Posts Tagged ‘ Total Barca ’

Strip Club–FCB 2013/14 Dollar Date

After last year’s traveshamockeries (home was a PSG rip off, away was the infamous tequila sunrise), this year’s offering from FCB and Nike sees the home shirt return to normal while the away makes a political statement.

The yellow ring collar returns to the home shirt, being first used during the 2010-11 season.  The red and blue are the more traditional scarlet and whatever color that blue is.  Once again, Nike is effin with the sleeves, but I can handle these red to blue transitions rather than the thick bands of other Nike kits.  The strip is completed with blue shorts and red and blue striped socks, which are a little busy for my tastes.

Barcelona 13/14 Nike Home Football Shirt

The away strip is a radical (I use that word intentionally) diversion from the norm.  The away kits of the last couple of seasons, with the exception of the all black strip of 2011/12 and maybe the yellow/navy blue/yellow of 2008-09, have been awful in appearance—electric mint, tangerine, salmon, neon yellow, khaki and of course last year’s cluster.  This year the club has introduced a kit which used the colors of Catalan Senyera.  The alternating yellow and red stripes have made subtle appearances on the kits, usually just below the collar at the back of the neck.  Now the whole kit is getting the treatment and is rounded off with red shorts and red and yellow hooped socks.

Barcelona 13/14 Nike Away Football Shirt

Last fall Catalonia seemed at the tipping point of independence.  The home game against Real Madrid in October was used as a stage for the crowd to make a bold declaration.  Maybe things have died down or maybe it’s because it’s the off season or maybe because Barca cruised to the title while licking their European wounds, but the talk of breaking away seems to have gone away.  It will be interesting to see how using the kit as a bold billboard will move the dial.

In the end, the Blaugrana and the Swoosh are back on the right track.  The home kit returns to its roots, while the away is a one off historical gesture.  Would have preferred that used the senyera as a third kit, but there’s always next year.

Special thanks to Football Fashion, Total Barca, Football Shirt Culture and the official site of FC Barcelona for information and research for this post.

Morbo Minute–And Now for the Second Half of Our Show

The halfway point has Barca well out in front with a string of surprises behind them in the European spots.  Valencia seems to be slowly climbing out of the mire while their opponents from the weekend, Sevilla, slide farther and farther down.  Down at the bottom, it’s too close to call and viewers will probably in store for dramatic final day scenes around the country.

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Malaga 1  FC Barcelona 3

When I saw Roque Santa Cruz on the teamsheet for the hosts I feared for their chances.  I still don’t feel the Paraguayan offers them much, and thought Saviola would have been the much better option, as his movement and quickness would have troubled Barca.  The visitors started with a strong team, the only major change being Mascherano in for Puyol.

Malaga pressed in a variation of a 4-3-3 and made the Blaugrana struggle in the early going.  The surface was a problem for both sides as there was constant slipping and it appeared as if the players were on roller skates.  As the game progressed, Malaga goalkeeper Willy was luck to stay on the field as he touched the ball with his hands (barely) trying to clear the danger.

The opener came from Camacho’s horrible backpass that Messi intercepted and put home.  I jotted down in my notebook that he did a lot of dribbling in the first half which allowed Malaga to keep Barca at arm’s length as the ball was turned over instead of being circulated.

In the second half, an early goal from Fabregas put some daylight between the two teams and from there the Blaugrana took over, making Malaga look quite inept at times.  The hosts were made to chase shadow for the second 45 minutes and their strong early work was undone by two mistakes—the backpass and losing Fabregas for the second.

A third was added by substitute Thiago before Buonanotte sent in a free kick.  The teams now face each home and away in the Copa, with the winner probably getting Real Madrid.  Will be interested to see how Vilanova and Pellegrini rotate their squads to take the competition seriously while keeping an eye on the league.

I visited Total Barca this week to get their thoughts on the match.  Maria Ines saw the Blaugrana rise to the challenge presented by Malaga, who pressured Tito’s men all over the pitch.  Once the visitors found their rhythm, they produced a couple of quite breath taking sequences.  In the end Malaga gave a great effort but the gap between the two teams was revealed.  Will Tito’s changes for the Copa matches close the distance or not?

Manuel Traquete did the player ratings for the site, which I felt were quite high. Barca had a decent game, especially in the second half, but in the first half, several players were not at their best , which allowed Malaga’s pressure to keep the game tight.  Busquets was probably worth the 9, not sure about Messi.  Felt that Alves might be closer to his best.  Still needs to improve his crossing.

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Articles

I was able to catch parts of the second half of Friday’s game between Athletic and Rayo at San Mames.  The visitor’s opening goal caught Los Leones cold.  The second was a diabolical cock up from the referee and allowed Rayo some space.  Athletic fought back but could only pull one back.

Sid Lowe used his weekly Guardian column to explore two items: one, Rayo Vallecano’s fantastic first half of the season, and two, the crazy La Liga schedule, which sees games stretch from Friday from Monday.  Rayo are just outside the Champions League places, filled with players found on the cheap who will probably be gone next year, but they just keep winning and may yet make their second European appearance.  As for the La Liga schedule, it’s crazy, with game times released only two to three weeks before the game take place and an onslaught that starts Friday night and continues all the way to Monday night, games seemingly every hour on the hour.  Of course if I was unemployed and could watch every game, might get used to that.

Phil Ball gave his half-term report for ESPN FC, looking at the biggest surprises thus far.  Betis’ amazing first half topped the list as Los Beticos sit in fourth place, led by the goals of Castro and the all action talent of Benat.  Phil’s team by team breakdown gives a quick snapshot at the turn and is worth the read.

With a title of Why La Liga Looks Like Michael Flatley, I had to give Tim Stannard a read at Football365.  He also looked at the halfway point of the season, echoing Phil Ball’s praise of Real Betis’ and Sid’s glowing words regarding Rayo before moving on to Valencia and the fact that the title is over.  As for his Riverdance reference:

A footballing Michael Flatley if you will. Whilst there’s not an awful lot of movement from the neck upwards to watch, there’s quite the hullaballoo of activity taking place just below if you care to look.

Speaking of Valencia, SlickR summarized the 2-0 victory over Sevilla for Club Valencia, as Los Che have stopped the rot and climbed back up the table, currently sitting seventh.  Two goals from main man Soldado were enough to overcome a rather lackluster performance by the rest of the team based on his player ratings.  Can’t imagine how bad Sevilla were.

Michael Cox returned from his Winter Break to analyze the game for Zonal Marking.  He noted that Valencia “enjoyed dominance of both possession and territory” and that the game lacked the quality and energy one would associate with this fixture over the years.  He picked out a couple of individual battles and noted that Reyes offered Navarro very little defensive cover, but did not have the harsh words for Banega that SlickR had.  In the end set pieces decided the match, which saw the losers fire Michel and bring Unai Emery back into the La Liga fold.

Chalk on the Boots examined Real Madrid’s poor performance at Osasuna.  Los Merengues were constantly caught offside, using a direct style orchestrated by Modric, who he noted has a better passing range that Ozil but does not have the lateral movement.  Time will tell if the Croatian will remain in the capital.  As for the hosts, their high line caused the champions problems but their lack of cutting edge cost them more points in this match and will probably cost them their Primera place.  14 goals in 19 matches will not keep them up.

Ireland 26 of Managing Madrid saw Real Madrid drop points as they travelled to Estadio Reyno de Navarra with a make shift lineup.  Without CR7 and Ozil, the team failed to trouble the hosts enough.  Di Maria did not have good game in his opinion but was glad to see Higuain pick up minutes, even if he didn’t pick up any goals.  With three consecutive games against Valencia due to the Copa, Mourinho’s men will need to pick up the pace before the epic confrontation with United in a month’s time.

Back to Doctor Sid, who commented on the extraordinary results of the Ballon D’Or, which saw the Best XI all named from teams in Spain.  While this might seem like a good thing, Sid pointed to a couple of troubling points: 1, no player from either Champions League Final team was on the dais; 2, no Spanish player has won since 1960, even more troubling as Spain have won the last three major competitions; and 3, of the eleven players, 10 came from the Big Two, which emphasizes the gulf between them and the rest of the league.

CBS’ 60 Minutes did a profile of FC Barcelona.  While there were some great shots of the crowd and inner levels of the Camp Nou, the piece seemed superficial.  Anyway, give it a watch and let me know what you think.

Finally, Connor Andrews updated readers on Villarreal’s plight in Segunda for El Centrocampista, as the Yellow Submarine struggle to return to the Primera.  Gone are Valero, Rossi, Nilmar and Diego Lopez and the team sits off the playoff places.  Can they return to the top flight?  Better yet, can they afford not to?

Table

Barcelona 19 18 1 0 44 55
Atletico 19 14 2 3 22 44
Real Madrid 19 11 4 4 25 37
Betis 19 11 1 7 1 34
Malaga 19 9 4 6 13 31
Rayo 19 10 1 8 -7 31
Valencia 19 9 3 7 0 30
Levante 19 9 3 7 -3 30
R Sociedad 19 7 5 7 3 26
Valladolid 19 7 4 8 2 25
Getafe 19 7 4 8 -6 25
Sevilla 19 6 4 9 -5 22
R Zaragoza 19 7 1 11 -7 22
Athletic 19 6 3 10 -16 21
Celta Vigo 19 5 3 11 -5 18
Espanyol 19 4 6 9 -10 18
Granada 19 4 5 10 -13 17
Mallorca 19 4 5 10 -15 17
Deportivo 19 3 7 9 -17 16
Osasuna 19 3 6 10 -6 15

Morbo Minute–Bleeding Tiger, Fortunate Lions

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

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

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Valencia 2  Atletico Madrid 0

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

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

Couple of player notes:

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

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

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

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

Granada 1  Athletic Bilbao 2

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

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

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

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Round 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Articles and Pods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transfer stuff

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

Some transactions that did catch my eye:

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

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

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

Morbo Minute–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.

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–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.