Isco’s dilemma: Should the playmaker be given more playing time?

Isco_Disco
Isco celebrating his goal against Argentina 

He was once one of the most sought after young Spanish football talents before agreeing to a €30 million move to Real Madrid in 2013, signing a five-year contract with the club.

The bandy-legged Andalusian playmaker struggled for playing time under Ancelotti in his first two seasons. Despite his struggle for game time, the Spaniard managed 11 goals and seven assists in 44 games* in his first season and four goals and nine assists in 39 games* the following season.

Although, Rafa Benítez replaced Ancelotti for the start of the 2015/16 season, Isco continued to struggle for game time but then started to earn some regular play time at the turn of 2016, when Benítez was fired half-way through the season and replaced by Real Madrid and France legend, Zinedine Zidane. The Spaniard finished the season with three goals and ten assists in 42 games* and his second Champions League trophy in three seasons.

The 2016/17 season still didn’t change much in terms of minutes on the field but his significance for Real Madrid was undeniable, with opposing players virtually incapable of defending him. He contributed to the team’s cup double success with his 11 goals and eight assists.

In spite of his lack of minutes over the past four seasons, Isco consistently turned in impressive performances, bamboozling opponents when the opportunity presented itself with his nimble feet and silky smooth dribbling skills. Due to his performances, he was regularly given plaudits and was often compared to his famed coach during his glory days— a praise that also cascaded from the mouth of the French legend himself.

However, with the rise to prominence of his equally impressive yet younger compatriot, Asensio; Isco found himself slipping down the pecking order, becoming essentially a distant memory replaced by a newer, more intriguing one— almost like a child who tosses his older, yet once favourite toy when presented with a newer, shinier and [what appears to be a] more entertaining toy.

Nevertheless, given Isco’s history, his consistency for the national team and Real Madrid’s abysmal season in the league, Zidane should be handing the playmaker far more minutes than he’s been given this season and Isco has made that clear.

After turning in yet another extraordinary performance for the national team— scoring his first hat-trick for Spain, Isco slyly took a swipe at Zidane and in essence alerted clubs interested in him, that he is unhappy with his current club situation and may be available after the World Cup in Russia.

Isco is a special player and he should be an integral part of Real Madrid. When played with regularity—  and his performances with Spain demonstrates this— the bow-legged playmaker can conjure up magic in a split second, almost as good as— but not quite like— Messi.

* Copa del Rey appearances weren’t included

PSG’s thrashing exposes Bayern Munich’s problems

The reigning Bundesliga champions were utterly thrashed by the big-spending PSG at the Parc des Princes. Bayern failed to cope with the Parisians’ pace on the break and paid for it dearly as Dani Alves, Cavani and Neymar all got on the scoresheet to demolish the Bavarians 3-0.

It was a fairly surprising – given Bayern has a number of talented players in their ranks – and telling result.

The game sent a message of intent from PSG and their quest to conquer Europe- even if it costed them almost €500 million. But the game also exposed Bayern’s flaws and Ancelotti’s, sometimes, questionable personnel selection.

Bayern showed that without Neuer in goal their defensive mistakes must be kept to a minimum because their second string goalkeeper, Ulreich is nowhere near the class of his countryman, which he has displayed on numerous occasions. At the weekend he cost his team two points with a huge blunder against Wolfsburg and against PSG he wasn’t much more convincing. He probably could have and should have done better on the first two PSG goals, although his defence did little to help him on the first.

Ulreich isn’t alone to blame though. The men tasked with protecting him failed to do their jobs against the Parisians and were often run ragged. They were sluggish and frankly unsure how to deal with the pace of PSG’s front three. The full backs had especially a torrid time trying to contain Neymar, Mbappé and the overlapping defenders, Alves and Kurzawa.

Alaba was especially made to look incredibly foolish by Mbappé, who easily dribbled past the Austrian and from a tight angle took a shot on goal, which Ulreich managed to save but Martínez wasn’t quick enough to get the ball away and Neymar was perfectly positioned to poke the ball home for the Parisians’ third of the night.

While the score was a tad bit surprising, the most shocking thing on the night was Ancelotti’s decision not to start the trio Hummels, Robben and Ribéry but rather opted to pair up the very slow Martínez with the young and inexperienced Süle, while choosing to start James- who had a very quiet game- alongside Lewandowksi and Müller.

Hummels is Bayern’s and Germany’s best defender and he has experience at this level. He would have been a better partner for Martínez in front of Ulreich. On the other hand, Robben and Ribéry are great and experienced players, though ageing. However, they would have been a better selection than James and Tolisso to start in Paris. Not to take anything away from both players but James struggled to get into Real Madrid’s starting 11, which is why he ended up on loan at Bayern and while Tolisso is talented this is new for him- his move to Bayern is a massive jump in quality and expectations from that of Lyon.

Ancelotti’s decision to substitute both James and Tolisso at the start of the second half was a good idea, as both players were quiet in the first half but his choice to send in Rudy and Coman, while his team was chasing the game, was equally as risky as his decision to start with James and Tolisso instead of Ribéry and Robben.

Ancelotti isn’t all to blame though, because he has limited options in his squad and the club’s back office did little to reinforce the squad to be more competitive for this season. The team has started to age and they have lost quality players like Lahm and Xabi Alonso to retirement and didn’t replace both adequately. They’ve also sent the brilliant Douglas Costa on loan to Juventus and new signing Gnabry on loan to Hoffenheim; both players are thriving in their new environment.

Lewandowksi himself has seen the problem with the club’s transfer policy and has publicly lambasted them for it; quite understandable from an ambitious player. Club officials (Rummenigge and Hoeneß) have since rebuked Lewa’s complaints and continue to say they will not participate in paying the current market’s egregious prices and as such are only seeking to pay what they believe is a fair price; but they should ask Arsène Wenger how that is working out for him and Arsenal.

By rejecting the current market’s inflated prices, the club is then left with the option of continually plundering and weakening their Bundesliga opponents, which has in part contributed to their dominance in the league- they’re now gunning for their sixth straight league title- and it isn’t at all surprising that they’ve been unable to compete on the continental stage since Jupp Heynckes’ treble winning season.

The market is absolute garbage and we can all agree on that but that’s where we are right now and in order to be competitive they have to consider spending more. No one is suggesting the pay €200 million for a player but surely €41.5 million- the club’s record transfer fee paid- can’t be their absolute ceiling. Even Wenger is starting to recognise that there is no way around the market and rumour has it he is considering a €98 million bid for Monaco’s Lemar in the next window.

Bayern is certainly struggling and has failed to achieve any semblance of consistency under Ancelotti this season but he isn’t solely to blame and players and club officials alike should equally shoulder the criticism.

Rumour has it Hoffenheim’s Nagelsmann will be the club’s next coach but the question is, will Ancelotti finish out the season at Bayern?

 

Takeaways from Real Madrid’s win against Lisbon

Real Madrid kickedrmavspo off the new Champions League season with a late, late win at home to Sporting Lisbon, who must be feeling hard-done after producing a good first half and early second half performance, while the hosts’ performance was subpar at best. However, the Madridista-never-say-die attitude coupled with Zidane’s second half substitutes and Ronaldo’s brilliant free kick produced a much needed victory.

There were some things that were on display during the game which are worth highlighting. Here are a few:

The BBC’s fluidity is being disrupted by injuriesbbc

Not long ago the BBC was being touted as the best attacking trio but have since been displaced by MSN. Injuries have been a colossal problem for Real Madrid’s attack in the past and Morata’s signing as well as holding onto Asensio was a step in the right direction to provide some cover when either member of the trio goes down injured. Benzema’s absence was obvious last season and is to some extent still noticeable- Morata hasn’t quite settled in completely as the out-and-out striker.

The BBC is lacking harmony and it was on full display last night. Miscommunication led to missed passes and less opportunities created among the three. Bale’s pass rate was a meagre 71.4%; Benzema had no shots on goal. It was necessary to substitute both in the second half and it paid off handsomely. It’s understandable that the trio needs more time to rediscover their form and it may take some time to find that fluidity as neither Benzema, Bale nor Ronaldo had a pre-season. Regaining fluidity will happen only if they can stay injury-free long enough.

James should be given a fair chance

The situation with James is bothersome. There are some reports that his attitude in training is rotten and that’s the main reason Zidane doesn’t believe in him as much. However, he has been in splendid form for Colombia and last night’s cameo saw some of his abilities on display. In the fifteen minutes he played he created three chances and provided the assist for the winning goal- it was a brilliant, well-placed cross from the left to find the head of Morata. If he can produce that in a quarter of an hour, imagine what he could in an hour or more. And for that reason, Zidane should give him a fair chance at proving himself and regaining the confidence and form he had during his first season with the club. Hopefully, James is willing to work hard- if the rumours are true- and not rest on his laurels.

Vazquez should work on his finishing

Lucas Vazquez appears to be a fan favourite and while that is absolutely justified he could endear himself even more to the fans IF he improves his shooting. After coming on for Bale in the 66th minute he created two wonderful chances for himself with some clever dribbling but his shots were weak. One could surmise that both chances were anaemic because they came from his weaker left foot but he’s also had some feeble shots on goal with his right. For example, in the Champions League final against Atletico and the European Super Cup against Sevilla he had clear cut chances which he fluffed; hit with no direction. The video below is just one visual illustration of Vazquez’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. If you wish to not watch the highlights in its entirety you can fast forward to 14:30. In the clip he had time and space and should have done much better with his opportunity. Further proof of his ineptitude in front of goal was his four goals in 25 appearances last season. The upside is that he’s still fairly young and can still develop that side of his game. He also provides the team with lovely crosses, draws plenty fouls with his dribbling and contributes defensively.

Last night’s performance won’t fly against Dortmund

Here’s the thing: on any given day, as long as Real Madrid are on song they are unbeatable. Yesterday’s showing also told us something: they can also win while not at their best. However, there are some opponents that will punish their mistakes and if luck is against them and the attack isn’t gelling then they won’t be able to out-score the opposition. Dortmund is one such opponent and if their start to the league season in addition to their opening performance against Legia Warsaw are anything to go by Los Blancos will fail if they turn in such a display against them. They must improve upon yesterday’s performance.

For laughs: Another Vazquez howler in front of goal

 

Farewell to a legend

iker-casillas in his glory

A star was born

Iker Casillas Fernández was born in Móstoles, Spain and joined Real Madrid’s youth set-up in 1990, progressing nicely through the ranks. Seven years later, his life would be forever altered; at age 16, Casillas was pulled out from class and put on a plane to Trondheim, Norway with Real Madrid’s first team for their game against Rosenberg in the Champions League. Two years ensuing that event, Iker would displace goalkeeping legend Bodo Illgner as the number one choice, which eventually lead to the German retiring soon after.

In 2000, three years after his first call-up to the first team, Iker became the youngest goalkeeper to play in a Champions League final- a game in which Real Madrid trounced rivals Valencia 3-0; a mere four days after his 19th birthday.

It’s been more than 15 years following Casillas’ withdrawal from class and since then Iker has racked up over 700 appearances for club (club record for a goalkeeper), has played in more than 160 games for Spain (he is the most capped player) and has won numerous trophies for both club and country as well as collected myriad individual awards.

Possessing cat-like reflexes and close-range shot-stopping prowess; Casillas, with his sometimes impossible saves, has won the hearts of many Madridistas and sports fans alike. The defining moment coming, I believe, in the final minutes of that 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen. After a string of sub-par performances early on in the 2001-2002 campaign, Casillas had lost his starting role to then back-up César Sánchez but was handed the opportunity to regain his position as number one when he replaced the injured César late in the game and pulled off some exceptional saves which denied Leverkusen their first Champions League trophy and allowed Los Merengues to lift their ninth.

iker-casillas-saves-2012-6ah950bt

San Iker

Among his many individual awards and accolades; Casillas is one of a very few players, who’s won every major competition, in which he’s played and joined prestigious company the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Didier Deschamps, when he became the third captain in history to have lifted the three biggest trophies in world football- the World Cup, the European Championship and the Champions League. Additionally, he is the only goalkeeper to have won the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper Award for five consecutive years (2008 – 2012). In total he’s won 21 titles with Real Madrid and Spain including three Champions League, five La Liga titles, a World Cup and two European Championships.

San Iker Real Madrid’s saint, was given the epithet because of the many miraculous saves he’s made throughout his career, which have kept Los Merengues and Spain in numerous games. He is the epitome of Madridismo; he is austere, a hard worker, humble and honest. He displays dignity in the face of defeat and fights for the club by leaving it all out on the pitch. He’s been loyal to the club and fans even when the fans’ and club’s reciprocity were absent during his lowest moments. Like Raúl before him, he’s had to deal with coaches, who’ve sometimes made them scapegoats for certain issues that arose and is now being forced out of the club in the same manner. After picking up a serious injury in 2013, Diego López was signed from Sevilla and made first choice keeper even after Iker returned from injury. Maybe it was in part down to his poor form or possibly more a result of Mourinho being convinced that Casillas was the mole leaking information about the state of the dressing room to the media. Whatever the reason, Iker has since then never been able to fully reclaim his former glory days as the world’s best and maybe his new adventures in Porto will see him do just that; after spending practically his entire life at Real Madrid and winning every tournament he’s played in with them, a new challenge is in order.

Adieu Great one

Nothing is for life in football: age and time catch up with you and the day comes when both you and the club have to move on– Alex Ferguson on Pep Guardiola leaving Barca as a player.

Likewise, the same can be said about Iker. The time has arrived for both parties to dissolve the relationship. And though it is difficult to envisage a Real Madrid with no San Iker, as he is the last true symbol of Madrid, without whom Los Blancos will have no genuine identity; we will, hopefully, over time, come to terms with his departure.

With that said, I say adieu to one of the best goalkeepers to have ever donned the Real Madrid jersey and one who has embodied Madridismo. His predecessor will have huge boots to fill and with the ungrateful “demanding” fans that clamour in the Santiago Bernabéu weekly there’s no telling how quickly things could get sour.

I wish Casillas copious amounts of success at his new club and that his teammates, club and fans appreciate him the way most of us Madrid fans did. They are gaining a staunch goalkeeper who will fight for the badge and defend the colours as best as he can. May he provide you with a multitude of memories resembling the ones he’s bestowed up on myself and countless other fans.

Here are two compilation videos with some of Casillas’ more spectacular saves throughout his career including the key saves that helped his teams to various championships. Some of the saves included are those he made against Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final, as well as, some of his more monumental saves in recent years- among them is an extraordinary parry against Sevilla in the 2009-2010 La Liga season and a one-on-one save he made in the 2010 World Cup final against Robben.

Antonio Álvarez: La Liga’s First Coaching Casualty

Only five rounds into the new La Liga season and already there is a coaching change. I must say I was wondering who would be the first casualty. Personally my first likely candidates were: Almeria’s Jose Manuel Lillo, Real Zaragoza’s Jose Aurelio Gay, Levante’s Luis Garcia or Racing’s Miguel Angel Portugal.  However, following today’s loss to Hercules, Sevilla’s chairman Jose Maria Del Nido decided to sack present coach Antonio Alvarez and appoint ex-Mallorca boss Gregorio Manzano.

While I think it is a good coaching change I think the club was too hasty to dismiss Alvarez without really giving him much of a chance. He took over from Manolo Jimenez, who in my opinion was also doing a great job but the club’s impatience got the better of them and he too was fired.  Since taking over from Jimenez, in the short amount games he was in control of he managed a 63.63% winning rate, winning 7 of his 11 games while losing the other 4.  However, there is a saying in football that goes “it is easier to replace the coach than an entire team” and that Del Nido did.

After the poor start to the campaign, I must admit it was a poor start.  Alvarez was sacked following the 2-0 debacle at the Jose Rico Perez Stadium after two David Trezeguet goals.  Alvarez’s record for the new season saw Sevilla win only 2 league games, frustrated by Racing de Santander and Deportivo La Coruña in bore draws and losing to Hercules.  Not something a club of Sevilla’s stature should be going through.  His European adventures were just as disappointing.  Sevilla were defeated in the Champion’s League qualifying round by Sporting Braga losing 1-0 away and then by 4 goals to 3 on home turf and the Sevillistas had to settle for their team playing in the 2nd rate European Competition- The Europa League, which they won back to back in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 season as well as, they won the 2006 UEFA Super Cup under Juande Ramos, so it was expected that they would at the very least do well in the group stages of the new campaign and start off with a win.  However, they got their campaign off to a poor start losing at home to Paris Saint Germain 1-0.  The Spanish Super Cup was also another debacle for the Sevillistas.  After battling back from a 1-0 deficit against Barcelona to win the first leg 3-1 in the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, they travelled to Camp Nou and lost 4-0 in what was a poor display from Los Nervionenses.

One major mistake the boss made was keeping Luis Fabiano on the bench. How does he even think about leaving one of the best forwards in La Liga on the bench?  No disrespect to Negredo because I do believe that he is a quality forward but Fabiano for me is better and he gives the team that extra flair, that extra confidence, especially when he plays with Kanoute.

Taking a look at Gregorio Manzano

Gregorio Manzano Ballesteros is one of the few coaches in the game that never played the sport professionally.  Despite never playing professionally he is one of the most experienced and talented tacticians that brings flair and style to any team he manages.

His first job as coach of a La Liga team was when he took over at Valladolid in the 1999-2000 season where he led the team to an 8th place finish and in that very campaign beat Real Madrid 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu.  One of the best finishes in La Liga in the club’s history.  After this achievement he was hired by Racing de Santander where he did not have as much success with the Racinguistas and they were relegated.  However, they did thrash Barcelona 4-0 in front of their home fans.  He however stayed in the first division with Rayo Vallecano where he helped them to an 11th place finish in the league.  The following season, 2002-03, he was named coach of Mallorca.  During that season he led the team to a 5-1 demolition of Real Madrid and the team won the King’s Cup for the first time in club history.  In the 2003-04 season he signed on as Atletico de Madrid’s coach, where he led them to a 7th place finish and the team qualified for the UEFA Cup.  The following season he took the helm at Malaga and led them to a 10th place finish.  In 2006 he returned to Mallorca where he would remain head coach for the next four years.  In the 2006-07 season the team finished 12th in the league the following season saw them finish 7th and the 08/09 season saw them finish 9th.  During the 2009-10 he led the team to a brilliant home streak with the team winning their first 10 home games, while losing only 3 games at home all season to Barcelona, Sevilla and Real Madrid.  The team looked set to qualify for the UEFA Champion’s League but ended up losing the spot to Sevilla who had won their final game 3-2 against Almeria which meant Mallorca would only qualify for the Europa League.  Due to financial problems at the club, Mallorca had stated that they were not going to renew the contract of Manzano.  His only individual accolade is the Don Balón Award – Coach of the year: 2008.

Manzano is definitely the type of coach that can get Sevilla back on the right track and I certainly wish him the best in his tenure.

La Liga Preview: Match Day 5

Ah, Joga Bonito – The Beautiful Game! Week 5 of the 80th La Liga campaign is here and the weekend couldn’t come soon enough.   The big match of the weekend will see two of the only three teams never to be relegated, in all 80 seasons of the competition, face off.

Barcelona will make the trip up to the Basque country to face Los Leones in San Mames, while Real Madrid will travel to Valencia to take on new comers Levante.

The first matches of the weekend will see Sporting Gijon back in El Molinon to welcome Valencia, who are aiming to keep their unbeaten start to the season going, while the hosts will be looking to bounce back after their narrow defeat in the Camp Nou.  Although the times are early Sporting Gijon will no doubt be looking to keep up their good home start (a win and a draw) when they meet Valencia.  The current standings of both teams are Valencia in second with 10 points and Sporting Gijon in 15th with 4 points.

The match that kicks off right after the previous, will be Real Madrid’s visit to Levante.  The hosts picked up their first win in the previous match day, recording a 1-0 away win over Almeria and will be hoping that they can emulate fellow new comers Hercules and take the scalps of Real Madrid when the two face off.  However, Real Madrid have notched up three straight victories in the league as well as they remain one of three teams undefeated in the league.  Jose Mourinho called up 20 men to make the trip to Valencia and it includes youth teamer, Juan Carlos.  The visitors will have to make do without Kaka, Gago, Garay, Albiol and Canales who are all injured, while new signing Khedira didn’t make the cut due to a coaching decision and commanding centre back Pepe is out due to suspension.

The big match up of the weekend will kick off immediately after Levante and Real Madrid play and we will see two of the biggest teams in Spain face off, in what is usually an enthralling encounter.  Barcelona will be making the trip to the Basque Country where they will come up against a strong Athletic Bilbao team in the Lion’s Den, which is never an easy place to go for any team.  Athletic Bilbao held Barcelona to a draw in last season’s encounter at San Mames with Toquero’s 62nd minute strike cancelling out Dani Alves’ earlier strike and they also beat Real Madrid by a 1-0 in their match up last season.  Athletic has a perfect home record at the start of this campaign with 2 wins in 2 games and will be hoping that they can keep this undefeated record going for longer than two games.  Barcelona will be without star player Lionel Messi, who despite recent reports that he was back in training, will not make the trip as he is still recovering from his ankle injury.  Eric Abidal will also miss the match due to personal reasons.  Youth teamer Thiago Alcantara was also, included in the squad list of 18 players.  In a press conference earlier today, Pep praised the Basque side for sticking to their roots of only using Basque players in their team.

On Sunday we will see Racing take to the pitch in El Sardinero to face Getafe.  Racing are currently on a “good” streak as they picked up their first win on match day 3 and recorded a draw against Sevilla on match day 4.  They will be aspiring to keep the streak going by gaining all three points against Getafe.  However, the Madrid based team will be looking to bounce back from their 2-0 loss at home to Malaga.  Getafe will be without defender Rafa as he was sent off in their last match, however they will have Pedro Mosquera, who is just coming back from his suspension.  Racing is 14th and Getafe is 11th in the table both with only 4 points but separated by goal difference.

Deportivo and Almeria will battle it out for a win as they are two of three teams still searching for their first win of the season.  Both teams lost by the bare minimum in the prior match day and will hope that they can secure their first three points of the season.  Deportivo will have back the services of Jonathan Urretaviscaya and will be counting on both he and Guadardo to make the difference between both teams.

Espanyol coming off that loss at the Bernabeu in the recent round will be back at home to take on Osasuna- who recorded their first victory of the season over Real Sociedad.  Espanyol will be without the suspended Forlin and Galan.  Also, they could be without the injured Osvaldo.

Mallorca will entertain Real Sociedad at the Ono Estadi as both teams will be looking to rebound from their mid week losses at the hands of Athletico Bilbao and Osasuna respectively.

The other match ups of the weekend will see Hercules playing hosts to Sevilla, while Real Zaragoza will make the trip to Madrid to take on Atletico Madrid and Malaga will be home to face Villarreal.  Sevilla are currently going through a slump and although still undefeated are finding it hard to score goals and to rediscover their fluid playing style.  Their team is definitely missing Jesus Navas and Renato and they will be hoping to get the two back soon.  Real Zaragoza are one of the teams still hunting their first victory and may find it even harder to get one in the Vicente Calderon when they face Atletico Madrid.  Jose Aurelio Gay stated earlier in the week that he hopes his team’s fortunes can change in the upcoming match against Atletico but he may have to wait a while longer.  Malaga have had a good start to their campaign only losing to two good teams in Valencia and Sevilla, although I can say they gave both teams a fair amount of trouble in defence.  They will be hoping that they can give their fans something to cheer about when they host Villarreal.  Villarreal find themselves in 3rd place of the standings and they look set to hold on to their position or climb even higher and with their recent performances who is to say they won’t?

The weekend looks set to be entertaining and my three top games I would recommend as must see are Levante – Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao – Barcelona and Malaga – Villarreal.  If you didn’t get to watch be sure to check back on my blog to get a run down of the results and highlights of each game that took place on the weekend.

ATHLETIC BILBAO VS BARCELONA (HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST SEASON)

La Liga Review: Match Day 4

Match day four drew to a close and the only three teams to never have been relegated played their 2500th game in the primera liga with all three of them picking up victories on the night.

After four games into the new season Real Madrid are the new leaders of the league after Valencia saw their perfect start to the season come to an end following their draw with Atletico Madrid.

Tuesday kicked off with Athletic Bilbao welcoming Mallorca to San Mames and Osasuna playing host to Real Sociedad.

Athletic Bilbao recorded a comfortable 3-0 victory over a colorless Mallorca.  David Lopez got Bilbao off a good start with a wonderous strike from the right of the box on 42 minutes, then Mikel San Jose made it 2-0 from the penalty spot on 61 minutes after Mallorca’s captain Nunes conceded a penalty for handling the ball following a long throw into the box, which Mikel slotted home coolly.  Second half substitute Iñigo Perez scored Bilbao’s third of the night in the 92nd minute after Llorente’s shot was blocked by Marti and he smashed the rebound pass a helpless Aouate.

Osasuna welcomed Real Sociedad to the Reyno de Navarro where the Pamplona faithful witnessed their team grind out a 3-1 result for their first victory of the season.  The evening started out badly for the home team despite being the better side as the visitors only looked content to soak up the pressure and hit Osasuna on the counter-attack.  In the 16th minute their game plan worked for them perfectly as a long ball was launched up field, following immense Osasuna pressure, that was nodded on for Tamudo who controlled the ball and hit it low pass an onrushing Ricardo to make it 1-0 to the visitors.  Osasuna never gave up and continued to pressure as the home fans cheered their team on and in the 38th minute the pressure finally paid off with “El Rifle” (Pandiani) piercing the net with a powerful header after he got on to a long throw into the box by Monreal.  Then on the 42nd minute ex-Castilla player Juanfran skinned two defenders on the right, burst into the box and lays off a pass to Camuñas who passes it into the net.  Osasuna began the second half the same as the first keeping up the pressure on the visitors.  Real Sociedad had very little chances in the match and as a result the visitors brought in the young French man Griezmann– after he had such an impressive display against Real Madrid I would have expected him to be in the team from the start, however he replaced Sutil and I must say he gave the Basque boys a lift as they started to hold on to the ball more, had more opportunities, causing the Osasuna defence some trouble winning free kicks which they didn’t put to effective use.  On 75 minutes, after just coming on another ex- Castilla man, Aranda made it 3-0 for the host.  A deserved victory for the home team.

The final match on Tuesday saw Real Madrid take on Espanyol at the Santiago Bernabeu.  Prior to the match Espanyol’s coach Mauricio Pochettino stated that Mourinho’s team lacked punch when compared to Pellegrini’s team last season.  While he may be right in a sense, he would rue the fact that he made those comments prior to the match as he saw his team sucker punched at the Bernabeu.  The match saw the return of another ex-Castilla player, Callejon who coincidentally, the first chance of the match fell to on 5 minutes when Verdu flicked a ball on from the right to Callejon who one times it but saw his volley shave the far post.  Two minutes later and the home team had their first opportunity after Marcelo found Ozil on the left who cut in and passed the ball into space for Di Maria on the right who then aims a curling shot for the top far corner that Kameni had to scramble to his right to push it over the bar.  By the 11th minute Real started to control the game more and another chance fell to them when the ball was passed into space down the left wing for Ronaldo to chase and he whipped in a great cross for Higuain to get onto but his effort was blocked and the rebound fell to Ozil who took a volley but his effort was also blocked.  Real’s persistence earned them a free kick about 20 yards, left of the box which Ronaldo stepped up to take, his shot however was blocked illegally by David Garcia who used his hand to block the strike for which the referee rightly awarded a penalty and Garcia a yellow card.  Ronaldo stepped up and buried the penalty.  By the 33rd minute, possession stood at 62% to 38% for Real, with the home team having 4 corners to 0.  At the start of the second half Real kept up the pressure on Espanyol for the first 5 minutes and created a few more good chances but after, Espanyol started to settle on the ball and create chances for themselves with their wide players, especially Callejon, giving the defence some trouble and on the 60th minute Callejon earned Pepe his second yellow and subsequent red card that saw the commanding centre back off for an early shower.  Espanyol’s man advantage would only last a minute because in the 61st minute the referee handed Galan a straight red card for a nasty challenge on Ronaldo.  The home team once again began to dominate the match and it took until the 79th minute for the hosts to hit the back of the net a second time for the night after a quick counter attack with Ronaldo bursting down the right and sending in a low curling pass for Higuain who went for the near post and put it pass Kameni.  Second half substitute Benzema made it 3-0 after a nice play by Lass.  Lass faked his defender and passed the ball off to Marcelo who saw Lass’ run into the box and played him in, Lass then cuts the ball back for Benzema at the edge of the box who with his back to goal pivots and flashes a shot low into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 on the night.  Espanyol’s Forlin was also red carded late on in the match to leave the visitors down to 9 men.

Wednesday began with Barcelona back in the Camp Nou playing hosts to Sporting Gijon, without Messi who had to watch his team mates from the stands following his ankle injury at the weekend.  It wasn’t a vintage Barcelona display but they dominated the game nevertheless as Sporting Gijon was happy enough to sit back and soak up all the pressure hoping that they could try and hit the home team on the counter.  It all seemed to be going great and the defence was standing resolute right up until 4 minutes into the second half when Villa scored his 2nd of the season against his boy hood club to give his new club a slim win.  Bojan had a terrible night, all his touches were bad and his passes went astray.

The big match of the day had to be Atletico Madrid’s visit to the Mestalla to take on league leaders Valencia.  Both teams had to do without the services of key players– Atletico had to manage without the services of Aguero who is still recovering from an ankle injury and Tomas Ujfalusi who is serving a two match ban after his challenge on Messi, while Valencia had to do without their captain David Navarro and the injured Vicente.  Atletico were looking to justify that loss to Barcelona on the weekend and they got things off to a great start when Simao finished off a cross from Antonio Lopez.  Valencia dominated the match creating chance after chance but the kid- David De Gea, who Casillas says reminds him of himself when he just started out, kept thwarting the home team making some spectacular saves.  It took the home side until the 83rd minute to get an equaliser after some determined play down the right wing by Pablo Hernandez winning the ball on the ground, poked it through to David Albeda who sent in a telling cross that Aduriz rose above Perea to send in a thumping header.  Valencia continued to press to get the winner but again De Gea kept stopping shot after shot and they had to settle for a draw in what was without a doubt an enthralling match.

The other matches that took place on Wednesday saw Real Zaragoza draw 0-0 with Hercules at La Romareda in what was a very dull encounter, while Almeria who are still seeking their first victory of the season fell at home to Levante 1-0 to a 39th minute strike from Ruben.

The final games of the match day took place on Thursday and saw Getafe slump at home to Malaga 2-0, the goals coming from Rondon in the 54th minute and Apoño from the penalty spot in the 60th minute after Rafa brought down Eliseu in the area earning himself a second yellow and subsequent red card.  Jesus Gamez also saw a red card after he picked up a second yellow following a trip on Manu.

Villarreal welcomed Deportivo to El Madrigal, where Nilmar scored the only goal of the game in the 34th minute after Angel came  running down the right, faked a cross but instead cuts it back to Nilmar who was waiting on the right edge of the box, hits it with his right foot toward the far corner and it went in off the post.  Deportivo looked unimaginative and created very little chances through out the match.  Rossi had an impressive game and his running and dribbling caused the Deportivo defence all sorts of problems.

The last game of the match day saw Racing fight back for a draw against Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan after Negredo had given the home team the lead on 13 minutes from twelve paces out but Pinillos equalized in the 54th minute after a great quick play between Munitis and Adrian Gonzalez who finds Pinillos and he hit Sevilla where it hurt with a wonderful volley.  Boos could be heard around the stadium as the home fans made it known how they felt about the team’s recent performances.

As it stands Real Madrid are in first place by virtue of goal difference as they are tied on points with Valencia, Villarreal climbs to third with 9 points and a +5 goal difference while Barcelona is in 4th with 9 points and Sevilla rounds out the top 5 with 8 points.  Zaragoza are rock bottom after picking up only 2 points from their opening games and Almeria are in 19th because of goal difference as they too only have 2 points from the first four games while Levante climbed up to 18th after they picked up their first win over Almeria.

Highlights from Valencia vs Atletico Madrid match