Is it time for Real Madrid to panic?

zizou-headacheFive games into the 2017/18 La Liga season and Real Madrid is already seven points off the pace and currently sits seventh in the table. They’ve won a meagre two games, drawn two and lost one.

Zidane’s men haven’t played terribly so far this season but they have been abhorrent in front of goal, creating a myriad of chances but failing to put them away. An incredulous feat from a team that has Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema.

Ronaldo was banned for five games for shoving the referee in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup. He missed the return leg of the Super Copa and the first four La Liga games, so naturally, Real Madrid was happy about his expected return against Betis but that went sour pretty quickly.

Before last night’s game against Betis, Real Madrid had scored in 73 consecutive games but the team was unable to get anything past ex-Madrid man Adán, who made a number of man-of-the-match worthy saves. Coupled with the Betis goalkeeper’s spectacular display, both Bale and Ronaldo weren’t at their best. Ronaldo had a torrid time in front of goal, skying numerous shots and Bale on the other hand, was in and out of the game but had one brilliant shot on goal that saw Adán conjure up a miraculous save to deny him.

While los Merengues have struggled to bury their scoring opportunities, both Mariano and Morata have hit the ground running for their new clubs. The latter was sort of a saviour last season, coming on as a substitute to score or lay-off the winning goal.

Bale has had a slow start to the season scoring only once and has thus far contributed very little to the team’s play and dynamic. Benzema, before his injury against Levante, was creating chances but hadn’t put away any of his efforts.

Mayoral’s presence in the squad was already a bit risky and his introduction into last night’s game says the club needed a striker in the summer and should have made the effort to replace Mariano and Morata’s departure. He’s a promising player with an abundance of potential and his unfortunate loan stint at Wolfsburg means he hardly had the chance to really hone his skills and therefore, including him as the only backup to Benzema was an absurd decision and could prove to be truly disastrous. Will he be able to provide the team with goals in dire moments the way Morata was able to?

Zidane initially said the club needed a new striker but as the possibility of signing M’bappe dwindled, he then changed his initial assessment and said he was happy with the squad and that it didn’t need any more players. Last night’s debacle begs to differ and indicates that his original evaluation remains true.

Real Madrid find themselves in a precarious predicament and it will be difficult to claw themselves out of this position. They have failed to make the Bernabéu a sanctuary so far this season and have picked up a paltry two points out of a possible nine. And of the five official games they’ve played at home, the team’s won two, drawn two and lost one.

Los Blancos will certainly find form as the season drags on, but in a league where so little points are dropped and there’s very little between the top two, seven points behind a Barça team that seems in fine form, despite their troubles in the boardroom, will be a tough ask for the whites. Even more so, as they have yet to meet their toughest opponents- the likes of Sevilla, cross-town rivals Atlético and arch-rivals Barcelona.

In his post-game press conference, the ever so composed Zidane said, the team has to “remain calm and focus on the next game. La Liga is a long competition”.  He may be right but his team no longer holds their destiny in their own hands.

In defence of Dembélé

dembeleAs we’ve known for the past few weeks, Ousmane Demebélé has been AWOL since he’s gotten word that Barcelona desperately wants him. He’s refused to show up for training and has since been fined and suspended by Dortmund for his lack of professionalism. According to German newspaper Bild, he’s last been sighted in Monaco.

It’s never easy for players to resist the allure of playing for a top club, especially when that club is two-time treble winners Barcelona, which also has one of the world’s best players of all-time on their team.

It’s also difficult to resist the enticement of playing in the best league— based on UEFA’s ranking. And while both Dortmund and the Bundesliga, in their own right, are right up there with the best teams and leagues respectively, Barça and La Liga are far more attractive options.

So who could really forgo all that allure? Established players, the likes of Suarez, Rakitic, Modric, Ronaldo and Bale were all unable to fight the temptation to join their current clubs and immediately made the move when the opportunity presented itself. If those players couldn’t resist the urge, how could a 20-year-old rising star possibly do so?

Another perspective

There’s this theory from psychologist Frederick Herzberg, called the Two-Factor Theory. This premise basically suggests there are factors in the workplace, which affect job satisfaction and those which affect job dissatisfaction. The theory makes a distinction between two groups: Motivators and Hygiene factors.

Motivators are described as intrinsic factors arising from work conditions and affect job satisfaction. Some examples of them are: self-actualisation, recognition, opportunity to do something meaningful and a sense of importance.

Hygiene factors, on the other hand, are extrinsic to the work and affect job dissatisfaction. Examples of these factors are: salary/wages, benefits, status, work conditions and good pay.

According to Herzberg, hygiene factors don’t lead to higher motivation or job satisfaction but a lack of these factors can lead to job dissatisfaction. Motivators, conversely, lead to job satisfaction and increased motivation but don’t necessarily eliminate job dissatisfaction.

It’s worth noting here that Herzberg didn’t see job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction as opposites. He saw it the following way:

  • the opposite of job satisfaction as no job satisfaction and,
  • the opposite of job dissatisfaction as no job dissatisfaction.

Considering the information available to us, Dembélé already earns above average wages, works under fairly good conditions and seems to get along with the majority of his peers, which means the likelihood dissatisfaction exists is pretty low— conclusion: no dissatisfaction. He, however, feels that he’s done enough at Dortmund and achieved all he could, which means he sees no job satisfaction and the only way to achieve this is to seek a new challenge, currently offered by Barça. What normal, ambitious person doesn’t have a desire to accomplish more and even more so when the opportunity to do so is banging at the door?

So, while most of us may think Dembélé only wants this move because of the increased pay which comes with it, it is worth considering that it’s equally likely and possibly more logical that he’s pushing for a transfer to Barça because he:

  • has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like win the Champions League— an unlikely feat for Dortmund this season, with or without him.
  • has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like win the league and though plausible at Dortmund will prove difficult to do, considering Bayern is so dominant.
  • has the opportunity to “do something meaningful” like take on a new challenge in a new and better league
  • can feel a “sense of importance” by being able to compete and win every possible trophy.
  • can feel a “sense of importance” by becoming a regular at a top club and playing with one of the world’s all-time greats.
  • can feel a “sense of responsibility” by becoming the player who satisfactorily fills the colossal aperture left behind by Neymar.

So before we condemn and bemoan him and deem him a money grubber, it’s worth considering the need to fulfil his potential, something Dortmund can no longer offer him.

Dortmund have also resigned themselves to a sale, as was revealed earlier today by the club’s sporting director Michael Zorc before the team’s Bundesliga kick-off, and we should too.

 

Croatia could go all the way

At every championship there is at least one team we expect to cause all sorts of problems for the household names and this year’s Euro had names such as Belgium, Poland and Croatia being tossed around for but only Croatia has really laid claim to that label and ran with it.

They had an impressive showing against Turkey in their opening game but only secured a narrow win through a brilliant Modric volleyed-goal, but they controlled the game, created chances and defended resolutely.

In their next game, they dashed into a two-goal lead against the Czech Republic but a few of their nitwit fans decided to interrupt the game by throwing flares onto the field, which ended up doing their team more harm than good and moments after the restart they conceded the equaliser. A disappointing end to what was an otherwise great performance from the Croatians.

croespThey went into the final game of the group in second, two points behind the Spanish. La Roja were expected to have a fairly easy game and to finish top of their group. However, that wasn’t the case and the Croats came out aggressive, pressed the Spaniards ad prevented them from playing their possession-based game. They also did well forcing Iniesta out of the game, not allowing the little wizard any chance to dictate play. Majority of the Spanish’s play came through either Silva or Fabregas and a combination between the two led to the eventual opening goal. It wouldn’t last long though, as the Croatians would hit Spain on a perfectly executed counterattack just before the half through Perisic, who galloped down the left wing, broke Juanfran’s ankles and whipped in a lovely cross for Kalinic, who flicked the ball pass De Gea.

In the second half, the Croats didn’t change their game plan and continued to press the Spaniards, creating loads of chances but just couldn’t finish. The referee almost gave Spain an opportunity to “restore the order” by awarding them an incorrect penalty but justice was served because Ramos hit his penalty straight at the goalkeeper and later, the Croatians would deliver the knockout punch of the night in the 88th minute from a blitz counterattack with the scorer of the first, Kalinic returning the favour for Perisic to beat De Gea at his near post.

The Croatians shocked La Roja by not only defeating them through some lovely football and steadfast defending but to finish as group winners, thus leaving Spain to face Italy in the next round.

perisicTheir performance was commendable considering they had to do without Modric, who was injured. Additionally, Brozovic was rested, neither Strinic nor Vida played and Mandzukic was replaced by Kalinic. It was an outstanding game for the Croats, who’ve really been performing amazingly in the championship and this win will have given them bags of confidence. Their winning the group was probably more a let off the hook for the Italians than it was for the Croatians.

They have a wealth of talent, the likes of Modric- he picked up his second Champions League trophy with Real Madrid this season; Rakitic- was key in helping Barcelona win the domestic double; Mandzukic- an erratic character but the Juventus man can be clinical and though he’s struggling to hit form in this tournament can still deliver an unexpected blow to opponents; Brozovic- an undoubtedly talented, energetic and creative midfielder; Perisic- the Inter Milan man is a talented attacker who has a few tricky moves and can deliver deadly crosses into the box; and then there are the stallions: Corluka and Srna. Additionally, they have young players, who possess bags of talent, like Rog, who had a tremendous game in midfield against Spain, which was his fourth game for the national team. There’s Jedvaj, another 20-year-old, who had a terrific game in defence against the Spanish- also his fourth appearance for Croatia. Kalinic started the game in place of Mandzukic and did what the Juve man had failed to in the previous two games- not only scoring but providing an assist. Pjaca also made his 9th start against Spain and turned in a tremendous performance on the right. They also have Real Madrid’s talented young midfielder, Kovacic, who can play in a range of midfield positions.

The Croatians have a well-balanced team of both youth and experienced players and they have showed us that they possess all the right ingredients to be our Cinderella at the ball and I’m looking forward to them fulfilling that role and making it all the way to the final.

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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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 Recap: Saturday’s games

Week 22 of La Liga kicked off today with seven matches taking place throughout the course of the day.  Five matches kicked off simultaneously with Athletic Bilbao welcoming Sporting Gijón to San Mames, Racing Santander visiting Real Zaragoza, Getafe playing host to Deportivo la Coruña, Almería taking on Espanyol at the Mediterráneo and Osasuna welcoming Mallorca to the Reyno de Navarra.  Those were later followed by Villarreal welcoming Levante to El Madrigal and Atlético Madrid visiting Barcelona at the Camp Nou.  There was a total 21 goals scored on the day.

Athletic Bilbao welcomed a visit from a Sporting Gijón, who were on the up, winning their last three games.  However, they were to also take on an Athletic side that have been impressive at home and were themselves in good form, undefeated in their last four and victorious in the last three.  The home team would extend their undefeated streak with a emphatic 3-0 win against Sporting.  David López would get the hosts off to a great start in the 16th minute from the penalty spot after Arnolin “sumo wrestled” Llorente in the area and was subsequently sent off.  Toquero would double that lead in the 27th minute after a good passage of play between himself, Llorente and Muniain with the latter driving pass his defender and into the box, cutting the ball back for Toquero to knock past Cuellar.  Llorente would add to the lead in the 74th minute when once again, little Muniain was at the core of the buildup, picking out Susaeta on the left of the box, who then delivered a pin-point low cross for Llorente to knock into the net from close range.

Racing Santander travelled to Aragon to face Real Zaragoza in what was a pretty even match.  Both teams played to a 1-1 draw with Christian giving the away team the lead in the 14th minute, but his goal would later be cancelled out by Zaragoza’s Boutahar in the 40th minute.

After their three game losing streak, Getafe would get back to winning ways when they welcomed Deportivo la Coruña to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.  The home team ran out 4-1 winners on the day as Adrian Colunga got them off to a start in the 19th minute.  He later doubled that lead in the 26th minute.  Miku would add another on the stroke of half time for the hosts as they went into the break with a three goal lead.  In the 57th minute, Pedro Ríos would make it 4-0 to the home team.  The away team would get a consolation goal through Riki in the 68th minute via the penalty spot.

Almería are once again showed their willingness to fight for their first division lives as the relegation candidates stunned Espanyol in a 3-2 win.  The home team would be quick off the mark when Silva scored in the fifth minute which was then doubled two minutes later by Uche.  Bernadello would add a third in the 18th minute handing the hosts a comfortable 3-0 lead.  However, complacency would kick in for the hosts and as such Espanyol tried for the comeback with Verdú pulling a goal back in the 34th minute and Vázquez with another in the 49th minute.  However, the home team would hold on for the remainder of the match to secure all three points.

Osasuna were held to a 1-1 draw with Mallorca after Flaño scored an early goal for the host in the 8th minute, however, Castro’s 37th minute equalizer was enough for the Islanders to come away with a point.

Villarreal welcomed Levante to El Madrigal in a game that was expected to be a fairly easy one for the hosts.  However, it turned out to be an upset for the home side as they suffered their first home defeat of the season.  Levante started out the brighter of the two sides in the first half and should perhaps have scored the opener in the 13th minute through Stuani but his header went wide of the target.  The away side would go on to create a few good opportunities in the first half but were unfortunate to head into the break all knotted up.  However, the visitors would begin the second half as they did the first and three minutes in bagged a goal, thanks to Valdo after he side stepped Diego López and lifted the ball into the net for the opener. The hosts would immediately try to respond but to no avail and in the 60th minute were fortunate to still be down by only a goal as Marchena knocked over Xisco in the penalty area but the call wasn’t given and the hosts were allowed to play on.  Despite their efforts late on, Villarreal would stumble to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of their struggling cross-town rivals.  It was nevertheless a good and deserved win for the away side.

In Saturday’s final game La Liga’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would pay a visit to league leaders Barcelona in the hopes of ending their recent string of defeats both at the Camp Nou and in the current campaign.  However, it would all go wrong and within 17 minutes would concede a goal against the home side courtesy of the Argentine wizard; Messi came running down the right, cutting inside and rasped a left-footed shot toward goal from just outside the box, beating De Gea at the near post.  Ten minutes later and it would again be Messi popping up, this time from close range as Villa’s ball into the box managed to find its way through to the little fellow, making it 2-0.  On the stroke of half time, Agüero drove past Dani Alves taking the ball to the byline and managed to get a cross in before the Brazilian hacked him down and probably should have seen red but instead was shown a yellow.  It was all too easy for the hosts in the first half as they went in at the half with a comfortable 2-0 lead.  Atlético would start out the half brightly and created some good opportunities but were thwarted.  The away side were completely out of ideas by the 60th minute and would solely rely on catching the Blaugrana on the counter.  However, that game plan wouldn’t work and Messi would score his hat-trick in the 79th minute after Villa came dashing into the box and was well defended by De Gea but the ball found its way through to Messi, who again had an easy task at stabbing the ball home.  Another defeat for the visitors and another win for Barcelona, who have now broken the record for most consecutive league wins in a season with 16, surpassing Real Madrid’s record of 15.  The home side have also stretched their lead over second place Real Madrid to ten.

Normal 0 false false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE <!–[if gte mso 10]> Week 22 of La Liga kicked off today with seven matches taking place throughout the course of the day.  Five matches kicked off simultaneously with Athletic Bilbao welcoming Sporting Gijón to San Mames, Racing Santander visiting Real Zaragoza, Getafe playing host to Deportivo la Coruña, Almería taking on Espanyol at the Mediterráneo and Osasuna welcoming Mallorca to the Reyno de Navarra.  Those were later followed by Villarreal welcoming Levante to El Madrigal and Atlético Madrid visiting Barcelona at the Camp Nou.  There was a total 21 goals scored on the day. 

http://kimmontague.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/athletic_club_de_8c37.jpg?w=300Athletic Bilbao welcomed a visit from a Sporting Gijón, who were on the up, winning their last three games.  However, they were to also take on an Athletic side that have been impressive at home and were themselves in good form, undefeated in their last four and victorious in the last three.  The home team would extend their undefeated streak with a emphatic 3-0 win against Sporting.  David López would get the hosts off to a great start in the 16th minute from the penalty spot after Arnolin “sumo wrestled” Llorente in the area and was subsequently sent off.  Toquero would double that lead in the 27th minute after a good passage of play between himself, Llorente and Muniain with the latter driving pass his defender and into the box, cutting the ball back for Toquero to knock past Cuellar.  Llorente would add to the lead in the 74th minute when once again, little Muniain was at the core of the buildup, picking out Susaeta on the left of the box, who then delivered a pin-point low cross for Llorente to knock into the net from close range.

Racing Santander travelled to Aragon to face Real Zaragoza in what was a pretty even match.  Both teams played to a 1-1 draw with Christian giving the away team the lead in the 14th minute, but his goal would later be cancelled out by Zaragoza’s Boutahar in the 40th minute.

After their three game losing streak, Getafe would get back to winning ways when they welcomed Deportivo la Coruña to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez.  The home team ran out 4-1 winners on the day as Adrian Colunga got them off to a start in the 19th minute.  He later doubled that lead in the 26th minute.  Miku would add another on the stroke of half time for the hosts as they went into the break with a three goal lead.  In the 57th minute, Pedro Ríos would make it 4-0 to the home team.  The away team would get a consolation goal through Riki in the 68th minute via the penalty spot.

http://kimmontague.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/la-liga-week-22-pic-2.jpg?w=300Almería are once again showed their willingness to fight for their first division lives as the relegation candidates stunned Espanyol in a 3-2 win.  The home team would be quick off the mark when Silva scored in the fifth minute which was then doubled two minutes later by Uche.  Bernadello would add a third in the 18th minute handing the hosts a comfortable 3-0 lead.  However, complacency would kick in for the hosts and as such Espanyol tried for the comeback with Verdú pulling a goal back in the 34th minute and Vázquez with another in the 49th minute.  However, the home team would hold on for the remainder of the match to secure all three points.

Osasuna were held to a 1-1 draw with Mallorca after Flaño scored an early goal for the host in the 8th minute, however, Castro’s 37th minute equalizer was enough for the Islanders to come away with a point.

http://kimmontague.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/la-liga-wee-22-pic-1.jpg?w=300Villarreal welcomed Levante to El Madrigal in a game that was expected to be a fairly easy one for the hosts.  However, it turned out to be an upset for the home side as they suffered their first home defeat of the season.  Levante started out the brighter of the two sides in the first half and should perhaps have scored the opener in the 13th minute through Stuani but his header went wide of the target.  The away side would go on to create a few good opportunities in the first half but were unfortunate to head into the break all knotted up.  However, the visitors would begin the second half as they did the first and three minutes in bagged a goal, thanks to Valdo after he side stepped Diego López and lifted the ball into the net for the opener. The hosts would immediately try to respond but to no avail and in the 60th minute were fortunate to still be down by only a goal as Marchena knocked over Xisco in the penalty area but the call wasn’t given and the hosts were allowed to play on.  Despite their efforts late on, Villarreal would stumble to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of their struggling cross-town rivals.  It was nevertheless a good and deserved win for the away side.

http://kimmontague.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/la-liga-week-22-pic-3.jpg?w=300In Saturday’s final game La Liga’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would pay a visit to league leaders Barcelona in the hopes of ending their recent string of defeats both at the Camp Nou and in the current campaign.  However, it would all go wrong and within 17 minutes would concede a goal against the home side courtesy of the Argentine wizard; Messi came running down the right, cutting inside and rasped a left-footed shot toward goal from just outside the box, beating De Gea at the near post.  Ten minutes later and it would again be Messi popping up, this time from close range as Villa’s ball into the box managed to find its way through to the little fellow, making it 2-0.  On the stroke of half time, Agüero drove past Dani Alves taking the ball to the byline and managed to get a cross in before the Brazilian hacked him down and probably should have seen red but instead was shown a yellow.  It was all too easy for the hosts in the first half as they went in at the half with a comfortable 2-0 lead.  Atlético would start out the half brightly and created some good opportunities but were thwarted.  The away side were completely out of ideas by the 60th minute and would solely rely on catching the Blaugrana on the counter.  However, that game plan wouldn’t work and Messi would score his hat-trick in the 79th minute after Villa came dashing into the box and was well defended by De Gea but the ball found its way through to Messi, who again had an easy task at stabbing the ball home.  Another defeat for the visitors and another win for Barcelona, who have now broken the record for most consecutive league wins in a season with 16, surpassing Real Madrid’s record of 15.  The home side have also stretched their lead over second place Real Madrid to ten.

 

La Liga Preview: Match Day 21

Day 21 of the league kicks off on Saturday with six matches taking place throughout the day.  Defending champions Barcelona will make the trip to Alicante to take on the ‘mighty’ Hércules, who happened to hand the blaugrana their only defeat in  league this season.  Title hopefuls Real Madrid will travel to the hostile Reyno de Navarro on Sunday, while Espanyol and Villarreal will showdown in the Cornella El Pratt on Sunday.

Levante vs Getafe

Bottom of the table Levante will welcome mid-table Getafe to the Cuitat de Valencia in one of the four games that will kick off simultaneously on Saturday.  With their loss last weekend to Sevilla, Levante plunged further down the table to 20th while their opponents fell at home to Espanyol, however, they remain comfortably in mid-table.  When these two sides met earlier in the season, Getafe defeated the granotes 4-1, which the home team and fans alike will be hoping to return the compliment on Saturday.  In their last seven league meetings (both the Primera and Segunda division) in the Cuitat de Valencia, Getafe have only earned 4 draws and 3 losses- their last visit ending in a 3-1 loss.  It is worth noting that Levante are currently on a 5 game losing streak.  At the time of writing, both teams had no fresh injuries to report.

Real Sociedad vs Almería

Struggling Almería will travel to San Sebastian to take on a tough Real Sociedad team, who are coming off a hard fought loss against Villarreal last weekend.  The hosts have done very well at home winning 56% of their games played in the Anoeta.  When both teams met in the Mediterráneo the game ended in a 2-2 draw- Ulloa scoring an injury time equalizer for the Andalucians.  Almería’s last trip to the Anoeta ended in a 3-2 victory which saw them through to the round of 16 in the King’s Cup.  Victory will concentrate the mind of each player on the field, especially that of the away side, as they are in a tough battle against relegation and are at this point, prime candidates to get the drop at the end of the season.

Mallorca vs Sporting Gijón

Mallorca are back home and will play host to Gijón on Saturday.  The away team are currently on a three game undefeated streak picking up maximum points from their last two fixtures; something they hadn’t achieved since match day 7.  Gijón will be heading into this match with some confidence knowing that they defeated their opponents earlier in the season at home.  However, the Iberostar has been Mallorca’s fortress this season, recording five wins, two draws and two losses- a 56% win rate.  The hosts have only lost three league matches against Sporting at home; with the last defeat coming in October 2008.  Mallorca lie comfortably in mid-table whilst Sporting are currently battling relegation, 2 points above the drop zone.

Málaga vs Real Zaragoza

Despite recruiting some quality players during the winter transfer window, Málaga still find themselves 19th and a potential candidate to be relegated at the end of the season.  Real Zaragoza, on the other hand, have been on a steady climb up the table since the turn of the new year, picking up three wins out of their last four league games.  With that said, the visitors will approach this match cautiously as they were involved in the league’s 2nd highest scoring game this season, falling 5-3 at home to the anchovies back in September; which saw Zaragoza’s defensive frailties exposed, but it also highlighted their fighting spirit, managing to pull three goals back after going down by five.  Of the last seven league visits to La Rosaleda, Zaragoza have only won once and drawn twice against their opponents.  The home team will have to contend with some suspensions after being hard done by the referee in their last game against Valencia.  Both Weligton and Apoño have picked up two match bans after the referee wrote in his report that he and his fellow lines men were verbally abused by both players.  Apoño’s ban was extended to three games as he picked up a 5th yellow card during the match last weekend.  Coach Manuel Pellegrini will also have to watch the match from the stands as he too was sent off for protesting on the sidelines.  Also, Demichelis and Rosário were sent off in the match but only Demichelis will be suspended for the game on Saturday as the FA rescinded Rosário’s red card.

Hércules vs Barcelona

On Saturday, September 11, 2010 newly promoted Hércules provided the shock of the round when they travelled to Barcelona to take on La Liga’s defending champions and recorded an astonishing 2-0 victory against the blaugrana; Nelson Haedo Valdez the scorer of both goals that night.  Hércules are still the only team in La Liga to have taken maximum points from Barcelona this season.  However, if you are a Culé fan you need not worry as your team is in optimum form now, while the home team is hardly the dark horse of the league as they had so promised after picking up that victory.  But, if you are a Madridista or Herculanos you will both be hoping that lightning can strike twice.  Realistically, the chances of this happening are slim to none but if the Alicante based team can provide that same tactical discipline they showed during round 2 of the league, then there is no reason why they won’t be able to come away with something from the match.  The away team’s only injury concern is to that of Dani Alves and Jeffren, although the former may be in line to make his return this weekend.

Deportivo la Coruña vs Sevilla

Sevilla will travel to Galicia to take on ‘not so super’ Depor in Saturday’s final game.  Deportivo have been largely disappointing this season and at some point started to rectify their poor start by picking up important wins which saw them climb out of the cellar to achieve a satisfactory position/cushion over the drop zone but have since remained slightly stagnant not moving higher than 12th in the table.  Sevilla have also been mediocre this season and the sacking of Antonio Álvarez haven’t really helped their cause as they continued to fall down the table.  Albeit, Sevilla have been doing well since the start of the year and have won three of their last four league games.  The first meeting this season between the two sides ended in a stalemate.  Sevilla’s last six visits to the Riazor have garnered them 4 wins and 2 losses in all competitions.

Sunday will see three intriguing matches with Athletic Bilbao paying a visit to Madrid to take on Atlético Madrid, Espanyol welcoming Villarreal to the Cornella El Pratt and Real Madrid travelling to Pamplona to take on Osasuna.

Atlético Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao

Atlético are coming off a disappointing defeat against Sporting Gijón last weekend and will be hoping to pull the double over Athletic when they welcome them to the Vicente Calderón on Sunday.  Both teams have done fairly well in the league thus far and sit comfortably in 6th and 7th separated by 2 points.  Bilbao in recent years have done well for themselves against Atlético on the road, picking up two wins out of their last five league games against the rojiblancos;  where they have only won 18 of their last 75 competitive games.  Both Agüero and Reyes are questionable for the game on Sunday while there have been no fresh reports of injuries in the Bilbao camp.

Osasuna vs Real Madrid

Real Madrid travels to Pamplona to take on Osasuna in the hostile Reyno de Navarro on Sunday evening in a must win game if they are to keep pace with the blaugrana, who are playing the day before.  Osasuna are currently winless in the new year and have only earned a point from their last four league games.  Despite their winless start to the new year, the gorritxoak are solid defensively, especially at home and have only conceded 5 goals in their nine home games this season.  Real Madrid have done fairly well at the Reyno de Navarro collectively, winning 14 and drawing 9 of their last 33 competitive matches against Osasuna, including the 2-1 victory that secured the 2007/08 championship for the whites.  However, the away team will need to be careful as they have only gained a point from their last two trips to Pamplona and they also face a desperate Osasuna team that needs all three points to put some distance between themselves and the drop zone.  Real Madrid recently signed Togolese hitman Adebayor on loan from Manchester City, to replace the injured Higuaín, and he may be handed his debut against Osasuna.  Nevertheless, the whites will continue to be without Pepe, Dudek and as mentioned before, Higuaín.

Espanyol vs Villarreal

The yellow submarines are sitting in 3rd place and will travel to Barcelona to take on 5th place Espanyol.  The home team fell 4-0 to Villarreal back in September and will be looking to return the favour when they meet on Sunday.  Both teams are doing well in the league this year and are evenly matched and it should be a great match on Sunday.  The last five league meetings between these two teams in Barcelona have been very close with both teams winning one game each and drawing the remaining three.

Racing Santander vs Valencia

Racing will welcome Valencia to El Sardinero on Monday night.  The home team have remained in and around the bottom half of the table this season and are currently 14th with a 3 point gap between themselves and the relegation zone.  Valencia on the other hand are in 4th and with a win could climb as high as 3rd but only if rivals Villarreal lose to Espanyol.  Racing fought hard in the first match against Valencia back in September but eventually fell 1-0 thanks to a Maduro goal for los che.  Although Valencia have won their last two trips to Santander their overall performance away to Racing have been far from impressive winning only 10 of their 40 competitive matches against Racing in El Sardinero.

Top matches of the weekend

  • Hércules vs Barcelona: will lightning strike twice or will the blaugrana earn their revenge?
  • Atlético Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao: two quality teams in a game that have always offered up great entertainment.  Also, Bilbao will be seeking revenge against the hosts for coming to San Mames and defeating them.
  • Osasuna vs Real Madrid: led by former Real Madrid left back, José Camacho, Osasuna are stubborn defensively and are currently desperate for points, while their opponents will need maximum points from the game if they are to keep pace with Barcelona in the title race.
  • Espanyol vs Villarreal: should be a very enthralling game between two of the best footballing teams, outside of the big two, this season.  Although the first match between these two this season ended in a 4-0 victory for Villarreal it was a game that could have gone either way but it was nevertheless a good win for the yellow submarine.