Posts Tagged ‘ SpanishFootball.info ’

Morbo Minute–What Did I Miss?

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

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Saturday

Saturday night I reviewed scores and this was my tweet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday

As for Sunday . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday

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

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Articles

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

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

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

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Podcasts

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

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

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

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

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

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Standings

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

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

Morbo Minute–Sunday Slaughters

European games are back on the calendar.  I was able to watch the Barcelona game against Leverkusen and found it hard to get into the match, especially in the first half, but the goals from both sides were quite good, especially Sanchez’s first and Messi’s one at the end.  Once Bayer hit the woodwork down 2-1, their moment was gone and they will really be up against it at the Nou Camp.  I caught only bits and pieces of the Real Madrid game.  Managed to see CR7’s goal but missed most of the second half including the shock equalizer at the death.  I doubt CSKA will avoid a drubbing at the Bernabeu in a couple of weeks.

As for La Liga teams in the Europa League, SpanishFootball.info gave a quick round up.  Might have to find some time in the schedule to see if Bilbao can turn it around against Lokomotiv at San Mames.

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This weekend’s action saw lots of goals with Real Madrid putting four past Racing, an 8 goal extravaganza between Rayo and Levante, Barca’s five past Valencia and the Yellow Submarine surrendering four to Real Mallorca.  This round also saw Levante slip from fourth place.  Their slide down the table has been put on hold because none of the chasing pack can get their act together, but I don’t see Los Granotes finding the hand brake.

I can tell that Madrista Mac is really excited about this Real Madrid team and with good reason.  With Benzema and Granero giving Mourinho different options, this Los Merengues squad will take some stopping.  He also focused on Real gaining every single point they can during this relatively easy period before the anticipated war of April with battles in the Champions League and another Clasico.

Athletic Bilbao 3  Malaga 0

Searching for this game on US TV, I was at a loss.  It wasn’t on GolTV or ESPN3, so I had two options: illegal internet feed or miss it.  But thanks to the Washington Post’s Soccer Insider, I saw that it was on DirecTV channel 477, so I headed up early Sunday morning to the Lansing Claddagh to watch it.

Bilbao had a midweek game in Russia, which they lost 2-1, so Bielsa sent out a squad without Llorente, Martinez, and Amorebieta, which gave Toquero a rare start.  Malaga started with a mostly first choice side, although Joaquin was on the bench.  Los Boquerones got off a to a flyer, with Bilbao goalkeeper Iraizoz having to make several smart saves, and stayed on top of the match for the opening 15 minutes.

There wasn’t much in the middle part of the half as Los Leones came into the match.  Munain got involved and was able to get past his defender at will.  Isco for Malaga did not see much off the ball as the half progressed and his influence faded.  Toquero showed himself to a different player than Llorente, more all action, sort of like a poor man’s Tevez.

The second half started 0-0 and Bilbao substituted Susaeta and Ekiza for Llorente and Amorebieta, and the defender opened the scoring on 57 minutes after a poorly cleared corner kick.  Another corner kick was rammed home by San Jose before a 1 v 1 by Ander was roofed home by Toquero.

The second half petered out as Malaga was all over the place.  The visitors proved the adage that you must take your chances, and their profligacy in front goal cost them as much as their lapses in concentration in the second period.  Bilbao, thanks to Levante’s loss, climbed into fourth, while Malaga are mired in ninth.

Mike Barnes at A Different Liga saw a Malaga team in control but wasteful in front of goal and absent on set pieces.  Seems like the only way they can make the Champions League is to immediately correct their away form, which Mike stated:  Pellegrini’s men haven taken only eight points from a possible 36 on their travels.

FC Barcelona 5  Valencia 1

Barcelona and Valencia recently played in the Copa del Rey, and it was a tight two legged affair in which the Blaugrana could have put the tie away, but, due to poor finishing, they allowed Valencia to stay within touching distance.  This league game was a chance for Los Che to get within five points of the Champions, a gap that would have been the closest this late in the season for quite a while.

In case you have not heard, playmaker Ever Banega broke his ankle and is out for the rest of the season.  Bad enough.  But how did it happen?  His car ran over his leg because he didn’t have the handbrake on.  Wrong on so many levels.

From the start, FCB was all over the visitors and could have scored several times from the outset but it was Valencia that struck first as Feghouli hoofed the ball into the box and VV either misread it or was out of sorts and Piatti knocked home the opener.  At that moment I didn’t write off the league—if you have been following me over the last several weeks, I conceded the title to Real Madrid several weeks ago—rather I just slumped in my chair and waited for what was next.

The resulting 80 minutes or so was an absolute masterclass from FC Barcelona as they ripped apart Valencia time and time again, and if it had not been for a brave performance by Diego Alves, the match could have reached absurd heights.

The first two goals were wonderful to behold, with the first down to a moment of magic from Messi and the second involving great team play.  These goals were followed by two almost goals from the sick drawer, as in so sick in their quality and technical ability and creativity—Fabregas off the crossbar and Iniesta’s curling effort that went just wide.

But the third goal would not come and when Valdes made a nice save on Feghouli on 66′, the nerves started to show.  Eventually breathing room did come on 75′ as Messi fired home from close range after a shot from Tello (who was very active on left and created a lot of danger) was initially saved (again) by Diego Alves. FCB tore Valencia open again on 84’ and Messi scored a fourth with a delicious chip over Alves.  All the work was done by a beautiful ball from Busquets and a great run from Messi.  Xavi came on as a late sub and even scored after Valencia made a complete hash of a clearance and he flicked over the keeper.

Just a couple of more player notes. Sanchez struggled in front of goal.  Although Alves was in good form, the Chilean should have one or two.  Thought Pedro was far from his best on the left but there is still time for him to come good this season.  Nice to see Montoya out there.  Still doesn’t solve the long term problem in the middle but gives Pep options out wide.  As for Valencia, Piatti again had moments but disappeared after his goal and made way for Jordi Alba on 65 minutes.  I saw some rumors on twitter that FCB was interested in Rami.  Based on his performance this match, that interest needs to be over.  Slow, awkward, poorly positioned.  Yikes.

In the end, a spellbinding ninety minutes from the Blaugrana.  The league is gone but that doesn’t mean they can’t generate moments of the magic, of which this was one.  They have one foot in the last eight of the Champions League, and there is still the chance of a cup double this season, giving them five of the six titles on offer.  Still a nice haul.

Really enjoyed Kxevin’s recap of the game at Barcelona Football Blog as he echoed many of my sentiments but with greater embellishment and passion.  He gave big ups to Sanchez’s overall performance and thoroughly enjoyed Messi’s four goal haul while noting some areas of improvement.

I did a little searching at a couple of Valencia blogs, but they didn’t have their comments up yet.  I did find this player rating, which was pretty harsh.  Gave Alves a 5.5?  Seriously?  The man kept you competitive.  Blame your defense not the keeper.

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Odds and Ends

Sid Lowe tried to shift through the truths and lies over the site of this year’s Copa del Rey Final, featuring Athletic Bilbao against FC Barcelona.  Bilbao don’t want it at the Mestalla because it holds too few fans, ie too few Bilbao fans, and the Bernabeu doesn’t want to host because Barcelona are involved.  There is the stadium in Seville but that is not centrally located.  Who knows where the game will end up or even what date it will be played.

Connor at El Centrocampista asked the question this week: Are the rest catching the best in La Liga?  Yes Valencia is improving and, as the first of the rest, has not been completely cut adrift so far this season, but I don’t see much for the rest of the league.  There is more parity from fourth to ninth or so, but none of the chasing pack is really closing the gap on the Big Two, and I would be surprised if any of them can challenge in Europe.  I think FCB may come back to the pack as the torch is passed from Xavi and Puyol to the new players, but once they bed in, there could be another dominant cycle in the future.  As for Real Madrid, their status will depend on the manager after Mourinho and whether the club buys wisely.  Los Merengues are well placed to challenge on all fronts for the next several years, but if the Special One is not there, will they be able to keep it together?

As for the rest of the league . . .

Listened to a fantastic pod from Forza Football this week as they had Dean Burrier Sanchis (@BurrierSanchis) to discuss how he found Levante as his club, and they discussed their great start to the season and expectations for the final months of the season.  Love hearing fans’ stories, especially for the smaller clubs.

Sid Lowe looked at all of the factors at Malaga—finances, players sales and purchases, and injuries—in his weekly column for the Guardian.  As bad as they have been this season (and they have been awful at times), they could still qualify for Europe.  Don’t see it, mainly because they don’t have a backbone, which was reinforced by Sid’s stat:  only Barcelona have committed fewer fouls this season.

Graham Hunter’s column for Soccernet.com chronicled the long and winding tale of  Jose Luis Mendilibar, currently of Osasuna.  Celebrating a year in charge, here is a manager who has been around the block a couple of times and has a knack for getting the most out of players.  Unfortunately the clock is ticking as he has only lasted beyond two years at one job.

Mando at Forza Football used a Valentine’s Day metaphor to explore how clubs choose their managers and how success and failure at a club can be a matter of chance rather than work or talent, focusing on Clemente’s recent hire at Gijon.

Finally, Phil Ball continues to entertain and inform every week.  This week’s column focused on Spinoza’s idea of associations.  Who is Spinoza?  Answer, an 18th century Dutch rationalist philosopher.  Anyway, Phil explained the associations that have prospered (Iniesta/Messi, CR7/Benzema) and associations that have been severed (Nilmar/Rossi, Borja/Cazorla) in La Liga this season.  Great read.

I’m out of town this weekend so will not posting next week.  Enjoy the next round of games and the Morbo Minute will be back in two weeks.

Morbo Minute–Halfway to finding out who will finish Fourth

With family and work responsibilities, plus an Epic Sunday in the EPL, I didn’t get to see much of La Liga this weekend, only catching the second half of Barcelona’s demolition of Malaga.

Saturday

In checking the scores and reports  Espanyol picked up three easy points, against Granada, which cost Fabri his job; Racing’s mini-revival may be over after suffering a home defeat to Getafe; the Sevilla Derby ended all square, which helps neither team and probably can’t help Marcelino’s position as manager of the Rojiblancos.  Simeone’s Atleti have not conceded a goal since he took over and maybe he really can turn things around in the capital.

Sunday

I noticed that Valencia drew with Osasuna, and Los Che need to be careful to not get sucked into the race for fourth; Mallorca pulled even with Rayo after beating them 1-0 in Madrid; and basically no one has anything good to say about the scoreless game between Levante and Real Zaragoza.

As for the Big Two . . .

Kari at Barcelona Football Blog thought that Barcelona’s 4-1 win at Malaga was their best away match of the season thus far, largely thanks to Victor Valdes (for saving the proverbial bacon in the first half) and to Messi (for being Messi).  I watched bits and pieces of the second half, in between beers and conversations on the EPL games, when the game was in control.  Good to see FCB back among the goals on the road.

Mike Barnes at A Different Liga examined Malaga in the wake of another defeat.  Seems like I have seen a lot of these posts on different sites lately.  Pellegrini demands change the headlines read, yet nothing really happens.  Performances don’t improve, new players do not come in, Ruud still plays.

To further complicate issues, David Redshaw posted that Malaga will not be able transfer players due to a LFP ban.  I haven’t been able to corroborate this, but if this is true, that can’t be good for the image of the club and their goals for this season.  (Note, Andy May tweeted that Malaga has stated it was an administration error and they do not have financial problems.)

Real Madrid went down early to Athletic Bilbao, but eventually turned things around with two second half penalties (not the most definitive PK’s ever called) to win 4-1 in the last game of the day.

I appreciate Madridista Mac’s analysis of Real Madrid.  In the aftermath of another Clasico loss, he does not abandon ship but does what Real does: they pick themselves up, make a tweak or seven, and go out and win another match.  FC Barcelona are the exception for Los Merengues as he puts it, but the team continues to march forward.

Jonny Mullins gave a quick tactical breakdown of the match at SpanishFootball.info, focusing on both teams close combination passing and movement and the lack of pressure from each side. Bilbao were eventually undone by the two penalties, which caused them get stretched and led to the fourth goal.

Monday

Villarreal won three vital points after a 3-0 defeat of Sporting Gijon. (Reuben’s goal even made US ESPN’s Top Plays.)  Gijon falls back into the relegation zone while the Yellow Submarine sit just outside thanks to their superior goal differential.

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Articles

Graham Hunter examined how Pepe fits (or rather doesn’t fit) into Real Madrid’s plans for victory on the field and in the public arena, as Los Blancos fell again to FC Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa.

Sid Lowe gave his two cents about the apparent furor in the Real Madrid dressing room.    I think it will blow over in time, especially if Real create a shockwave and beat FCB at the Camp Nou in the Copa.  Otherwise, results will keep coming, Los Blancos should progress in the Champions League and there is possible silverware at the end of the season.

Miguel Delaney chimed on the recent feud between Mourinho and his players.  He argues that roles of Real Madrid and Barcelona have flipped in that FCB are stable, with a clear purpose, while Real are in constant crisis, trying to buy players and changing coaches in a quest for success.  Makes for interesting reading.

Phil Ball ranked each team based on their position at the halfway point.  Levante are 1 (no issues) and Valencia are 20 (namely because they are simply the third best team in Spain and that’s where Los Che sit).  Positions 2 through 19 might surprise you.

La Liga Loca classified the Best and Worst of the last round, with praise for Real Madrid’s attacking lineup and Simeone’s tightening up of Atleti at the back.  In his criticisms, he picked out Malaga, who “have now slipped back to tenth place, are without a win in six and that must be putting Manuel Pellegrini and his project under pressure despite constant claims of patience.”

Richard Thorburn looked at La Liga players off to the African Cup of Nations and how their absences may affect the squads they left.  Teams at the bottom could be most affected.

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Podcasts

One of Forza Futbol’s latest pods discussed statistics in La Liga with Javier Hernandez (@JavierJotah).  He explained what he looks for in stats at each position and how players are stacking up this year.  Interesting stuff especially in a league where players and teams don’t necessarily fit into neatly defined boxes.

Andy and Sid spent a lot of time on La Liga Weekly looking ahead to the second leg of FC Barcelona and Madrid but did squeeze in some thoughts on the race for European places and which clubs might get them.

Also, the SpanishFootball.info pod is back up.  Make sure to look for it.

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So here are the standings at the halfway point.  Really hoping that Bilbao can make a push for fourth.  Would really like to see them in the Champions League next year.  If Malaga don’t improve their form, they may slide into the relegation battle instead of pushing on for a European place.  Here’s hoping the Villarreal can escape the tractor beam of relegation.

Real Madrid

19

16

1

2

49

49

Barcelona

19

13

5

1

47

44

Valencia

19

10

5

4

9

35

Levante

19

9

4

6

3

31

Espanyol

19

8

4

7

0

28

Osasuna

19

6

9

4

-9

27

Athletic

19

6

8

5

4

26

Atlético

19

7

5

7

3

26

Sevilla

19

6

8

5

0

26

Málaga

19

7

4

8

-6

25

Getafe

19

6

6

7

-5

24

Betis

19

7

2

10

-5

23

Rayo

19

6

4

9

-7

22

Mallorca

19

5

7

7

-7

22

R Sociedad

19

5

6

8

-10

21

Racing

19

4

8

7

-8

20

Villarreal

19

4

7

8

-10

19

Granada

19

5

4

10

-14

19

Sporting

19

5

3

11

-15

18

R Zaragoza

19

2

6

11

-19

12

Morbo Minute–New Year, Mixed Results

This was the round of the new managers as three new gaffers attempted to turn the fortunes around of their respective clubs and were underwhelming to say the least.

Simeone at Atleti led out his charges away to Malaga in the last game on Saturday. Sid Lowe gave his two cents on Simeone’s appointment at Atleti, stating that while El Cholo may have a history with the club, he alone cannot turn the club around. But it will be fascinating to watch him try. His presence was not enough as Los Colchoneros could only get a 0-0 draw. Spanish Football gave a quick recap of the gameDerek at Atleticofans.com was happy with a clean sheet and a point away from home for Atleti.  Big game against Villarreal next week at the Calderon.

Earlier in the day, Jimenez traveled with Zaragoza to Racing for a true six pointer and fell by a single goal. I cut them adrift awhile ago and I don’t think a new manager is going to change anything.

David Redshaw at A Different Liga summed up the rest of the Saturday’s action, which were light on goals except for Real Madrid and Granada.

Speaking of Los Merengues, Kaushik (@_kaushik7) at Real Madrid Football Blog examined a slightly weakened Real team who dismantled poor Granada.  Twitter was abuzz with praise for Varane after the match and Kaushik joined in.  With Carvalho on the way out, it looks like Varane will provide long term cover for Pepe and Sergio Ramos.  I guess Lass has become the new right back of the Evil Empire.  He does well there when I’ve seen him but will he be up to scratch against top flight Champions League competition?  Real are now five points up and assuming they don’t get too fatigued during their cup run, I can see them pulling away by late March.

On Sunday, former Spanish goalkeeper Molina took charge at the Madrigal. The Yellow Submarine could only manage a draw after throwing away a 2-0 lead, and the result leaves them in the relegation places.

Villarreal 2  Valencia 2

In the lead up to this match I saw that Marcos Senna was starting for Villarreal, which I thought was a surprise.  Haven’t seen him much this season, either on the field or on the team sheet.  Again Pablo was on the bench for Valencia as Emery went with Alba and Feghouli out wide.

An entertaining first half came to an end with the hosts up 2-1. Valencia had a positive start early but was lacking the final ball.  Villarreal opened the scoring on 14’ after a mix up in the Valencian rearguard. Rueben did a quick combo with Nilmar and kept his composure to finish.  Again Valencia had more of the ball but the hosts won a free kick that was whipped in and headed home by Frankie Hejduk’s younger brother (Gonzalo)—2-0 to the Yellow Submarine.  With their slick play frustrated, defender Miguel airmailed a ball into the area which found the head of Feghouli, so Los Che went into the break only down 2-1.  Seemed like Borja was not seeing much of the ball in first half from his left interior position, and I was interested to see if Molina would change this in the second half.

The second half involved both sides going end to end, when they weren’t fouling each other, with Valencia having the better of exchanges.  Emery brought on Pablo, Aduriz and Costa in search of equalizer while Molina took off Gonzalo and Cani for two younger players (Castellani and Lejeune) to keep things fresh.  Nilmar came off with five minutes to go and should have been taken off sooner, not really getting into the match.  Villarreal were close to three vital points but Valencia equalized as Aduriz made the most of his opportunity.  Zapata made a hash of the clearance and the striker passed it in to the far corner.

Villarreal did well with their opportunities in the first half, but Valencia actually tried to win the game so fair play to them.  With the draw and Racing’s win on Saturday, the Yellow Submarine are officially in the relegation zone. Molina’s Job #1: Avoid Relegation.

For a Villarreal perspective I visited VillarrealUSA.com where Siempre_riquelme looked back at the Valencian Derby, and took positives from Molina’s first game, but I can’t really agree with his statement: A decent result on paper, but blowing a two-goal lead at home is painful. Particularly against your bitter rivals, whom you outclassed on the day.   Valencia were on top for long stretches and Villarreal rarely threatened, Borja’s fierce shot being the exception.

Speaking of throwing away a lead, Espanyol pegged back FCB in the final match of Sunday’s action. I was not able to watch the game but followed proceedings on the twitter and on the soccernet gamecast during church and gasped when I read Espanyol equalized. The Blaugrana were not able to score again and now Real have a five point advantage. The momentum of the Clasico is gone and the engraver may be able to start working on the La Liga trophy.

Kari at Barcelona Football Blog recapped the Catalan Derby with passion and analysis and love and hope as FCB dropped points against their rivals.  I really enjoyed this post as she praised Espanyol for dictating the game instead of letting the Blaugrana just passing them into submission.  She is optimistic that Los Merengues can still be caught.  I’m not.

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Sid Lowe explained that Espanyol’s draw with FCB was part of the narrative between the neighbors.  It is Los Pericos not Real Madrid who have taken the most points from the Blaugrana in the Pep era.  Yes there was a penalty shout but these things happen and now FCB must hope Real Madrid regress if they hope to catch them.  Sid also mentioned the fight or rather lack of for the last Champions League spot: This weekend only one of the top 10 won – Real Madrid. No one wants to take the fourth place, which looks set to be one of the cheapest Champions League slots there’s been.

La Liga Loca echoed a theme that I have come across, which is that Benzema has completely transformed his play, his attitude and fans’ appreciation in year.  Betis seem to be off the slide, with three wins on the bounce, as they head into the Nou Camp.  His comments about Sevilla’s Marcelino were interesting as well:

The Sevilla manager’s instincts are always to avoid defeat rather than go for the win, and this is costing Marcelino’s men badly, with the club now on a run of three league defeats. In the final half an hour, Sevilla showed how well they can go forward when two strikers are played after the introduction of Freddie Kanouté, but it was too little, too late.

Phil Ball put Diego Simeone’s return to Atleti into context as the former hard man returns to manage the team he lead to League and Cup Double in 1996.  Simeone displayed other parts of the game during his playing career, and the hope is that he can turn the ship around in the capital and return the club to their rightful place, which is in the broad shadow of the Big Two.

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Articles

Olly Dawes sifted through some the transfer possibilities for this window. I was intrigued by Guardado to Valencia. Think that would be an excellent move, especially if they lose Alba over the summer. Saviola to Granada kinda blew my mind. Talk about the penthouse to the outhouse. I’m also interested to see who Malaga get to continue their project.

David Cartlidge at SpanishFootball.info looked at some transfer options as well, with the Big Two relatively quiet. Sevilla were also discussed with Caceres possibly off to Juve (NICE!!).

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Podcasts

Forza Football had a highly entertaining and informative pod about Barcelona’s other team, Espanyol. Mark, Nick (aka @PERICOZ), and Mando (@espanyolUSA) talked the club ahead of the big game against FC Barcelona. The gang appreciates the club trying to be fiscally responsible but hopes to hold on to some of their good talent. The panel also backed Pochettino and feel he needs to stay on no matter what, including relegation. They were also pretty positive in their predictions, seeing a tight game, which turned out to be pretty close to what happened.

Andy May and Sid Lowe on Sky’s La Liga Weekly discussed Barca’s draw at Espanyol and how this affects the title chase and RealMadrid’s ability to change gears against Granada, with Benzema and Varane playing well.  Andy interviewed Malaga defender Kris Stadsgaard and asked about the form of the team and his possible exit from the squad in this transfer window. Sid examined the rest of the pack, including Molina taking charge of Villarreal; Sevilla, who added Reyes; and possible transfers.

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After doing my reading, I really regret missing the Catalan Derby.  I planned to watch the replay but time got away and then it was on to the Copa and the next round of games is almost up on us.  The 3:30pm EST time start is tough for me, and guess what, FCB play Betis this Sunday at 3:30.

Some other games I’m hoping to catch this weekend (all time EST):

Saturday

12:00p             Sevilla v Espanyol

Sunday

6:00a               Atletico de Madrid v Villarreal

12:00p            Athletic Bilbao v Levante

3:30p               FC Barcelona v Betis

Morbo Minute

Obviously almost all eyes were focused on the Big One, but there were some surprising results in La Liga this round.  La Liga Loca was kind of a Debbie Downer this week, perhaps affected by all the awful football and situations going on at the bottom of the table. Or maybe he was just depressed after Atletico were destroyed by Espanyol.

Saturday

Real Betis stunned Valencia, and probably the entire world, with two late goals.  They had earned one point in the their last 30, but Castro scored twice in the dying moments to take three points off Los Che and officially end Valencia’s title fight.  Glancing at Valencia’s line-up, it was not the usual suspects.  Looks like they were missing Pablo and Jordi Alba, with Albelda and Parejo on the bench.  Nice to see Banega at least on the bench and hopefully he will be back after the winter break.

Levante beat Sevilla 1-0, which is a great result for Los Granotes after getting stuffed last week against FCB, but another loss for Sevilla, as the air is definitely going out of that balloon.  Also a Sevilla win would have kept them within touching distance of the fourth CL spot, but the loss leaves them five points back.  Since their amazing 0-0 draw at the CampNou in October, they have only picked up eight of the 21 available points.

Sunday

Again, another Sunday with La Liga.  One of my New Year’s resolutions is watch more Primera games on Sunday.  The guys at SpanishFootball.info do an excellent job of giving quick and informative summaries.

Rayo Vallecano     1-3          Sporting Gijon

Getafe                        1-0         Granada

Villarreal                 1-1          Real Sociedad

The Yellow Submarine continue to struggle.  Can they turn it around in 2012?

Málaga                      1-1          Osasuna

Malaga drew at home against Osasuna and just can’t seem to get a streak going.  They are stuck on 24 points with Sevilla, and it will be interesting to see if either team will be able to capitalize on Levante’s anticipated swoon after the break.

Real Zaragoza        0-1         Mallorca

The trap door is agonizingly wide open under Real Zaragoza.

Athletic Bilbao      1-1          Racing Santander

San Mames has not been a fortress lately, with Los Leones only picking one point from their last two matches.  I read there was not Llorente, which I’m sure was a factor.

Espanyol                  4-2          Atlético Madrid

Surely Manzano is on his way out.

Now that we’ve got all of that out of the way, on to El Clasico.

Real Madrd 1  FC Barcelona 3

The biggest game of the year and I scheduled a community event on that day.  I realized as soon as I started publicizing the event that I had made a scheduling oversight.  I immediately started worked on a strategy and coordinated with a friend to tape the game so that we could watch it later that night.  The next step was to go into media blackout so that I wouldn’t know anything about the match. No twitter, no facebook, no soccer sites.  The final step was to pick up beer.  I picked up a bottle of Guinness and a bottle of Harp to make Half and Half, Shiner Bock, Killian’s, Stella, and Goose Island 312.

After my event and clean up and nap, I had absolutely no emotion regarding the game, but the closer I got to my friend’s apartment, the more and more nervous I got.  I sat down to watch the game and was immediately confronted by a complete fuck up by Valdes.  I was stunned for the first fifteen minutes and didn’t even realize that FCB was playing a 3-4-3 with Alves pushed high up on the right. (Or were they?)

As with previous matches Real Madrid came out with high energy, putting pressure on the Barcelona players, upsetting their natural rhythm, and it paid dividends.  Slowly but surely FCB got into the match and Sanchez equalized just before half.  Messi was not able to run at the Real Madrid rearguard with much success and when he finally passed instead of dribbled, it resulted in a goal.

The second half saw FCB having more of the ball but Real Madrid were quite dangerous.  For me the changing point of the match was Xavi’s deflected goal.  Once that went in, Real Madrid slipped, and once they slipped, the edge that they had was gone and FCB was back in the ascendancy.  For all of the talent and organization and quality of Los Merengues, there is a sense of mental fragility.  They are great when their tails are up, but when confronted with an obstacle, or immovable force, in this instance, they cannot respond.

One of Barcelona’s issues this season has been putting teams to the sword, but Fabregas’ goal took care of that.  Forget the games against Real Sociedad and AC Milan, where the Blaugrana allowed their opponent a chance to equalize.  Alves, in his advanced position, whipped in a cross which Fabregas nodded home and injected real life into the La Liga campaign.  There was no way back for Los Blancos, and they headed back to their compound losers once again.

In the end, it was an odd game, with a bizarre start, CR7 missing two gilt edged chances, and a strangely subdued finish at the Bernabeu.  At the beginning of the season, I picked Real Madrid to win the league.  After the shock results against Levante and Racing, that prediction looked to be in jeopardy, but after FCB’s defeat at Getafe, my guess looked pretty good.  After Saturday’s match, I don’t know what to think.  FCB has reduced the deficit but the Blaugrana still remain three points behind. Logic says that Mourinho tells his team, start another winning streak, maintain performances and come into April’s game, the Evil Empire will still be three points (or more) ahead.

One more question about the game, what now for Villa and Pedro?  Sanchez continues to impress and Villa looked horribly off the mark when he came on.  Pedro can only make substitute appearances as Cuenca improves with every match.  Maybe it will be an embarrassment of riches, but it could also cause tension in Pep’s Wonderland.

As always, Zonal Marking gave a thorough breakdown of the game.  His comments were very interesting and he saw things that I didn’t pick up while watching.  I would argue that Barca morphed into a 3-4-3 with Alves advanced, but what do I know?  I didn’t really notice Busquets dropping into the back four.  Messi did see the ball but was not able to slice and dice as he did on several occasions during the Champions League games.  As for Real Madrid, Mourinho started his typical formation and went right at the Blaugrana.  They were in the match but conceded control after 30 minutes or so.  After going down 2-1, I didn’t like the Benzema move to left mid.  Thought he was wasted there.  All in all, a thrilling match with so much going on below the surface.

Jonathan Wilson echoed Zonal Marking’s analysis and went a step further, focusing on the backline of three and a half, with Busquets doing two jobs in one.  Both writers identified that Ozil was either not the right choice or possessing the right ability for this match.  Funny how one of the best signings of last year has been made a possible scapegoat a third of the way into this season. Wilson also mentioned the Three Year Rule, which may hold true in typical leagues, but La Liga is far from typical.  Long runs are just 20 (Cruyff’s Dream Team of 1990-1994) and 25 (Real Madrid’s 5 in a row from 1985-1990) years away for the Big Two and, with their current financial stranglehold, it’s possible that we could see dominant cycles domestically in the future.

For the Real Madrid perspective I visited Real Madrid Football Blog.

Kaushik (@_kaushik7) was very frank in the aftermath of the match.  He felt that Real were playing the same game–“Same in terms of us not putting our chances away, same in terms of us failing to track spaces and let Barca score those goals, rather easily“–as the last two years and are still too far away from FCB, especially mentally.  He had some sharp criticism for CR7:

What can I say, I am not pissed with him, or calling for him to benched like many extremists are, but I am just disappointed. Not upset, just terribly disappointed. He is our best player, and so much is expected from him. To set him apart from the great players to the legends, it is in matches like these that these best players, these leaders carry their teams. And he did not. Holding him responsible for not converting chances sounds criminal, but aren’t we as fans allowed to set that high standards to those that we bank on most? More than the chances, he was just not influential at all. I don’t know what it is with big matches or clasicos, its a different Cristiano. Does he put too much pressure on himself? Or does he simply not have the mental strength? I think the latter is too harsh, and hence I’ll choose to pick the former.

Madridista Mac was sick after El Clasico but as he sorted through his thoughts, he urged Madrid fans and the Madrid Team to rise to the challenge of this Barca squad.  He echoed the CR7=choker sentiment, second guessed the tactical choices of the Special One, and questioned the character of the current Real Madrid squad.  He urged them to not wallow in despair but to respond, to start preparing for April when they will have to measure themselves again.

Barcelona have become the measure to true excellence in football and we’ve only got one remaining chance left this season to test ourselves against them. If this team truly wants to earn its rightful place in the football world, then it must begin counting the days for the next encounter – they should in fact pray to the football Gods that we meet them in battle once again in the Champions League or the Copa Del Rey. Times and defeats like this are not cues to cower or shudder in fear: these are moments for Madridisimo to bang their fists on the table to demand another go.

For the Barcelona side of things, I visited Barcelona Football Blog:

Euler did a two part review of the match.  My response to the first part: Wow.  He started by dismissing the premise that most pundits had coming into the match—that FCB were regressing or stalling, while Real Madrid were progressing.  His response:

We saw once again how this Barcelona project is never satisfied.  It always wants to win.  It isn’t complacent or interested in resting on the past or on a particular generation of talent.

We saw a team that is starting to evolve its core, a team that has been drastically turned over from 2008/09 yet still continues to achieve wondrous results.  We saw a new group of players emerging to contribute.  We saw a squad that is getting younger at key positions.

We saw a squad that Guardiola is constantly pushing to get better.  A squad organized by strategy and tactics that are always evolving playing a system that is constantly designed and redesigned.  If anything – this season we’ve seen these issues pushed even harder.

Surpassing Barcelona will not be an event because Barcelona will not sit still.  This is the challenge for the opposition. Barcelona is a moving target – one that is competing not only against other teams – but against itself.  Surpassing this Barça project will require a process, a process that will only attain weight and meaning over sustained time.

The longer that process goes on for the opposition though, the more difficult it will become in some ways because with each achievement this Barça team learns more and more deeply how to execute at the highest level, how to stay composed and focused.  It explores new dimensions of how to win.

What a post, thoughtfully considering the now in the context of history and what lies ahead in the future.  His comments were beyond FCB and were more about life, success and the desire to evolve.  Forget TACTICS!  Consider the sentiments in this post.  Really well done.

Just to note, Messi didn’t score against Real Madrid, once again proving Surreal Football’s point that he is rubbish.

In the all of the reviews of El Clasico, I’ve certainly gotten my fill of Sid Lowe.  La Liga Weekly, the Guardian pod and the Guardian site.  His weekly recap of La Liga took a unique approach to the fallout of the biggest game in the world—he praised the bravery of Valdes and Barcelona.  Despite giving up a very early goal, Valdes continued to play the way the Blaugrana play, and his teammates did likewise, until they took control of the match and eventually won.  A telling quote . . .

When people talk of bravery in football, they tend to conjure up Terry Butcher’s bandage. The image of bravery is of the hardnut centre-back flying into lunatic challenges. But it’s tempting to conclude that that’s not brave at all – surely kicking people is the opposite – and even if it is, there’s another type of bravery. The player who keeps his head when all around others are losing theirs, who stays strong after a mistake, who overcomes the pressure. A brave player is the one who loses the ball three times and still wants it; who keeps attacking. The goalkeeper who makes the biggest mistake on earth – and doesn’t take the easy, if short term, way out. The team that have the courage of their convictions.

Phil Ball offered his analysis of the Big One, examining the strange things that seem to happen mentally and psychologically in this match, along with assorted tactical points.  He also mentioned the complete dog fight going on at the bottom of the table, as a few points separate relegation from a Europa League place.

Mando at Forza Futbol wrote a quick piece in the aftermath of El Clasico and examined how both teams got to this point—coaches, players and tactics.  Really enjoyed the comments as both teams act and react to each other’s moves, yet FCB remain on top.  Give it a quick read.

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Pods

Forza Football had the filmmakers behind El Clasico on in preparation for the big game.  Elisa had mentioned this in previous shows, and I really want to catch it in a theater or buy the DVD.  Amazing what you can do with some fortitude and knowledge of another language.

Sid and Andy reviewed El Clasico on La Liga Weekly right after the match.  This was Real Madrid’s chance.  Again.  And yet they were found lacking.  Barca are completely devoted to their identity, and right now, this belief is able to overcome the athleticism and tactical ability of Los Merengues.  Who knows what the landscape will look like in April, but I’m sure we’ll in for another fascinating confrontation.

The panel on the SpanishFootball.info pod had some strong comments on El Clasico.  One member called CR7 a luxury player and everyone commented on the gap between CR7 and Messi.  According to David, Valencia has received the necessary financing to move forward with their new stadium that will seat 75,000.

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Articles

Saw this headline on El Centrocampista-MALAGA COULD DO BETTER SAYS VAN NISTELROOY-so I clicked on it. Not much too it, but then I came across this little bit of transfer rumor from A Different Liga.  Valero to Malaga would really be a kick in the teeth to the Yellow Submarine, while Parejo to Valencia makes sense for the player if he wants to stake his claim, but not, as the article points out, for Valencia, as it would strengthen a direct rival.

I had heard that Oriol Romeu was playing at Chelsea, but didn’t realize he was doing so well.  From Lee Roden’s post on El Centrocampista, it sounds like there may be a battle for his services in the next year or two.  I believe FCB inserted the same clause in Bojan’s contract in Roma (not that they would ever exercise it).  As Lee correctly states: “One should never underestimate the will of a player, just ask Cesc Fabregas. The door is still open, but it will be up to Oriol Romeu to walk back through it.”  Time will tell.

Morbo Minute–Ramping up for the Spanish Old Firm Derby

The weekend before el clasico was relatively muted.  The Big Two took care of business, with Valencia grabbing a late winner to maintain third place. Bilbao dropped more points and Malaga was shocked by the Blue and Whites of Real Sociedad.  The first manager in Spain left his post the same week the first manager in England was fired. (I’m am idiot.  Laudrup left earlier in the season.)

Sid Lowe reflected on the clusterfuck that is Racing Santander.  It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century, a club could have an absent owner, no president, a three person head coach and be completely in debt yet continue to play and even win a game.  Racing’s 1-0 victory over disappointing Villarreal may be the last points they earn this season and maybe as a club as they move closer and closer to non-existence.  Gone are the days of Salva, who dominated my homemade greatest goal tapes at the turn of the century.

In case you didn’t know, I love Phil Ball’s writing, and this week’s column for Soccernet is a perfect example of why.  He took a random schoolboy event and linked it to Real Sociedad’s stunning victory over Malaga and the upcoming el clasico.  Everyone can guess what’s going to happen at the Bernabeu and no one really knows, but the reason we care is because:

But what interested me, in my seven-year-old sort of way, had been the emotions unleashed by my spontaneous action. The near-death experience, far from putting me off the beautiful game, actually had the opposite effect. If scoring a goal could get you so much attention – albeit 50% unwanted – then maybe there was something worth investigating in this football business. I never looked back. I wanted to experience the rush of emotion that the bigger kids were getting, seemingly on a regular basis. It looked like a good alternative to playing marbles.

La Liga Loca joined Phil Ball in praising Angel Di Maria.  I am interested to see how the Argentinian fares Saturday.  It may be that his performance, probably against Abidal, determines the fate of the match. In other news, Soldado keeps scoring, Granada keeps earning points and Betis keeps their improbable slide going (now one point in their last 30).

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Results

SATURDAY

Racing Santander        1-0       Villarreal

Sporting Gijon              0-3       Real Madrid

Didn’t read the review at Real Madrid Football Blog, but I can sum it up–Los Blancos dominated another opponent and come into el clasico full of confidence and sharpness.

Barcelona                        5-0       Levante

I watched this game live on Saturday.  Another home match, another shoutout, another manita.

Levante were humbled into submission, with the organization and hard work seen previously almost non-existent as FCB put them to the sword with their movement and precision.  The Blaugrana started with a 3-4-3 and were sharp from the off, with good movement but lacking the final ball. Levante were asking questions with Kone and Valdo troubling the high line after quick and direct counters.  I was a little concerned that the second goal for the Blaugrana was from a free kick, which has become a source of goals rather than the run of play.  Those concerns were alleviated later in the match.  Not much more to report here.

Kxvein at Barcelona Football Blog felt that the increased level of movement from the side, along with a good amount of aggression and width led to the dismantling of the Levante.  Have to agree.  These three things will be needed on Saturday, as I feel that Real Madrid will play at a very high level (physically, technically, and tactically) that will require maximum efforts from FCB.

Lee Roden made some interesting comments after the FCB thrashing of Levante.  In essence, FCB really used the width of the field (something they failed to do against Getafe) and Fabregas’ role in the team cannot be underestimated.  Just like the Spanish National team, how does Fabregaas get on the field?  In the 3-4-3 fine, but in the usual 4-3-3, I don’t see him getting into the midfield, and I’m not sure he is most effective up top.  Pep will have some tough choices for el clasico.

Valencia                      2-1       Espanyol

Here is the match recap from A Different Liga.

SUNDAY

El Centrocampista summed up the Sunday matches, which saw Atletico maintain their unbeaten home record but according to the post, They have only picked up a paltry one point from six away games so far—ouch; Malaga miss out on more vital points in a loss to Real Sociedad; Osasuna continue their good run of form; Athletic Bilbao only picked up one point after qualifying as group winners in the Europa League; and Granada defeated bottom of the table Real Zaragoza.

Atlético Madrid         3-1       Rayo Vallecano

Real Sociedad             3-2       Málaga  

There was ludicrous defending from Real Sociedad for Malaga’s 2nd.  Almost as bad as Malaga’s away kit.  Blech.  Then the Blue and White’s rescured the points with an acrobatic effort from Vela and sublime finish from Diego Ifran.

Osasuna                        2-1       Real Betis

Mallorca                       1-1       Athletic Bilbao

Granada                        1-0       Real Zaragoza

MONDAY

Sevilla FC                     3-0      Getafe

Match report from SpanishFootball.info.

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Articles

This article at El Centrocampisa grabbed my attention, and it seems like Falcao is off to a great start for Atleti.  It made me wonder what are the best signings this year in La Liga.  Sanchez for Barca?  Jury is still out.  Real Madrid’s signings are still fitting into the team.  I think Contreao has provided options for Los Merengues, which will be important in the spring as they fight on three fronts.  Piatti for Valencia?  When I’ve seen him, it’s been as an impact sub.  Anybody at Malaga.  Ummmm, not really.

David at SpanishFootball.info took a look at managers on the hot seat.  With Cuper doing the generous thing and leaving Racing without compensation, it is time to figure out who might be next.  Pepe Mel at Betis has to be the leading candidate with the team in severe decline after a dream start.  Manzano at Atleti might not be far behind.  Seems that the fans are not convinced, despite qualification for the knockout of the Europa League and being in the top half of the table.

After reading Madridista Mac’s pre-El Clasico post, I got even more fired up for the game on Saturday.  He is balanced, fair and cogent, stating the case for why Madrid can win while trying to keep fans’ feet on the ground who think that victory is a certainty.  Definitely give it a read before the big game.

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Podcasts

The guys at La Liga Weekly discussed the victories for the Big Two and gave an early preview of el clasico, which Sid feels FCB are obliged to win due to the circumstances.  They also mentioned the fading of Villarreal from Champions League contender to the last European place contender (or worse) as the financial and technical resources dry up.

Graham Hunter did a short piece for Revista on the decline of Real Zaragoza.

Guillem Balague and the gang gave their comments ahead of the big game on Revista.  Should be a compelling match.

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Standings

I’ll address those after the fall out from El Clasico.  The league ould be done and dusted or there could be a real fight on our hands.  Also, there will be some key fixtures that will shape the middle of the table.

Morbo Minute–Frogs win, Lions lose, Blaugrana concede?

This weekend was not necessarily dedicated to La Liga, as my post on Monday revealed. Saturday was probably the turning point in this season’s campaign, with Barcelona suffering their first defeat in any competition since April, which puts them six points behind Real Madrid.  Sunday was an action packed day, with lots of goals and shock results.  I’ll get to  everything in good time.

Real Madrid 4  Atletico Madrid 1

An early turnover from Los Blancos led to the opening goal from the visitors, and, for a brief moment, the twitter was abuzz with the possibility of an actual game.  Then Benzema was taken out by Courtois, who received a straight red; CR7 converted to equalize; and basically the game was over.  Atletico survived until halftime but an early surge from Ronaldo found Di Maria who made no mistake and Real cruised from there.  The third came from a comedy of errors as an Atletico defender hit his clearance into Higuain who walked it in to make it 3-1.  Then a second red card (Godin), which was harsh in my opinion, and subsequent closed the scoring.  Atletico were the source of their demise (as usual) and Real Madrid stay on top.

Sid Lowe right after the game for the Guardian.

Forza Futbol had some Atleti fans in preparation for the derby, and they were pretty down on the team, figuring they would score but lose.  With Falcao out and the squad having a huge inferiority complex, only one outcome could be forseen.  Elisa called them realists, which I guess is true, but assuming your team has no chance going into a big game is kind of sad.

Derek from Atletico Fans posted this match review.  Seems like the decision to remove Diego may have changed the game more than the loss of the goal keeper.  At the time it made sense to me.  The Brazilian was already on a yellow, and I didn’t figure he would have the fitness to make up for being a man down.  But without him, Real Madrid were in complete control, and Atleti had no thrust in the attack.

For the Real Madrid perspective I read Madridista Mac, who saw Real Madrid stick with their standard formation this year (4-2-3-1) and remain composed despite Atleti trying to wind them up.  He also mentioned the substitution of Diego:

If there is to be one person in your team who is supposed to get you out of such a hole, it would have to be your coach. Manzano’s reaction however sped up the Snowball Effect for his team to go on a tailspin: by choosing to remove Diego to send in Asenjo for the Red-Carded Courtois. It wasn’t so much as about removing the Brazilian per se, but actually removing the tactical component he introduced to the game that bothered Real Madrid the most: the marking of Xabi Alonso. Diego was not only taken off, but Atleti’s tactical function of marking Alonso had also been taken off (instead of being re-assigned to another guy). Xabi Alonso would then have the entire game at the palm of his hand, helping Real Madrid to a cool 60+% possession.

As you would expect, he is excited about already being six points over Barca.  He notes that if the Blaugrana don’t win the first el clasico, they will have to start mounting a challenge right after the winter break, which will be tough as the Copa del Rey will be in full swing, and games will be coming thick and fast leading into the resumption of the Champions League.

Getafe 1  FC Barcelona 0

Let the score soak in.  Now let this soak in: the Blaugrana are now six points behind Real Madrid.  Some FCB fans are trying to put a good face on the situation.  But let’s face it.  The league is gone.  Sure FCB could win both el clasicos, match Real Madrid’s league results and win the league.  Face facts.  Real are doing what FCB did last year—going on a long winning streak that creates the necessary gap to make up for dropped points.

FCB played well, keeping possession and creating chances, but they did not have the edge necessary to beat a team content and constructed to defend, and only when they went a goal down did they show an uptick in urgency.  This result sees their unbeaten run in all competitions come to a screeching halt.  Here is my tweet after the game: All good things must come to an end. #FCB lose. Lose a game & maybe the league. Still three more trophies to fight for. #ViscaBarca  They may not match the Dream Team (four straight league titles) but there is still plenty to play for, which will add to the legend of this team.

Euler at Barcelona Football Blog put things in perspective:

The team is clearly going through difficulties now.  But to say that this is somehow the end – that the season or over because they are six points behind is premature.  Not in November and not with two Clasicos remaining.  This team deserves not only the benefit of the doubt – but our belief.  They’ve earned that.  That is their history.

He also asked a series of questions and reviewing the hunger and work rate of the squad.  It’s important to keep these things in mind when trying to figure out what is going wrong.

In examining the match he noticed what jumped out at me as soon as I turned on the game: lack of movement.  Maybe it was the line up or tired legs or dependence on Xavi and Messi, but the team (in those horrible mint green kits) just stood around waiting for something to happen, which allowed Getafe to do their job even more efficiently.  In the end, the Blaugrana ran out of time and luck.

MegRyan at Total Barca was critical of the team’s performance (lack of movement, urgency and finishing) against the “Burger Kings” but soliders on.  Again, a better fan than me, and certainly more positive:

FC Barcelona lost. One could argue that the last time the team lost was also under the same referee, Fernando Teixeira. One could say the team was tired after an exhausting, but triumphant, Champions League group win. One could reason that the team was just, simply, unlucky. Valid arguments, but in the end, the team performed poorly. The players rested on their laurels and didn’t really feel the urge to win until they went behind with just a few minutes left. Getafe may not have “deserved” the three points either, since Barcelona did have 70% of possession, but the Burger Kings from start to finish wanted to win – and that was the difference.

More importantly than the team’s performance was that of the fans. For those saying that La Liga is over, that six points is an insurmountable gap, that Real Madrid should already begin celebrating, you are wrong. It is only November, and odds like this have been overcome before. Is it a setback? Yes. Does it signal that the team needs to perform better? Of course. But as culés, it is necessary to support the team no matter what, win or lose. It is all right to be disappointed, to be frustrated, but to be defeatist? Unacceptable.

Pull together. We celebrate together. We commiserate together. We are més que un club. Do not ever forget that.

The other score from Saturday:

Rayo Vallecano                     1-2         Valencia

I didn’t catch any of the games on Sunday, but fortunately Spanish Football did.

Real Betis                               2-3          Real Sociedad

Real Betis, who opened the season with four straight victories, slumped to a 3-2 home defeat against Real Sociedad.  After their fantastic start, they have picked up one point of the last 27 possible and have fallen to 14th place.

And if you haven’t seen Martinez’s winner, check this out.

Levante                                  4-0          Sporting Gijon

Espanyol                                1-2           Osasuna

Mallorca                                 2-1           Racing Santander

Athletic Bilbao                        0-1            Granada

Match review from A Different Liga

Athletic Bilbao’s unbeaten run in all competitions came to an end, with Granada securing three vital points at San Mames.  One thing I forgot to post last week was Sid Lowe on the historic appearance of Jonas Ramalho for Athletic Bilbao against Sevilla.  Why?  He is the first black player to play for Los Leones in their 100+ year history.  Doctor Sid takes a look at the Basque only policy.  Here’s a snippet:

There are two basic criteria that define whether or not a player can play for Athletic now. One is nationality, with all that entails. Ander Herrera was brought up in Zaragoza and began his career with their youth system but was born in Vizcaya. And though it has not always been the case, Athletic now assume the suitability of all those from the seven Basque provinces, whether by birth, parentage or upbringing. The other is footballing formation. Athletic’s policy states — except that it doesn’t “state” at all, of course — that players are eligible if they are Basque and/or formed as footballers in the Basque Country.

Real Zaragoza                        0-1          Sevilla FC

As for Monday, here is the result and a review from Olly Dawes at El Centrocampista.

Málaga                                   2-1          Villarreal

I wanted to see Cazorla against his former team but was at a work site all day.  Malaga continue to creep up the table.  I’m not sure if they have enough to make the Champions League spots but surely they have enough for the Europa League.

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For further insight into La Liga, I turned to the three wise men . . .

Sid Lowe gave his opinion on the mounting crisis at FCB and the Blaugrana’s chances of overcoming their deficit to Real Madrid, while weaving the political history of Spain into the ups and downs of the Big Two.  One day I’m going to try to get my head around all of the political machinations of this country.  Won’t be today.

Phil Ball watched the Madrid Derby from the comfort of the bar, where the bartender was something of a prophet, predicting a 4-1 scoreline once Adrian put the visitors ahead.  He also gave some quick comments on the Real Betis/Real Sociedad including that fantastic goal from Martinez.  Finally, although the league is shit, at least it is somewhat interesting: Levante’s story, Valencia staying up at the top despite their financial concerns; resurgent Bilbao; and Osasuna in the top half.

La Liga Loca gave a shoutout to Valencia striker Jonas while criticizing Di Maria’s antics and Espanyol’s shocking performance against Osasuna (via his friend Paul).

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Podcasts

I subscribed to the La Liga Weekly podcast from Sky Sports with Andy May and Sid Lowe.  Quality.

Beyond the Pitch had Jonathan de Guzman on to discuss his difficult first season at Villarreal.

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Articles

Graham Hunter took a look at the challenges for the big name coaches in Spain: Vicente Del Bosque, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.  With Barca’s recent set back and the energy required to reach the stratospheric heights of the last couple of years, it’s hard to see Pep staying on.  Del Bosque should retire if they win the Euros.  Probably should leave even if they don’t.  As for the Special One, if he wins the lot, I could see him bolting; otherwise he would probably give it one more try before moving on.

Eduardo Alvarez took an interesting angle when looking at players in La Liga, breaking them down into categories: Global Icons, Hired Guns,  Globetrotters, Club Players, Prodigal Sons, and Comets.  Fun read and fun trying to put different players at different clubs into different categories.

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Current table:

P W D L GD PTS
Real Madrid 13 11 1 1 36 34
Barcelona 13 8 4 1 31 28
Valencia 13 8 3 2 8 27
Levante 13 8 2 3 11 26
Málaga 13 7 2 4 1 23
Sevilla 13 5 6 2 3 21
Osasuna 13 4 6 3 -9 18
Athletic 13 4 5 4 3 17
Espanyol 13 5 2 6 -5 17
Rayo 13 4 4 5 0 16
Atlético 13 4 4 5 -2 16
Villarreal 13 3 5 5 -8 14
Getafe 13 3 4 6 -5 13
Betis 13 4 1 8 -7 13
Mallorca 12 3 4 5 -7 13
Granada 12 3 3 6 -7 12
R Sociedad 13 3 3 7 -8 12
Sporting 13 3 3 7 -9 12
R Zaragoza 13 2 4 7 -15 10
Racing 13 1 6 6 -11 9