of Pedro, Xavi and Villa tipped the balance and FCB ran out winners.  But let this not mask the fact that the team is not cohesive, especially in defense.  With Puyol out for a little while (maybe not), Masch will probably return to the side, so we’ll see if this changes things.  If I were a Spanish side I would sign Fellaini and let him terrorize the back line as he did against United on the opening weekend.

Kxevin at the Barcelona Football Blog recapped a match that was crazy in so many ways: crazy in the way Osasuna executed their game plan to near perfection; crazy in how so many Barca players were off the pace; crazy in the way subs can totally change a match.  FCB had a tricky fixture in between the Super Cup and survived.  With Real Madrid on Wednesday and Valencia next weekend, fans will see if Tito can continue to navigate a tough of fixtures.

 

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Articles and Pods

Phil Ball reviewed a busy four days in Spain, starting with an entertaining Super Cup first leg to Real’s shocking defeat against Getafe.  He picked out several players that caught his eye: Benat from Betis, Iago from Celta Vigo, Leo Baptistao from Rayo.

Graham Hunter was on Off the Ball last week (8/26) and discussed the situation at Athletic Bilbao, as the work done by Bielsa last season is unraveling.  Part of it is the club’s negotiations with Llorente and Martinez and part of it is the antics of the coach, but the club is in real trouble after a season of promise.

As for the Champions, Madridista Mac wondered if the alarm bells should be ringing as Real has started the season without a win.  With CR7 and Ozil not in top form, Los Merengues have suffered, losing the lead in all three matches and not having the answers at the end of matches.  Of course by this time next week, they could be Super Cup champions and on four points (with a home win over Granada), just behind FCB who could conceivably lose to Valencia.  But defeats in both . . .

Iain at El Centrocampista echoed concerns about Real Madrid’s start after the defeat, with Euro 2012, the US tour and player choices all listed as factors.  One thing that I did not consider was Albiol on for the injured Pepe.  Surely Mou won’t throw Varane into the fire on Wednesday but must consider using him on the weekend.

Finally, the Champions signed Luka Modric, ending a long saga that surely took too long and may not pay off for a while due to lack of games for the Croatian.  Sid Lowe took a look at Real Madrid’s newest signing for the Guardian, while Terry Gibson gave his thoughts on the transfer on La Liga Extra.

To wrap everything up, the panel at Inside Spanish Football commented on most of the weekend’s action from round 2, looking at key moments and players before moving on to their team of the week.

Morbo Minute–Kickoff 2012/13

The new season is upon us.  While the championship will go to one of the Big Two, there are several compelling storylines throughout the rest of the league.

  • Malaga:  one year on from the Project, the club seems to be in total disarray.
  • Athletic:  after a campaign in which they reached two cup finals and destroyed Manchester United, Los Leones may lose two of their best players and slide into the bottom half of the table.  (What an opener by the way!)
  • Levante:  can Los Granotes finish in the European places again?
  • Depor and Celta are back in the top flight.
  • Can Zaragoza survive both on and off the field?
  • Will Granada’s ownership structure help or hinder them?

But on to the games . . .

Real Madrid 1 Valencia 1

I’m surprised the LFP computer spit out this match to begin the season.  Surely there must be an algorithm to avoid this sort of thing (first and third last season), but the league campaign started with a game that was marked by several head collisions, spurts of entertainment and a solid performance by Valencia keeper Diego Alves.

I watched the game on the new beIN sport network (worst name ever) in glorious HD.  The pre game was on mute so I have no comments on that.  As for the game coverage, it was Phil and Ray, and I am glad it was on mute.  Valencia’s away kit was fantastic.  Loved the bats on the shoulders.  May have to pony up for one of those.

Real Madrid started with Lass in midfield with Alonso and Ozil, which I found odd.  I wasn’t up on the injury report so I don’t know if Khedira was hurt or if Mou was saving him for the Super Cup.  Lass struggled and, with Ozil blowing hot and cold, the hub of the team struggled.  There was lots of passing but not much drive, with chances relegated to several long range shots.  However some clever interplay allowed Di Maria to set up Higuian, who finally scored on his third attempt from close range.  Towards end of first half, Real Madrid started moving through the gears and looked sharper.

For Valencia, I was interested to see a reshaped team with Gago and Guardado and Joao Pereria.  Looked like Pellegrino was using the Mexican and Mathieu in the same vain as the Alba/Mathieu pairing last year.  Not as dynamic but kept Di Maria and Arbeloa busy.  Soldado saw very little of the ball, and finally got a chance on 22’, but was too slow.  Jonas equalized minutes before halftime, meeting a free kick as Casillas and Pepe collided.  Put the blame for goal on Saint Iker because I’m not sure that he needed to go for that.

The second half saw Albiol in for Pepe.  After the clash that resulted in the goal, Pepe was all bloody but seemed ok, while Iker looked a little woozy.  It was a little more end to end to start the second stanza, with Soldado getting more touches. Di Maria missed a glorious chance eight minutes in as Ozil put him through.  Then it looked liked Soldado had the go ahead goal ten minutes into second half but the chance was ruled offside.  A short spell of pressure followed after the introduction of Benzema for Lass, and Alves had to be sharp as Higuain nearly made it 2-1 with Di Maria again the provider but the effort crashed off crossbar.

The champions threw bodies forward with any sort of formation breaking down, as Los Merengues really pinned the visitiors back and went for the winner.  With 10 minutes to go Nelson Valdez returned to La Liga.  His previous appearance was with Hercules a couple of years ago when they stunned FCB early in the season, and he made his presence felt, especially to Xabi Alonso with a midair conclusion and late slide tackle.

In the end Valencia held on for the draw.  They had to be happy with a point in which they were second best for most of the match.  Real Madrid could not capitalize on two periods of heavy pressure, with some credit to Diego Alves, who was well positioned and at the ready to stifle the attack.  I think Mourinho will use the result to great effect, getting the team up for the Super Cup and further league games.  A home draw is not acceptable and he will redouble his efforts with the squad.

Some comments on the game from around the web . . .

Madridista Mac watched Los Blancos stumble out of the gate.  He and I saw the game in much the same way, summarized by his statement: while the boys clearly lacked sharpness out there – their effort cannot be questioned.

SlickR at Club Valencia CF wrote a recap of the game and was thrilled with the point.  His player ratings called out a couple of players—Ruiz and Guardado—and provided an interesting look at the team from a fan’s perspective.  Los Che were poor but they were playing against the champions and still have a lot of potential.

Finally, John Pelini broke down the game for El Centrocampista, with my thoughts echoing his.  In the end Real will find their footing and Valencia will break down lesser opponents.

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Articles and Pods

Inside Spanish Football launched their weekly podcast with a season preview, looking at the top four and then hitting the rest of the teams in La Primera.

Another league preview was provided by Chalk on the Boots, which broke down the league into those chasing European spots, those trying to avoid relegation and those somewhere in between.  He commented on each team and the post was very informative.

Moving on to the weekend’s action . . .

Sid Lowe reflected on a weekend when football prevailed despite a league schedule that bordered on criminal (games over three days, some of which ended at 1am local time) and teams that are suffering internal crises: Athletic Bilbao and Malaga.  But the game shall overcome.  A fine performance by Barca, a 16 year old scoring for Los Boquerones and goals in almost every game.

Real Sociedad did not get the memo that the pre-season friendlies were over as they were annihilated by FCB, which Phil Ball was lucky enough to see in person.  He also touched on the crazy schedule and the trouble brewing at Bilbao.

Isaiah looked back on a game for Barcelona Football Blog in which FCB were not at their best and yet crushed their opponents, a similar story to the last couple of seasons.  Of course, time was given to Villa’s return, and if Ibi and Abi come back to full fitness and the young players emerge, FCB should have the depth to fight on all fronts.

Lee Roden looked at the troubling situation at Malaga and the entire league as the new season begins.  From the anticipation of their fourth place finish to the current fire sale and economic troubles, circumstances have changed over the last couple of months.  Plus all teams are finding it harder and harder to compete with FCB and Real Madrid, with quality players leaving La Primera at an alarming rate.  As with last season, the financial power of the Big Two versus the rest of the league continues to a big issue.

Finally, a shameless plug for my La Liga Kits page.  I have attempted to assemble all of the kits for the upcoming season into one place.  There are some real winners and several duds but it’s all subjective.

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Transfers

I found a pretty comprehensive transfer list of players joining and leaving each team of La Primera on Inside Spanish Football. Plan to use this as a guide early in the season to get me up to speed.

Javier Hernandez popped up on El Centrocampista to look at teams who have suffered during the transfer window, focusing on Malaga, Rayo, Levante, and Betis.  Athletic will be up against if it Llorente and Martinez end up leaving.  He then provided some fantasy advice at Inside Spanish Football for the upcoming season, giving insight to relatively unknown players and giving a heads up on possible players to avoid.