Monday, December 13, 2010

La Liga Lowdown - Round 15

Touching the Void edition—18 teams cut loose.

Athletic Bilbao (11th/19 pts) v Espanyol (4th/28 pts)

I picked this match for weekend viewing for several reasons.

1. Had not seen Espanyol yet this season. They have been this season’s Cinderella team thus far and, with the Barcelona derby taking place next weekend, I thought I would give them a look. Yes, there is another team in Barcelona.

2. Bilbao always give a great effort, so they are worth watching regardless of their opponent.

3. None of the other matches really did it for me.

Athletic Bilbao are mid-table, mainly due to a fantastic home record (five wins out of seven and have scored in every single home match) and the efforts of Llorente. The Bilbao stalwart has nine goals thus far, and the Big Two have been sniffing around for his signature next summer. (Insert dirty joke here). Recently though, Los Leones have been awful, with only two wins and three losses in their last five league fixtures, including a 5-1 hammering at the Bernabeu and 4-1 spanking at El Madrigal. Hopefully Sunday’s match will get them back on track.

With Villarreal’s shock loss to Getafe on Saturday, Espanyol went into this match with a chance of taking over third place. Since surviving relegation at the end of 2006 and their run to the 2007 UEFA Cup Final, where they lost to Sevilla, Los Periquitos have not made an impact on the league. However, they are off to a great start this season, and since a loss at the end of October to Depor, Espanyol are unbeaten in 5 matches (4 wins, 1 draw). The big question is—Can they sustain this form for an entire campaign?

Team News was as follows:

Athletic: Aitor Ocio and Koikili are both back training with the main body; Pablo Orbaiz is doubtful due to Tendonitis; defenders Andoni Iraola and Koikili Lertxundi are fit again and could start.

Espanyol: Felipe Mattioni is out because of a knee problem; Javi Lopez is probably out until the New Year because of a muscular issue; and Ernesto Galan, Coro and Ivan de la Pena (Little Buddha) remain sidelined; Javi Marquez and Raul Baena are both suspended.

Recent confrontations have been low scoring affairs, with only nine goals in the last six matches. Espanyol have had the upper hand with three wins and a draw in the last six meetings, but their recent away form in the league has been poor: two wins, one draw, four losses.

Based on the available information, I predicted a 1-1 draw.

Bilbao started the match in a 4-4-2 with Llorente and Toquero leading the line. Espanyol countered with 4-5-1 with Osvaldo leading the line on his own. There was nothing much in opening ten minutes, with Bilbao pressuring all over the pitch. Nine minutes in Susaeta put Muniain in but the Espanyol defender recovered well.

Osvaldo was the story of the first half. He really should have put Espanyol ahead on 16’, with a great touch and spin, but then he shot tamely at the goalkeeper. 90 seconds later he almost chipped Iraizoz, but goalkeeper tipped it over the bar. A couple of minutes Osvaldo got knocked the f*(# out by Iraizoz but remained on the pitch. The striker was rewarded for his efforts on 32’ when Verdu put him in, and he buried the shot.

Dátolo should have put Los Periquitos ahead on 37’ but he scuffed his chance and Iraizoz covered up. Toquero totally made a hash of a Bilbao chance moments later, then Espanyol defender Folin did has best Karl Henry impression on Toquero. Ouch!

The first half came to a close with visitors on top. It was an even half with Espanyol having the better chances. The crowded midfield took Javi Martinez out of match, and Los Leones lacked the width to whip in crosses for Llorente. Espanyol were not much better and had a hard time breaking them down, with their possession not sharp enough and not having the pace to get behind the rearguard. Add to that Kameni constantly rolling the ball out to defenders who either turned ball over to Bilbao by passing it to them or kicking it out of bounds, and you have a lack of quality moments.

The second half started with a change in the Bilbao set up. Javi Martinez was replaced by Orbáiz, and this allowed Toquero to become much more of a factor. He was much livelier in the second half, drifting out right to take on defenders and provide service.

The match lacked real quality, with constant turnovers and needless fouls. So I distracted myself with some Pavel Nedved porn. Krasic’s amazing winner versus Lazio got me all hot and bothered, but I was dragged back in with 20 minutes to go. Llorente, who was off the pace much of match, popped up to nod in a cross from Andoni Iraola to equalize, for his tenth of the season. After that, Bilbao never looked back. Minutes later, David Lopez, a sub for Susaeta, hit a swerving free kick to give Bilbao the lead. Bilbao’s final sub was Gabilondo for Muniain who had a good second half, getting on the ball and able to pull strings.

Bilbao manager Joaquin Caparros turned the game around in the second half with subs and TACTICS! Martinez off got Toquero into game; a disappointing Susaeta was replaced by Lopez, who provided more thrust to the attack and got the winner. Gabilondo added a little steel the side and sealed the deal.

The match finished with a win to a home side, confirming several things: Bilbao almost always score and win at home; Espanyol are pants on the road; Espanyol are not ready for the big boys. They had a chance to put the match away in the first half and didn’t. Los Leones climb to eighth and continue a tremendous home record. Los Periquitos’s chance goes begging and based on this performance, they will struggle against FCB next week.


Saturday’s Games

Getafe 1 - 0 Villarreal

Unbelievable. Rossi suspended and the Yellow Submarine get sunk. Altidore still can’t get on the field.

Sevilla FC 1 - 3 Almeria

Remember, Almeria is the team who was beaten by FCB 8-0.

Atlético Madrid 2 - 0 Deportivo La Coruña

Dr. Jekyll meet Mr. Hyde. QSF survives one more week.

Hercules 4 – 1 Málaga

For value and impact, Trezegol may the signing of the season in La Liga. Three points pushed Hercules into 12th and Malaga deeper into the relegation battle.

Mallorca 0 – 1 Racing Santander

This is the second most shocking result of the weekend. Remember, Mallorca has drawn with both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Sporting Gijon 1 – 1 Levante


Real Zaragoza 1 – 3 Real Madrid

CR7 scores again, best player in the world. Blah, blah, blah.

Barcelona 5 – 0 Real Sociedad

Every time I switched to this match from the Juventus game, the Blaugrana scored. Messi’s second was ridiculous because he never looked up. He just knew where the defenders were and where the back post was.

Monday’s Game

Valencia v Osasuna

The Elite

Barcelona 15 40

Real Madrid 15 38

The Rest

Villarreal 15 30

Espanyol 15 28

The Worst

Almeria 15 13

Málaga 15 13

Sporting 15 11

R Zaragoza 15 9

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