Quick hits - Liga week 22
Never a dull week in the Liga, eh? Let's take a look at some of the more notable action over the past weekend:Real Madrid 4 - Espanyol 0
Madrid set the tone early in this one by tightening the screws in the center of the pitch, attacking the flanks with speed, and keeping possession of the ball away from an Espanyol squad that brought little in the way of danger. A clever goal by Guti started them off right in the 15th minute, and the persistent white attack was rewarded with two goals just before half (Zidane, Ronaldo). The rout was confirmed early in the second when Zizou struck a brilliant shot into the lower left side of the goal. The poor quality of the opposition would mitigate enthusiasm were it not for the total team effort that was on display. RM got very good-to-great games from nearly everyone on the pitch, the possible exceptions being Gravesen and Ronaldo, though he did score a goal (with his head!). The two shining stars were Zidane and Cicinho; the Frenchman with his goals and orchestrating, and the Brazilian with his brilliant runs down the right flank and his assists (Ronaldo's and Zidane's second).Zaragoza 4 - Betis 3
Zaragoza looked to have put this game away very early with four quick-strike goals between the 10th and 22nd minutes of the first half - much like the blitz they put on Barcelona in the first leg of their cup tie. Betis, one of the offensive lightweights of the league surely wouldn't make a game of it, would they? Never say never to Dani, who brought his team back with a hattrick. Zaragoza, down to ten men for the final stretch of the match, were able to hold on in the end, but only just. Still, I think the point to be taken from this (if you didn't already know) is that Zaragoza (when they don't let their guard down and think the game is over) are a very
dangerous squad who are playing very well: 6 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss in their last nine league matches...also into the semifinals in the Copa del Rey. Look out!Deportivo 0 - Valencia 1
David Villa's brilliant goal from the half line was the highlight of a strange match that started off very intensely but waned after the first half hour. Deportivo's Victor saw his first half PK saved by Cañizares, then proceeded to blast the rebound over the crossbar, only to get another chance after the referee ruled Valencia had entered early. What happens on the next PK? Yep, Cañizares saved it easily. After that, Deportivo played rather poorly, clearly missing Valerón in the attacking midfield, and Valencia mostly played not to lose. I must say that I have a problem with Depor's Caparrós' managing of the game. He started his lone creative spark, Tristán, on the bench, clearly resting him for the Cup tie this week against Espanyol. I can somewhat see that logic, but only if you feel you can actually beat the opponent without your best remaining player, which he apparently did not feel, as Tristán was brought on in the second half. Make up your mind, here - if you're going to rest a player, REST him...if you're going to depend on a player, START him. Oh, and who is Deportivo's usualy PK kicker? Yes, Tristán. Which brings me to another beef - how can you let Víctor take the first PK, much less the second??? This is a guy that doesn't want to play for Depor and who was a couple of details away from moving to the Premiereship a couple weeks ago. Ok, fine, maybe he was still the best kicker for the first try (sure didn't look it, though), but he struck it SO badly - how can you let him take the second? Bah!Sevilla 0 - Osasuna 1
Phew! Their first win of 2006. To do it against a quality opponent and fellow UEFA / CL contender was clutch. What a difference having Savo back makes, eh? Tightening the defense helped, too.Villarreal 1 - Cádiz 1
Riquelme is hurt and the yellow submarine is looking rudderless. Tying at home against Cádiz is bad enough, but having to thank the referee for disallowing a legal goal at the end of the game in order to preserve the tie is downright shameless. Those Rangers up in Glasgow must fancy their chances later this month.Racing 0 - Celta 1
Two hot teams faced off, but the match was a bit of a dud, goal-wise, until the very last minute of the contest, when Perera gave the visitors their first ever win in El Sardinero in their 22nd try. Notably, Celta now occupies a UEFA spot - not too shabby for a promoted side.Barcelona 1 - Atlético de Madrid 3
The big upset (but is it still an upset?) came to fruition as Atlético frustrated, then pummeled the giants on their home turf. Barcelona were bound to lose at some point, being the mere mortals that they are, but I think there is still some good information to be gleaned from this match regarding how
Atleti were able to pull it off.
1) Defensive patience
-- Atleti did not, in fact, play a high pressure match a la Barcelona. They ceded the weight of the match to the hosts and played a containment game in the middle of the pitch, in order to not let Deco exert his influence. The entire team defended in their own half, fouled a fair amount, but kept these fouls, generally, far from the box.
2) Two skilled, speedy strikers
-- Atleti had Torres and Maxi running around and working very hard on their runs into the heart of the Catalán defense. I think having two legitimate threats upfront was a big key to unlocking the defensive barrier - a lone top striker without a close partner might not work as well because...
3) Not selling out in the attack
-- Atleti did not often attack en masse. The attacks were targetted and mainly carried out by the two aforementioned strikers and the wildcard, Petrov - the Bulgarian speedster often seen blazing down the left flank. This leads to...
4) Vertical attack
-- If you think of attacking styles, you usually have either a fast and direct, get-to-the-opponents'-goal-as-quickly-as-possible, counter-attack style, or you have the patient, probing buildup that relies on creativity, possession, buildup, and flair. I think of the first style as being very vertical, and this is exactly what Atlético were in this match. They kept their defensive positioning in tact while having their fastest and most lethal trio of players streaming forward at breakneck pace.
Those, for me, were the critical underpinnings of Atlético's victory, much as they were for Zaragoza a couple weeks ago. In fact, Zaragoza and Atlético have recently looked VERY similar.Other scoresReal Sociedad 2 - Mallorca 1
- A win for the new manager.Málaga 2 - Athletic 1
- Um, ditto.Getafe 2 - Alavés 2