Posts Tagged ‘ Real Madrid Football Blog ’

Morbo Minute–Season Review

I have been getting deeper and deeper into La Liga over the last couple of years.  This season I dedicated myself to following the league and writing a weekly recap, which I posted at this blog.  Also, El Centrocampista graciously allowed me to publish my thoughts at their site on occasion.  So I thought I would take a couple of minutes and run through some of the story lines that appealed to me from the recently completed season.

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It’s cliché to start with the Big Two but I have to.  What a season for Real Madrid.  Going into the season I felt that Los Merengues would win the league as a combination of Mourinho, drive from the players, and fatigue in the FCB camp would allow Los Blancos to reclaim the title.  I was proven right (for once) as Mourinho’s men had two minor wobbles in rolling to the title, but smashed the league goals record and gained vital points on the road which had been their shortcoming in the past.  As for the Blaugrana, they gave everything, but after almost five years of constant competition for club and country, when it came to find the extra gear, they were found wanting.  Pep has exited, handing the reigns over Tito Vilanova, and this off season will be crucial—preparation, adjustment to new manager, and possible signings—if FCB want to get back to the top.

One of my most ill advised posts was one I wrote about being Bored with Barcelona.  In late September, things were humming along as it looked like FCB was cruising towards another sextuple.  Having high entertainment standards and a low attention span caused me to write comments that were worthless the moment they hit the screen.  I have been properly chastised and look forward to next season’s challenge on all fronts, regardless of results.

Next, Valencia were a mixed bag.  Clearly first of the rest for the opening half of the season, 2012 proved a different proposition all together.  Poor league form saw them overhauled by the chasing pack before they righted themselves to finish third again despite another summer of player sales and financial constraints.  They also had a decent Europa League run, making the semis before being disposed of by Atleti.  In the end Emery left and now Pellegrino will have a go at trying to keep the club at its current level.

Malaga kept everyone guessing, as a poor start saw them well off the European places, but eventually Pellegrini got Los Boquerones firing on all cylinders.  They rose up to the table to get all the way to third before a couple of stumbles at the end caused them to finish fourth.  The squad still needs improvement, especially at the forward position but they have a solid core that will allow them to compete next year.

What can you say about Levante?  Los Granotes were probably THE story of 2011/12, a plucky side with the oldest back five ever in La Liga, a forward who couldn’t score for Sevilla but couldn’t stop finishing for his new team, and a team spirit that kept them fighting all the way to the end.  They eventually finished sixth and will participate in the Europa League next season.

Falcao was one of the best players outside the Big Two, with his goals firing Atleti to Europa League glory and keeping Los Rojiblancos alive in the race for Europe next season as they finished fifth, two points behind Malaga.  Who knows if he will be playing for Simeone next year as the third party that owns his registration may try to cash in on a phenomenal season.

Los Leones were another great story of the last season, with Bielsa creating a team that played scintillating football at times.  Their game against Barcelona at San Mames was one of the matches of the season and their destruction of Manchester United in the Europa League opened the eyes of the English media.  They had two great runs in the cup, making the finals of both the Europa League and the Copa del Rey, but success on multiple fronts exposed a thinness of squad that lead to poor form in La Liga, finishing tenth.

Osasuna don’t get a lot of pub, but their Jekyll and Hyde performances have to get a mention.  The finished with 54 points (13W 15D 10L), not too shabby, but their goal differential was -17.  Only five teams in the Primera were worse.  Their defense was water tight except when it wasn’t.  In five matches, they gave up 30 of their 61 goals against.  In the other 33 matches, they gave up less than a goal a game.  Sort that out.

Finally there was the battle at the bottom.  For most the season, Zaragoza and Gijonwere nailed on relegation candidates, having no chance at survival.  And then something happened, as both teams starting amassing points putting pressure on the teams ahead of them.  Racing became the new whipping boys and were resigned to Segunda football early in the summer.

Going in to the final day, five teams were involved in the relegation battle.  Villarreal had been sucked in to the relegation zone early in the season after selling Cazorla, a shaky defense and injuries to Rossi and Nilmar.  I kept waiting for them to go a run and pull themselves clear, but instead the Yellow Submarine remained within touching distance of the bottom three, eventually going down on the last day as they lost to Atleti and Rayo scored a last gasp goal against Granada to survive.  These were my thoughts on the dramatic last day of the La Liga season.

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During the season, here were the best games I saw:

*Valencia v FCB

Los Che gave the Champions all they could handle, taking advantage of a shaky defense to put the Blaugrana on the rack.  The Alba/Mathieu pairing was fantastic.

*Athletic Bilbao v FCB

In a rain soaked San Mames, a game of rare intensity, quality and grit occurred.  Los Leones twice led but were eventually pegged back in the waning moments.  A preview of the season for both sides.

*Valencia v Real Madrid

Here is where Real showed their title credentials.  Los Blancos traveled to the Mestalla, played an incredible match, equaled by the hosts and held on to for the victory after Los Che made it 2-3 and threw everything at them.

*Athletic Bilbao v Espanyol

A back and forth match that featured a fierce hit by Romaric and a couple of nice free kicks before a late, late equalizer by Albin for Espanyol.

*FCB v Real Madrid

The end.  For now.  Cristiano’s goal was of such quality that all anyone can do is stand and clap.  Mourinho’s broke the hoodoo in the finest way possible—winning at their opponent’s home, matching them in technical and physical terms, and staying away from the unsavory elements that had come before.

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To wrap up, I wanted to share  thoughts from some of the other writers and sites that I follow:

Sonja (@sopra1988) summed up the season for Inside Spanish Football, touching on the high notes: Messi’s goals, Real Madrid’s record breaking points and goals scored, Bilbao’s brave effort, Mallorca’s surprise finish, the departure of Kanoute from Sevilla, and the tense last moments in the relegation zone on the last day of season, to name a few.

Tim Stannard picked out five for the future in his Spanish Thing column for Football365.com: Courtois, de Marcos, Isco, Iñigo Martínez, and Varane.  I saw a lot of de Marcos and Isco this season so totally concur.

Andy May and Sid Lowe, along with several guest contributors, looked back at the 2011/12 La Liga season for Sky Sports La Liga Weekly.  The beginning of the pod focused on the Big Two—Barcelona’s failure to win in Spain or in Europe, Pep leaving and the future of the club and trying to put the team into context, as well as evaluating Real Madrid, who seem to be going from strength to strength and could start a cycle of their own.  They also discussed Atleti’s prospects for next season, whether they will kick on or go back as usual, before moving onto Athletic Bilbao, who were an attractive side, gaining supporters around Europe, but wondering if the can they hold on to players.  Finally there was a brief mention of the teams that battled it out at the bottom, with Sid reiterating that Lotina, who went down with the Yellow Submarine as he went down with Depor, had too negative of an approach to survive.

Finally, Heath Chesters shared his personal journey finding and following Granada up through the divisions of Spanish football.  He makes the case for teams like Granada, well run, financially stable and having strong away support as the model for the league rather than the overspending and snobbish super teams.  Great stuff.

Just wanted to thank a couple of sites that I followed all season:

A Different Liga

Inside Spanish Football

SpanishFootball.info

Atletico Fans

Villarreal USA

Athletic Bilbao Offside

Barcelona Football Blog

Total Barca

Real Madrid Football Blog

And I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sid Lowe, Graham Hunter and Phil Ball all season.

Plus, many thanks to Elisa at Forza Futbol for great content and retweets and conversations, and the guys at El Centrocampista for allowing me to have a bit part at their great site and engaging me on social media.

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Morbo Minute–DDay in La Liga

The final round opened with two matches of no consequence.  Valencia slumped to yet another league defeat in 2012, as they closed the book on another successful/unsuccessful season.  Connor Andrews at El Centrocampista examined the club as Los Che look to move forward with a new manager (Pellegrino), a new player (Jonathan Viera) and an existing sponsor (Jinko Solar).

Barcelona also wrapped up their campaign with a 2-2 draw away to Betis.  They now sit for almost two weeks before trying to send Pep off with one more trophy in the Copa del Rey Final on 5/25.

Maria recapped the game for Total Barca, assessing the personnel for the match (Afellay, Keita and Montoya in particular) as much as the performance, with the Blaugrana able to secure a draw despite having Alves sent off.  The campaign was not as successful as the previous three, but what joy they provided those who watched.

Looking ahead to the summer transfer window Lee Roden tried to temper enthusiasm regarding new signings.  He is pretty confident that FCB will not break a broke Spanish bank to sign RvP, Thiago Silva, Bale and Javi Martinez.  The squad should be strengthened by the return of Villaand the club just needs to make one or two astute signings, preferably Thiago Silva and Jordi Alba for me.  Sounds just about right.

After a dramatic Sunday morning following the twists and turns of the Premier League, I was able to calm down (thanks to a couple of beers and a shot of whiskey) to get ready for the final round of La Liga matches, which would prove to be equally compelling, albeit at the other end of the table.

Finding games was tough.  US TV decided to show Real Madrid against Mallorca, a game only significant because Los Blancos were going for a record 100 league points, a goal that they duly hit in thrashing the visitors 4-1.

Madridista Mac woke up on Monday morning basking in the glow of another “Formula One Football” performance by the league champs that saw Ronaldo complete the task of scoring against every team in the league in one season; the club hitting 100 points; and the team going through every gear in demolishing their opponent.  As a Barca fan, I respect Real Madrid rather than hate them and am interested to see what their next act is.  After this season it is hard to imagine how even Sergio Ramos can let the trophy slip from his grasp.

My legit internet option was Levante hosting Athletic Bilbao, and this was a key game in the race for Europe.  I kept an eye on the match in first half but eventually my attention was drawn elsewhere.  Los Granotes would eventually run out 3-0 winners to finish sixth and cap off a phenomenal season.

Jack at Athletic Bilbao Offside summed up the last couple of weeks in one sentence: With league form sacrificed for the two cup runs, our final position wasn’t going to matter much this season but the defeat is still disappointing.  Los Leones finished tenth in La Liga and now look ahead to the Copa del Rey Final against FC Barcelona.  Here’s hoping they are well rested and give the Blaugrana a game.

The real drama was at the bottom of the table, with five teams fighting to avoiding relegation.  At kickoff, I found feeds for Levante/Athletic and Rayo/Granada, while getting constant updates on Villarreal against Atletico Madrid.  Rayo and Granada were slugging it out and neither team could get the opener.  At halftime, all the games involving relegation teams were scoreless, but shortly into the second half, things began to change.  First Zaragoza scored to get them out of the bottom three.  Then Malaga got a goal against Sporting through Rondon, which dented Gijon’s chances of survival.  Time continued to tick away as the Rayo/Granada game was scoreless, meaning that Rayo would go down.  The game opened up, chances started to materialize, but Rayo could not find the saving goal.  Entering the last five minutes, another twist to the story appeared as Falcao scored yet another goal to put Villarreal in real trouble.  That trouble was compounded when Tamundo smashed in the ball from close range to finally sink the Yellow Submarine after a difficult, and disappointing, season.  The scenes were phenomenal with fans rushing the field and opposing players embracing, everyone able to celebrate another season of Primera football.  Wasn’t the greatest game, but it produced the most dramatic of results.  Thanks to El Centrocampista for giving me the framework for the events.

Allen Dodson at VillarrealUSA was obviously not in the best of spirits while summarizing a game that had the worst result possible.  However, he holds out hope that the Yellow Submarine bounce right back to the Primera.   From his mouth to God’s ears.

Phil Ball tried to keep track of the constantly changing events of the final day that led to devastating blow to Villarreal.  He also made time to praise Real Madrid’s points and goals haul, while shining a light on Mikel Aranburu, who retired from Real Sociedad after 15 years of service.

Finally, Sid Lowe’s Guardian column this week is lengthy but absolutely worth it as he describes scenes beyond comprehension in Vallecas.  His account is far better than mine because a) he was there; b) he wasn’t watching several games in a beer induced haze; and c) he’s a better writer than me.  Rayo were only in the relegation zone for 33 minutes of the season—the last 33 minutes.  Their last gasp goal saved them and doomed Villarreal, who Sid goes on to explain were too defensive and let in too many last minute goals, with a series of draws in the run in were the source of the failure to stay up.  From Champions League to Segunda in just nine months.

What a day.

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–Further Twists and Turns

Games are coming thick and fast.  As I wrap up this post, I am checking Tuesday results, with more games on Wednesday and Thursday.

The narrative of the league continues to provide drama and excitement as Malaga have climbed to third; the race for European places remains a toss up; and Real Madrid drew again, further giving FCB hope to win their fourth straight title.  At the bottom, Gjion’s shame spiral continues, with Racing right there with them. Zaragoza gave everything against the champions but lost.

Between Easter weekend and work, I didn’t get to as much as I would, but here is some stuff I found. . .

Graham Hunter looked at some of the obstacles—Pique’s possible injury, Messi dependence, and lack of sharpness—facing the Blaugrana as they attempt to retain the European Cup.  Plus he praised Real Madrid for thrashing Osasuna away in Round 30, with special remarks given to Benzema, who is hitting top gear.  Finally, he gave a little plug for Valverde, formerly coach of Athletic and Espanyol, as a possible Pep replacement.

Sid Lowe told the wonderful tale of Sandoval, the manager at Rayo Vallecano, who, despite taking the back to first division, despite taking a pay cut, despite working with very little resources, despite keeping them away from relegation, was asked to give his bonus back from last season because the new administration did not want to honor agreements of the previous regime.  Fascinating story, including a possible Japanese strike by the manager and squad.  Don’t know what a Japanese strike is?  Read and find out.

Phil Ball returned after an unanticipated week off to look at the stories at the top and bottom of La Liga, with FCB trying to hunt down Real Madrid, Levante fighting to keep the dream alive one more week, and Zaragoza attempting one of the greatest escapes ever.

Kxevin at Barcelona Football Blog praised both sides in Barcelona’s 4-1 over Zaragoza, focusing his comments on Valdes, Sanchez, Busquets and Messi.  Who knows if Barca will catch Real Madrid? But efforts like this one give them every chance.

Madridista Mac at Real Madrid Football Blog summed up the pulsating 0-0 draw against Valencia with four words: Disappontment, Defense, Perspective and Poise.  An energetic but unlucky performance did not result in any goals, partly due to Valencia’s tactics and partly due to their goalkeeper, but Mac sees this squad having the tools to finish the job as the big day approaches.

Articles

Kwame Agyemang wrote a guest post for SpanishFootball.info looking at how La Liga is followed in Africa.  Kwame argues that the EPL dominates La Liga for two reasons: more competitive fixtures league wide as opposed to the success of the Big Two, and the influx of African players into England, which gives African fans a rooting interest in teams.

Javier turned his statistical eye towards the goalkeepers of La Liga, finding that many teams are using multiple keepers in an attempt to find success.  Veteran Palop has replaced first half star Varas at Sevilla and has an impressive save percentage.

Morbo Minute–Lions Slain by the Vampire

Over the last couple of years La Liga has been compared to Scotland, with the crutch of two big teams and the rest of the league easy to use, but this season, the tale of the campaign seems to be mirroring England.  Both leagues have had two leaders, with one faltering, although Real have not choked completely as MCFC seem to have done, and one maintaining the pressure after a dip in form.  Another comparison is a third place team (Valencia and Tottenham), almost assured of their place, being caught from behind and possibly losing a coveted Champions League place.  Then there is the similarity of Arsenal and Malaga, with both teams getting off to poor starts but surging up the table, even matching results this weekend with shock loses to take the edge of the momentum.  At the bottom, clubs have found a doppelganger as Wigan and Zaragoza were nailed on relegation candidates, but recent points have been grabbed, giving each team a glimmer of survival hope.  (Although Zaragoza are four points behind Villarreal and six behind Granada).  Further comparisons could be made between Newcastle and Levante and Liverpool and Athletic Bilbao or maybe Atletico Madrid I suppose.  Anyway, another round has come and gone, with both of the Big Two surviving tough tests, while Valencia, Malaga and Gijon failed theirs in their respective matches.

Kaushik at Real Madrid Football Blog feels that Madrid are peaking just in time for the run in as the Trident produced more goals with Ozil pulling the strings.  In addition, Di Maria is coming back, plus Mourinho is getting everyone ready for combat, drafting in Albiol and Granero for the weeks ahead.

Blogger Chalk on the Boots did a guest post on El Centrocampista about the Real Madrid game and examined the game plans of each squad.  Focus was given to Roversio’s role right back, which failed as he was caught out time and time again putting pressure on the rest of the team.  Also Lekic could have started instead of coming in and occupying the center backs after the game was lost.  As for Los Merengues, their pressure, composure and finishing turned a tricky fixture into another rout.  Really enjoyed the insights into this match.

Tim Stannard (aka La Liga Loca) tempered the praise of fans and the Madrid media, reminding readers at Football365.com that Los Blancos still have several tough matches ahead of them: Valencia at home this weekend and Atleti away during the week, plus away to Bilbao later with probable games against Bayern looming the Champions League.  Based on the form of Los Che, Los Colchoneros and Los Leones, I’m not sure Mourinho’s men will break a sweat, but games against Die Roten might just take the wind out of the sails enough to let Barcelona back in before the weekend of 4/20.

Real Madrid seem to be over their momentarily blip.  If you take away the FCB game in December, they have been dominant in the League except for two two game stumbles: Levante (L) and Racing (D) in the fall and Malaga (D) and Villarreal (D) a couple of weeks ago.  Removing those five matches they have everything single one of the 25 on offer.  Color me impressed.  No more blips and they are campeones.

FCB v Athletic was the only game I got to see over the weekend and what a game it was.  The game at San Mames was rainy, sloppy and intense as the Blaugrana had to give everything to get a draw.  The return match was a spectacle—again intense, crisp and razor sharp.  I tweeted afterwards: if there is anything like a moral victory then #athletic earned it tonight v #FCB. what a game. copa final should be fantastic.

Los Leones, who had essentially booked themselves a Europa League semi-final spot less than 48 hours earlier, came and played their hearts out, giving some of their lesser players a chance, bringing on the stars in the second half to try to rescue something. Irazioz was outstanding in goal and gave the visitors every chance to win.  As for Barca, they gave a good showing and ran out worthy winners, even though they must have had one eye on the Milan game.

Twelve Point Courier reviewed the tactics of the game for Total Barca, emphasizing how the hosts were able to use their spare center back to start attacks, thereby disrupting Bilbao’s man to man strategy.  He also broke down the opening goal, showing how Barca’s movement and quickness created the opportunity for Iniesta.

Jack for the Athletic Bilbao Offside page summed up the match up with his post title: Respectable result given the circumstances and his concluding statement: With the lack of rest and priorities elsewhere, it was a respectable scoreline and the players deserve credit for not giving up. Gorka did little wrong in goal and Ekiza has surely staked a claim for a regular first team place.

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Articles

Javier at El Centrocampista used his statistical wizardry to reveal some very illuminating facts about some of the teams and players in La Liga.  For instance Reyes (Sevilla) and Dani Benítez (Granada) should stop shooting.  Each have over fifty shots without scoring.  He goes on to look at the impact players have in goal scoring opportunities and even how certain players affect wins and loses.  Interesting reading, especially for any Fantasy Futbol players out there.

Sid Lowe looked at the current captain of the sinking ship known as Sporting Gijon—Javier Clemente.  Doesn’t look like he is going to save the club for relegation as they are now rock bottom and Clemente is making enemies on and off the pitch.

Graham Hunter looked at unlucky #19 worn by Senna at Villarreal (I seem to remember Messi wearing the number after starting with #30) as the veteran midfielder tries to lead the Yellow Submarine away from relegation.  He also touched on Mourinho’s dealings with the players and the press and what impact that may have on Madrid’s pursuit of La Liga and the Champions League.  Finally, Hunter gave readers a heads up on Dongou, the latest and greatest young prospect at FC Barcelona, who scored his first goal for the B team.  Let’s let Tello and Cuenca develop first, shall we?

David Redshaw at A Different Liga wrote a quick piece on the cost of watching La Liga games, both live and on PPV.  Based on his information, Spanish broadcasters are reducing game fees to less than €1 per game while matchday ticket prices are some of the highest in Europe.  Yet another issue that needs to be addressed as the league seems to be heading towards some sort of breaking point.

Finally, El Centrocampista got a snippet from Scott Oliver’s Blizzard article on the rivalry between Athletic Bilbao and FCB during the 80’s.  A fantastic read and convinced me I really need to start buying the Blizzard.

Morbo Minute–Must See TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Podcasts

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

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

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

Morbo Minute–The Lions Lose and The Frogs Stay Strong

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

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Sevilla 0  FC Barcelona 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles

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

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

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

In other news . . .

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

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

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Pods

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

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

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