Posts Tagged ‘ Real Madrid Football Blog ’

Morbo Minute–Contrast in Styles

Only one place to start this week.  I was overwhelmed by the coverage given to this game before and after.  Let’s just say I didn’t get to everything but here some notes on the game from people who actually know what they are talking about.

FC Barcelona 2  Real Madrid 2

There was plenty of pre-match coverage of the big match.  I tried to get as much of as I could, but in the end, I just wanted to see how the game would unfold.  A couple of posts that caught my eye.

Andreas Vou looked at the evolution of Sergio Busquets for Barcelona for Inside Spanish Football.  Busquets made his 201st appearance for Barca in El Clasico and has moved from the pivot to the third center back to the sweeper and back again, which has allowed the Blaugrana to constant tweak the formation and approach.  The quotes from players and coaches at the end are high praise indeed.

I’m sure Graham Hunter was a busy man in days before the game as he gave out his thoughts ahead of the match.  For Soccernet, he commented that the speed of Madrid is beginning to trouble Barcelona. Plus, As a unit the Spanish champions are more confident about their identity, their play and what to do if they fall behind against any rival.  He also posted some interesting tidbits for Paddy Power:

This first Clasico is weeks earlier than normal (more than two months earlier than last season) to allow the second league meeting to take place before the crucial moment in April. Then, both clubs want to be competing in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals but don’t want to be left looking like the cast of Dad’s Army (something which cost each of them dearly against Chelsea and Bayern Munich six months ago). 

That, in itself, tells you something about the degree to which the vast economic attraction of success in Europe is beginning to edge ahead of the absolute need for domestic supremacy.

For my thoughts on the game, you can read them here.  As for what was talked about after the game. . .

Albert Ferrer was on talkSPORT with Richard Keys and Andy Gray to talk about El Clasico and his time with FCB and Chelsea.  He was asked why Busquets did not play at center back and he flat out said that Busquets is too important to the way Barca play to put him back there.  Very interesting take.  He also mentioned that Real Madrid have caught the Blaugrana and can now attack FCB rather than just sit back.  He wrapped up his time recounting his rise through the club before his eventual move to the Blues of Chelsea.

Everyone at the bar was wondering what in the hell was cut into CR7’s hair.  Well Dirty Tackle presented this info:

According to Marca, Cristiano went to hairstylist brothers Jose and Miguel Siero Leal the day before the match and asked for “something different and groundbreaking.” This is how the brothers explain the hair doodle:

“He told us, as he had on many other occasions that he was looking for something different. We know him well and we had the idea of shaving a symbol that represents both peace and the calm a warrior experiences after battle. He agreed”, they said.

Yikes.

Sid Lowe waded through the political elements surrounding the game to get to several interesting points:

  • The match also disguised the fact that Barcelona have not reached their level, for a side that builds its moves with patience and precision it is striking that one goal came from a mistake by Pepe and the other from a 25-yard free-kick. Real constructed both their goals, Barcelona did not.  Hadn’t really thought about it that way but he’s absolutely right.
  • “They used to be here,” Mourinho said, gesturing with his hands. “And we were down here. Now, they’re still up here but so are we.”  So true.  Mourinho really has rebuilt this team that can stand toe to toe with Barca.
  • And of course Messi and Ronaldo, continuing their epic duel for supremacy in the league, on the continent and in the world.

Phil Ball was able to cram in comments on almost every single match of the round besides commenting on El Clasico.  Well played.  He’s not sold on Betis but may be drinking the Atleti Kool-Aid.  Good stuff as always.

Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog felt that the heart of a champion was unveiled Sunday night as Barca overcame a determined opponent and injuries to secure at least a point.  Praising Busquets in particular, he saw a team find their rhythm and almost snag all three points in the biggest game in the world.  He tried to get into the minutiae of the game but kept coming back to the emotions that this game generated.

Passes flew, players flew, and for much of the time, both sets of players were so intent on playing the beautiful game as it was meant to be played, that they forgot to do all of the silly stuff, the flopping, the exaggeration and whining that have come to define the Classíc. Both sides played so quickly, attacked so savagely, moved the ball with such alacrity that it was a joy to watch, even as my heart was threatening to leap from my chest, such was the adrenaline. They are good. Make no mistake about it.

Madridista Mac of Real Madrid Football Blog is no longer afraid.  He is no longer afraid of the giant that is Barcelona because the team that he supports has a coach who has transformed the players into a fellow giant who can look their opponent in their eye and say, Let’s do this. He made some interesting points, namely that CR7 has become the man for the big occasion and that FCB may too Messi-reliant, especially in these big games.  Again, a post that doesn’t dwell just on tactics but on the ramifications both on and off the field for these two teams

For a couple of tactical breakdowns . . .

Chalk on the Boots wondered if the two sides were too conservative in his match recap.  For me, Barca yes, Real Madrid, no.  Mourinho has fashioned a team that absorbs and counters, regardless of opposition.  Against their biggest rivals, this provides a contrast in styles, which results in different permutations each time depending on other circumstances (injuries, cards, lineups, etc).  As for Barca, Tito was handcuffed by injuries. The FCB heat map crystallized what I was screaming at the TV during the match—no one in the box.  For all their possession and pressure on Madrid, there was rarely anyone attacking crosses or distracting Casillas.

Michael Cox of Zonal Marking focused on the position of Iniesta and Barca’s lack of penetration for his post match comments.  With Iniesta drifting centrally, it added a body to an already crowded area and if Alba is not able to overlap, then that side is lost from an attacking perspective.  Michael also echoed the sentiment that Barca is allowed to play in front of Real Madrid as opposed to driving at them.  It will be interesting to see if Villa being at close to full fitness in the spring changes the dynamics of this match.

More praise for Busquets . . .

Lee Roden echoed Andreas’ comments regarding Busquets in his post-match contribution to talkSPORT.  Calling the Spaniard a “rivet” for the Blaugrana, Lee looked at several English teams that could do with this sort of player.  Despite his play acting and occasional loose pass, I hope he retires at the Nou Camp.

And of course there was the political context to the proceedings. . .

Jimmy Burns examined the political overtones of the match, including the mosaic at 17:14.  He identified some of the key players in the desire for independence as the club and the region try to determine their future.  Again, I don’t pretend to understand it all but it is fascinating to watch from afar.

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Articles and Podcasts

The all consuming fire of the El Clasico blinded people to another key game on the weekend—Atletico Madrid v Malaga.  Falcao scored again as Atleti won 2-1 to keep pace with the Blaugrana and give themselves some breathing room from the chasing pack. At the bottom, Espanyol remain winless and Osasuna crashed back to earth and have only four points thus far.

Martin at Atleti Fans looked at the standings and saw Los Colchoneros joint top of the table with Barcelona after a last minute win against Malaga.  He wonders if they can keep up for the entire season but the performance of the squad, Emre and Luis Filipe in particular, was encouraging.

Liam profiled Abdel Barrada of Getafe for Forza Futbol, with the Moroccan generating interest both at home and abroad, namely in England.  I have only seen glimpses of him and look forward to seeing more of him throughout the season.  (Of course he was sent off last week in the win against Real Zaragoza.)

Phil Ball was on the Forza Futbol pod ahead of El Clasico to look at the big game as well as some other story lines in La Liga thus far, including the two Basque teams, Atleti’s title challenge and the problems at Espanyol.

To wrap everything up, the panel at Inside Spanish Football looked at El Clasico as well as some of the key matches of the round.  They felt it wasn’t the best El Clasico but at least everyone is talking about the game for a chance.  There was some discussion about whether Montoya should replace Alves, which could be a storyline for the rest of the season.  Of course there was the Ozil v Modric conversation.  The guys moved on to the other big game between Atleti and Malaga.  Michael Bell, the resident Malaga expert, felt that Los Boquerones can challenge for third.  As for Atletico, Simeone has the team doing well and time will tell if they can replace Valencia as the best of the rest.  Speaking of Valencia, Los Che are in real trouble, with Soldado a shadow of himself from last year.  Finally the panel spent some chatting about Athletic Bilbao.  The vibe is not good and there is some confusion and concern about why Llorente is only making substitute appearances.

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Morbo Minute–Sevilla Surrender

Have to say that the La Liga season has been very compelling in the early stages, with a couple of surprise teams at the top (Mallorca and Valladolid) and lots of goals each weekend.

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Sevilla 2  FC Barcelona 3

After watching three EPL games, I picked up my son and headed to the pub for one more game.  Between getting him fed, keeping him occupied and peeking at the MSU/OSU football game, I didn’t take any notes.  Then I got home and got caught up in family activities.  The following day was church stuff and a soccer game and I didn’t even write down thoughts about the game.  48 hours I still can’t believe the Blaugrana won that match.

FCB played well but there is definite room for improvement.  Though Pedro was excellent again, Sanchez is still not firing and Song had a below par game.  Alba did well after his layoff and he’ll be key as Adriano recovers.  Sevilla was well organized and confident, taking the fantastic result against Real Madrid and building on it.  When Negredo skinned Song early in the second half and chipped Valdes, I admit my head sunk.  My pessimistic nature took over and I saw three dropped points at the Sanchez Pizjuan with El Clasico looming.  Eight points down to two in a matter of moments.

All credit to Sevilla.  As they had done a couple of rounds ago against Los Blancos, they sat in, absorbed the pressure and then attacked Barca, with Navas eventually finding the ball.  I thought Rakitic had a great game, covering tons of ground and making good passes.  Palop was in fine form as yet another goalkeeper rose to the occasion.

But then . . . But then what?  The referee?  Substitutions?  Fatigue?  All of the above?  Cesc channeled his inner Rivaldo to get Medel sent off.  There’s no doubt about that.  From there Sevilla still almost held on but Barca would not be denied as Fabregas scored his second and then Villa won the match in the dying moments.

FCB have a 100% record yet there is a sense that they are paper champions.  Between the injuries, form that has been less than spectacular, a tough midweek game against Benfica and Real’s need to win, this weekend’s match against could go very wrong.  Right now I would take a draw.  Maintain the gap, get players back, make it to the winter break with a five to six point lead.  We’ll see Sunday.

Kxevin was recovering from the match as well in his post for Barcelona Football Blog.  Thrilled with the three points, he saw a team full of hunger, who refused to lose a match despite the deficit.  He was also pleased that others stepped up to score the goals, with Messi the provider rather than the savior.  His player ratings were interesting as well, with poor marks given to Alves, Messi and Sanchez, but he was pleased with Busquets, Alba and the manager, who made the right substitutions to get the team back into the match and win, rather than settle for a draw.

Sid Lowe found the “comeback of champions” breathless as the pace and intensity game never dropped.  Praise was given to Michel’s Sevilla but in the end Barca won the day and maintained their lead over Real Madrid.  (Yes I know that Atleti are only two points behind, but they have to prove that they can go the distance.)  Doctor Sid produced a stat during his column: Half of their 24 goals this season have arrived in the last 15 minutes, after he has made substitutions.  Lack of fitness and squad depth were big factors in last season’s shortcomings, and hopefully Tito is turning the corner.

Chalk on the Boots put together a very insightful post after the match, identifying several key items for both teams.  He identified Sevilla’s organization and willingness to defend resolutely and then attack with intelligence, although he does worry about fatigue at the end of matches for Trochowski and Rakitic, who do a lot of running.  He commended Michel for his lineup and substitutions and felt that Los Rojiblancos would have gotten at least a draw had Medel not been sent off.  As for FCB, he focused on Messi’s move to a false 10 rather than a false.  This was also mentioned by Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog.  Chalk expressed it as follows:

Messi moves deeper now into a classic No10 position on the pitch and is more or less laterally aligned with the most advanced of Barcelona’s midfielders. Last night this was Cesc. With Xavi operating slightly deeper alongside Busquets, it’s not unusual to see the two wide players being positioned furthest forward. In this respect, Barcelona often now resemble a loose 4-2-2-2.

While Barca dominated possession, their slow transition allowed Sevilla to recover their shape and clog the midfield.  Finally, he noted that the Blaugrana are trying more crosses (not favorable due to size and congestion of the penalty area) and more direct distribution from Valdes.

A fantastic post with lots of good info and things to consider.

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Articles and Podcasts

Phil Ball had a wonderful time at the Basque Derby as Real Sociedad ran out 2-0 winners.  His column examined the current issues and context of the neighboring clubs.  Real Sociedad are flying high at home with a group of young players that are raising eyebrows, led by Griezmann.  Didn’t realize he was French.  As for Bilbao, Llorente’s position is, in the words of John Terry, untenable.  A substitute these days for a club that is a shadow of the glorious team that ran out last year.  The result leaves Los Leones in 18th while the Txuri-urdin are up to 8th.

Tim Stannard looked ahead to El Clasico for Football 365, taking the view that rather than a battle of heavyweights in yet another game of the century, this match will be between “two sides trying to find their way in la Liga and suffering on-the-pitch problems in Barcelona’s case and all manner of trouble in the dressing room in Real Madrid’s with continued talk of rifts and Mourinho starting to lose his managerial mojo.”  Let the games begin.

On Sky Sports La Liga Extra, Jon Driscoll and Terry Gibson looked at Madrid’s result; FCB’s spirited comeback with the caveat that they are not in “full flight”; Atleti finding a way to win without Falcao; and praise given to Valladolid for their 6-1 thrashing.

It had been a while since I visited Atletico Fans.  I was able to read Martin’s post, which saw a solid performance from Los Colchoneros as they made Raul Garcia’s header stand up for all three points.  Besides Garcia, who is off to a great start this season, special mention was made of Courtois’ efforts between the sticks.  Despite another lackluster second half performance Atleti is in second place ahead of next week’s key clash against Malaga.  A win there, and they can put down a marker as the new third best team in Spain.

Morbo Minute–Listen all y’all, it’s a sabotage

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

Real Betis 1  Espanyol 0

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

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

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

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

FC Barcelona 2  Granada CF 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles and Pods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Current Table

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

Morbo Minute–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–Cristiano is sad, Adriano is wonderful, & Falcao is dominating

My coverage of La Liga for Round Three was a series of scheduling screw ups.

Saturday I was just too busy and with a limited selection on US TV, I was out of luck.  Sunday was supposed to be FCB v Valencia at 2pm.  The possibility of an entertaining game and a couple of pints was very enticing but when reviewing the weekend’s fixture and TV grids on Friday, I noticed the match was moved to 4pm EDT on Sunday, which put it in conflict with church.  Blurgh.

Monday was Labor Day so I planned to spend the afternoon watching Real Betis and Atletico Madrid at a bar instead of my usual work M.O.—sneaking a peek on the internet while pretending to work.  Wrong again.  Between Atleti’s participation in the European Super Cup and Monday being a FIFA date, the game was postponed.  (Moved to 9/26.)  How the LFP did not see that coming, I have no idea.  Chelsea already solved their problem, moving the Reading fixture up to the opening week of the season.

So my viewing was relegated to catching the highlights on various websites.  Quickly commenting on a couple of matches: What a goal by Adriano for Barcelona!  Made up for a poor performance in the Super Cup second leg.  The pitch at La Romareda looked awful for Zaragoza’s loss to Malaga.  The match day attendance continues to be an issue, especially at Estadio Anoeta where there were very few in the stands for Mallorca’s win over Real Sociedad.

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Articles and Pods

Sid Lowe did his weekly post for the Guardian a day late last week due to the Atletico/Athletic game not being played until 11pm local time on Monday (8/27) night.  His comments were tinged with doom as Bilbao were run off the field and Bielsa in dire straights.  Martinez has finally been sold to Bayern while Llorente remains on the team, but not on the field.  Los Leones victory in round three got them off the bottom of the table and time will tell if they can turn it around this season.

Staying with Atletico, I finally got around to reading La Liga Loca’s preseason thoughts on Atleti, which were optimistic and have been rewarded with four points out of six (away draw to Levante and a 4-0 thumping of Athletic) and a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea in the European Super Cup.  To be honest with all of the changes in the last 12 months, I’m not too familiar with the side but know that historically promise and usually fail to deliver.

Phil Ball got caught up in Falcao Fever as the Colombian put on a show in the European Super Cup.  He then moved on to address CR7’s supposed “sad”ness at Real Madrid after a weekend where he scored twice to get Los Merengues their first league victory of the season.

Liam Morgan gave his early thoughts on Levante for Inside Spanish Football, and I agree with him that the Europa League draw could have been much worse.  A huge comeback against Espanyol earned them all three points in the last round and could get Los Granotes back on track.

Back to Sid.  His post this week centered on Caparros at Real Mallorca.  Los Bermellones went top of the table for a minute over the weekend.  While they may not stay there, Caparros will do everything he can to make sure that his team have a chance at survival in La Primera.

Meg Ryan summed up the Barcelona/Valencia game for Total Barca, which saw FCB in control but failing to put Los Che to the sword.  For a Valencia perspective, I visited SlickR at Club Valencia CF, who acknowledged that FCB were superior but he sees hope for the rest of the season, as Valencia have played the Big Two already, both away, which I had not considered.  But he is concerned about the condition of the defense and the form of Guardado, although he is hoping that the return of Gago will help give cohesion to the team.

Madridista Mac turned in a fantastic post for the Real Madrid Football Blog in the wake of three points and Ronaldo’s shenanigans.  He focused his match comments on the midfield, examining what Modric brings to the squad and the possibility of a healthy Essien for Los Blancos.  As a fan of the EPL, the thought of both of them hitting the heights is a frightening prospect.  Mac then turned his attention to CR7’s post game pout and looked at possible reasons: money and institutional support.  The media machine has almost two weeks to go crazy with this and I’m interested to see where things stand at kickoff for round four.

Along those lines, Graham Hunter gave his opinion on Ronaldo’s antics as the superstar angles for a new deal.  He then moved on to Isco’s great start to the season at Malaga and how smaller clubs can catch lightning in a bottle every once in a while with extended scouting and shrewd deals (see Villarreal and Sevilla from the middle of last decade).

As for podcasts, Sid Lowe was on Beyond the Pitch to talk about La Liga.  He and Anto covered a ton of ground including the issues facing Athletic and Malaga, the upcoming campaigns for the Big Two, the TV money distribution, and the exit of players from the league.

The panel on the Inside Spanish Football pod touched on a lackluster performance by Real Madrid, Sevilla’s penalty kick woes and the parity of the league outside the Big Two, among other topics.  Plus Jonathan gave some betting tips to think about for the upcoming season.

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Transfer stuff

The transfer window closed, and to be honest I was so overwhelmed with players changing squads in England, I didn’t have a real good feel for what happened in Spain.

Some transactions that did catch my eye:

  • American Carlos Bocanegra escaped Rangers and moved to Racing Santander.
  • Giovanni dos Santos continues his footballing odyssey and moved to Real Mallorca.
  • Michael Essien moved to Real Madrid.  Could be great coverage for Mourinho if he can stay healthy.
  • Roque Santa Cruz stayed in Spain, moving to Malaga.

Zonal Marking looked at the Modric and Song signings for the Big Two, with Modric giving Mou options while hopefully Song gives FCB some teeth in midfield.

Finally, James Burn looked at some of the big signings in La Liga this offseason for Inside Spanish Football.  He heaped praise on Barca for getting Song and Alba, Valencia for adding Pereira and Canales (although his time might have passed), and Granada for picking up Iriney and Torje.

Morbo Minute–Los Blancos Sing the Azulones

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

Real Betis 1 Rayo Vallecano 2

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

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

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

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

A couple of other player notes:

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

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

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

Osasuna 1 FC Barcelona 2

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

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

 

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Articles and Pods

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morbo Minute–Kickoff 2012/13

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

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

But on to the games . . .

Real Madrid 1 Valencia 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles and Pods

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

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

Moving on to the weekend’s action . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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Transfers

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

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

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