Madrid had just enough luck to win a match away to Celta in which they were outplayed for the most part by a slick home side that displayed a great deal of technical ability and smooth one-touch passing, as they attacked with verve and purpose, particularly during two stretches: the first and the last 20 minutes of the match.
Robinho seems to have overcome his early season difficulties and scored a nice half-volley off a pass from Baptista, who played somewhat better than usual. Lequi pulled one back before the half for the home team after some nice play down the right, only to have Cicinho put in the final goal fifteen minutes into the second half after another Robinho attack. Cassano had a chance to put the game away, but Celta also had a probable goal (replay was not quite conclusive, but it was probably a goal) not count. Celta caused all sorts of problems while attacking and really had some lovely passing in the middle and attacking portions of the pitch. I believe fatigue may have been a factor for Madrid, which has played a boatload of matches in January. By the end of the match, RM were really just hanging on and hoping for the final whistle. Still, three points is nothing to sneer at, particularly in Vigo, where they have a team that will cause a lot of headaches in this second half of the season.
Here is the video of the goals (somewhat lengthy, so please pause to load if it isn't smooth):
¶ 12:06 AM0 comments
Friday, January 27, 2006
Copa del Rey - January 25/26
Some interesting action around Spain for this week's quarterfinal tie-ups in the Copa del Rey (King's Cup). Let's take a look at each of the games:
RM 1 - Betis 0 (RM continues) As expected, Madrid were able to get by Betis without too much trouble, truth be told. The scoreline looked close, but once Robinho slotted home (see video below), the outcome was never really in doubt. The biggest surprise of the match was that Madrid failed to put in another three or four.
Espanyol 2 - Cádiz 0 (Espanyol continues) Espanyol, for all its recent struggles in la Liga (most recently being bombarded by Getafe 5-0), have looked very comfortable in this competition. Having brought in a two goal advantage from the first leg, played in Cádiz, Espanyol put the tie away in the first half and finished with an identical score.
Valencia 1 - Deportivo 0 (suspended in 44th minute) Here was the bad side of soccer (or any sport, for that matter) - some idiot(s?) in the stands threw coins towards the lineman with one of them striking the poor guy straight in the face, near the eye. He is OK, but the match was suspended just before the half with Valencia having just levelled the tie. This is a big blow to Valencia, for the rest of the match will be played in an empty stadium instead of a rocking Mestalla. Just goes to show how stupid people can be.
Zaragoza 4 - Barcelona 2 (1st leg) And here we have the cracker match of the round! The team that has so often been Barcelona's bestia negra weathered an early surge of pressure then started to tighten the screws in the middle of the first half, serving notice through Ewerthon and Milito, before blitzing the Barcelona defense with three strikes in the space of five minutes. Brilliant stuff that made my comments regarding Zaragoza earlier this month look a little more on the mark. Muñoz has the team defending en masse in the center of the pitch, with their lines very compactly placed, and has quite noticeably worked on their quick-strike counter attacks that utilize the talents of the two aforementioned strikers (E and M). Those two provided the three goals before Barcelona pulled one back after two consecutive missed offside non-calls. Still, 3-1 at the break looked quite secure. Lightning struck again, however, as the referee made a shocker of a penalty call after Messi had fallen in the box. I hate to harp on here, but that call was a disgrace - horrible decision! Ronaldinho tucked in to further tighten the score, but some small measure of justice was served when Marquez made an obvious hand ball in the box to set up Milito's penalty kick goal which rounded out the scoring. As incredible as it seems, Barcelona's match streak ended in a blowout that could and should have been four-nil.
¶ 12:13 PM0 comments
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Robinho seals passage to the semi-finals
Pretty good match by Madrid, particularly in the way they really controlled the game and created loads of opportunities. A scoreline of five or six nil would not have been unjust. Robinho scored another nice goal to finish off a counter blitz that started all the way back with Casillas. Here's the vid:
¶ 5:18 PM0 comments
(Should have put this before the previous post, but oh well)
What a week! Action, controversy, and above all, GOALS galore! Our Madrid side looked lethargic early on, but came back and put away pesky Cadiz (see the goals footage below). Let's take a look at some of the other interesting happenings around the league.
Getafe 5 - Espanyol 0 Holy bejesus, a five-goal outburst from the south Madrid side against the very team that knocked them out of the cup a couple weeks ago! It was Getafe's best ever goal output in the Primera, and served to further boost the reputation that has grown around Pernía, the nationalized defender who is now getting serious consideration from Aragonés, as well as Valencia, who look set to swoop in and sign him. His second goal, a free kick from a good 35-40 meters out was simply unbelievable (I am working on getting a video for you).
Depor 2 - Mallorca 2 My how the mighty falling. Depor, one of the teams I had been touting just a couple short weeks ago once again had an inordinate struggle at home against one of the lower sides, this time squandering a comfortable-looking two nil lead in the space of four minutes. Far more worrying for the gallegos was the loss of their spark and best player, Valerón to a knee injury that will sideline him for at least half a year. This is another blow to Spain's WC hopes, as Valerón was really finding his groove again and looked set for a re-call.
Real Sociedad 3 - Athletic 3 The Basque derby was a wild one, with la Real jumping out to a two-zero lead before the half behind their little Turk talisman Nihat (so, does this mean he is staying??), only to see Athletic climb back to square things up with two second half goals by their new signing Aduritz - looks like a great signing, to be sure. Real, however, re-took the lead just a minute later behind a nice goal by Skoubo, only to see Athletic claw back in injury time with a goal by Iraola. Both teams are straggling in the standings, especially Athletic, and it will be interesting to watch their progress in the second half of the season.
Betis 0 - Valencia 2 David Villa has booked his trip to Germany. It is that simple, my friends - he is playing well and this weekend scored two GREAT goals against punchless Betis. I like his touch and saavy in the box, and his finishing skills are impressive. Great signing by Valencia. Betis, despite the result, is still floating (just) above the relegation positions, but they will be another team to watch, as relegation is a distinct possibility.
Racing 2 - Sevilla 3 Sevilla had a couple of non-existent penalties (one surely, anyway) to thank for this result.
Villarreal 2 - Osasuna 1 See the Sevilla commentary above. Seriously, what has happened to Villarreal is a serious topic of debate these days, but I think they will be fine, actually. They are simply going through the rough part of their schedule and coming up against some hot teams. Osasuna, meanwhile has to be feeling a bit snake bitten, having played well enough the past few weeks to earn more points than they have. Raul Garcia (remember that name - he is only 19) scored a terrific goal from well outside the box, surely earning himself more looks from some of the big teams.
Zaragoza 0 - Atlético 2 My record for touting teams seems to be faltering... Zaragoza had a nice streak going but looked bad against a desperate Atleti that had not won since October. Nice play by Maxi Rodríguez put an end to that drought, though, as Atlético earned itself some much needed points. Perhaps a recovery similar to Madrid's is in the cards with their recently promoted manager.
Barcelona 2 - Alavés 0 Not much to say about the leaders' stroll against the bottom club. The scoreline was actually quite flattering to the losers, as Giuly hit the woodwork three times and Ronaldinho missed a penalty. Still, not having Deco, Etoo, and especially Xavi in the lineup is going to take its toll. There are at least some occasions that Barcelona look vulnerable, or at least something approaching "occasionally beatable," despite their now 18 game win streak.
Teams in form Valencia - Now up to 2nd in the league, they have put together an impressive streak of clean sheets and are also looking like firm, firm candidates for a CL spot. Real Madrid - Found a way to win against a scrappy side that had them against the ropes. Their play and results have shown dramatic improvement from a month ago. Celta - Not really in form, so to speak, but still lying an unexpected and respectable 7th in the table. Barcelona - Keeps rolling 13 consecutive league wins (18 in all competitive matches).
¶ 10:44 PM0 comments
Return Leg Madrid-Betis
Hugely important match for Madrid, especially, as the faithful are demanding a trophy this season to appease their disappointments, and this competition likely to be the most attainable of the three. Madrid, playing in the Bernabeu and already holding a first leg advantage (0-1 last week in Sevilla), should find their way through against a Betis side that must certainly be reeling in confidence after yet another home defeat at the hands of in-form Valencia over the weekend in league action. The side from Sevilla lie perilously close to relegation and have thus far tallied the fewest goals in la primera.
¶ 8:53 PM0 comments
Don't often see too many of his highlights in compilation-form, so I was happy to come across this video. If only for his ability to put in the through ball, Luis Aragonés would be crazy to leave him off the Spain squad. Enjoy the video and remember to pause if it doesn't stream smoothly.
¶ 1:30 AM0 comments
Monday, January 23, 2006
Madrid's Three Goals - VIDEO
The first video has the free kick goals by RC and Becks, while the second has Robinho's lob to ice the match. (Remember to pause to load if the playback is jerky)
I suppose the scoreline is the most important thing to take from this game because it certainly was not a flattering performance against one of the smallest teams in the Primera.
Cadiz had never won in 11 previous trips to the Bernabeu (10 losses and a draw), but that history did not prevent them from carrying the weight of the game for the first hour or so. Oh, possession-wise it was all Madrid (something like 70% in the first hour of the match), but the men in white were clearly lacking ideas for how to break-down the well-organized Cadiz defense. Other than a couple isolated moments of pressure on the Cadiz area, Madrid looked more likely to concede than to score themselves. Not helping, to be sure, was the unwhistled penalty courtesy of a Benjamin kick to Robinho's shin after the Brazilian had jiggled the ball past on the 45th minute.
The second half started as a continuation of what had transpired in the first, and Cadiz were duly rewarded with a goal in the 54th minute after a quick break forward and a mad scramble in the area during which Medina finally tucked it away to stun the crowd and send the well-numbered Cadiz supporters into frenzy.
A few minutes later Cassano came onto the pitch for Gravesen, who did not have a good match, as it became apparent that Madrid needed a bit of a spark and some chutzpah in its attack. Baptista moved back into the midfield, while Cassano was lone striker. Although Cassano did not figure prominently, there was some improvement and added quickness to the white attack, which was rewarded with a free kick from just outside the area. Roberto Carlos picked the perfect time to blast one through a hole that inexplicably opened in the Cadiz wall - a big mistake that was punished severely as Armando was left hung to dry.
That goal opened the floodgates, as minutes later, another foul in almost the same spot gave Beckham a chance to add his name to the scoreline - he did not disappoint, netting a beautiful shot curled up and over and into the upper right corner of the net. The only thing left was for Robinho to seal the game with a superb goal lobbed over Armando in the closing moments.
A rough scoreline for a Cadiz team that deserved a little more, but eventually succumbed to the pressure and class of Madrid's finishing.
¶ 11:38 PM0 comments
Saturday, January 21, 2006
20 great Madrid goals 2004-2005 season
I can't claim to have made this, but here are some cracker jack goals from the boys in white. My personal favorites are Solari's and Beckham's (against Levante). Watching this you almost have to feel bad for Cassano's old team (Roma) - they're on the receiving end of about 4 or 5 doozies. (remember to hit the pause button if it's jerky - that'll get it loaded up for you)
¶ 1:02 AM0 comments
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Lo bueno y lo malo de Cassano
Interesting video and commentary from Spanish TV. (If it's jerky, just hit the pause button and wait a bit for the video to buffer)
Certainly not the most attractive match anyone has every seen, but the boys in white got the exact result they were looking for against a Betis side that again had trouble putting the ball in the net - almost making me look like a soothsayer (scroll down), bless their souls. Italian attacker Cassano got his first spin of the wheels and sped out in style, scoring the lone goal of the match after a bit of cheeky (sneaky?) play down close. Actually, he looked pretty good and will make a lot of madrileños happy provided his penchant for antics does not get the better of him. The talent and on-the-pitch brains are certainly there. Robinho also had a few really nice plays in the second half and was unlucky not to score, though he really should have done better with the Beckham cross that bounced off his chest. His fellow Brazilian attacker Baptista continued his run of bad luck, but certainly looked much better this time around. His goal was undeservedly called back, and he had both nice runs and good touch at the top of the box, in addition to a very good header that skipped just wide. Perhaps that breakout game we have all been waiting (and waiting!) for is soon to come.
The worst part about the game from the Madrid perspective must surely be Diego Lopez' injury - a muscular tear, which will have him out around six weeks. Poor guy gets few enough opportunities as it is - and Iker could stand to get a rest every now and again.
Not to count the proverbial chickens, but with Madrid really gunning for this title what with the league seemingly in the firm grasp of Barcelona, you can probably bank rather heavily on Madrid's place in the semi-finals.
¶ 6:54 PM0 comments
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Spanish soccer - Quick hits from week 19
It's a little late in the week (bad week for downloads, I'm afraid!) to really give a whole lot of analysis, so I'll just give you a few isolated comments to sum up my reactions from the games this past weekend.
Real Madrid 4 - Sevilla 2: Quite a display put forth by men in white, was it not? Apart from the goal barrage, the best part of the effort, for me, was the quick, short passing that had the usually tough (14 goals against in the previous 18 Liga matches) Sevilla defense in almost constant panic. It really was quite lovely to see Guti and Zidane (both playing very well of late) work the whole team into the attack. Probably the best game of the season.
I think the captaincy is beginning to fit Guti - who woulda thunk it?
Can Zidane keep up this pace, or will we see more of the niggling injuries?
Barcelona 2 - Athletic 1: I like Deco as a player, but he let nasty Gurpegui get the better of him and the higher-ups have seen fit to suspend the Bra...Portuguese midfielder two matches.
I also think Eto'o has been an amazing striker the past year and a half, but it is too bad he seems to act before thinking so often. Spitting at a player's face??? So much for being professional, eh.
Depor 0 - Alavés 2: Oy vey! What the hell happened to Depor here? Granted, Alavés tends to play better away from home, but they still don't actually play well.
Valencia 2 - Osasuna 0: Valencia is starting to look quite solid, aren't they? Up to third now, breathing down Osasuna's back, and looking likely candidates to secure a CL spot. As for Osasuna, are we witnessing a repeat of last season's post Christmas swoon? I don't think so. They're actually playing at quite a high level, and have had some rotten luck the past couple of weeks. I don't expect them to stay on Barcelona's trail, but a top six finish is certainly a strong possibility.
Zaragoza 3 - Mallorca 1 The boys from Aragón are making quite a run up the table, I see. We will have to see if this is the usual mid-season run of form (to be followed by an equally dramatic dip), or if this is the real McCoy this time around.
Betis 1 - Atlético 0: What's more suprising: the result, or that at this point in the season Betis is positively thrilled with just such a showing. Atletico are in deep (deeeep) trouble if the interim manager can't work a little more magic than Bianchi, who was sacked last week. When a team with players of the caliber of Torres, Kezman, Petrov... keeps finding clever and imaginative ways to lose matches, you have to wonder when the ultimate implosion will arrive, because arrive it WILL. Atleti is now in 14th - just THREE points from relegation.
Racing 1 - Villarreal 0: Racing putting together a nice string of results, this time at the expense of the Riquelme Express. I suppose it's true that as Riquelme goes (or doesn't), so goes (or doesn't) the team.
That'll do it for this weeks match commentary. Here's looking forward to some interesting mid-week Cup matches. Best overall tie should be Valencia/Deportivo, but all of them look capable of providing enough intrigue.
¶ 1:45 PM0 comments
Monday, January 16, 2006
Real Madrid wins against Sevilla
Scoreline shows a cracker of a game (4-2), but I have yet to actually see the darn game :( At any rate, here are the Madrid goals, and a chance to learn an extra language!
The draws are set for the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey. Holders Betis will be the next rival for Real Madrid, as the merengues look to continue the good form they have shown since the post-holiday re-start. Betis has struggled this season, as injury and a lack of depth up front have taken away their main scoring options from a year ago.
¶ 4:57 PM0 comments
Friday, January 13, 2006
Copa Del Rey - Real Madrid, Barcelona and others through
Well, that certainly was an impressive layoff... Chalk it up to holiday hangover and being a little busier than I had anticipated.
Ah well, on to more important things. La Liga is back and Real Madrid actually looked quite a bit better after the layoff. Then again, it would have been hard to look worse than they did in their final games of 2005 (drawing with 10-man Osasuna and losing to relegation-threatened Racing, both at home).
Let's start off with their match at Villarreal.
Villarreal 0 - Real Madrid 0
Despite the scoreline, this was actually a very good match, with both teams creating several opportunities, and a couple of inspired keepers maintaining their clean sheets. Riquelme was probably the best man on the pitch (other than the keepers) - but only for the first hour, afterwhich he was not only ineffectual, but almost impossible to even find on the pitch. This has been a criticism of his (mainly in his games for country) - that he disappears and the team becomes lost. Perhaps it's a question of stamina (?). (Almost) fortunately for Villarreal fans, Jose Mari really came on and created loads of danger with his runs and passes through the white defense. The only part that was missing for the home team was the finishing. Forlán, in particular, was rather stunningly incompetent as his side's main striker.
As for Madrid's efforts, there was quite a change in the lineup, and it mostly seemed to work. The biggest changes were in the very middle of the pitch. López Caro opted for Woodgate and Ramos at the back, putting Helguera in his old role of pivote, but this time, there was no partner for this position. Instead, Zidane and Guti played in front of him in a more attacking role, though it must be said that Guti ended up coming back more than really surging ahead, while Zidane seemed to be much more offensive-minded. Not to sound ungrateful, but we had suspension to thank for Beckham's absence from the right side of the pitch, giving way to Robinho, with Baptista on the left. Very soon in the match, however, it became apparant that Baptista and Zidane would do a lot of switching, thus allowing Baptista's brawn to take up space in the middle of the pitch. Ronaldo was the lone striker, having passed a fitness test a few days earlier.
Everything seemed to work pretty well, in fact. Well, other than Baptista (more on him later) - and some other poor finishing. Madrid controlled the center of the pitch, Zidane and Guti teams up (along with RC on a couple runs up the left) to create danger, and Robinho was playing creatively over on the right. Villarreal, for their part also had their chances, most notably a beautiful "almost-goal" by Riquelme (not only the shot, but the build-up was also superb). Still, it can be said that Madrid were the better side overall.
Alas, even the best-laid plans can go awry, can they not? Ronaldo broke again in the middle of the opening half, so Baptista was moved up to the striker position, Zidane came permanently into the middle, Robinho changed sides, and Cicinho made his debut along the right (in front of Salgado, if you're wondering). I was happy to see the Brazilian get a run out on the right, but the two things I feared would hurt play (Robinho on the left, and Baptista alone up front) ended up doing exactly that. Robinho isn't all-out bad on the left, it's just that he can be very special on the right. Meanwhile Baptista will continue to be my own personal whipping boy until he actually proves he can play the game. The poor bugger is simply lost. He doesn't create his own chances; he doesn't often make incisive runs for through passes, which makes the people behind him look bad because all they can do is pass the ball 1) to the wings or 2) to Baptista's leadweight feet while he has his back to the goal; finally, when the occasional opportunity does finally come his way (and he had a golden chance in this game), he invariably comes up with a unique and wholly unexpected way to flush it. He must surely be rueing the day he chose Madrid over Arsenal (I know I am).
The second half saw Sorín substituted out of the yellow lineup, which in a way was too bad, as I am a fan of his, but Pelligrini surely knows better than I, for his side came out much stronger, creating loads of chances and surely causing a few merengue hearts to run aflutter. Madrid seemed to run out of legs (a common occurrence this season, to be sure), and Villarreal pounced on a number of missed passes in the center of the pitch. Forlán managed to do his best Baptista impression, however, and Casillas was up to the task when the ball did manage to get through, and then, something rather special happened. Soldado was brought in for Robinho (Baptista would have been my rather unoriginal choice, but still a pretty good decision), Gravesen was brought in for Helguera a few minutes later, Villarreal ran completely out of gas, and Madrid starting connecting a few passes together, making a few runs, and oh-so-nearly saw Soldado put one in after a nice pass from Guti. Makes you wonder what the outcome might have been if Soldado had been playing upfront from the get-go. My uncle once said the top striker has to have the mentality of an assassin - he said this back in the day Vieri was playing (and scoring) for Atlético - Soldado has the look.
Two players I would take to build a team: Sorín and Riquelme.
Elsewhere around the league, we saw Barcelona taking the local derby from Espanyol at the Montjuic. They'll win the league (and perhaps more), but I think they miss Xavi in the middle.
Deportivo continues with its impressive recovery from last year's poor campaign, as they won away to Athletic 1-2.
Valencia was unable to do more than scrape out a goalless draw against food-poisoned Atleti. Aimar was apparently tightly marked and ineffective for most of the match.
And poor Alavés continued its abysmal run at home, this time losing 0-2 to Zaragoza. Chuchi Cos is now out as manager, but it's hard to see them scraping together enough points to climb out of the relegation zone.
Teams in form Zaragoza - quietly moving up, and now in 9th place, sneaking closer to the European spots Deportivo - breathing down Valencia's neck Barcelona - until they lose, they have to remain on this list!