Posts Tagged ‘ Forza Futbol ’

Morbo Minute–Who Will Finish Third?

The news that Barca fans were dreading came last Friday, as Pep Guardiola announced at a press conference that he was leaving after the season.  After four years, the man who oversaw the capturing of over a dozen trophies and the resurgence of a club in mentality, honor and quality, is stepping aside for his next challenge.

Graham Hunter provided an excellent piece to FourFourTwo recounting the steps from a precocious 11 year old to the manager of one of the great club sides of all time.  Well worth the read.

Sid Lowe commented on Pep’s departure, noting that the intense manager was finally undone by the intensity of the club and their eternal rival.  Despite the amazing success . . .

That intensity has led Guardiola to become the most successful coach in Barcelona’s history. He has reached four consecutive Champions League semi-finals and won 13 trophies. Two have evaded him in a week in which Barcelona were knocked out of the Champions League by Chelsea and beaten by Real Madrid in the clásico, leaving them seven points behind with four games to play and conceding the title. But there is still a Copa del Rey final to come at the end of the season. Win that and he would have won 14 of 18 competitions.

As for Pep’s successor Tito Vilanova, Lee Roden wrote a quick synopsis for talkSport, noting that Vilanova traveled away from FC Barcelona but has always come back.

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Sid Lowe tried to make sense of the battle for European and relegation places as each rounds further clouds the issue, and with another round in midweek, the issues will be far from resolved.

Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog felt the relief the players must have felt as they annihilated Rayo Vallecano 7-0 to put the last two weeks behind them.  The last couple of games of the season are a tune-up for the Copa del Rey Final and a possible peak at next season’s squad.

Phil Ball wrapped up the week in La Liga from a cold stand in Grimsby: Real’s title celebration delayed by a week; Pep’s departure from FC Barcelona; and Spanish success and failure in Europe.

With the top two wrapped up, I decided to see what was going just below them by checking out Malaga againstValencia.  It was a pretty drab game, lacking in quality and sharpness. Valencia were coming off a European semi, but I’m not sure what Malaga’s issue was.  The hosts eventually took control of the game and Los Che offered very little fightback.

Michael Bell wrote a quick recap of the match for Inside Spanish Football, noting that this may well have been the biggest game in the history of the club.  If they can avoid defeat against Barcelona midweek, Los Boquerones should qualify for the Champions League.

Both teams are now tied on 55 points but Valencia has the edge based on head to head (lead 2-1 on aggregate). Valencia has Osasuna and Villarreal at home before traveling to Real Sociedad on the final day, while Malaga has Barcelona and Atleti away and finish at home against Gijon.  Based on that the edge is with Los Che but their form has been awful.  Levante is just three points and may just pip one of them as Zaragoza, Mallorca, andBilbao.

Mark Griffiths looked at the career of Giovani dos Santos for Forza Futbol, who has gone missing inEngland after a bright time as a youngster at FCB.  He hopes that the rumor of GdS coming back to Barcelona, albeit to Espanyol, comes true, as Spain seems to be where the Mexican shines.

Finally, Swiss Ramble tries to unravel the La Liga debt crisis, starting with the Big Two, comparing them to Manchester United and Arsenal, before finishing with an examination of each La Liga teams’ debt.  FCB and Real Madrid have high debt, but they also have massive assets so things are not nearly as bad as they seem.  But reading the info on Man United.  OUCH!!

Morbo Minute–El Clasico Aftermath

Most of the focus over the weekend was on El Clasico.  I spent some time over the weekend writing some initial thoughts and the early part of the week reading what others thought about the result.

Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog has done it again, a post of passion, awareness and realism.  Pep’s team has been winning for almost four years and now two losses in two big matches may finally start to put the winning cycle in context.  Maybe Barcelona will only win three trophies in the first half of the season (Spanish Super Cup, European Super Cup, FIFA Club World Championship) and not win the ones that really matter, but that should only make fans, neutrals, and haters alike understand how amazing this ride has been.  And again, who is to say they don’t rebound and win the lot next year?  Only when the cycle is over, and no one will know that until long after it’s over, can we truly analyze where this team fits in the pantheon of Barca teams, Spanish champions and European powers.

Sid Lowe saw Real Madrid’s victory as an exorcism, carried out by the one man who seems to be able to defeat the eternal rival—Jose Mourinho.  The title is back in Madrid, the result of money, determination, and tactics. Madrid may win the Double and start their own cycle, but time will tell.

Phil Ball saw Madrid’s win as the mark which signals the change in power, as Barca’s 6-2 in 2009 announced the dawning of a new age.  Might be a touch over-dramatic and we may not know for a while, but it was match in which everything coalesced forMadrid, possibly setting up the club for years of success.  Now the question is how will FCB respond against Chelsea?

Graham Hunter praised Madrid for finding a system and a maturity that has allowed them to go to Barcelona and win, and win in a fashion that was not ugly or provocative or cynical.  Los Blancos simply followed a game plan and Barcelona—fatigued, short of ideas, and wasteful—could not overcome it.  Mourinho has done his part in the second season and the next chapter should be quite interesting.

Tim Stannard summed up the three part plan of hiring Mourinho:

The first was to restore the reputation of a club that was becoming a bit of a joke inSpainandEuropeand get it back to being a competitive force once again. That was accomplished last season with a Copa del Rey victory and a Champions League semi-final appearance. Part two was to overcomeBarcelona’s stranglehold inSpainand win back the title. The final chapter must surely be a Champions League victory.

This season he has overseen the most La Liga goals scored by a team or an individual, forging a team that has been disciplined (for the most part) and inspired (due to a resurgent Benzema and undeniable Ronaldo) to win the league.  Another effort like the  one at the Camp Nou against Bayern and Mourinho could deliver the tenth European title.

As for the rest of the league, the relegation spots are all but confirmed.  Villarreal are six points clear of the relegation with four matches to play and should be safe, barring an unimaginable collapse.  Again, the drama of the season is around the European places. Valencia (3rd) and Malaga (4th) play Sunday, in a match that could determine third once and for all.  Or open it up to the group just below: Athletic, Atletico Madrid, and Levante.

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Pods

Elisa from Forza Football had Thomas Conn on from InsideSpanishFootball, a blog that I recently found.  They covered a couple of issues including Spanish teams great performances in Europe, the tax issue hanging over the league, and the concern over third party ownership.  They wrapped up with predictions on how things will end up in all competitions and possible transfers this off season.

Sid Lowe was Beyond the Pitch in the hours after the El Clasico.  He thought Pep had some responsibility in the defeat with his team selection and his tactics.  Ozil’s improvement at Real Madrid was discussed as well as Pique’s in and out season.  Sid also factored in the number of games FCB has played over the last couple of years combined with National Team commitments.

Morbo Minute–And Now for the Main Event

I spent the weekend focused on English matches, with the FA Cup Semis and Manchester United’s response to a midweek stumble.  I was only able to catch selected highlights, but the drama at both ends continues in La Liga.  The Big Two both won after going down early to keep the clash on Saturday at the forefront.  Meanwhile it seems like everyone else has 45 points or is going to be relegated. Gijon’s flame is all but out, with Zaragoza hanging on by a thread.

So that’s where I’ll start this week. Sid Lowe is still holding out hope for Real Zaragoza as they hung on for a 1-0 win against Granada, which keeps them five points from survival with five matches to go.  Jimenez is doing everything he can to keep the club up and Granada, who seemed to be safe just a couple of weeks ago, could see the bottom fall out as they play Getafe (h), then Levante (a) Espanyol (h), Real Madrid (h) and Rayo Vallecano (a) in the run in.

Phil Ball turned the Too Easy for the Big Two argument on its head, noting that at certain points these two pull away from the rest of the league, and these two teams simply have squads of historic skill, depth and drive.  The interest remains in the league because of their battle, which has been aided by brave fights by their opponents home and away, and the dramatic race for European places that involve every team in the top half of the table.

I love Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog.  He finds the central point, or rather emotion, for each match and goes from there.  The match against Levante looked doubtful for long stretches as the ball wouldn’t go in the net, Busquets gave away a penalty, and the hosts had parked the proverbial bus. And then Messi.  Find his goal.  No matter how many times he does this, it is still amazing.  From there, the ref gave another penalty, this time against Levante, and kept the title hopes alive for one more week.  Doubt?  Keep believing until it’s impossible.  He is much braver than me.

John Pelini did a tactical breakdown of the game for El Centrocampista, examining how Levante set up to stifle the Barcelona attack.  Adriano was able to be an attacking force with only one Levante player occupying Puyol and Mascherano, but the rest of the attack was stymied by the retreat of the defenders that clogged up the space.  Pep’s response has been to introduce width but the hosts were able to control their area so that this didn’t trouble them that much.  The goals came from a moment of genius and Cuenca’s drive, showing that no matter the effort and concentration, a moment of lapse can be crucial.

Tom Conn examined possible FCB transfers this summer at Inside Spanish Football, focusing on the following players: Robin van Persie, Gareth Bale, Javi Martinez, Iker Muniain, and Jordi Alba.

He makes some insightful comments in providing the pros and cons of each player.  Muniain and RvP, while great players, are too expensive and would find it hard to get into the team.  He is high on Bale but he would have to play left back. Bale fits great at White Hart Lane, not so sure at the Nou Camp. Martinez and Alba are the ones for me.  Martinez could provide depth if Keita leaves and could slot in the middle if Puoyl or Pique is not fit, while Alba seems a much better fit to replace Abidal and Adriano.  Time will tell.

Madridista Mac looked back on a game in which Real went down again but responded with the necessary mentality and effort to earn the three points.  Mac is worried how the team would do with Xabi Alonso as Suhin is not quite there yet. Fair point, but the lad has got to get a run in.  Obviously Bayern read Mac’s post as Die Roten attacked the flanks at will on Tuesday and stretched the entire Real team in the second half.  Real had a blip but I think the recent run of recovering results from losing positions and the punch in the face Bayern gave them will put them in the right frame of mind to grind it out against the Blaugrana.

Graham Hunter focused his attention on Valencia for his weekly Soccernet column, looking at the very recent past of the club that has put them in the situation, ie their treatment of players and running up a massive debt.  Yet the club keeps plugging along, selling their best players, negotiating for a new Mestalla, and continuing to qualify for the Champions League.  Emery has been at the helm for the last couple of years but his time is probably running out, and who knows where the club will go from here.  Hunter also mentioned the great job Sandoval is doing at Rayo, and Pep’s contract situation, which has faded into the background as the Blaugrana try to defend their European title and reel inMadrid to win their fourth La Liga crown.  Really good stuff.

Finally, Forza Futbol did a quick review of David Redshaw’s book on Malaga Football Club.  Redshaw lays out the history of the club, which has come to the forefront with an infusion of foreign money and interest from British ex-pats relocating to the area.  Click on the link provided for more of Redshaw’s comments for some really good info.

Morbo Minute–Must See TV

La Liga continues to surprise, with this last round of games being no different.  Zaragoza won again giving everyone hope that they could somehow survive against the odds; Sevilla somehow found the net again against Granada after struggling for a couple of weeks; and Bilbao continued to struggle and may be content with a couple of cup runs.

Weeks ago, Real Madrid looked to be cruising towards the title with a 10 point lead over FCB, with Valencia locked into third. But just as in England, things have changed, with two draws by Madrid cutting the deficit to six points and Valencia (the Spanish Tottenham) now level on points with a resurgent Malaga.

Graham Hunter analyzed the factors that will decide the title for the Big Two in his weekly column for Soccernet.  He makes a compelling case for a dramatic finish, although I still am not too sure.  As for the race to third, I reviewed the results since Malaga and Valencia returned in January.  Valencia have only won three of their 13 league matches in 2012, drawing five and losing five for a total of 14 points. Malaga, on the other hand, got off to a slow start in the New Year, then did a win loss win loss segment, but now have won four of their last five, the other result being a 1-1 draw with Real Madrid.  They have picked up 23 from 39, not great, but still enough to catch Los Che.  Pressure is mounting on Emery and this major dip will probably see him leave in the summer despite him keeping the club in the European places and making the last eight of the Europa League.

Madridista Mac reveled in the three headed monster of Benzema, Higuain and CR7.  The combination of these players all singing from the same song sheet was a sight to behold as Real Sociedad were torn apart.  Mac feels that with games coming thick and fast between now and the end of the season, viewers may not see much of this attacking trident.  He also gave big ups to Varane’s performance at the heart of defense.  Could this be a valuable long term signing for Los Blancos?  Time will tell.

The Barcelona game capped off a triple header for me.  The match was nervy, especially as the Blaugrana could not find the second goal and then Thiago got sent off. Mallorca’s high pressure definitely made Barca uncomfortable during periods of the match, and better finishing from the hosts could have put the current champions under real pressure.  But if you don’t take your chances, then you won’t get the rewards.

Kari from Barcelona Football Blog examined some of the tactical nuances from Pep this season in anticipation of their big game with Milan.  Injuries, match ups and experimentation have led to several changes in how the Blaugrana lines up.  The key for the squad this season has been flexibility, which allows the team to change formations in game with no substitutions (see game last December against Madrid as a huge example).

Osasuna’s big result against Levante was where Sid Lowe started his column this week.  Not only did the club get three big points that got them comfortably over the 40 point mark with games to spare, but it set them up in their run for a European place.  Currently in sixth, it’s all to play for in the run-in, led by Raul Garcia, goalkeeper Fernandez and coach Mendilíbar.  Next up Real Madrid at home.

Elisa visited Rayo Vallencano for the final chapter of her Spanish trip, which saw visiting Villarreal pick up all three valuable points in their bid to maintain Primera status.  She felt the Yellow Submarine were the better team despite Sandoval’s comments post match. If you have not visited Forza Futbol or Elisa’s Facebook page, I would highly recommend you do so for the match recaps, cultural nuggets and great pictures from the trip.

Finally, Phil Ball explored the nature of the Spanish phrase Hijo de puta!’ (son of a bitch) this week as he saw Real Madrid take the legal gloves off to make sure Sergio Ramos was on the field against Real Sociedad, which saw Los Merengues stop the slide and go back six points clear.  Mention was also given to Javier Clemente who took his new team, Gijon to San Mames, where they earned a point and kept Los Leones spiraling away from the European places.

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Podcasts

Sid Lowe was on Beyond the Pitch to discuss La Liga, particularly Athletic and FC Barcelona.  The gang looked at Athletic Bilbao’s season thus far especially in light of Bielsa taking over.  They also discussed the blooding of youth players and the future of the squad.  FCB was also a topic, with their minor dip in form probably costing them the league.  But the Blaugrana are on the up as they hit the Champions League and the Copa del Rey Final at the end of May.  Finally, the guys touched onSpain’s chances in the upcoming Euros, including where Villa and Torres might stand in the final reckoning.

More Sid Lowe.  He and Andy May looked back on the weekend on the Sky Sports La Liga Weekly podcast.  A lot of time was spent on the Real Madrid media blackout after the Villarreal game and possible cracks starting to show.  They also addressed Pique’s poor season but the squad as a whole is coming good.  Finally, Valencia are in real trouble and could miss the Champions League if they are not careful.

Ravi from Forza Futbol interviewed Adam Boyle from Ooh Betis on the latest pod.  They discussed the nature of the Seville Derby and Betis’ season thus far.  Adam mentioned key youth players and examined the future of the club: greater financial stability, the running of the club by administrators, and the impact of LFP (ie Monday PM games, lack of scheduling ahead, etc.).

Morbo Minute–The Lions Lose and The Frogs Stay Strong

After 27 rounds, six points separate third and fourth place and six points separate fourth from eleventh as the race for European places heats up.  Down at the bottom the Yellow Submarine hope to avoid sinking into the Segunda as they have gone to their third manager this season, Lotina.

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Sevilla 0  FC Barcelona 2

Barcelona got some sad this week as Eric Abidal is on the shelf for a while as his need for a liver transplant has superseded his desire to play football.  The Blaugrana took the field with a strong side, with Adriano coming in for Abi and Masch in for Puyol.  For Sevilla, Negredo was on the bench, and Janusz on ESPN was all over Michel for picking a center midfield pairing of Medel and Rakitic instead of Medel and Trochowski.

Before I share some thoughts on the match, I have to mention the Oscar Meyer Hot Dog dugouts.  What the hell was that?  Have to say that America is spreading poor eating habits like nobody’s business. I refer you Burger King at Getafe and Pizza Hut formerly at Fulham I think.  Just waiting for the McDonald’s golden arches to appear on a soccer kit in the near future.

Plus, in case you hadn’t read or heard, you can purchase a small photo of yourself on the back of the Sevilla shirt on match days, you and several thousand other supporters.  I have no idea how this is going, but if one of my favorite teams offered up this scheme, I don’t think I would pony up for it.  (And neither would Paul at Uni-Watch.com)

Anyway, the visitors were all over the place in the first, not pressuring as a unit, not closing down the ball, and not really worrying Barcelona.  Alves was able to burst forward from the back several times without any opposition, and the chances were coming for FCB as Adriano had a shot deflected over the bar, and Pedro had a breakaway saved.  Xavi opened the scoring with a wonderful free kick after Adriano had been fouled just outside the box.  Maybe the keeper could have done better but the captain on the night set the stage for three points.  FCB started moving through the gears and several half chances were denied until Iniesta laid off for Messi who nutmegged a defender then chipped the keeper, a goal that was sick and wrong.  Halftime came with Sevilla asking a couple of questions (or Pique screwing up: yellow card, letting Manu sneak in for a header and generally playing poorly), but Kanoute was dropping way too deep, and Reyes and Navas were non-factors. Yet FCB could have still extended their lead had it not been for Palop

Sevilla came out of blocks quickly in the second half with the team pressure more organized. The hosts had a penalty shout as Pedro tangled with Reyes, and it probably should have been given.  Los Rojiblanco’s high pressure made FCB uncomfortable and kept the game choppy for the visitors, who I felt could have been a little more direct in transition.  Too many times a sideways or backwards pass was made instead of really trying to rip open the defense.  Easy for me to say.  FCB eventually regained control and were busy tiki tika-ing the hosts to death but with 25 minutes left, Manu just missed after fantastic work.  Messi was pretty subdued in the second half and suddenly ripped open the hosts’ rearguard but Iniesta’s chip went just wide.  Sanchez got some minutes in the end, which was nice to see, and right away Pedro played him in, but Palop denied the Chilean.

Eventually the Blaugrana ran out the clock, and I’m glad they grabbed those goals in the first half, because they definitely took the foot of the gas in second half.  Maybe they could have stepped it back up, as Sevilla was up for in it the second half, and, if Manu could have finished, the last 20 minutes could have haven interesting.

Meg Ryan at Total Barca tried to put the victory into perspective due to the news of Abidal.  Barcelona controlled the match, gained another points, and maintained pressure on the Evil Empire, but their thoughts are with the Frenchman.

Kari at Barcelona Football Blog took some time to explore the nature of Sergi Busquets and his role on the current Barcelona team.  Funny and insightful, her fake interview looks at the player that everyone loves to hate, including cules.

I came across this stat from Graham Hunter while reading this week: Before Guardiola took over, Messi scored 16 in 40 games. In the years from summer 2008, he has scored 38 in 51, 47 in 53, and now 53 in 55. Wow.

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I went up to the pub on Sunday with the plan of watching Athletic Bilbao against Valencia but once Aaron (@MidMichiganUtd) and I got talking about future watch parties and what we wanted to do going forward, I really didn’t see much of the match.  I did happen to see the shambolic opener that Soldado put away, and it looked like Bilbao came out with higher intensity in the second half, but the equalizer didn’t follow.  Missed the second goal and the third, which I thought was a harsh penalty that Soldado converted for his hat trick, put the match to bed.  A disappointing result for Los Leones, especially as they fight for fourth place, but Valenica created some breathing space between themselves and Malaga and Levante.

John Pelini summarized and broke down the game for El Centrocampista.  The game was closely contested with the major battle being fought in midfield.  Los Leones really missed Llorente, and while Bielsa tried moving Muniain around, nothing would come off.   Soldado was the difference for an organized visiting team as he finished the few chances created for Los Che.

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As for Real Madrid, I checked in on the Real Madrid/Malaga game from time to time on twitter.  Once I saw that the hosts had gone 1-0 I figured they would add another goal or two and maintain their 10 point lead.  But I checked one more time just before my indoor soccer game and saw that Cazorla had equalized.  Yes the lead is now down to eight points and gives faint hope to some that FCB are back in the race, but what a result for Malaga.  They are in fifth with a huge result and momentum on their in the race for fourth.  Levante have not fallen down the table as most predicted, but can they really hold off a team rounding into form with all that money behind them?  Watch this space.

Madridista Mac was back at Real Madrid Football Blog to recap the draw with Malaga, which saw a couple of trends from Los Merengues: conceding a late goal and not quite making it through all of the gears.  Mac looked back at the last couple of games—narrow wins with less than impressive performances—and all the points collected.  This puts the club in a good position in the league as they face a tough run-in with games away to Osasuna, Bilbao and FCB and a home game against Valencia.  This must be balanced with the Champions League with APOEL looking straightforward but a very challenging semi (possibly) with Bayern awaits.

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Articles

Phil Ball witnessed a strange week in Spain with uncharacteristic gestures of sportsmanship and humanity as the Bilbao fans applauded Giggs and Rooney of Manchester United and Real Madrid players wore shirts of support for Muamba and Abidal.  Add this to Torres scoring finally (and being trumped by Soldado), Levante staying in fourth, and Real Madrid finally dropping points, and it was a strange week indeed.

Sid Lowe examined the troubling situation at Villarreal as the money is gone, players are on the way out (Cazorla last summer, Rossi this summer), and form is fading (they have earned only one point from the last fifteen).  It would be easy to write that Levante sank the Yellow Submarine, but the ship has been sinking for quite awhile.  A mini revival gave them hope but dropped points have put them squarely in the crosshairs of relegation, with Molina sacked just months after being appointed.  Their journey could be at an end in a couple of weeks.

Tim Stannard (@LaLigaLoca) gave his comments on Villarreal in a season that has seen them go fourth from top to fourth from bottom.  Losing Cazorla and Capdevila and Rossi and replacing them with Zapata and De Guzman did not help Garrido, while Molina was not able to stem the tide either, probably not being the right hire either.  Tim states their predicament as follows: Villarreal’s current problems are silly defensive mistakes at key times and a problem with concentration and application in certain games.

In other news . . .

Sid Lowe sought context and clarity in the debate between the EPL and La Liga, citing the success and progress of the Spanish teams over the last couple of years as reasons why the leagues are not that far apart.  He mentioned the progress of Spanish teams in the Europa League yet let’s face it, English teams don’t take it seriously.  But focusing on Barca and Madrid, which dominate Spain both financially and competitively, these two teams are far ahead on the former front with FCB dominating the second.

A friend sent met this article which I couldn’t believe.  I put it out on my twitter feed and sent a message to Phil Schoen directly, with no response.  I guess I don’t mind if GolTV doesn’t carry the matches as long as the commentary is in English (what now for Ray Hudson) and the feed is HD.  Any info from readers is appreciated.

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Pods

Elisa and Mando chatted with Lee and Liam from El Centrocampista about issues facing La Liga—the separation of the Big Two from the rest of the league and refereeing being at the forefront—and touching on the Spanish National Team at the upcoming Euros.  Listen to the after pod chat for the plight of Elisa trying to get tickets to Bilbao’s key fixtures against Manchester United and Valencia.

Ravi from Forza Futbol sat down with Gabe from Managing Madrid to discuss things going in the capital.  Among the items they touched on—the most influential player at the club this season; the future of the Big Two, with Gabe making the point that teams will rise up (Sevilla, Villarreal, etc.) but they can’t make any mistakes plus Real Madrid and FCB can buy their best players; the future of Mourinho, will he stay or go?; and the run-in to this season as Los Merengues close in the league title and the Champions League looms large.

Morbo Minute–Frogs fall to the Anchovies and Messi scored again

The last round saw lost points on several fronts as Valencia, Bilbao and Villarreal dropped vital points towards their respective goals. The Big Two continued their match towards 90+ points, while the relegation fight remains unsettled.

I was able to catch two games live last weekend. One I should have skipped (Malaga v Levante) and the other was just a footballing masterclass (Racing v FC Barcelona).

Malaga 1 Levante 0

So I spent the first half wondering which game was worse, this one or Everton v Spurs. I decided that this game was because at least there were chances in the EPL game. This game followed the template of the first meeting—Malaga enjoying possession but not really asking the questions. Los Granotes kept 10 men behind the ball and really made the intricate passing of Cazorla and Toulalan and Isco problematic. The service from wide areas was poor so the visitors were able to say compact. The best chance was a serve from the right channel that a Levante defender almost put in their own net.

A couple of tactical notes. Levante really made a point of double teaming Joaquin in the right hand channel, yet Malaga kept playing there. Literally in the first 15-20 minutes, the hosts never played to the left despite the space being available. Isco flashed in and out of the match; I felt Cazorla should have been on the ball more; I thought Welington had a decent game; as for Toulalan, have to say he had a great match, breaking up attacks and starting moves for the hosts.

Rondon finally scored one of the billion chances in front of goal, but I’m not even sure he got the final touch. Anyway, really couldn’t figure out Malaga’s strategy after that. They didn’t tika taka the visitors to death, nor did they step on their throat. They continued to dribble into pressure, turn the ball over and hope that Levante turned gave it back on the fourth or fifth pass instead of the second or third pass like the first half. Levante almost had a chance to equalize with about 20 minutes to go but Kone could not meet a fine cross. There was also a free kick with 10 minutes to go which bamboozled the defense and only a timely intervention by Willy kept the hosts in the lead.

Malaga are now in fourth and, with Bilbao losing the late Sunday match, maybe Los Boquerones can actually meet their goal of qualifying for the Champions League.

John Pelini recapped the match at El Centrocampista. I valued the second set of eyes and he saw many of the same things as me, although he mentioned many more chances for Levante in the second half as the visitors searched for an equalizer. He gave his man of the match to Toulalan, which I agreed with.

Mike Barnes summed up the game at A Different Liga, pointing out Malaga’s rise to fourth has due to a fine run of form—12 points from their last 15. Didn’t realize it had been that good. He also mentioned that Pellegrini has mixed veteran experience and youth, although there are still plenty of younger players that could make their mark.

Racing Santander 0 FC Barcelona 2

FCB has struggled on the road this season and Pep set out his squad in a nominal 3-3-4, with Cesc and Messi flanked by Cuenca and Pedro. As the half progressed, Busquets played his hybrid CM/CB position.

Racing were clearly determined to park the bus and get stuck in. This mentality, combined with a dodgy surface, caused the Blaugrana to struggle in the opening exchanges, with even Xavi looking a little off. But slowly the visitors came into the match and finally made the breakthrough on 28 minutes as Messi scored after Xavi flicked the ball into space and Cesc smashed it across the goal box.

After the half, FCB kept the hosts on the rack, and only the goalkeeper and some unfortunate touches kept the match close. The turning point of the match came when Mario saved Cuenca’s fine effort. Cesc touched the rebound past Cisma, who took the Spaniard down. Even after a couple of viewings, I’m still not sure it was a penalty. Messi tucked it away and that was that. FCB had two more moves of real quality and precision that deserved goal, but the game petered out, with the Blaugrana relaxing and allowing Racing to create a couple of half chances. The visitors could have added a third through Messi, Pedro and Tello but no dice. All in all a comfortable win that saw Pedro and Masch have good matches, hopefully providing the needed depth as the Champions League looms large.

Meg Ryan’s match review put things in perspective: While miracles may still happen and the league could still be won, Spanish competition has become more of an exhibition for the blaugrana. A delightful exhibition at that. The league is over but the Blaugrana still play a beautiful brand of football, which overcame a cynical Racing team on Sunday afternoon. Each match is a chance to bask in their glory as they prepare to defend their Champions League title.

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Articles

Bassam at Real Madrid Football Blog praised Real Betis for their effort and organization in a narrow defeat to Real Madrid. Los Merengues were off kilter, especially in the back, and the hosts exploited this to create a competitive match. Maybe Madrid were looking ahead to the Champions League game.

Last week I presented differing points of view on Emery’s future at Valencia and Sid Lowe discussed the same topic in his weekly column. Have they hit the glass ceiling? Has Emery’s influence worn off? Can this team do better? Sid presents many of the factors affecting Valencia at the moment. Without a splash of cash I don’t see much changing.

Speaking of Valencia, Elisa from Forza Futbol is in Spain and saw first hand Valencia’s collapse against Mallorca, giving praise to Caparros as he tries to save the islanders from relegation. Make sure to check out their site this month for first hand accounts of game and goings-on.

Phil Ball weighed in on the greatest ever debate, as Messi had an amazing week. He correctly points out that perceptions of the little Argentinean are skewed by tons of footage, the age in which he plays and stylistic tastes, but already he has to be in the conversation.

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Podcasts

In a second interview from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Ravi from Forza Futbol talked to Alexi Lalas about several topics. The former US international discussed the progess of the MLS over the last ten years, the upcoming Euros, CR7 v Messi, and the nature of being a manager instead of a coach.

On the Sky Sports La Liga Weekly pod, Andy and Sid looked back on the results of the Big Two, how La Liga compares to the rest of Europe, Bilbao’s slip up against Osasuna, and Gijon’s chances for survival.

Morbo Minute–What Did I Miss?

My weekend was dominated by EPL and my son’s floor hockey tournament, so I didn’t get to see any Spanish games live or on replay.

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Saturday

Saturday night I reviewed scores and this was my tweet:

#LaLiga viewing fail 2day. catching up on amazing day of action. Rayo 2 down wins; #FCB wins w/ 10 men & Malaga smacked around Getafe.

I really wanted to watch the FCB game because Messi was suspended and I wanted to see what the team would look like. The backline was relatively normal with Masch deputizing for Puyol. Keita came in for Busquets to complete the usual midfield triumvirate. But up top was where the real changes were: Cucenca, Fabregas and Pedro. After watching the highlights and reading the reports, looks like FCB left it late but still secured the points. Keita’s goal was top drawer and I am pleased to see him get on the scoresheet. Looks like Sanchez went off injured at the end and I’m still searching to see his status.

Another great post from Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog after FCB fought back at home against Gijon to win 3-1. Kxevin praised their hunger and quality, especially Keita and Iniesta, which brought the Blaugrana all three points.

After hosting Real Madrid and giving a good account of the themselves, Rayo Vallecano welcomed Racing Santander. Rayo must have thought it was going to be their day when Racing keeper Tono got sent off for doing his Toni Schumacher impression, but the visitors actually went 2-0 up after 30 minutes before Rayo turned it around and ran out 4-2 winners.

If you have not seen the Malaga goals from Eliesu and Toulalan, then do yourself a favor and look them up. Malaga, with back to back wins, have put themselves in the running for fourth place.

Olly Dawes broke down the crunch game between Atleti and Sevilla in the race for fourth. The hosts were missing key players (Falcao, playmaker Diego and winger Arda Turan) so maybe a draw wasn’t so bad.

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Sunday

As for Sunday . . .

Either Villarreal threw away three points or Real Zaragoza snatched them from nowhere with a late, late 2-1 win at home.

Kieran Canning reviewed the Basque Derby for SpanishFootball.info. Susaeta was the main figure, scoring both goes for Los Leones as they swept their local rivals and kept up their charge for fourth place. Looks like there was another goal not given by the linesman. Glad to see it’s just not Italian (or English or Dutch or German) problem.

Valencia ground out a 1-0 result against Granada, which kept them well in front of the chasing pack.

Speaking of Valencia, Connor Andrews examined the situation for Unai Emery at Valencia, as the club consistently delivers on third place but is plainly outclassed by the Big Two. He even mentioned Emery being replaced and named a couple of possible successors. Seems crazy to think Los Che would abandon him. They may not win the title but, with a couple of more players, could have deeper runs in Europe.

Rezaur Rahman (@Rezaur_Rahman) echoed the sentiments regarding Emery in a guest post for Forza Futbol. He put Valencia fans into two groups: those that feel Emery’s time has run its course and those that feel he can lead the team forward. I agree with Rezaur’s final thought: I want to keep Emery, maintain stability at Valencia as you can’t foresee the future with a new coach.

Madridista Mac at Real Madrid Football Blog anticipated a tough match against Espanyol but the visitors lack of pressure on the ball allowed Kaka to shine in a 5-0 victory. Praise was also showered on Higuain, Varane and Khedira. His diagrams of Real’s attacking shape provided clues into how Los Merengues are able to open up teams.

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Monday

Monday saw Levante gain another three points with a 3-1 home win over Real Betis. There is no way Los Granotes will be relegated and maybe they really can finish in the European places.

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Articles

Phil Ball turned his attention to the Segunda, in particular Depor and Celta, which I was familiar with when I first started following La Liga, the days of Mostovoi, Karpin, Tristan, Makaay, and Mauro Silva.

Sid Lowe wrote about the dire situation at Real Zaragoza despite their incredible last gasp win at home against Villarreal. The club are mismanaged and may not come back up from the Segunda next season or ever.

Jonathan Cheung wrote an interesting piece for SpanishFootball.info on La Liga’s penetration in the Asian market. This year they have scheduled a 12pm kick off (Spanish Time) to continue building the brand, but as Jonathan points out, the Premier League as several advantages: a nearly 20 year head start in terms of televised coverage and a language familiarity that Asians can understand. For me, the 12pm kickoff is at 6am EST, so at best I would catch it on replay.

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Podcasts

If you have not listened to Graham Hunter’s latest appearance on Forza Futbol, stop reading this post and download it now. Hunter was on to discuss his recent book Barça: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World. He spoke at great length about the club, focusing on the time when Cruyff, who he contends is the most important person in the history of the club, returned to the club in 1988; to the transition from Rikjaard to Pep, including the club’s interview with Mourinho; and the future of the club, led by Messi and the cantera. A must listen.

Dennis J. Seese wrote a review of Graham’s book on Soccernet, praising him for a rich account of how the Blaugrana have spent the last 25 years building up a club which can compete on all fronts with a unified vision.

I know this is a little late but La Liga Weekly pod on 2/27 was quite good, giving context on Michel at Sevilla, the fight for fourth and the future of Real Zaragoza.

As for this week’s, Andy and Sid looked at Mourinho’s future and Dmitri Chygrynskiy’s time at FCB among other talking points.

Elisa of Forza Football attended the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and was able to jot down some thoughts from the soccer panel, including Drew Carey and Alexi Lalas along with “real” scouts, dealing with analytics. She also did a quick podcast that I’m hoping to listen to on my run tonight.

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Standings

Real Madrid 25 22 1 2 64 67
Barcelona 25 17 6 2 54 57
Valencia 25 12 7 6 9 43
Levante 25 11 5 9 1 38
Athletic 25 9 10 6 9 37
Málaga 25 11 4 10 -1 37
Osasuna 25 8 11 6 -10 35
Rayo 25 10 4 11 -2 34
Atlético 25 8 9 8 3 33
Sevilla 25 8 9 8 -1 33
Espanyol 25 9 6 10 -7 33
Betis 25 9 3 13 -6 30
R Sociedad 25 8 6 11 -9 30
Mallorca 25 7 8 10 -6 29
Getafe 25 7 8 10 -9 29
Granada 25 8 4 13 -13 28
Villarreal 25 6 9 10 -12 27
Racing 25 4 12 9 -14 24
Sporting 25 5 6 14 -25 21
R Zaragoza 25 4 6 15 -25 18

The gap between Valencia and FCB has grown due to Los Che’s terrible form in 2012, while the battle for fourth is heating up as teams have started winning and creating some distance. Levante are hanging in there, but as Sid Lowe noted on La Liga Weekly, Julio Baptista is almost back for Malaga and may push them over the line. I’m personally cheering for Bilbao but if they knock out United in the Europa League that could be a big ask. At the bottom, the Yellow Submarine are struggling to surface, while no one is safe from Betis on down.