Posts Tagged ‘ Espanyol ’

Strip Club–La Liga Kits 2013/14

I have made another attempt to gather all of the La Liga kits into one place.  This season I have modeled my page on Kit Nerd’s posts on EPL and MLS kits.  I have gathered as many images as I could and commented on almost every kit for the upcoming season. There are plenty of great sites that have breakdowns, information and pictures of this season’s kits. Please visit the links for even more info.

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Almería (Courtesy of UD Almeria website)

Home / Away / Third

Almeria-Football-Shirt-13-14

Surprisingly Nike makes the kits of newly promoted Almeria.  Although the club uses templates and previous designs, the range is decent.  The home kit is a very simple shirt of red and white veritcal stripes with a ring collar, red shorts and white socks.  The away kit is almost identical to the Malaga away kit from 2011/12.  The third kit is Nike’s recent V template that began with Manchester United.  A light royal blue is the base of the shirt and socks and is finished off with white shorts.  According to the website this was used last year as well.  Hopefully the rojiblancos stay away from the fuchsia kit as much as possible.

Athletic Bilbao (Courtesy of Football Kit News and Football Fashion)

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Bilbao Home Kit 2013 14

Athletic switch to Nike from Umbro this season, and Phil Knight’s men have given Los Leones a nice foundation.  The home strip is relatively standard, with the traditional red and white stripes and black shorts.   The away strip is all royal blue, which I like, but the shirt unfortunately suffers from the Nike sleeve syndrome.

Atlético Madrid (Courtesy of Footy Headlines and Football Fashion)

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Atleti head into this campaign with a typical home kit—red and white striped top and blue shorts— with the post from Footy Headlines noting, “The red and the blue are darker than usual to celebrate the Spanish League and Spanish Cup title won in 1965/66.”  As for the away strip, it’s quite different and I’m not familiar with this color palette for Los Colchoneros at all.  Like the pairing of the navy blue and yellow top with the navy blue shorts but not sure how the yellow socks are going to look.

Barcelona (Courtesy of Footy Shirt Culture, Total Barca and Football Fashion)

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Quick summary: The Blaugrana and the Swoosh are back on the right track.  The home kit returns to its roots, while the away is a one off historical gesture.  Would have preferred they used the senyera as a third kit, but there’s always next year. Full comments can be found here.

Betis (Courtesy of Football Kit News, Inside Spanish Football and Real Betis Website)

Home / Away / Third

Betiskits

Macron has produced an interesting range of kits for the verdiblancos.  The home shirt is the traditional green and white vertical stripes and removes the solid green block that ran from the chest to shoulders last year.  The away strip swaps white for black and slightly darkens the green, which according to ISF, “is to honour the 100 year anniversary of the club (1914) as we know it today.” The third kit is all sky blue accented by the green and white colors of the club and looks nice.

Celta de Vigo (Courtesy of Footy Headlines and Football Fashion)

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adidas - presentacion 01

The Galicians have used a sky blue and black palette to good effect for the upcoming season.  The home shirt is sky blue with black trim along the shoulder and around the neck.  The away top is black with a sky blue design around the neck and shoulders.  Both kits sport a Triskele, which thanks to Wikipedia, I learned is “a motif consisting of three interlocked spirals, or three bent human legs.”  The club also has a third kit that was released early in 2013 which uses the Campeon 13 template by adidas (see Spain’s Confederations Cup shirt).

Elche (Courtesy of Football Kit News and Diario Franjiverde)

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This team from Valencian Community returns to the top flight for the first time 1988/89.  The kit line is produced by Italian company Acerbis and the range isn’t too bad.  The home kit is very simple white kit trimmed in green.  The away kit uses royal blue and red, which appears to be homage to the team’s badge.  The third kit replaces the white of the home with black and kinda reminds of a Green Lantern uniform.  All of the kits will have a logo at the back of the neck commemorating the club’s 90th anniversary.  Finally, not sure “Have a Nice Day” across the front of your shirt is the way to go.

Espanyol (Courtesy of Football Fashion)

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Espanyol 13-14 Kits (2)

The home kit of los pericos is solid, using thicker royal blue and white vertical stripes than usual.  No complaints with this strip.  The other two however are sketchy at best.  The away shirt looks like a t-shirt but creates a nice strip with black shorts and socks.  The third kit almost seems to be trading on the Seattle Sounders designs.  Pics on numerous sites show the entire kit with turquoise shorts, while the socks are turquoise/lime green hooped.  Be interested to see how it translates to HD TV.

Getafe (Courtesy of Football Fashion, Football Kit News and Getafe CF)

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New Getafe Kit 13 14

Spanish manufacturer Joma provides the kits for Getafe, who are celebrating ten years in the top flight.  Gone is the Burger King sponsorship in the middle of the shirt, which is sadly missed.  The home and away kits are understated, with a light royal being used for the home uniform and a deep red for the away kit and each shirt is trimmed in gold.  The third strip is a lime green which does not work for me.

Granada (Courtesy of Football Kit News)

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Equipacion Granada CF 2014

The Granada kits are made by Spanish sportwear company Luanvi, which I know nothing about.  The range of kits is relatively simple and straightforward, with the home kit using horizontal red and white stripes and blue shorts.  A Spanish club equivalent of the Where’s Waldo USMNT jerseys.  I really like the away kit, which is all white with red and green accents.  The third strip is just ok for me, using a metallic blue with black.  Maybe up close it will appeal to me more.  The goalkeepers have a choice of four different kits, which seems excessive to me.

Got some exclusive content from Heath Chesters who is the Community Manager for club and runs their English twitter account:

The club chose to go for more classic designs this season, hence the simplicity of the styles. More akin to the simple horizontal hoops of the 70’s & 80’s, which is more popular with the fans, than the “barcode” design of last season.

Along with a return to classic design, the club also wanted to recognise the city itself. The white away kit features a green & red trim, which are the colours of the city flag of Granada, whilst the Alhambra stencil on the upper chest is a nice touch, with Granada’s most famous landmark.

The third kit is something a little different for Granada in terms of the choice of colours, but a nice alternative I think.

Finally, I often see a lot of comments regarding Granada having a choice of four goalkeeper kits. Principally it’s to offer the goalkeepers themselves the choice of colours they like. 1st team keeper Roberto traditionally plays in pink, whilst the other three match the preferences of the backup & B team keepers, plus the women’s team keeper.

The women’s team gained promotion to the Primera last season. Their kits are the same design overall, but the shirts are made to fit the female form better, which is another nice feature from Luanvi.

Levante (Courtesy of Football Shirts)

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Kelme has released kits for Levante’s upcoming campaign, buidling on last year’s set of kits, and has promoted them using some sort of superhero motif.  Weird but ok. The home kit is screaming Barcelona, even down to the huge bands at the edge of the sleeves, and if it wasn’t for the collar accent, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference.  It does look sharp though. The away kit is black with alternating black and grey vertical stripes.  Really like this shirt and it is enhanced by the club crest all in white. The third kit uses a couple of greens going horizontally, with the club colors of red and blue trimming the sleeves.  Again a crest in white accents the kit. I like all three selections and hopefully Los Granotes can bounce back after a disappointing finish last season.

Málaga (Courtesy of Football Kit News and Football Fashion)

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Málaga had a mixed 2012/13 on and off of the field.  Quarter Finalists in the Champions League and a sixth place finish in La Liga, but with players leaving and suspended from Europe for the upcoming season, things are uncertain at best.  However, their kit selection is solid, so they’ve got that going for them.  Navy blue is introduced to the home shirt and is an attractive change and accents the sponsor nicely.  I love the away shirt.  Much like Sevilla’s third kit last year, the navy blue is super sharp and there are almost no distractions.  Nike is providing Los Boquerones with an orange third kit, which is a pleasant choice, better than the lime green of a couple of seasons ago, but the sleeves are a let down in typical Nike style. The post at Football Fashion has the layout of the full kit plus this little tidbit of info:

According to English language website: Málaga Club de Fútbol has chosen an exclusive design by NIKE, coaching sponsor of the Club, with the colours, light blue, navy and white, which will fill every part of La Rosaleda stadium. A new addition this season, is the slogan ‘Coraje y Corazón’ or ‘Courage and Heart’ printed on the back of the shirts, along with the flags of Spain and Andalucía.

Osasuna (Courtesy of Football Shirts, Football Kit News and Footy Headlines)

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Osasuna switches to adidas for the upcoming season and the offering from the brand with the three stripes feels very MLS-ish.  The shirt uses the traditional red but the blue trim and collar create a jersey that is right off of the American rack.  It’s fine but the cow part of the sponsor is a little unsettling.  The away strip is some sort of neon green.  The pic in the hallway pregame doesn’t look that great but I found a team pic pregame and the strip looks great in the sunlight, with a bold shirt and black shorts and socks.

Rayo Vallecano (Courtesy of Football Fashion and Football Kit News)

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Rayo Away Kit 2013-14

The Rayo Vallecano home shirt is iconic and standard–white base with red sash runninng from right to left.  This year’s is no different, although I feel the diagonal is slightly wider.  The away kit reverses out the white for black and looks sharp as well.  The third strip is awful.  Taking a page from the Norwich City palette, using predominately yellow with neon yellow highlights, and the socks must surely glow in the dark.

Real Madrid (Courtesy of Football Fashion and Real Madrid Shop)

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real madrid h
Adidas introduced orange onto the white shirt of Real Madrid.  Interesting for sure and looks good, especially combined with the charcoal trim.  There are also horizontal pinstripes, which, Football Fashion notes, “presents a pattern of horizontal block building, giving the shirt a different texture and very attractive depending on how the light given.”  Not sure that was necessary but we’ll see. Retro is the theme of the away kit, using an all royal blue strip.  The orange trim is used on this shirt as well.  Found it interesting that Morata was used in the advertising pictures.  Liked his brief appearances last year and hope he gets more of a run this year. The third kit is an “energetic” orange. Could be nice if it comes across on the TV.  Maybe a contrasting short would make strip not so sherbert-ish.  The home goalkeeping kit uses the historical purple to create a dynamic look for Saint Iker (or whoever Carlo decides to play in goal).

Real Sociedad (Courtesy of Football Kit News)

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New Real Sociedad Kit 13 14

Real Sociedad surprised many people with a surprise fourth place finish last year.  Their kit launch featured kits with the Champions League logo, even though they will still need to qualify.  Could get awkward if they fall at that important hurdle. For the jerseys themselves, the home kit is tried and true, sky blue and white vertical stripes.  Nike didn’t do anything extravagant here.  The away kit is almost all black.  The top just has the crest and Nike swoosh and what appears to be the Basque flag at the back of the neck.  The shorts have white trim just above the hem on backside.  The socks are topped in white with an angled white design.  Both kits are uncomplicated, which is a minor shock from Nike.  The goalkeeper kit though.  Yeesh.  Some sort of electric pink from head to toe.  Poor guy.

Sevilla (Courtesy of Footy Headlines and Football Fashion)

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Warrior enters the La Liga fray this season as Sevilla switches from Umbro to a brand doing almost everything it can to ruin soccer kits (see Liverpool away and third strips for 2013/14). The home shirt is tame, using a white base with red trim and an intriguing collar.  The only really standout item is the diagonal pattern across the chest.  Combine this with a crest referencing the original badge of the team and the strip is actually quite decent. The away kit takes a page from the Liverpool away shirt from 12/13, using some sort of accent that drapes down the neck and shoulders.  The strip is tolerable and definitely not the eye sore associated with the brand.

Valencia (Courtesy of Football Shirt Culture and Football Fashion)

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Football Shirt Culture put together great posts which have pictures showing the dynamic details for Valencia’s home and away kits. The home is the standard white with black and orange accents.  I really like the thin orange collar and narrow bands on the sleeves, but what really sets this shirt apart is the crest.  Similar to what Manchester United did on their away kit last year, the logo removes the senyera colors and all items are laid out in black and white.  The Comunitat Valenciana senyera does make an appearance on the back of the neck.  Combined with black shorts and white socks, this strip is a real winner. As for the away offering, using an orange base, the kit uses black and white accents to great effect.  The collar is half each color, very subtle (similar to Holland’s home kit for World Cup 2010), and a half and half diagonal band across the chest.  Again the regional senyera is at the back of the neck. Would be difficult to go wrong with either of these.

Valladolid (Courtesy of Football Headlines)

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Hummel took over the design and production of Valladolid kits for the upcoming season. The home uses very thick purple and white stripes, similar to last year’s offering from Kappa, using a white collar instead of purple.  This is a sharp kit and I really like it due to the different color scheme than most teams. The away kit touches a nerve for me, expanding on the Purple Reign Pain offerings from Nike last year for Porto and Arsenal.  I can’t tell if I like the white trim and accents.  This one may grow on me though. I really wish the goalkeeping shirt was the third shirt because it uses a nice royal blue with white and black accents that really take a plain jersey and make it stand out.  Would have gone with white or matching blue socks rather than the black though.

Villarreal (Courtesy of Football Kit News)

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Villarreal Kit 2013 14

The Yellow Submarine return to the top flight and also celebrating their 90th anniversary.  The kits are made by Chinese company Xtep, another company I am not familiar with, and no chances are taken.  The home strip is the standard all yellow with a big collar and some sort of sublmation across the chest.  The away kit uses royal blue from head to toe and looks sharp.  The goalkeeping kits are fine, with green and gray being used.  Hopefully Villarreal can consolidate their place, move up the table and possibly move on to a bigger manufacturer.

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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–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–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.

——

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–Listen all y’all, it’s a sabotage

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

Real Betis 1  Espanyol 0

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

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

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

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

FC Barcelona 2  Granada CF 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——

Articles and Pods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——

Current Table

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

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

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

Saturday

Athletic Bilbao 3  Espanyol 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

Atletico Madrid 0  Valencia 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my twitter commentary with @AtleticoFans:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

Results

Saturday

Barcelona 2-1 Real Sociedad

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

Getafe 0-1 Real Madrid

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

Mallorca 1-0 Real Betis

Levante 1-1 Racing

Sunday

Real Zaragoza 1-2 Rayo Vallecano

Sevilla 1-2 Villarreal

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

Sporting 1-1 Osasuna

Monday

Granada 2-1 Malaga

That can’t be good for Pellegrini.

—–

Articles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

Real Madrid

21

18

1

2

52

55

Barcelona

21

14

6

1

48

48

Valencia

21

10

7

4

9

37

Levante

21

9

5

7

2

32

Espanyol

21

9

5

7

1

32

Athletic

21

7

9

5

5

30

Atlético

21

8

6

7

4

30

Málaga

20

8

4

8

-5

28

Osasuna

21

6

10

5

-10

28

Getafe

21

7

6

8

-5

27

Sevilla

21

6

8

7

-2

26

Rayo

21

7

4

10

-7

25

Mallorca

21

6

7

8

-7

25

R Sociedad

21

6

6

9

-7

24

Betis

21

7

2

12

-7

23

Villarreal

21

5

8

8

-9

23

Racing

21

4

10

7

-8

22

Granada

20

6

4

10

-13

22

Morbo Minute–Copa Letdown

After the drama of the cup, I was let down in the league.  FCB and Real Madrid survived scares in their race for the title, while the chasing pack continue to stumble over themselves.  At the bottom, Real Zaragoza are all but done, while Villarreal is truly in the relegation mire, with Racing escaping for the time being.

Saturday

Sevilla 0  Espanyol 0

I looked forward to this game after watching drama filled cup ties involving these teams in midweek, and apparently the excitement tanks could not be refilled.  Sevilla were knocked out by Valencia on away goals after winning 2-1 at the Sanchez Pijuan.  Espanyol got a late goal to win 4-2 and progress 5-4 against Cordoba.

Sevilla were in charge but both teams made a sloppy start.  Reyes, based on my viewing had a free role behind Negredo as Navas and Manu looked to occupy the wings.  But Espanyol were compact and Sevilla had a hard time picking their way through.  Turns out that was the theme of the game.  Sevilla couldn’t score and Espanyol couldn’t attack.  The Rojiblancos had several half chances that went begging, while Los Pericos would play up to Thievy, who was active but had horrible first touches before finally being subbed.

The game was not much of a spectacle, and I kept the bartender busy getting me more beers until we finally switched to the Spurs/Wolves replay. Sharing the points helps neither team, as Sevilla remains in a funk.  Espanyol might slowly be turning things around after a slow start, with their league form improving and still having a chance to progress in the Copa del Rey.

Madridista Mac returned to savor a Real Madrid victory borne of courage, grit and determination rather than slick, efficient domination. Mourinho made wholesale changes (similar to the ones in the second half of the first leg against Malaga in the Cup) and Los Merengues hammered the islanders into submission. For seventy minutes, the door was open for FCB but Higuain and Callejon and the rest slammed it shut.

Sunday

I wasn’t able to get up for the 6am EST kickoff of Atletico Madrid against Villarreal, despite this being a key match for each team and their new managers.

Derek at Atleticofans.com was pretty happy with Atleti’s performance, with their pressing taking the Yellow Submarine out of the game. Sounds like Falcao, Diego and Arda Turan had good matches and Los Colchoneros will look to build on this result as they try to climb up the table.

For a Villarreal perspective, I visited VillarrealUSA.com, where Allen was not so positive, calling this “as poor as a performance as I’ve seen from Villarreal in the league in a long while.” With the midfield doing very little in front of the backline, it was only a matter of time before Atleti scored. Allen also mentioned the lack of depth, which hurt them all over the field. Before the season I thought Atletico might go down, but it turns out that The Yellow Submarine are the ones in real trouble.

Athletic Bilbao 3 Levante 0

Bilbao continued their great run of form—only one loss in their last ten competitive matches, (PSG in a Europa League game) and unbeaten in last five league games (2 wins and 3 draws).  Los Leones dominated the first half with several great chances and finally broke through as Amorebieta headed in from 12 yards from a corner.  The hosts searched for a second, and it finally came five minutes from the half as Oscar tortured his defender before floating a cross over the keeper for Llorente to head in.

Levante’s form, particularly away from home, has not been spectacular. Since beating Real Sociedad in late October, Los Granotes have only won two of their last eight league matches, suffering five defeats in that time, including the last four away.  They tried to insert some attacking thrust at the interval, subbing out Nano for Valdo, and the visitors were a little more threatening in the second stanza, but Bilbao could have easily added a third or fourth, with several slick moves that didn’t come off.

San Jose added a third at the end after Juanfran had been sent off.  His absence from the post on the ensuing corner and poor marking allowed the defender to head home.  Bilbao deserved the win but two of the goals came from corners, which Levante didn’t deal with at all.  Muniain had another fantastic game and Javi Martinez was particularly impressive defensively and starting attacks out of the back.  Los Leones will need more results like this if they hope to qualify for Europe.

Malaga’s inconsistent season continues as they suffered a late goal against Gijon to lost 2-1, which puts them in eighth place. Mike Barnes at A Different Liga commented on the match, with rumors surrounding several transfer targets but so far it only looks like Kameni is signing. Ruud is not the answer up top and the defense is old and creaky. European qualification will be a tooth and nail affair as no team seems able to assert themselves.

Meg Ryan at Total Barca reviewed a match that saw the best and worst of the FC Barcelona this season—a sizzling start with early goals, complacency in the middle, and a furious finish that, this time, earned results. I was not able to see the game but in watching an extended highlights package, Betis were carved open but created plenty of chances themselves. Another reason to think that Real Madrid might finish on top of the league this season.

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Sid Lowe examined the Diego Simeone’s first home game in charge, a 3-0 drubbing of the Yellow Submarine. A popular choice of the fans, he will provide unity and a link to the past, until the results go against him.

Phil Ball lamented possible “spectacle-fatigue” as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona clash in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. He also scanned the table and identified the battles going on under the Big Two—the fight for fourth and the race to avoid relegation—with this spring surely filled with drama until the last day.

La Liga Loca picked out Racing (unbeaten since Cuper left and out of the relegation zone) and Callejon for praise while identifying that Sevilla and Malaga are in trouble and Valencia have a lack of attacking depth.

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Articles

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Real Zaragoza, and every time I read something about them it has something to do with their finances tanking and the club being run poorly. Liam’s post about the club addresses both, with several board administrators resigning, a new coach in place after a hiring fiasco, and players’ wages not being paid. All of this on top of being rock bottom in the league.

Build it and they will come. Hardly, Spanish stadia expert Chris Clements wrote a piece on Sevilla’s Olympic Stadium, Estadio La Cartuja, built in the late 90’s for attempted 2004 and 2008 Olympics bids which has sat largely dormant since then. A fantastic venue for athletics but not so good for footy. Shame really.

Graham Hunter raised questions about Di Maria’s pay packet ahead of the Cup clash between the Big Two. Surely this season he has earned himself a raise, playing well on the wing, creating several chances in the middle against Sevilla, and getting rid of the unsavory part of his game.

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Pods

Allen from VillarrealUSA.com was on the Forza Football pod to discuss Villarreal, the finances of the league, third party ownership, and Valencia’s deal to move forward with the new Mestalla.  Informative and entertaining as always.

Sid Lowe and Andy May recapped the weekend’s action on Sky’s La Liga Weekly and looked ahead to the Clasico clashes in the Copa.  Injuries, form and desire will impact these games.

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