Shaking off the rust edition
When last we left you, here is where things stood:
Villarreal 16 33
Espanyol 16 28
Atlético 16 26
Athletic 16 25
R Sociedad 16 22
Sevilla 16 20
Hercules 16 19
Deportivo 16 18
Racing 16 18
Osasuna 16 17
Levante 16 15
Málaga 16 13
Sporting 16 12
The Transfer Rumor Mill is up and running. Here’s what we have so far . . .
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.
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,
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.
On the plus side for Levante,
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!
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.
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.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8km995xBbgY not great quality but the best I could find
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.
Was not able to find comprehensive highlights, but 101greatgoals.com has video of each incident
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
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.
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.
Villarreal 2 - 0
The Yellow Submarine overcame the absence of Nilmar (knee) Marchena, Musacchio, and Senna (hammy) with a comfortable victory over
Obligatory Jozy Update: came on as a sub for Rossi with about 7’ to go. NEEDS TO GO ON LOAN!!!
Table after 17 matches:
Villarreal 17 36
Espanyol 17 28
Atlético 17 27
Athletic 17 25
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
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.