Tuesday, December 21, 2010

La Liga Lowdown - Round 16

Espanyol v FCB—Irresistible Force meets Inanimate Object Edition

Espanyol (4th/28pts) v Barcelona (1st/40pts)

This was the last league match before the Winter Break (suck it EPL/SPL), and the Barcelona Derby had more juice than it had had in years.

Espanyol have been flying high this year. Since a loss at the end of October to Depor, Espanyol are unbeaten in 5 matches (four wins, one draw) but last week they suffered defeat away to Athletic Bilbao because they didn’t convert their first half dominance. Osvaldo had a goal and looked lively in the opening stanza, but it was hard to see him getting much joy against the Blaugrana. Los Periquitos put on a brave front heading into the match, with the coach Mauricio Pochettino and the squad telling anyone who would listen that they were not afraid of Barca and would give them a game.

As for Barcelona, since their demolition of the Evil Empire, they have gone from strength to strength. FCB has outscored their opponents 26-0 in last 6 games in all competitions, with the last goal against scored by Nilmar of Villarreal on November 13.

Team News was follows—

Espanyol: Manu Molina and Javi Lopez weren’t expected to play. Raul Rodriguez and David Lopez had hamstring issues. Duscher had to leave because of a death in the family.

Barcelona: Pep Guardiola almost has a full squad to select from. Gabriel Milito and Jeffren Suarez were the only two players injured.

The Derby has been a relatively balanced affair over the years, with Barcelona holding the slight edge over the last three campaigns: two wins, three draws and one loss. But here is the stat of the day: Espanyol are 7-0 at home this year; FCB are 7-0 on the road.

Espanyol 1 - 5 Barcelona

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/espanyol-barcelona-la-liga-december-2010-7897190/

Usually I break down formations and TACTICS! and substitutions and take you through the game. Not today. I will sum it thusly—Espanyol played a high defensive line with very little pressure on the FCB center mids. The last team that tried that was Real Madrid, and ask the Special One how that turned out for them. Almost every goal was a Barcelona player dribbling down the middle and playing a thru ball for a wide forward to run on to. Only Xavi’s ridiculous finish from a scramble broke the mold.

Barcelona are in a rich vein of form that will take some stopping. My guess is that the break will take them down a gear and it will be interesting to see how they respond next month. They are adding Afellay from PSV to the mix, and I’m anxious to see how he meshes in with the squad. My only worry is that they are peaking too early and may not have the extra effort to get see off Real Madrid or go all in the way in Europe.

Saturday’s Games

Deportivo La Coruña 1 - 1 Sporting Gijon

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/deportivo-coruna-sporting-gijon-7897775/

Super Depor got off to a good start on 12’ when Sporting goalkeeper Juan Pablo Colinas spilled a shot right in front of the goal, which Aythami was able to tap in. They looked on their way to three vital points before Sporting captain Diego Castro nodded in the equalizer with minutes to go.

Levante 1 - 2 Athletic Bilbao

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/levante-athletic-bilbao-7898596/

Bilbao, whose away form is awful, jumped out in front after Gabilondo whipped in a free kick. Levante were back on level terms ten minutes later after Caicedo got behind the Athletic rearguard. Midway through the second half, Javi Martinez headed in the winner from Gabilondo’s cross.

Villarreal 3 - 1 Mallorca

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/villarreal-mallorca-7896440/

Cazorla opened the scoring on 10’ but Mallorca equalized after the Yellow Submarine fell asleep on a throw-in.

Rossi put them back in front minutes later from the penalty spot and Nilmar sealed the points after a delightful chip over the goalkeeper.

Obligatory Jozy Update: came on as a sub for Rossi with about 5’ to go.

Real Sociedad 1 - 2 Valencia
http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/real-sociedad-valencia-7898598/

A dodgy penalty got Sociedad on their way, but Los Che recovered thanks to wonderful free kick by Tino Costa right before half time (MUST SEE TV). Aduriz claimed the winner in injury time after the GK played a horrible pass out of the back.

Sunday’s Games

Almeria 2 - 3 Getafe

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/almeria-getafe-7904919/

Getafe fell behind 2-0 early in the match before roaring back, grabbing the winner with a lovely backheel from Boateng 20’ from time. A horrible result for Almeria, who threw away three ginormous points in their relegation battle.

Osasuna 0 - 0 Real Zaragoza

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/osasuna-zaragoza-7904856/

Osasuna missed a real chance to move clear of the relegation zone against bottom of the table Real Zaragoza. Highlights are filled with poor finishes from both sides.

Málaga 0 - 3 Atlético Madrid

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/malaga-atletico-madrid-7905860/

Los Colchoneros rebounded from their European exit by disposing of Malaga. Tiago had two goals and an assist as Malaga obviously didn’t work on defending set pieces this week in training, giving up all three goals on free kicks.

Real Madrid 1 - 0 Sevilla

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/real-madrid-sevilla-la-liga-december-2010-7906453/

I followed this game on twitter and @sidlowe had less than glowing things to say about it. Carvalho got sent off but Di Maria grabbed the winner against Los Rojiblancos with a very composed finish and continued Sevilla’s league shame spiral (four losses in a row).

Monday’s game

Racing Santander 0 - 0 Hercules

http://www.101greatgoals.com/videodisplay/racing-santander-hercules-7920059/

Neither team was able to break the deadlock in this match. Racing had the upper hand most of the match, with Pedro Munitis having a dynamic first half. Several chances fell to Colsa of Racing but he was unable to convert. Portillo hit the crossbar for Hercules in the second half but that was about it.

Table at the winter break

Barcelona 16 43

Real Madrid 16 41

Villarreal 16 33

Valencia 16 28

Espanyol 16 28

Atlético 16 26

Getafe 16 26

Athletic 16 25

R Sociedad 16 22

Mallorca 16 21

Sevilla 16 20

Hercules 16 19

Deportivo 16 18

Racing 16 18

Osasuna 16 17

Levante 16 15

Almeria 16 13

Málaga 16 13

Sporting 16 12

Real Zaragoza 16 10

Quick mid-season recap:

Based on what I’ve seen thus far, I don’t see the top four changing, but I think the next couple of spots could get reshuffled. In theory, Getafe and Atletico Madrid should climb up since they do not have European commitments now, but both squads have been very inconsistent. Keep an eye on how Espanyol rebounds from back to back set backs, plus they have not been this high in the table for quite some time. At the bottom, surely Pellegrini will save Malaga from going down, while it looks like the air has finally gone out of the Gijon balloon. Zaragoza are just shambolic and don’t have a prayer (which means they will escape). As for mid-table teams, the Sevilla story bears watching. They changed managers already this season, without much changing on the field, and scraped through to the round of 32 in the UEFA Cup err. . . Europa League. A cup run in either Europe or Spain will save their season.

The Copa del Rey starts this week and I hope to have comments on the results in the following days. I am also putting together some early thoughts on the Champions League and Europa League draws for teams from the Primera Divison. Stay tuned.

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