Posts Tagged ‘ Malaga ’

Morbo Minute–Manitas All Around

Looking back at La Liga teams in Europe last week. . .

The gang at Forza Futbol pod reviewed an incredible MatchDay 3 for Spanish teams in both competitions.  In the Champions League, FCB snagged all three points at the end; Soldado scored a hat trick for Valencia; Malaga have a 100% record and no goals against; and Real Madrid fell to Borussia Dortmund.  Over in the Europa League, Atletico kept cruising while Levante got three vital points in their campaign.  Poor Athletic lost and only has one point thus far.

Sam Thompson analyzed the Malaga/Milan game for his site TTT Football.  The Spanish side started in a 4-2-3-1 with Joaquin behind Saviola and Isco and Portillo coming inside for combinations and allowing the fullbacks to overlap and provide width.  Milan played an unusual 3-4-3, which defended as a 5-2-3 before becoming 5-4-1 towards the end of the match.  Watching the game, the Italians were constantly pinned back and looked blunt coming forward, with the Spaniards living if lacking the final ball.  Joaquin secured all three points with a difficult effort, having missed a penalty in the first half.

Continuing with Malaga, Graham Hunter wrote a wonderful piece on Los Boquerones as they dismissed Milan and look set to qualify for the knockout stages.  After a summer of disorder and scrambling, the team has stuck together and is reaping the dividends—top of the group and fourth in the league.  How far can they go?

Zonal Marking examined the clash of the Spanish and German champions and called the match more of a “German” game, based around pressing and quick transitions, than a “Spanish” game, which tends to be focused upon ball retention.  And what a match it was.  I told several people after watching it that I felt it was a like a game of FIFA on fast speed.  Eventually Dortmund was able to overwhelm Essien who isn’t a LB by nature, plus he wasn’t assisted by CR7.  A big three points for the Germans which should enable them to qualify for the knockout stages.

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Round Nine

I watched Rayo Vallecano v FCB on Saturday afternoon.  David Villa opened the scoring for the visitors and after a tightly contest affair of about an hour, the Blaugrana took absolute control, eventually winning 5-0.  The hosts went down and responded by pushing forward which left them more and more exposed.  Have to admire the fact that they did go for it but it was all for naught.  Leo Baptistao was starved of service and I didn’t see much in the attack.  As for FCB, I am really starting to wonder about Song and Sanchez.  Song was moved into central midfield to support Cesc and Xavi and seemed to be well placed but I don’t know.  Something is still missing.  As for Sanchez, he is channeling his inner Bojan and trying so hard and not getting the results.  On as a sub to grab an easy goal or two and build his confidence, he went the other direction, making things worse, constantly straying offside and usually picking the wrong pass or not delivering the correct one.  Aggravating to watch.

Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog is seeing a different squad emerging this season: Those days (tiki taka and endless possession) are gone, replaced by a different kind of match control, in which brilliant players crawl through a sliver that someone leaves, and put the knife in.  He focused on Fabregas, noting his passing, runs and energy but is reserving judgment to see if he can do it the whole season.   In the end, Rayo ran out of steam and were put to the sword.  It happens.

What happened to Los Leones?  Sid Lowe asked that question for his weekly column in the Guardian.  He correctly states that There is little of the intensity, the sense of mission, that there was last season.  In its place a soap opera:

First there was the fight. Then came the failed escape bid, Martínez going to Germany, Fernando Llorente failing to go to Italy. Then the break in. And then the worst part of all: the secret recordings.

Athletic could be following the Yellow Submarine into the Segunda.  Sitting just above the relegation zone, everyone keeps waiting for the run that will take them to safety so the club can rebuild for next season.  It never came for Villarreal. It may not come for Athletic.

Kieran Canning, writing for Football Espana, brought me up to speed on Levante.  After a slow start in the league Los Granotes have won five in a row and have climbed up to sixth, plus they have six points in the Europa League.  Obafemi Martins is scoring for fun right now and maybe the Nigerian has finally found a home.

Madridista Mac examined a possible plan B for Real Madrid.  With a rash of injuries in the defense combined with the loss of Khedira, Mourinho rolled out a variation of the formation he has built in this time there.  Problem: Madrid’s injury problem at fullback created a two-fold problem: less dynamism on attack in the flanks and lack of depth in the midfield muscle department. Solution: put CR7 and Di Maria on their natural sides and put creative, technical players in the middle.  With the wingers stretching the play wide rather drifting centrally, the dynamic players had time and space in the middle to exploit.  As Mac rightly says, The true test will be if we can play such a system successfully against a team with a very good #10 or with the meanest, baddest, nastiest combo of physical midfield destroyers.

Finally, Phil Ball paid homage to the grizzly old veterans bringing their experience to teams around La Liga.  I remember Juanfran and Valeron from my early days watching the league and here they are still getting a game.  Great column for its personal insight and brief history lesson.

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Morbo Minute–Part 1 (Game Summaries)

I spent the weekend watching as much La Liga as I could in preparation for an appearance on the Inside Spanish Football Podcast.  With 33 goals in ten matches there was plenty to see–two epic games (Espanyol 3 Athletic 3 and Atletico 4 Rayo 3) that I unfortunately missed; strength sapping heat in several games; and a truly unbelievable performance by Sevilla against the Champions at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

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Malaga 3  Levante 1

The match kicked off with the temperature at 30 degrees C (86 F).  The internet feeds broadcast the game from a wide angle, which gave a feel for shape and formation but hard to see player details, especially in the shaded channel.

Malaga, with some players rested or held out for the Champions League game midweek, played an entertaining first half.  Fluid and aggressive, they deserved their halftime lead.  I could never discern their formation, which is arbitrary to begin with.  Constant changing positions, with Eliseu anchoring the left hand channel and Saviola leading the line.  He scored the opener as he found a pocket of space, something he did for the entire half and was released by Isco.  The goal allowed Malaga to progress through the gears and they really should have added a second as they enjoyed 65% of possession.

Levante had a nice opening spell but resorted to the long ball as they came under more and more pressure, an approach that was not productive.  Felt that Bakero did not see enough of the ball and had a hard time picking out Diop during the match.

The second half started with a bolt from blue.  Malaga went right on the attack, with a player falling down on the by line, and after two seconds, Michel ran at hosts rear guard and slammed a shot past Willy from 25 yards out.  From there Los Granotes played with a little higher line, a little more pressure in the Malaga defensive third, and a little tighter between the lines.  Eventually Malaga regained the lead as Saviola found Joaquin who passed it home.  Both players had solid games, with Saviola scoring and setting up a goal in his home debut while Joaquin put in a good shift with very dynamic movement.

The heat caught up with both sides in the second half.  The hosts were not as sharp and lost the rhythm of the first half, with Levante not having enough to push on and equalize again.  Sergio Sanchez received a second yellow four minutes from time, which set up an anxious finish, but the third goal arrived from Malaga as Duda found Portillo after an exhausted Levante team was completely stretched.

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Getafe 1  FCB 4

Checking out the lineup pre-match, I admit I was a bit nervous—no Messi, Alves, Masch, or Villa.  They were all on the bench but Tito (also in the stands) went with Tello, Montoya, and Thiago in the starting lineup.  The first half went as expected, with Getafe compact and looking for the counter, while Barca dominated possession but had difficulty finding a way through.

The game seemed to be heading towards a nervy finish (you know the game where the Blaugrana dominate, don’t get the killer second goal, and then are undone at the end by a defensive miscue), until Messi entered.  Little more drive, little more tension in the Getafe defense.  Pedro earned a penalty, the Argentinean converted, then FCB kicked on.  With the hosts chasing, Messi added another before Villa scored yet another goal in a substitute appearance.  A deflected shot/own goal from substitute gave Getafe mere consolation.

Barcelona were definitely the better team, (when are they not?), but the Azulones might have made it interesting had the penalty not occurred.  Once they went two down, their organization was lost and the belief of another amazing result had gone.  One of the early background stories to this season has been the decline in fan attendance.  I was surprised that the stadium was pretty empty.  One of the great teams of this generation was in town after all.  Jonathan Cordingley commented on this during the podcast.  The Spanish economic troubles combined with much higher ticket prices for the visits by the Big Two has created an environment in which fans just simply won’t go to games.  Yet another issue with the Spanish game.

A couple of things I noticed:

  • Tello is too dependent on what ESPN’s Jack Edwards would refer to as the “speed move” (ie push the ball past and get on the other end).  Strong, smart defenders just block him and that’s that.
  • Cesc is definitely still trying to find his way in the Barca system.  Too often he stands next to Xavi or runs at the back four and stops his run, clogging the penalty area.
  • The first 45 minutes was one of the worst halves I have seen by Busquets.  Positioning was fine but his touches were awful and slowed the team down.
  • Colunga for Getafe was totally disconnected from the rest of the team, but I’m sure this was by design and it paid off with a run Pique that earned a yellow.

Kxevin’s post at BFB was simply phenomenal, comparing and contrasting the lineups and tactics and results of Barca’s last two games—home against Valencia and away to Getafe.  The team is evolving once again as Tito stamps his authority on the squad—more movement, little more conservative on defense, and implanting some sort of squad rotation (although some has been forced on him by injury).  Can the Blaugrana recapture their titles?  Time will tell but they are well on their way.

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Sevilla 1  Real Madrid 0

With FCB winning right before them, Real Madrid knew three points would be needed to stay within touching distance of their rivals, but Piotr Trochowski dented those hopes on 75 seconds, hammering home a corner kick for the hosts.  After that, I didn’t feel there was much from either side, with the game being pretty ugly to watch.  Sevilla fouled RMFC any time an attack started.  (My unscientific calculation was that if Los Blancos completed more than four passes, Sevilla committed a foul.)  On top of that, RMFC were definitely out of sorts, with CR7 barely touching the ball at the time and Ozil not influencing the game.  He was replaced at halftime.

The Real Madrid fan I watched the game with summed up the game with one word—shocked.  Have to agree.  I really thought Los Merengues would score the equalizer, and depending on when that came in match would determine whether they would they win or not.  Mourinho’s subs at the interval made sense, although I would have subbed Benzema for Higuain, who had a bad day.  The buildout up from back to front was fine enough but the interplay and incisiveness up top was lacking. Modric at least got a shot off, wonderfully saved by Palop.  Eventually, Khedira was shuffled out to right back as they chased an equalizer.

As for the winners, Negredo really should have added a second in the last 20 minutes as the visitors chased the game.  Thought Jesus Navas had a solid performance on the wing, while the entire Sevilla defense stayed to their task.  Real Madrid created a couple of chances, but there wasn’t the lack of concentration and the series of mistakes that marked the corresponding fixture last year.

RMFC is up against it, although last year they won 10 in a row before the first league El Clasico and 11 straight after the loss (and didn’t lose again the rest of the season) to create the winning margin.  Mourinho’s men will have to do something similar during this campaign to make up the ground, while slugging it out in a tough UCL group.

Both Madridista Mac from Real Madrid Football Blog and Ireland 26 at Managing Madrid commented on a perceived lack of focus and hunger from Los Blancos.  Goals conceded from set pieces; lack of interplay between key players; responding to overly physical challenges.  These are all contributing to their poor form, and I will be interested to see if the Champions League sharpens them as they try to win La Decima.  It may be that they write off the league and win the Big One as the teams of the last 90’s/early 2000’s did.

Zonal Marking analyzed the game in fine detail, looking at Sevilla’s approach to the game: (a) pressing heavily, (b) marking Alonso and (c) using an extra holding midfielder

which frustrated a below par opponent.  The early goal allowed Sevilla to battle and Real’s lack of sharpness kept them from getting anything from the match.

Finally, Sid Lowe hopes that Sevilla’s stirring victory is not another false dawn but a step back to competition in the Primera.  Many of the stars of the last six to seven years are gone, but Saturday night’s performance showed what this team and that atmosphere can do.  Time will tell.

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Osasuna 1  Real Mallorca 1

Sam Parker, writing for Inside Spanish Football, was concerned for Osasuna after three rounds.  No points and only one goal for did not bode well for Los Rojillos, but there was an energetic start to the match, with both teams playing at a high tempo.  Mallorca pressured the hosts which made for a choppy start, but Osasuna were positive despite not having any points this season.  The first half strategies could be summed up thusly: Osasuna were composed, making the extra pass, while Mallorca were very direct, feeding Nsue and Pereira on the flanks to create havoc.

The pace faded around the half hour mark and was followed by the major incident of the first half—a double red card.  On 33 minutes, the referee showed red cards to Osasuna forward Llorente, who had barely touched the ball, and Mallorca defender Nunes, who had commanded the defense.  Caparros immediately brought on Pedro Tunon Geromel for Alfaro to keep four at the back and go with one up top.

Osasuna went right back to work after the intermission, putting the visitors on the back foot.  Their pressure created turnovers and but they were not nearly sharp enough in the final third, with the final pass almost always lacking.  With just one target player, Mallorca tried to hold on to the ball and let Pereira and Nsue just run at the back four.  Not very successful

The substitutes raised the quality and intensity of the match.  Kike Solar got Mallorca’s attention, finding pockets of space and working hard with his efforts rewarded as he headed in from close range after great service from Lamah.  He also impressed as his long strides and strength gave the visitors fits on the left hand side.  Mallorca almost responded after a free kick went over everyone, skipped off the surface, and the GK deflected onto cross bar.  Joao Victor kept things lively upon his entrance to the game, driving the team forward and hitting the top of the crossbar with an audacious free kick.  The equalizer did come minutes after the opening goal as a corner zipped through the box and Hemed dove to meet it.  There were anxious moments for the visitors as Osasuna pushed for the winner, but the game ended in a stalemate.

Osasuna picked up their first point of the season but will need better quality in the final third to get themselves out of relegation.  As for Mallorca, they were third until Rayo’s game later in the day.

One note, the best player for me was Cejudo for Osasuna.  He got wide, smartly used the ball and combined well on the right hand side with Emiliano Armenteros and the overlapping full back.  Didn’t see much of him in the second half and he was subbed with five minutes to go.

Morbo Minute–Kickoff 2012/13

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

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

But on to the games . . .

Real Madrid 1 Valencia 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles and Pods

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

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

Moving on to the weekend’s action . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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Transfers

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

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

Morbo Minute–Down to the Wire

The drama continues to build in Spain as the fight for European places and relegation spots will go down to the final day.

Graham Hunter praised Real Madrid as they clinched the La Liga title at San Mames, focusing on how Mourinho has shaped a team that has reclaimed the title from FC Barcelona.  Despite players not being first choice or completely buying in, the Special One evoked performances of the highest order both at home and on the road (where they slipped numerous times last year) to claim the championship.  The foundations are there for another magical cycle a la Inter of 2010 as Los Merengues look to stamp their authority both in Spain and in Europe.

Reading Kxevin’s review of the Barcelona game, which he described as “an extraordinary series of events that elevated a maudlin, sad event into something celebratory and memorable“,I felt disappointed that I had not found time to watch the match.  Watching the highlights and post game celebrations did not do the game or Kxevin’s post or the moment justice.  The Pep era is almost over and the players made his final game at the Nou Camp an evening of appreciation for everyone.

Chalk on the Boots was slightly more muted in his analysis of the game, reporting that both teams pressured each other but did not take advantage of some of the weaknesses (the visitors did not press high enough when Pinto had the ball at his feet and FCB exploit the width that Espanyol’s narrow formation provided).  In the end Messi was the difference as he converted the opportunities provided to give Barcelona a home win.

The one match I wanted to watch from Round 37 was Atletico Madrid against Malaga.  Life got in the way and I missed it, so I visited AtleticoFans.com for Derek’s round up of the match.  Looks like the visitors could have put the game away in the first half and were punished as Los Rojiblancos recovered to win 2-1, a victory gives them an outside shot at Champions League football next season.  Martin also wrapped up a week that sees Los Colchoneros with a chance for everything and nothing.

Eduardo Alvarez quickly moved past the top three places to look at how the “invisible hand” has shaped a truly heart-stopping relegation battle, with five teams looking to secure top flight football on the final day of the season.

Momentum is with the two teams currently in the relegation zone: Real Zaragoza and Sporting Gijon, while fortune is not favoring Rayo Vallecano or Granada.

Sid Lowe tried to come to grips with the crazy scenes following the final whistle of Granada and Real Madrid, with players and staff attacking the officiating crew, leading to the suspension of at least three players. Granada’s loss sees them well and truly sucked into the relegation battle and they play fellow struggles Rayo on the final day.  Doctor Sid gave a quick summary of the relegation possibilities:

Granada 42; Villarreal 41; Rayo 40; Zaragoza 40; Sporting 37.

• Rayo and Granada face each other, Villarreal go to Champions League-chasing Atlético, Zaragoza travel to nothing-to play-for Getafe and Sporting go to Malaga, who are also chasing a Champions League.

• If Sporting, Rayo andZaragozaall end on 40 points, Sporting survive. If Rayo, Zaragoza and Villarreal end on 41 points. Rayo go down. If Rayo and Villarreal end on 41 points, Rayo go down. If Villarreal and Zaragoza both end on 41 points, Villarreal go down. If Rayo and Zaragoza both end on 41 points, Zaragoza go down. If there is tie on 42 points between Granada and Villarreal,Granada go down.

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Pods

On Sky’s La Liga Weekly, Andy and Sid looked back at Pep’s final home match at FCB before moving on to the relegation possibilities.  Finally Sid related the poor behavior and conspiracy theories that came out of the Granada/Real Madrid match.

At Forza Futbol, Elisa and Ravi looked back at Real’s 32nd championship.  They also talked about the all Spanish Europa League Final and wrapped up with the relegation scrap and fight for Europe.

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–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–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.

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