Posts Tagged ‘ Keeping a Clean Sheet ’

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.

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Morbo Minute–Bleeding Tiger, Fortunate Lions

Ten games in and the La Liga table is beginning to take shape.  Real Betis are the surprise package, sitting up in fourth behind the Big Two and Atleti.  Down at the bottom, Osasuna, who finished seventh last year, are rock bottom.  They are joined by Granada and Espanyol, with promoted Galician sides and Real Sociedad just above them.

Graham Hunter made some observations on the opening quarter of the season for ESPN FC.  He opened with concerns over the lack of hunger from Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao, two teams that had success last year.  The Champions are back on track while the Copa finalists are struggling as the demands of Bielsa wear on them.  He then moved on to Barca, off to a great start despite the amounts of goals they are conceded.  If they tighten that up, Tito may match the success of Pep in his first season.  He wrapped up the column praising Pepe Mel’s leadership at Betis, Falcao’s scoring exploits for Atleti and Soldado’s efforts for Valencia.  Solid stuff and a nice wrap up of the storylines thus far.

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Valencia 2  Atletico Madrid 0

The Mestalla was not even full as Los Che welcomed Falcao and company, and Atleti suffered their first defeat of the season in a stop/start game with lots of niggly fouls.  Soldado opened the scoring with a goal reminiscent of Claudio Lopez in the Champions League all those years ago as he fired in a volley after a great ball from Rami.  Falcao proved to be a handful for the Valencian center backs with Rami having to resort to the dark arts on several occasions.  The Colombian barged into Ricardo Costa and no foul was given, at which point Pellegrino went absolutely nuts and was sent to the changing rooms after tossing a water bottle and berating the fourth official.

In the second half the fouls continued, the game seemingly a series of aerial challenges ranging from legal to borderline assault.  Ricardo Costa was sent off for a soft second yellow card, but Los Che saw out the match with substitute Nelson Valdez grabbing another goal.  Not sure that Valencia were worth the two goal advantage, and it was hard to even put a finger on a man of the match but there you are.

Couple of player notes:

For Valencia, Gago did not have a great match.  Poor challenges and too many turnovers for my liking.  Joao Pereira is a little baby.  He cried and went to ground if anyone was ever near him.  Very disappointed in his attitude.  As I tweeted during the match, unless Diego Alves has knee issues, he should not be wearing leggings.  He was another player who constantly faked injury.

For Atleti, Arda is fat.  Between him and Anderson of Manchester United, I’m not sure who is getting more calories.  Still clever but seems to lack burst.  He moved to central midfield when Emre left and Cristian Rodriguez came on.  Speaking of Emre, was he even on the field?  I guess he was as the Turk was subbed on 56’. Completely anonymous.  Adrian was fantastic.  Up for the match, he continually went one v one and had some delightful touches throughout the match.

SlickR at Club Valencia CF Blog felt the match was exciting (disagree with him there) and his player ratings were much more positive than I would have been.

Martin Rosenow reviewed the match for Atleti Fans, commenting on the referee’s decisions in a very physical match.  The team is still in a good position and Simeone was proud of them after the match.

Granada 1  Athletic Bilbao 2

After an energetic start, Granada fell behind after a weird call in the box (did the defender karate chop Arduriz’s throat?), which resulted in a yellow card for Diakhate and a PK conversion from the fouled party.  The summer transfer from Valencia scored again on 27’ after shrugging off a defender outside the penalty area and firing it into the far post.  Muniain was in offside position (standing right in front of goalkeeper) and not sure how he wasn’t called for that.  Despite not being that dangerous, the visitors, looking pretty sharp in their all black kits, went into halftime up 2-0.

The second half, which started with Bilbao goalkeeper Iraizoz running onto the field as play kicked off, saw pouring rain and a much sharper home side.  Unfortunately they were not wearing their finishing boots as two early chances went begging from El Arabi  and Brahimi.  Eventually El Arabi curled a grass cutter in from 20 yard, although the keeper should have done better.  For a long portion of the half Los Leones were totally pinned back, but Aduriz nearly extended the lead again on 58’ but his header crashed against the post.  This saw a spell in which Athletic was able to put the pressure back on the hosts and the game opened up.

Los Leones were not sharp in possession, especially in getting ball wide, and the team resorted to trying to find Aduriz up top.  Muniain had a hard time getting into the match and only became an influence as the match opened up.  The vertical ball was not working for Granada, and they did much better in quick combinations.  Torje had a fantastic match, giving the visitors problems, and had at least one and maybe two penalty shouts.  Fortunate three points for the visitors but Granada only have themselves to blame.  Lack of cutting edge in first half and lack of finishing in the second prevented them from getting anything from the match.  Now in real trouble at the bottom of the table.

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Round 10

Phil Ball dove into the numbers of La Liga, which led into a discussion about the youth policy of Real Madrid and the reserve team policy of the league as a whole.  He was on hand as Espanyol defeated Real Sociedad at the Anoeta (first away win in 11 months), and he also wondered if Malaga players will continue to perform without being paid, definitely an important figure.

Sid Lowe observed some of the weird happenings in Spanish football (Messi, CR7 and Falcao all not scoring; Essien scoring; and Rayo and Malaga winning away from home), before moving on to look at Valencia’s win over Atleti.  “A proper battle that got nasty without ever really getting nasty, where there were clashes but few confrontations.” Los Colcheneros lost for the first time since April.  Is this a bump in the road or their descent into a third place finish 20+ points behind the big two?

Madridista Mac recapped Madrid’s 4-0 win against Zaragoza for Real Madrid Football Blog, which featured Modric and Essien standing in for Alonso and Khedira respectively.  The midfield had a slight different look, with Modric more selfish and direct, but the results were the same.  Mac was concerned that the team switched off and knows that Dortmund will punish that lack of concentration.  As he commented last week, their participation gives Mourinho plenty of options moving forward.

Staying with Los Blancos, Tim Stannard asked the question for Football365: Why Won’t Mourinho Give Youth a Chance?  The club continues to splash the cash (Modric and Coentrao as recent examples) rather than building from within (read: FCB), and he lists several players playing at home and abroad who left the capital for more playing time.  The simple fact is that the club does not have a youth policy mentality, which is coupled with a manager who stays for a short time to get maximum results.  Mourinho is not in for the long haul, so that’s why Essien plays out of position at left back instead of a natural Castilla player.  The Special One wants trophies and a legacy, and with the club executives and fans urging him on, there is no need for blooding young players.  Furthermore, if they did hire a manager who focused on promoting Castilla players and results did not follow, guess what happens to that unfortunate soul?  The axe.

Speaking of youth, Oriol Romeu’s future was the subject of Richard Thorburn’s post for El Centrocampista.  The young Spaniard “has gone from being tipped for the top to being nothing more than a fringe player in a mere six months.”  Time will tell if he can recover and force his way into a crowded Chelsea midfield or whether he will have to move on to earn his trade.

Total Barca saw Celta Vigo go for it at the Nou Camp, and while the visitors left without any points, their efforts were much better than Rayo Vallecano (playing at home) the previous week.  Tito started with a very unusual lineup, going with Adriano, Mascherano, Busquets, and Alba in the back and Cesc in midfield, which meant there was no “traditional anchor”.  Maybe the coach is saving Song for midweek?  The attack created plenty of chances, with the first two goals of the real quality.  The third goal was offside but Alba took it well.  FCB are now clear at the top of the table heading to Scotland on Wednesday and Mallorca on the weekend.

Lev wrote a highly descriptive post for Barcelona Football Blog, weaving threads of emotion, match reporting and poetry together.  Praising the team’s heart, what the Blaugrana lack in defense they more than make up in attack, creating chance after chance after chance.  Celta came to play but in the end the quality of FCB was too much.

John Pelini broke down the last match on Sunday for El Centrocampista.  Sevilla hosted Levante in a scoreless draw as the visitors packed the center of pitch.  The hosts could not deliver crosses to trouble the strong center backs of Levante and were not able to move the ball quick enough laterally to trouble an organized side.  John did make mention of Sevilla substitute Diawarra who was able to add a spark for the Rojiblancos.

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Table

Barcelona 10 9 1 0 20 28
Atlético 10 8 1 1 11 25
Real Madrid 10 6 2 2 18 20
Betis 10 6 1 3 2 19
Málaga 10 5 3 2 7 18
Levante 10 5 2 3 -2 17
Sevilla 10 4 3 3 1 15
Valladolid 10 4 2 4 4 14
Valencia 10 4 2 4 1 14
Getafe 10 4 1 5 -4 13
Rayo 10 4 1 5 -10 13
R Zaragoza 10 4 0 6 -6 12
Mallorca 10 3 2 5 -5 11
Athletic 10 3 2 5 -6 11
Celta Vigo 10 3 1 6 -3 10
Deportivo 10 2 4 4 -5 10
R Sociedad 10 3 1 6 -5 10
Espanyol 10 2 3 5 -3 9
Granada 10 2 2 6 -8 8
Osasuna 10 1 2 7 -7 5
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