Tuesday, January 4, 2011

La Liga Lowdown - Round 17

Shaking off the rust edition

When last we left you, here is where things stood:

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

The Transfer Rumor Mill is up and running. Here’s what we have so far . . .

The Madrid media is hailing Kaka’s return from injury as a new signing. Reports are that he will play in the Copa del Rey match midweek. How this solves their striker issue (Higuain out for 6 months) is beyond me. Options would be Llorente (who is not coming in the winter) and Adebayor (really?).

Ibrahim Afellay has joined FCB from PSV. He was not eligible for the game against Levante but should give the attacking group some depth as they bring Vazquez and other B players along.

Malaga has been active. Demichelis moved from Bayern Munich to help shore up their defense. (He did not play on Sunday). Also Atletico off-loaded Nacho Camacho and Sergio Asenjo. We’ll see if these players help Pellegrini’s men avoid relegation.

Socccernet reported Monday that Valencia have confirmed the signing of France international defender Adil Rami from Lille, and that Malaga have added Julio Baptista and Enzo Maresca to the squad.

FCB (1st 43 pts) v Levante (16th 15 pts)

Just before the winter break, FCB released their summer tour plans, which include games against Manchester United (July 30, Washington DC); AC Milan (August 3, Miami); and America (Mexico) (August 6 Dallas). Exciting news even though it might be a stretch for me geographically and financially. I got to see them in 2003 against United in Philly. Pretty sweet.

FCB are on quite the roll. 10 straight league wins; unbeaten in 23 matches in all competitions; top 3 nominees for the Ballon d’Or; and so on. Levante on the other hand sit just outside the relegation zone and are still recovering from an 8-0 destruction away to Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey. In the league, Los Granotes’ have won just four times in 16 games.

Since Levante have been a yo-yo team recently, the two teams have not met since February 2008. Barcelona has won three of the last four matches, with one draw and an aggregate score of 11-3.

On the plus side for Levante, Barcelona were without several key players. Captain Carlos Puyol missed the match after sustaining a groin injury representing Catalonia against Honduras, and Gerard Pique was suspended. Messi was given extra rest and watched the game from the stands. For Levante, Felipe Caicedo and Javi Venta were both ruled out due to injury issues, but Ruben Suarez was part of the squad.

FC Barcelona 2 - 1 Levante

Levante started the game with a packed midfield, and spent most of the half with the bus well and truly parked and a line of confrontation below the center circle. FCB played in their usual way, with lots of possession and pressure.

Iniesta tested the goalkeeper early with a curling shot. Minutes later a mistake from Valdés handed Levante a chance but the flag went up for offside. This started a ten minute period of give and take between the two sides. Abidal got away with a challenge inside the area on 18’ as the FCB defense was opened up, then Villa narrowly missed free kick on 22’. Levante threatened again and Valdés once again had to make a save.

FCB continued to probe but were not having much joy. Have to say that if FCB does not score the early goal, they struggle, and a couple of more chances went begging before the halftime whistle.

90 seconds into second half, the Blaugrana scored. A great diagonal pass went to Alves, who looked like he had wasted the opportunity. However, Pedro took a touch and knocked it in, and after that, it was absolute dominance for 8 minutes from the Champions. While there were no changes at halftime, Thiago came in for Masch on 49’ and had a shot within 2’ of entry. He was much brighter, and Pep went for more attacking edge, with no need for a ball winner. TACTICS!

Before Barcelona’s second goal, there was a chance for Levante, but Jorda couldn’t convert his diving header. Well Alves had truly woken up during the interval and squared another great ball for Pedro to smash home from outside the penalty area on 59’. Keita then came on for Bojan and moved Iniesta up top.

Pep tried several different line-ups up top during the match:

Kick off: Bojan left; Villa central; Pedro right

Second Half: Villa left; Pedro central; Bojan right

After 65’: Pedro left; Villa central; Iniesta right

FCB had a couple of more chances to extend their lead, one from a blistering counter off a Levante corner kick and another as Villa narrowly missed again on a free kick. On 70’ Levante made their substitutions: Valdo for Nadal, Stuani for Jorda, Xisco for Juanlu. The goals did not bring Levante out and actually caused them to sit deeper. With a quarter of hour to go, Pep made his final sub--Milito for Maxwell—which moved Abidal to LB. This change caused some confusion in the back as Stuani volleyed home after a great ball from Valdo. The Blaugrana defense had totally switched off and the goal created some nervous moments to finish the game.

FCB got the ball back under control and Villa almost scored a great goal on 83’. Then Alves made a hash of a breakaway, followed by a missed chip off the ensuing corner kick. FCB tried to close the game out but gave away a free kick in stoppage time, with the goalie coming up. A scramble saw Valdés punch the ball the clear but not before an infringement was called in the box against the visitors.

In the end, the late goal caused a little concern, but overall it was a controlled performance from the Champions.

A couple of items of note. For FCB, they did ok without Messi, with the forwards being active and linking well with the midfield. Where they struggled was in the back, not with a make shift duo in the center (Busquets and Abidal) but on the outside. Alves was not sharp in first half, having a poor first touch and several loose passes. He improved in the second half, assisted both goals, but really could have had several more. I am worried about the service and penetration from Maxwell. He was one of the weak links in the Inter tie from last year and I think Abidal is a must if they want to progress against tougher opposition or weaker opponents who sit back.

Sunday’s matches

Athletic Bilbao 1 - 2 Deportivo La Coruña


This was a match full of incident, with Depor striker Adrian at the center of most of it. He converted a dodgy penalty decision on Ustaritz early in the match. Adrian was then taken down by San Jose, who was given a straight red on 34’ (another harsh decision). Depor lost their man advantage when Rodriguez was sent off at half time for stamping on a Bilbao player. The second half started 10 v 10, with Adrian taking advantage of the space and thumping home his second. Lllorente was able to knock in a consolation goal five minutes from time and Bilbao goalkeeper Iraizoz almost scored from a corner at the very end of the match. A huge result for Super Depor as they are safely out of relegation danger for the time being.

Sporting Gijon 1 - 2 Málaga

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8km995xBbgY not great quality but the best I could find

Malaga won the proverbial six pointer away at El Molinon. The last five minutes of the first half saw the hosts go up on a questionable penalty kick, which Gimenez put away. Just before half time Malaga defender Robson was able to toe poke an in-swinging free kick to put the teams on level terms. Early in the second half Sporting GK Pichu took out Eliseu Pereira and conceded a PK, which Apono converted. The result sent Malaga to 16th and sent Sporting to the bottom of the table.

Sevilla FC 1 - 0 Osasuna


Fredi Kanoute secured three vital points for Sevilla with the only goal. Jesus Navas returned to the field after a long injury layoff to supply the free kick in the first half. Osasuna mustered a few chances but could not find the equalizer and have now won 2 points from the 27 available on the road. As for Sevilla, this victory plus their Copa del Rey victory before the break will hopefully jumpstart their campaign. Again.

Valencia 2 - 1 Espanyol

Was not able to find comprehensive highlights, but 101greatgoals.com has video of each incident

Valencia took a giant step in their fight for Champions League football next season with a last gasp victory against Los Periquitos. Arduiz opened the scoring with a great header off a corner kick before Espanyol equalized by a truly hilarious own goal by Los Che defender Costa. Arduiz was then sent off at the hour mark with Chica putting himself forward for an Oscar, but in injury time, Juan Mata was able to head in easily (Why? Because he was a yard offside) to win the match.

Espanyol are now officially in free fall, having lost their last three league matches. They have fallen to fifth and now have to watch out for Atletico Madrid.

Monday’s Games

Atlético Madrid 0 - 0 Racing Santander


A disappointing but typical result for Atletico. With Espanyol losing, Los Colchoneros had a chance to go fifth, but without Reyes and Forlna, they were not able to convert the chances they created. Racing were not much better and the game fizzled out to a scoreless draw.

Mallorca 3 - 0 Hercules


Mallorca got 2011 off to a great start with a home win against Hercules. Nsue finally converted Los Bermellones dominance when he knocked in a rebound seven minutes before the interval. This was quickly followed by a second goal as the Hercules defense was left standing when Casadesus combined with Webo to slot home. The points were secured just after half time when Pereira through the legs of Calatayud from close range.

Off the field, Royston Drenthe continued his strike due to not being paid by the club. This will not end well and could drag the squad into the relegation fight if they are not careful.

Real Zaragoza 2 - 1 Real Sociedad


Zaragoza got off the foot of the table with three giant points at home. Sinama-Pongolle opened the scoring with a lovely turn and finish after 10’ but Sociedad equalized 20 minutes later through Prieto. A fortuitous deflection off the ref started the attack and the finish was of real quality. Both teams exchanged chances and the game looked to finish in a draw, but Braulio coolly put away a rebound from GK Bravo to win the game in the 90th minute.

Villarreal 2 - 0 Almeria


The Yellow Submarine overcame the absence of Nilmar (knee) Marchena, Musacchio, and Senna (hammy) with a comfortable victory over Almeria. Their pressure of the first 20 minutes was rewarded when Catala headed in Valero’s free kick. Villarreal continued to dominate with several chances to extend the lead. Just before the hour mark, Valero snuck in a free kick to give Villarreal another three points. Cazorla nearly got a third but was denied by a great save from GK Diego Alves.

Obligatory Jozy Update: came on as a sub for Rossi with about 7’ to go. NEEDS TO GO ON LOAN!!!

Getafe 2 - 3 Real Madrid


Real Madrid kept up the pressure on FCB. Di Maria went down very easily after ten minutes to win a penalty (PUSSY!), which CR7 lashed home, but then Di Maria showed his class by attacking the Getafe defense and hitting a slide rule pass that Ozil received and dribbled the keeper. Down 0-2 after 19’, it looked like the club of the King of all Burgers was in for a long evening, but nine minutes later, Parejo weaved his way through the Madrid defense and hit a blistering shot past Casillas. After halftime, CR7 punished a horrible clearance from the Getafe GK. Benzema received it and put Ronaldo in for his 19th goal of the league campaign. Kaka entered the fray with 15 minutes to go. Arbeloa was sent off for his second yellow with about ten minutes to go and Getafe immediately took advantage when Albin scored from close range after Los Merengues did not clear their lines (read Marcelo completely cocked it up), but Getafe were unable to find the equalizer.

Table after 17 matches:

Barcelona 17 46

Real Madrid 17 44

Villarreal 17 36

Valencia 17 31

Espanyol 17 28

Atlético 17 27

Getafe 17 26

Athletic 17 25

Mallorca 17 24

Sevilla 17 23

R Sociedad 17 22

Deportivo 17 21

Hercules 17 19

Racing 17 19

Osasuna 17 17

Málaga 17 16

Levante 17 15

R Zaragoza 17 13

Almeria 17 13

Sporting 17 12

As you can see, there are a bunch of teams within touching distance of European places (1st thru 6th). The bottom of the table is quite compressed as well, with the bottom six in danger of being cut adrift in the next several weeks.

Copa del Rey matches are Wednesday and Thursday and I hope to have a recap on Friday.

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