La Liga: The Final Lap

The final lap of the 80th La Liga season is fast approaching and with only nine more games left to go we are in for quite an entertaining run until the final day.  The title chase gets interesting between the top two and the bottom half of the table is tight to the point that the difference between a win and a loss could mean relegation.

Title Chase

The title chase is hotting up as both Real Madrid and Barcelona are battling it out atop the table with the blaugrana holding the advantage over their arch-rivals with a five point’s edge.  However, there is still that one “major” game to be played at the Santiago Bernabéu on April 16, El Clásico.  Prior to the clásico, both teams will have three difficult games- Barcelona will meet Villarreal at El Madrigal, where most Madridistas will be hoping to see them drop maximum points, followed up by a visit from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League and then finally they will welcome relegation threatened Almería to the Camp Nou.  Meanwhile, Real Madrid will first face Sporting Gijón at the Bernabéu, followed by a visit from English outfit, Tottenham Hotspur and then a trip to the hostile, San Mamés to face Athletic Bilbao.  If things all go Madrid’s way then a win in the Bernabéu will be good enough to see them climb to first and it would be up to them to survive the final six games.  But that’s all precognitive.  When one looks at the final stretch post-clásico, Barcelona will be in better shape than Real Madrid as los blancos will have the likes of Valencia, Sevilla and Villarreal away from home whilst, the only stern test for Barcelona in the final six games will be a home game against cross-town rivals, Espanyol and with the parakeets’ road form this season, I’d say the game may prove not much of a test for the blaugrana but who knows.

European Club Competitions

The race for a berth directly into next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage is at stake as both Valencia and Villarreal are neck and neck, tied on points with Villarreal holding the advantage of a far better goal difference than their cross-town rivals.  The two teams still have a game against each other in the Mestalla in round 31.  Villarreal’s final stretch may prove far more difficult than their rivals as they have games against Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla, with the games against the big two taking place in front of their home fans.  Valencia on the other hand, has only Villarreal and Real Madrid to think about and both games will be at home for los che.  Also, a tough away game against Espanyol might turn out to be a banana skin for the boys with the bats on their shirt.  A fourth place finish for either side might not be so bad as they are assured a spot in Europe but will have to begin their season earlier as they would have to qualify for the Champions League group stage.  Failing that, they are guaranteed a spot in the Europa League.

Next season’s Champions League is not the only continental club football that most teams are looking to qualify for.  Others have their sights set on the Europa League and quite a few teams are within a chance of qualifying.  Currently, Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao hold on to the final spots, respectively.  However, Sevilla are just outside on goal difference, while, Atlético Madrid is only three points behind Sevilla and Bilbao.  Mallorca also has an inside shot, sitting only four points behind Athletic Bilbao.

Mid-table and the relegation battle

The bottom end of the table is just as tight as the top.  In fact, it is far more congested at the bottom end of the table.  Teams sitting mid-table are not entirely “impregnable” as tenth place Osasuna has only a nine point lead over 19th and 20th and has a slim six point lead over 18th- two bad games coupled with a few good games from the bottom three could see them slip into a battle for the remainder of the season.  And if you remember, it took until the last day two seasons ago for the Pamplona side to save themselves from relegation when they defeated the mighty Real Madrid in the Reyno de Navarra 2-1.  Tenth to 12th are all tied on 35 points, whilst, 13th place Getafe is only a point behind and Racing only two behind in 14th.  However, Getafe and Racing are most threatened by a potential relegation fight as they hold only a meagre five and four point cushion, respectively, over 18th.  A rather hapless Deportivo side, that not so long ago was referred to as “Super Depor” is in quite a precarious position as they sit 16th on 31 points, two points above 18th and five out of 19th and 20th with away games against prime relegation candidates Málaga in round 31 and Hércules in round 33, but also has a difficult away match against league leaders Barcelona in round 37.  Additionally, they host tricky games against, Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Racing Santander and Athletic Bilbao.  In between, they will have a game against another team desperately close to the bottom three in Sporting Gijón away from home and one against European competition hopefuls, Mallorca.  Real Zaragoza face the threat of  relegation also as they sit 17th, one point above 18th place Málaga and four above 19th and 20th.  Málaga, Almería and new-comers Hércules are the league’s worst teams this season and find themselves 18th-20th respectively.  All three teams are well off the “acceptable” 43 points mark, which is described by many as the minimum amount of points to accumulate in a season if a team is to avoid relegation.

With nine games left in the final run to the end of the season and so many unpredictable outcomes it should certainly make for fantastic entertainment.  Will Real Madrid prevent arch-rivals Barcelona from winning their third consecutive league title, thereby ending their drought of two seasons without a major trophy?  Or will the blaugrana slip up in the final stretch thus handing the merengues their 32nd La Liga title?  Who will finish third- Valencia or Villarreal?  Which teams will be playing in the Europa League next season?  Which teams will be relegated?  Will Almería’s “fairy tale” run of four consecutive seasons in the top flight come to an end this season?  Will Hércules survive their first season back in the top flight after a 13 year hiatus?  Is Málaga’s three year stint in the top flight close to an end?  Is Deportivo’s first division life coming to an end after 19 consecutive seasons of top flight football?  Will Zaragoza escape the drop?  Many questions to be answered but can only be justly answered come season’s end- in what should be quite an intriguing final stretch of games.

El Derbi Madrileño takes centre stage

It’s that time of year again when Spain’s Capital City is once again divided into two with Real Madrid travelling to the Arganzuela district of Madrid where they will face off against rivals Atlético Madrid.

“The respect we have for fans doesn’t allow us to joke around in the derby. We will give our all at the Calderon and we’ll see if that’s enough. We will try to showcase our quality. We are very motivated because it will be a very important match. Games preceding a Champions League match are difficult because you risk losing focus. Games following a Champions League match are different and usually tinged by physical and psychological exhaustion. They are equally dangerous. The derby will be tough because we’ll face a great team, but it will also be easier to play because everyone will give their all.”– Mourinho

Atlético are desperate to break the “curse” against their cross-town rivals on Saturday, since they have not beaten the whites in all competitions since the 1999-00 season a total of 20 games.  In fact, the last victory for the colchoneros came October 30, 1999 when Hasselbaink scored a brace with José Mari scoring the other for the rojiblancos in a 3-1 victory at the Santiago Bernabéu which would be the last time the derby would take place at the Bernabéu until the 2002-03 season as Atlético Madrid were relegated at the end of the 1999-00 season.

Both teams have met three times this season, once in league and twice in the quarter-final stage of the King’s Cup.  During the first meeting this season at the Santiago Bernabéu, Real Madrid ran out comfortable 2-0 winners; Carvalho and Özil the goal scorers.  The second meeting saw Real Madrid come from behind in the first leg of the King’s Cup to defeat the colchoneros, who had taken the lead seven minutes in through Forlán.  However, Ramos, Ronaldo and Özil ensured victory for the whites.  In the third meeting, Real Madrid went to the Vicente Calderón and came away with a 1-0 victory courtesy of a Ronaldo goal.

There have been 172 official matches between both teams with Real Madrid dominating the fixture with 92 wins, 38 draws and 42 losses; 295 goals for and 225 against.  But when it comes to a derby, all history and statistics are thrown out the window and all that is left is both teams showing their character; giving their blood, sweat and tears in every minute of the game until the final whistle and today will not be any different.  So, despite Atlético Madrid’s recent run, which has seen them win only three games out 15 for the new year, it will be a different team that takes the pitch seeking to put an end to their misfortune, not only in league but also against their hated rivals, whom their fans refer to as “el equipo del gobierno, la vergüeñza del país”–the team of the government, the shame of the country.

it doesn’t matter in what kind of form you go into a game like that; they’re always special matches for both teams. It’s going to be a tough match in which we’ll have  to give our all on the pitch.”– Sergio Agüero

Last Five Games

Atlético Madrid’s last five games are as follows:

W @ Real Zaragoza 0-1

D vs Sevilla 2-2

D @ Getafe 1-1

W vs Villarreal 3-1

D @ Almería 2-2

Real Madrid’s last five games are as follows:

D @ Deportivo La Coruña 0-0

W vs Málaga 7-0

W @ Racing Santander 3-1

W vs Hércules 2-0

W vs Lyon 3-0 (Champions League)

“Cristiano would be fitter to play if the derby took place on Sunday. It’s only natural he’s not in top form after missing so many training sessions and playing 70 minutes against Lyon. Playing him would be a risk.”– Mourinho

Injuries and Suspensions

Real Madrid’s Ronaldo is still nursing a slight hamstring injury and is likely to be available only as a substitute to Mourinho if the need arises.  Higuaín, Gago and Kaká are the only other players that will definitely be unavailable to the Real Madrid boss as both are out injured.  Quique Sánchez Flores, on the other hand, has a full strength squad to pick from.

Squad Lists

Atlético Madrid’s squad list is as follows:

Goalkeepers: De Gea, Joel

Defenders: Valera, Antonio López, Filipe Luis, Godín, Ujfalusi, Domínguez, Perea

 

Midfielders: Mario Suárez, Tiago, Raúl García, Elías, Fran Mérida, Paulo Assunção, Reyes, Juanfran, Koke

Forwards: Forlán, Agüero, Diego Costa

The squad list for Real Madrid is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Casillas, Adán, Dudek

Defenders: Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Arbeloa, Albiol, Garay, Carvalho

Midfielders: Lass, X. Alonso, Khedira, Granero, Canales, Özil, Di Maria, Pedro León

Forwards: Benzema, Adebayor, Ronaldo

 

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La Liga Preview: Match Day 29

Round 29 of La Liga is getting set to kick-off and will be the last round as the league is set to go on two weeks break.  The madrileño derby will take center stage on Saturday, while Valencia welcoming Sevilla to the Mestalla will also be an intense match up.  Villarreal’s trip to San Mamés should also be an entertaining game.

Mallorca vs Real Zaragoza

Mallorca will welcome Zaragoza to the Iberostar on Saturday.  Mallorca last weekend managed a draw on the road at Levante while, Real Zaragoza recorded an emphatic win over Valencia at La Romareda.  When these two sides met at the beginning of November, the blanquillos earned a 3-2 victory.  Coincidentally, the team’s first home victory of the season.  Mallorca have been win-less in their last two league games and have only won once in the last five, drawing one and losing three.  Meanwhile, Zaragoza have won twice, drawn once and lost twice in their last five.  The home team haven’t lost against Zaragoza at home in the last four league matches between the two.  There has been no fresh report of injuries from the Mallorca camp.  However, Zaragoza will be without Lanzaro as he suffered an injury to his adductor muscle.

Barcelona vs Getafe

Barcelona will welcome Getafe to the Nou Camp in this weekend’s second match.  The blaugrana, earlier this week, received some devastating news about defender Abidal, who underwent surgery for a liver tumor and the French man is expected to miss approximately five to six weeks.  Barcelona last weekend drew against Sevilla, while Getafe came from behind to salvage a point against Athletic Bilbao.  Getafe have never won at the Camp Nou in their seven games played there and have only ever left with a point on two occasions.  Incidentally, both coming in April and November of 2008. In fact, Barcelona hasn’t lost to Getafe in league since November 10, 2007 when Manu and Albín scored for el geta.  Getafe are currently on a poor run of form, winning only once in their last ten league games, drawing four and losing five.  Also, el geta are on a win-less streak of six games. Puyol and Abidal will definitely miss the game on Saturday while Messi, Pedro and Maxwell are all doubtful.  Getafe themselves have a long list of lengthy injuries- Rafael will be out for four months, Colunga will be out for five weeks, Gavilán will be out for six months and José Ortíz will be out for another two weeks.

Atlético Madrid vs Real Madrid

El Derbi madrileño will take place this weekend and will be the final game on Saturday.  Real Madrid on Wednesday made it through to the quarter-final stages of the Champions League, after a seven year hiatus, by defeating Lyon 4-1 on aggregate.  The visitors have not lost to the colchoneros for the past 11 years, the last defeat coming October 30, 1999 when Atléti traveled to the Bernabéu and earned a 3-1 victory- Hasselbaink with a brace and José Mari with another for the colchoneros while Morientes scored the only goal for Real Madrid.  Atléti have won only twice in their last ten games and have lost five of those ten games, drawing the other three.  Both teams have met three times already this season; once in league and twice in the Copa Del Rey with Real Madrid winning all three encounters outscoring their rivals six goals to one.  Despite being back on the pitch, Higuaín will continue his recovery process for a herniated disc and Kaká will also continue to miss out due to a knee injury.  Atléti have not reported any new injuries in their camp.

Sporting Gijón vs Almería

Sporting will face Almería at El Molinón on Sunday.  Both teams are coming off important draws last weekend against Villarreal and Atlético Madrid, respectively.  When these two teams met earlier this season, Sporting left the Mediterráneo with a point following a 1-1 draw with the Andalucians.  Of the seven meetings between these two at El Molinón, Almería has only ever won once, that victory coming in April of 2007.  Sporting has only won once in their last five league games but has also only lost once.  While, Almería has a similar record to the Asturians.  Sporting will miss both Rafael Sastre and José Angel as both men were dismissed last weekend against Villarreal.  The Asturians will also miss Cuéllar who is out injured and both Bilic and Carmelo are doubtful for the encounter.  As for Almería, the only major concern is that of Piatti, who continues to recover from his injury.

Hércules vs Osasuna

Relegation threatened Hércules will welcome a visit from Osasuna at the José Rico Peréz Stadium on Sunday.  The visiting team are undefeated in their last three league games, winning the last two.  Hércules, however, are on a five game win-less streak and have lost their last three games.  Osasuna are the league’s worst visiting team and only in their last away fixture did they manage to earn a victory after a year and 34 days without doing so. Osasuna have only ever won once at the José Rico Peréz, which came January 1982.  Of the last five fixtures between the two in Alicante, Osasuna have walked away with a point on two occasions, losing the other three fixtures.  Osasuna welcomed Oier back to the group on Thursday as he trained without limitations, Rúper partially trained with the team, while Aranda began physiotherapy and Pandiani trained on his own.  Trezeguet is the only injury concern at the moment for the home team.

Racing Santander vs Real Sociedad

Real Sociedad will travel to Santander where they will face off against Racing.  Both teams are coming off losses last weekend and are looking to rebound.  The verdiblancos are currently on a four game win-less streak, losing two and drawing two.  La Real is also win-less in the last four games- losing three and drawing one.  Of the last five league meetings between the two at El Sardinero, Real Sociedad has won three, drawn one and lost one.  Both teams are separated by five points but the home side is too close to the bottom three for comfort as they sit 16th with four points between them and 18th place, Hércules.  Real Sociedad’s only injury concern at the moment is Demidov.  Racing will be without Henrique, who has to serve a one match ban following his fifth yellow card last weekend.  Also, the verdiblancos will miss the injured Arana, Adrián, Serrano and Tziolis.

Málaga vs Espanyol

The anchovies will welcome a visit from Espanyol on Sunday evening.  Los Periquitos have been disastrous on the road this season and had it not been for their solid home performances probably wouldn’t sit in fifth as they have only picked up thirteen points from a possible 42 points.  Málaga, however, are doing  just as badly at home and in fact, are the league’s worst home team with only 11 points from a possible 39.  When these two met back in early November, Espanyol edged the Andalucians 1-0.  However, Málaga will have their chance at revenge on Sunday as the parakeets have a poor away record and coupled with that, the home team have only ever lost to the Catalans twice at home in their nine meetings at La Rosaleda.  The home team will continue to be without Baptista and will also miss Cala.  Both Javi Márquez and Duscher are doubtful for the visitors.

Deportivo la Coruña vs Levante

Levante will travel to Galicia on Sunday where they will face off against Deportivo in El Riazor.  Deportivo are currently in 14th with a five point edge over 18th and a point behind their opponents, who are 13th in the table.  When the two teams met in round ten of the league this season Levante fell 2-1 at home to the Galicians and will be seeking revenge when they meet on Sunday.  However, the granotes have only ever won once at the Riazor, albeit, that came in a second division meeting in 1980.  The last five matches between the two at the Riazor have ended in four wins and a draw for Deportivo.  The home team’s only injury concern at the moment is to that of Riki and Morel.  While, Levante hasn’t reported any injuries.

Athletic Bilbao vs Villarreal

Bilbao will on Sunday be seeking revenge against Villarreal following their 4-1 defeat in week 10 of the league this season.  Villarreal on Thursday qualified for the next round of the Europa League after downing Bayer Leverkusen 5-3 on aggregate and will be seeking to add to that success with a victory in San Mamés.  Of the last five meetings in the cathedral between the two teams, Villarreal have won three, drawn one and lost one- that loss coming last season.  The yellow submarines have won only once in their last five league games, drawn three and lost once, whereas, los leones have lost three, drawn one and won one.  Athletic will be without Toquero who is suffering from a muscle injury.  Meanwhile, Villarreal haven’t reported any injuries.

Valencia vs Sevilla

In the final game on Sunday and of the round, we will see Sevilla travel to the Mestalla where they will face Valencia.  Sevilla are coming off a huge point after they came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with league leaders Barcelona last weekend.  Valencia, however, were well beaten by Real Zaragoza, 4-0.  In round 10 of the league, when Valencia visited the Andalucians, were beaten 2-0 and will on Sunday look to “repay” the visitors by defeating them.  Sevilla’s last five trips to the Mestalla have ended in four defeats and a victory for los nervionenses. The last three visits for the Andalucians ended in defeats, being outscored eight goals to three.  Aduriz, Maduro and Albelda are all doubtful for the encounter, while Sevilla’s Cáceres and Fernando Navarro will miss the encounter due to suspension.

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What is Madridismo?

After reading Sid Lowe’s column in Sports Illustrated on José Mourinho’s latest rant and Juan asking if I was interested in writing an article based on the recent faux pas, I duly obliged.  So, what is Madridismo?

Some say it means

“being a fan of Real Madrid C.F.”

Others say

“Madridismo is playing the beautiful game in a beautiful way. It’s not about winning, but playing with style and honour … it is something a Madridista demands from the club … A boring 1-0 win is just not worth it – You’d rather lose the game!”

In an attempt to defend present coach José Mourinho, who went on a ridiculous rant in his usual pre-match press conference, Florentino Pérez in his speech at The 2011 Insignia Presentation defined an element of Madridismo as

“defending Real Madrid from what we believe to be unjust”

To some extent those definitions are correct.  However, the most accurate definition of the term I have seen to date came from El Pais’ Luis Gomez who says it is

“The personal, paternalistic leadership style of Bernabeu instilled in the club a simple ethos that was resembled that of a religious order more than that of a political organization. The main elements consisted of a sense of austerity, hard work, humility and honesty. Real Madrid transmitted these values through its players onto the field, summarized in a term that has come to be known as señorío”.

Florentino’s defence of Mourinho is borderline absurd.  Now, I am not saying the fixture list isn’t crowded and that the RFEF may need to spread the games out a bit more.  Nevertheless, the club has known about the fixture list since day one and there was no complaint then.  Secondly, the likes of Villarreal and Valencia have more reason to complain than do Real Madrid or even Barcelona.  For instance, Villarreal played away on Thursday in the Europa League and the following day had to start preparing for a league fixture that would take place in two days.  Also, Valencia played on Wednesday night away in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, where they faced off against Schalke in what was a do or die match, then had to come back and prepare for an away league match to be played on Saturday against Zaragoza.  Los Che travelled approximately 1881.3 km to Schalke, therefore travelling a total of 3763 km both ways.  And a few days later, had to make a 306 km trip to Aragon, Spain which I believe has to take a toll on the players but they don’t complain and simply get on with their business.  It is also worth noting that Valencia lost both games in embarrassing fashion.  As far as I am concerned and many others I am sure, that is a reason neither team stands a real chance at competing with Real Madrid or Barcelona in the league, especially since they do not have the advantage of enjoying the wealth of quality players that both powerhouses possess.  Villarreal for example, depends on their cantera players to fill in for the first teamers if the need presents itself.  Therefore, the yellow submarines will depend on the likes of Rossi, Nilmar, Capdevila, Cazorla, Cani, and so on, week in week out as long as neither is affected by injuries or suspensions.  However, Mourinho feels the need to complain about playing back to back games at home, where the most travelling his players will do is go from training to home, home to training and home to the stadium on game night, followed up by a VERY short trip, a mere 15 minutes to the Vicente Calderón this coming Saturday.

Valencia, Spain to Schalke, Gelsenkirchen, Germany

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Valencia, Spain to Aragon, Spain

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Valencia, Spain to Leverkusen, Germany

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Before any Madridista sees this and get upset, DON’T, because I am an ardent fan of the club.  However, if Real Madrid can consider themselves the biggest club, that boasts of the best players in the world to the point that even their “second string” players would be a regular starter at a club as colossal as Manchester United or could even turn a club like Málaga into a forcible team, then there is no need to grumble about it because there is enough depth in the squad to rotate a few positions if there are tired legs around.

Florentino Pérez, in my opinion, is owed a fair amount of gratitude from the supporters of the club for the simple fact that he essentially wiped out our massive €500 million debt overnight following the sale of the old Ciudad Deportivo training facilities to the local council.  However, that is where the praises must end.  Florentino’s actions doesn’t demonstrate that of a man who understand what it is like to be a true Madridismo nor does it display a man who has knowledge of the sport.  This is a man, who was virtually unknown in the world of football when he first took over as club president from Lorenzo Sanz, who had by then done enough damage to the club.  Florentino may have a vision for the club that is perceptibly brilliant, but, he doesn’t give the “projects” time to develop nor does he give players or coaches the time to adapt, which takes away from the essence of Madridismo- hard work and humility.  Peréz focuses too much on marketing the Real Madrid brand and not enough on the football.  He went against the better judgment of his right hand man Jorge Valdano, the “philosopher“, and hired Mourinho as head coach, who we all know is an incredible coach and perhaps the best in the world, in any sport but he tends to bring negative publicity where ever he goes and that is the complete opposite of what Madridismo is.  But, Pérez has in recent years put the true value of Madridismo on the back burner in his attempt to win titles, which he is yet to do on a consistent basis and his biggest mistake was firing Vicente del Bosque, the club’s most successful coach since the era of Muñoz and Molowny.  Under Peréz, the meaning of Madridismo has changed to mean “winning at all costs” and if that means changing 22 players and the coach and hiring 22 high profiled players and a controversial coach, then that is what will happen.  The term means nothing of value but that of condemnation.  It embodies a lack of team work but that of individualism.  In his two terms, he has racked up roughly €697.1 million in transfer fees over a nine year period and only has two Spanish Championships and a European Cup to show for it!

Madridismo for me, is not only being a loyal and fervent fan but it also embodies what Luis Gomez described as “austerity, hard work, humility and honesty” whilst exercising patience, showing dignity in the face of defeat and fighting for the colours- leaving it all on the pitch.  It is more than just a religion; it is a way of life!

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La Liga Recap: Real Madrid vs. Hércules

On Saturday Real Madrid played host to a struggling Hércules at the Santiago Bernabéu.  Real Madrid was presented with the opportunity to close the gap between them and Barcelona to four points, albeit, the blaugrana plays on Sunday but a game that may prove a tricky affair for the Catalans.

The first half began quickly for the whites as the first chance of the match fell within six minutes of kick-off; however, Di María’s effort went wide of the post after some good defending by Abraham Paz.  Real Madrid would knock the ball around in an attempt to break down the Hércules defence but to no avail until the 24th minute when Benzema struck.  A beautifully weighted pass by Özil opened up the Hercules defence, playing in Arbeloa on the right and his cross was met by Benzema, who had the simplest task of side-footing it home.  Three minutes later and Real Madrid had a glorious chance at goal, as Arbeloa again with a magnificent cross for Adebayor, who rose beautifully to head towards goal but Calatayud would deny the Togolese hit-man with a spectacular save, tipping it over the cross bar.  The game would go into a slight lull and it took a lovely volley from Thomert to call Casillas into action in the 35th minute, which was followed up a minute later with another great effort by the visitors, this time from Kiko but Casillas managed to tip it over the bar.  Not much more would happen in the first half and Real Madrid would go in a goal to the good at the break.  At the start of the second half, Adebayor had the opportunity to double the lead but saw his strike come back off the post.  The game would remain 1-0 until the 56th minute when Benzema doubled the lead with a wonderful individual goal; he cut inside from the by-line and then hit a low drive past Calatayud, into the far corner.

The whites can now fully focus on their preparations for the upcoming game against Lyon and today’s win is certainly a massive boost for them.

Man of the match was an easy call tonight as Benzema was impressive and continued his recent fine form and new found confidence with a brace.  However, it is worth noting that Arbeloa also had a solid game- was constantly up and down the right, provided the assist for Benzema’s first goal, solid in defence, drew fouls when he went forward and suffocated much of the opposition’s plays coming down the right.  Calatayud had an excellent game for the visitors, denying Real Madrid on many occasions and had it not been for him, could have found themselves on the end of a thrashing.

The win sees Real Madrid climb to within four points of league leaders Barcelona.  Additionally, the game saw Hércules’ losing streak on the road stretched to seven games and has also seen the visitors gone 10 consecutive games without scoring a road goal.  A win for Málaga tomorrow will see Hércules fall rock bottom.

Highlights

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La Liga Preview: Real Madrid vs. Hércules

In the build up to their mid-week second leg match up against Lyon, Real Madrid will first welcome Hércules to the Santiago Bernabéu on Saturday evening.

“We want to remain perfect at the Bernabéu. A solid match will boost our confidence before playing against Lyon.”– Mourinho

Real Madrid have been impressive at home this season and is one of two teams to remain undefeated at home from the top five European leagues but is the ONLY team that can boast of a perfect home record.  But, should be wary of the potential upset awaiting them in the form of Hércules, that Mourinho stated “have done some big things this year”, one of which caught the world off guard when they picked up an impressive victory against defending champions Barcelona IN the Camp Nou.  The herculanos, however, has since then failed to win another game on the road.  In fact, they have since lost ten and drawn three road games and have lost their last six away games, failing to score in the last nine.

“Whoever’s season is at stake isn’t worried about drubbings, but rather about points. A team playing for points is a team that will leave it all on the pitch; it doesn’t think about losing, but about doing good things.”– Mourinho

During the first meeting between the two sides at the end of October, in round nine, Real Madrid had to come from behind to earn a 3-1 victory after Trezeguet had given the herculanos the lead in the third minute with a powerful header, however, Di María started the comeback for the whites in the 52nd minute, which was followed up by a brace from Ronaldo to secure all three points.  Of the 19 league games played at the Bernabéu between the two, Hércules have only ever left with points on three occasions- two wins and a draw; their last win coming all the way back on April 21, 1985.  Incidentally, the last time they left the Bernabéu with any points.  This season, 67.69% of los blancos’ goals have come at the Bernabéu, while only conceding 0.46 goals per game at home.  Coincidentally, Madrid’s 44 home goals are almost twice as much as what Hércules have scored all season both home and away.  Additionally, the away side has only scored a meager three goals away from home, two of which came in their memorable victory in round two.

Last five games

Real Madrid’s last five games at home are as follows:

vs. Mallorca 1-0

vs. Sevilla 2-0

vs. Real Sociedad 4-1

vs. Levante 2-0

vs. Málaga 7-0

Hércules’ last five games on the road are as follows:

@ Sporting Gijón 2-0

@ Athletic Bilbao 3-0

@ Valencia 2-0

@ Sevilla 1-0

@ Villarreal 1-0

Injuries and Suspensions

The game will see the return of Lass, who had to serve a one match ban last round, Khedira, Garay and Arbeloa all returned from injury and were included in the squad list for the game.  However, the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Pedro León, Kaká, Gago and Higuaín are out injured and as a result, Morata was once again tabbed for first team duty.  Hércules will miss the likes of Trezeguet, Tote, Peña and Drenthe, who will not make the trip to Madrid because of injuries.  In addition to Drenthe’s injury, the Dutch man’s loan contract includes a clause that prohibits him from playing against Real Madrid.  Hércules did receive some good news this week as Paraguayan striker Valdez returned to the squad list after his recent muscle injury which prevented him from taking part in the last five league games.

Squad Lists

The squad list for Real Madrid is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Casillas, Adán, Dudek

Defenders: Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Arbeloa, Albiol, Garay

Midfielders: Lass, X. Alonso, Khedira, Granero, Canales, Özil, Di Maria

Forwards: Benzema, Adebayor, Morata

Hércules’ squad list is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Calatayud, Velthuizen, Unai Alba

Defenders: Sarr, Abraham Paz, Pamarot, Cortes, Juanra, Pulhac

Midfielders: Abel Aguilar, Fritzler, Rufete, Tiago Gomes, Farinos

Forwards: Sendoa, Thomert, Cristian, Kiko Femenia, Valdez, Portillo

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La Liga Preview: Match Day 28

Round 28 of La Liga is getting set to kick off and on Saturday, Real Madrid will welcome a woeful Hércules to the Bernabéu, while rivals Barcelona travel to Seville where they will face off against Sevilla.  Villarreal and Valencia both have relatively easy games against the likes of Sporting Gijón and Real Zaragoza, respectively but will both need to respect their opponents as they are facing two teams fighting against relegation.

Almería vs Atlético Madrid

Fresh off the back of their convincing victory over Villarreal last weekend, Atlético travels south to visit Almería.  The Andalucians also earned a very important 2-1 victory against Hércules last Saturday, having to come from behind in that game.  The home side sit in 19th on 25 points while their opponents sit seventh on 38 points, two points out of a European cup spot.  Los Colchoneros have not won at the Mediterráneo, in league, in their three games there- the most recent trip ending in a narrow 1-0 loss; Piatti with an 86th minute game winner.  The home side haven’t lost in their last three home games, while Atlético are undefeated in their last two road games.  The Andalucians are the league’s second worst home team with only 14 points from 13 league games; two wins, eight draws and three losses.  Altéti on the other hand, is La Liga’s sixth best road team with four wins and two draws from 13 games.  The home side has been receiving great news for much of the week which saw the return of Juanma Ortiz to training after a month on the sidelines while Carlos García and Juanito trained normally on Thursday.  Also, Piatti is not completely ruled out of Saturday’s fixture and is currently awaiting clearance from the medical staff.  Atlético, on the other hand, had only one minor injury concern as Juanfran on Thursday trained on his own but is expected to be available for selection.

Real Madrid vs Hércules

Following back to back impressive displays from Real Madrid, they are back in the Santiago Bernabéu where they will welcome a woeful Hércules team.  Los Blancos continue to trail Barcelona by seven points but will have the opportunity to shave three points off the lead with a win on Saturday against the Herculanos as the leaders will play on Sunday.  Real Madrid have been impressive at home this season and is one of two teams to remain undefeated at home from the top five European leagues but are the ONLY team with a perfect home record.  However, los blancos will be wary when they take on the team from Alicante as this is the team, who on match day two sent shock waves all across Europe when they defeated Barcelona 2-0 in the Camp Nou.  In spite of that memorable victory, the Herculanos have been unable to collect maximum points from the games that subsequently followed.  Also, Hércules have lost their last six away games and have failed to score in the last nine.  Real Madrid, however, seem to have rediscovered their goal scoring touch, having scored ten goals in their last two league matches.  The first meeting between the two sides at the end of October, saw los merengues having to come from behind to earn a 3-1 victory.  Of the 19 league games played at the Bernabéu between the two, Hércules have only ever left with points on three occasions- two wins and a draw; their last win coming all the way back on April 21, 1985.  On Wednesday, Khedira was able to participate in the practice match against Castilla and seemed to have recovered fully from his recent knee injury.  However, the likes of Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, Arbeloa, Gago, Garay, Higuaín, Carvalho and Pedro León did not participate in the practice match.  Hércules’  Tote, Trezeguet, Peña and Drenthe will not make the trip to Madrid because of injuries and a clause in Drenthe’s contract but will see Valdez return to the squad after his recent muscular injury which prevented him from taking part in the last five league games.

Real Zaragoza vs Valencia

Real Zaragoza after a hard fought loss against Barcelona is back at La Romareda, where they will welcome Valencia.  Valencia are coming off a heart-breaking loss to Schalke in the Champions League, which saw los che dumped out of the competition 4-2 on aggregate.  However, they will be looking to bounce back with a victory against the blanquillos.  Zaragoza is the league’s third worst home team collecting a meager 18 points from a possible 42, while Valencia is the third best road team.  Los Maños have only won once against Valencia in the last meetings, home and away, losing four and drawing five.  However, their last win against los che did come last season at home- a convincing 3-0 victory, Diogo, Arizmendi and Jarošík responsible for the goals.  The home side is absolutely struggling this season and have been in and around the bottom three and are currently sitting 17th with a point advantage over 18th.  The home side welcomed Sinama-Pongolle back to training on Wednesday, however, Boutahar continued his recovery process.  Valencia hasn’t reported any recent injuries.

Osasuna vs Racing Santander

Racing Santander will travel to Pamplona where they will face Osasuna at the Reyno de Navarra on Sunday.  The home side finally managed a victory on the road after more than a year without doing so.  Meanwhile, Racing fell at home to Real Madrid ending their six games unbeaten streak.  Osasuna has been solid at home and are the ninth best home team in league with six wins, six draws and one loss.  Racing, however, holds a poor record away from home- winning only twice and drawing four of 14 games.  The good news for the visitors is that they are currently unbeaten against los rojillos in the last 13 games; hasn’t lost in Pamplona in the last six games- winning the last five.  Aranda will be missing for approximately four weeks following surgery on his right adductor muscle on Thursday, while Pandiani continues to train on his own and both Oier and Rúper has been partially training with the group.  The Cantabrian side will welcome back Henrique and Cisma, who both missed the clash against Real Madrid due to suspensions, however, they will continue to miss Arana, Adrián, Serrano and Tziolis due to their respective injuries.

Real Sociedad vs Málaga

Real Sociedad will welcome Málaga to the Anoeta on Sunday.  The home team last round, lost to Deportivo, whilst, the Anchovies fell at home to Osasuna.  La Real has been strong at home this season winning 61.54% of their home games and is the seventh best home team, while their opponents have been less than impressive on the road with three wins out of 14 away games.  The visitors are win-less in the last five road games, of which they have lost three, while la real haven’t lost in their last four home games- winning three and drawing one.  In addition to Málaga’s dismal season, they have not won in the Anoeta for the past three games and have now lost four games on the trot against the Basques.  The Andalucians are rock bottom with only 23 points from 27 games- an average of 1.2 points per game and a 22% win rate.  Gámez, Weligton, Apoño and Rubén were having injury problems earlier this week in training but should be available for selection on Sunday.  There were no reports of injuries from the Sociedad camp.

Espanyol vs Deportivo La Coruña

Espanyol are at home and will welcome Deportivo to the Cornella El Pratt.  When these two met on the back end of October, Deportivo had managed an emphatic 3-0 victory, coincidentally their first of the season.  The parakeets will be seeking revenge when they host the Galicians.  The Catalans are sitting in sixth place currently, exceeding expectations and are in the hunt for a European cup spot.  Deportivo, however, has been largely disappointing and are hovering above the drop zone.  The visitors have not beaten Espanyol at home in the last four attempts; their last win coming June 17, 2007.  The home side are currently on a two game losing streak, while the Galicians have not lost in the last five.  Collectively, los periquitos have been solid at home with a 64.29% win rate, losing only four times in the Cornella El Pratt this season.  Depor, on the other hand, has been woeful with a 14.29% win rate and are the sixth worst visiting team this season.   Espanyol’s only injury problem was that of Dátolo who was to have surgery on his ankle in Argentina on Tuesday.  Laure is the only new injury concern for the Galicians after picking up an ankle injury against Real Sociedad on Monday.

Levante vs Mallorca

Levante will welcome Mallorca to the Cuitat de Valencia Sunday evening.  The Granotes have been on a tear recently, winning five and drawing one of their last seven- the only loss coming against Real Madrid at the Bernabéu.  Even more impressive is their goals scored to goals conceded ratio, 8:4 (two of which came against Real Madrid).  Mallorca, on the other hand, have won only twice in their last nine games and drawn once.  However, los bermellones are currently undefeated against Levante in the last five games- winning four and drawing one.  Both teams lie 10th and 12th in the table and are separated by three points.  Levante’s coach had the luxury of having all his men train on Thursday with the exception of Sergio González.  There have been no fresh reports of injuries from the Mallorca camp.

Villarreal vs Sporting Gijón

Following their impressive 3-2 away victory mid-week in the Europa league against German side Bayer Leverkusen, Villarreal are back in El Madrigal and will welcome Sporting Gijón on Sunday.  Both teams are coming off different results last weekend, as the Asturians secured a comfortable 2-0 victory over Getafe, whilst Villarreal fell to Atlético Madrid 3-1.  In their four visits to El Madrigal, Sporting has only even won once, that coming October 24, 1999 in a Segunda Division meeting but has since then lost in their last three trips there.  Villarreal are currently sitting comfortably in fourth, the last Champions League spot and are chasing cross-town rivals Valencia, who are in third, for that third automatic Champions League group stage spot.  Sporting, on the other hand, are trying to avoid relegation and a win is critical for the Asturians if they are to put some distance between themselves and the bottom three as they are currently in 16th with a two points advantage over 18th.  Villarreal has not reported any injuries following their game against Leverkusen on Thursday.  Sporting will miss Lora after he saw two yellows against Getafe last weekend and they may also be without Nacho Cases who turned up for training on Thursday with a bout of gastroenteritis.

Sevilla vs Barcelona

In perhaps the most anticipated game this weekend, sees Barcelona travel to Sevilla where many a Madridistas around the world will be rooting for the Andalucians hoping that they can get something out of this match up especially if Real Madrid takes care of business at home on Saturday.  However, the Culé fans will be looking for the statistics to mean something, as the blaugrana hasn’t lost in the last seven league games against los nervionenses– the last encounter ending in a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing.  In fact, Sevilla hasn’t scored in the last two competitive games against Barcelona and has conceded nine goals.  Following their mid-week “controversial” victory over Arsenal the visitors may be a little tired as they have played three games in the space of three days and surely that is something the Andalucians will be looking to exploit and following their loss at the weekend to Athletic, how better than to rebound with a victory over the league leaders?  There has been no fresh report of injuries for Barcelona, while Sevilla on Thursday reported that Perotti had to retire from training early following a slight muscle injury in his left leg.

Getafe vs Athletic Bilbao

Getafe will welcome Athletic Bilbao to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez on Monday night.  Athletic Bilbao just recently ended their four game losing streak last weekend much to the displeasure of Sevilla, while Getafe continued their win-less streak with a loss at Sporting Gijón.  Athletic Bilbao has never won at the Coliseum and of their six games played there has drawn three and lost three- their last trip ending in a 2-0 loss.  As things stand, there are no injuries or suspensions to report for either side.

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