Archive for the ‘La Liga’ Category

After 10 Weeks: Midseason La Liga Update

This is a post by frequent contributor Donald Wine II

The La Liga season is almost a third of the way completed, and so far there have been some expected performances, some disappointments, and some incredible surprises.

I've grabbed La Liga by the....

Before the season, we had many questions: would Jose Mourinho take Real Madrid back to the promised land? Would Lionel Messi and Barcelona continue their title-winning ways? Would another team like a Sevilla or Atlético Madrid or a Villareal give the proverbial top-2 a run for their money? Would another team, like the 3 promoted teams in Real Sociedad, Levante and Hércules stake their roots in one of the best leagues in the world?  We take a brief look at what La Liga has given us thus far.

The Expected:  Before the season started, everyone assumed that the race for La Liga would be a two-horse race with Real Madrid and Barcelona separating themselves from the pack.  While they haven’t done so yet, Barca and Real have set themselves up to start pouring on the steam.  Real have not yet lost under first-year coach Jose Mourinho in all competitions, and Real have balanced incredible offensive performances with a vastly improved defensive unit.

While offensive stars like Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria have done well so far and with Ronaldo leading the race for El Pichichi (top goalscorer), it is the offseason acquisition of Ricardo Carvalho that has proven to be the best acquisition in La Liga thus far.  Barca, while their one loss was an epic 2-0 home defeat at the hands of recently-promoted Hércules, have played very well.  David Villa has continued his scoring ways with 5 goals so far, and now Lionel Messi has recovered from a somewhat slow start to creep back up to 2nd in La Liga with 8 goals through 10 matches.  On the other end, Málaga is firmly in the cellar, and while they haven’t had the problems scoring like they were expected to have, their league-high 22 goals allowed have been the difference.

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Jozy Altidore On Tape

The USA first choice striker, but only 3rd in the pecking order at Villarreal, sits down with a La Liga interview crew.

Weekend preview

Can Holden hold the potent Villa midfield?

Well after a goal fest this week in the two euro competitions, we’re back to domestic league play.

EPL
Brad Friedel and Aston Villa host the Holden Wanderers.
This is caretaker managers, Kevin MacDonald’s last game in charge before Gerard Houiller becomes the gaffer.

I for one, wanted to see the Frenchman take over the USMNT national job. Amongst the footballing world he’s considered a tactical genius with impeccable knowledge of the game, but in the public eye he comes off more as a bit of buffoon. He’s got great pedigree winning trophies at Liverpool and with Lyon and was responsible for creating the dominant French side of the late 90’s and early aughts, but isn’t given that much respect. Hopefully he can take Villa to that next level.

Both teams coming off losses in the previous weekend, will look to right the ship with an emphatic win. The majority of play will take place in the midfield. Look for Holden to attempt to stifle A. Young, Petrov and Downing and that Elmander can continue his fine vein of form.

Lichaj hasn’t been making the bench let alone the starting 11 recently, but the season is still young.

Blackburn play Fulham at Ewood park. With the unfortunate injury to Zamora, look for Dempsey to play up top a little more and partner with Dembele. Sparky and Fulham remain one of 5 unbeaten teams in the EPL and will look to jump into the top four with a win.

Damien Duff has been proved fit and will provide nice width and balls for the Fulham strikers to latch on to.

Can Blackpool continue their dream start?

Chelsea host plucky little Blackpool, and anyone outside of Stamford Bridge will be pulling for the seaside town to pull the upset of the season. Already in 4th with two away wins they have exceeded expectations, but it’s early doors. Look for them to get thrashed but one can dream!

The big one this weekend pits two teams who haven’t had the best of starts. Man United host Liverpool in the North West derby. Both played midweek, though with different results. United were stifled by a determined Rangers side and Liverpool were comfortable 4-1 winners against Steaua Bucharest whilst also resting Gerrard and Torres.

For Liverpool, Joe Cole is back after serving his three game suspension and Torres and Gerrard should replace Ngog and Lucus, though I hope Meireles gets the nod over Poulsen.

United should be fully fit minus Valencia who suffered a season ending injury mid-week. Rooney with a clear head and no mean ol Everton supporters to make him cry should be back leading the line with The Berba.

The key to this matchup…Is Ferdinand fully fit?

In the Championship, Conor Doyle was a late sub in last weeks game against Hull. Will he get a full 90 against Barnsley? We say he should.

Juan Carlos...pick me please

Rest of Europe. A typically British statement, but there you are. Midweek, Jozy Altidore started and played a full 90 against Dinamo Zagreb in the Europa Cup, but the Yellow Submarines were sunk 2-0. Altidore played okay but didn’t do himself any favors by failing to connect from a cross from fellow American Rossi late in the game.

Currently 6th (with one win, they’ve only played two games); on Sunday they go to Levante, who are rock bottom with two losses and 6 goals against them. If this is ever an opportunity for Jozy to stake a claim in the side, this is it!

After getting thumped 4-0 at home, Michaelbradleybach visit bottom of the table Stuttgart. The Bundesliga has been full of surprises this year and is a highly entertaining league to watch. I’ve been a M’gladbach fam for many many years, as I had an uncle who supported them in 60’s and 70’s, and with Bradders on board, all the more reason.

Dolo and Beasley visit winless Vfl Wolfsburg as their manager, the “wally with the brolly” McClaren is starting to feel the pressure.

Serie A is in full swing as his Ligue 1 and off course the MLS.

Counterpoint: Mesut Ozil, Necessary

Read a piece in SI by Sid Lowe on how the signing of Mesut Ozil presents a problem for Real Madrid with its olio of talented middle men.

Mesut Ozil, a necessary step for The Special One

It’s a good read; I recommend it, but the author’s points are perhaps not well-founded.

Lowe’s sentiment is that Real Madrid has painted itself into a corner by bringing in Ozil when they have needs at other positions as well as a glut of players competing to get a runout at the Bernabeu.

If Real Madrid were any other team: one confounded with financial concerns and management, one that has to coddle it’s stars and stroke their egos, one that is perhaps not in an attractive location or league then I would be inclined to agree.

Real Madrid has none of these problems. They freely spend and where once they may have kowtowed to their stars, they now have the Super-ego (pun intended) of Jose Mourinho, perhaps the most qualified coach for a team still referred to as Los Galácticos.

The Special One cannot be the Shackled One in finding the right World Class players for his squad...

What Real Madrid needed upon Mourinho’s entrance was talent.

Huh?

A stockpile of it. Sure, as the writer correctly adds, Real Madrid acutely, and has stated, that is needs a striker and perhaps a right back.

But consider also that you are talking about a manager who, in the most critical game for his team last season, deployed a tempermental striker primarily at leftback in Samuel E’to to best Barcelona at Camp Nou. Not a peep from E’to as well as an eye-opening performance by the Cameroonian.

Mourinho–in all his magnetism–is more than adept and reaching players and getting them to buy in to the team. Especially superstars.

All Mourinho really needs to do early in 2010 here is get Ronaldo to commit to him. For if Ronaldo–in all his audacious ability–can commit and give of himself than how can any other player on Madrid not?

As TSG witnessed in person a few weeks ago at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Ronaldo from opening whistle to closing whistle–as our photographer Shaun put it–“worked his socks off.”

In a meaningless friendly.

Madrid, again as Lowe points out, is at 26 players on its roster where Mourinho wants to keep 23.

Now, with the addition of Ozil, the Special One can choose from a perceived glut of World Class players, those who want to conform to his strategy and tactics.

Mourinho would not have been able to choose from World Class talent if it wasn’t there in redundancy. What do you do if you’re goal is Champion’s League and La Liga glory if you have to choose between a World Class talent who plays individually and an above average player who plays for the team? Who do you choose…if you’re Mourinho that is?

That Real Madrid will have to turn around and sell players at a discount to when they purchased them isn’t an the issue Lowe makes out.

This is a team that extravagantly spent over $190M last year on just two players and then hired Mourinho knowing full well that the manager would demand players for his system that might not be the ones that Madrid just spent for last year.

This is a team that purchased Wesley Sneijder for $27M in 2007 only turn around and sell the player for $15M in 2009 when he didn’t fit into last’s year crowded midfield at the Bernebeu.

No, the Mesut Ozil signing doesn’t present a problem for Real Madrid on the pitch and or on the balance sheet.

It is and was in fact a necessity for Mourinho’s Darwinistic means of weeding out who’s going to buy in to his strategy at Real Madrid and play for him.

You can’t do that if the talent, duplicative World Class talent, is not there.

Reply from SI’s Sid Lowe:

Unfortunately Twitter doesn’t offer the space to reply properly.

Thanks for the nod, by the way. and it’s an interesting response, which I broadly agree with.

Now, I know that sounds contradictory but it’s not entirely. A few reasons why and points to make: I agree, Madrid needed a little more talent, although Mourinho has gone for specific players that, until the signing of Ozil, you wouldn’t necessarily describe as talent players. In the article note that they need a striker, which Mourinho still wants, and a left back (not a right back). And that in a sense they don’t need another media punta – which, going by the ‘overbooking’ as the Spanish call it, they don’t. Ozil’s position has more players than any other.
Of course he is not a problem per se (he’s a very good player and at a very good price). And if I had been in Madrid’s shoes, I would have taken him too: as Mourinho said, it was a good opportunity. But as I said in the piece, his arrival does provoke one, very specific problem – and that is what I was writing about. Madrid do need to find an exit strategy, they do need to lighten the sqaud. And that is not so easy as I think you suggest. Money IS tight for Madrid now, it DOES matter what they can recoup. And if they can’t get rid of players, the risk is to dressing room harmony (this is one area, of course, where Mourinho is especially talented). There is also a long-term question mark over Kaka; Ozil does present something of a challenge. I suspect, when Kaka returns that one of he or Ozil will end up playing as a narrow left-sided player in that line of three behind the striker. Mourinho’s greatest skill is often keeping those who don’t play happy, rather than those who do.

That will be the case again. But, yes, Ozil’s arrival does pose a challenge. Incidentally, you mention Sneijder as an example of how Madrid can without any problem get rid of very good players. I would argue that it shows quite the opposite: the desire to bring in certain players forced the departure of Sneijder and Robben – and they have been arguably the world’s most outstanding two players at club football level over the last year (maybe with Messi as an individual, plus Diego Milito). All the best.

Video: Jose Mourinho on Sergio Canales

In light of the game by and commentary on Sergio Canales in tonight’s 3-2 Real Madrid victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy, here’s some video of Jose Mourinho commenting on Sergio Canales Wednesday night at Candlestick in San Francisco.

Don’t Sleep On These Ten La Liga Matches

Sure, the talk might be off EPL “B” teams touring the United States or Jozy Altidore transferring out of La Liga, but…with Jose Mourinho providing a foil to Messi, Guardiola and Barca….

and with storylines around Valencia decimated by player loss, Atletico coming on real strong off a Europa Cup win oh and with a Spain win at the World Cup…La Liga might be the “Don’t Miss” league on the 2010-’11 season.

Oh, you didn’t realize the schedule came out Tuesday?

Can the Special One bag tropphies in Year One...or will he have to babysit new dad Ronaldo?

TSG opens our La Liga coverage with a guest piece from La Liga expert Donald Wine.

Top Ten La Liga Matches For The 2010-2011 Season

By Donald Wine II

The Spanish Primera released their 2010-2011 schedule Tuesday, and it was the first chance for La Liga fans to see where their favorite teams were playing and when.  While Real Madrid and Barcelona are expected to go toe-to-toe once again for the title, several upstart and strong teams, from Villareal and Atlético Madrid to Sevilla and Valencia, will have something to say about that.  On the other end, La Liga welcomes Real Sociedad, Levante and Hércules FC back to top flight football, and all three will be looking to plant their roots in La Primera beyond this season.

While every match is important, there will be some matches where the 3 points will be essential, where the outcome will determine one’s place in the table, or where you will simply see the best players in the world battle each other for bragging rights and club glory.  Here is the list of the top 10 must-see matches that will take place this season in Spanish football.

Bye-bye...

10. Valencia-Atlético Madrid – September 22, Estadio Mestalla

Valencia has been decimated with the loss of its two major stars, David Silva (to Manchester City) and David Villa (to Barcelona).  Yet, the Mestalla will be rocking for the first major test to see how Valencia will handle its loss of talent as they take on Atletico.  The Mestalla is one of the toughest places to play in Spain, and Valencia will need their fans’ support in showing the rest of the table that the reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated.

9. Hércules-Athletic Bilbao – August 29, Jose Rico Perez

Jose Rico Perez should make for a special venue as La Liga welcomes Hercules back into the fixture list for the first time in 13 years.  They play host to a formidable Athletic Bilbao in their first game in the Primera, a team that should have aspirations of qualifying for Europe this season.  Hercules will want to use the heavy crowd support to gain a result in their first match to hopefully give them some momentum and keep them from their expected place at the bottom of the table.

8. Barcelona-Espanyol – May 8, Camp Nou

The Catalan Derby is always a hands-on experience...

The Catalan derby will be a great test for Espanyol to steal some points away from Barcelona, who will likely be in a dogfight with Real for the crown at this point in the season.  With only a couple matches after the derby for both teams, points will be essential to either win a title (Barca) or qualify for Europa (Espanyol).

7. Sevilla FC-Real Madrid – May 8 Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan

Top 4 finisher Sevilla has a very strong lineup that did not suffer any major departures.  They will be once again vying for a Champions League spot, and Real will look down the barrel of two loaded weapons in Sevilla and Villareal back to back to either hold off Barca or hope Barca falter.  Sevilla is definitely the tougher of the two, and Real will have to focus all their attention on beating this terrific side.

6. Sporting Gijon-Racing Santander – May 15, El Molinon

Sporting Gijon and Racing Santander will likely be playing to stay in the Primera by this point in the season, which makes this match so important.  The winner of this match will have a great chance of avoiding relegation, while the loser will need to start making plans for La Segunda.

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