VALENCIA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 19: Players of Real Madrid celebrate the first goal during the La Liga match between Valencia and Real Madrid at Estadio Mestalla on November 19, 2011 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)

Spanish La Liga 2011, Week 12: Real Madrid Barely Hold On, Beat Valencia 3-2

After a dismal first half and a lunatic second, Real Madrid emerged from the Mestalla with a 3-2 win and all three points.

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Sevilla Vs. Athletic Bilbao, 2011 La Liga: "Leones" Make Statement With 1-2 Away Win

Well, the second half wasn't nearly as pretty as the first, but it still had its' moments: Fernando Llorente and his band of "lions" overcame a strong Sevilla side in the perennially complicated Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán to make a strong statement to the rest of the La Liga contenders. The first half was exceedingly back-and-forth, as Athletic scored within five minutes, and Sevilla rallied to tie only nine minutes after that. The rest of the half kept with that tone, as both sides exchanged blows. 

The trip to the dressing rooms allowed both teams to catch their breath, and Sevilla came out firing at the beginning of the second half: first Alvaro Negredo, then Jesus Navas missed chances, but slowly the game began to shift to Athletic's favor. Then, in the 70th minute, Sevilla defender Spahic had a terrible time getting the ball out of los rojiblancos' defensive zone, and Iker Muniain collected the ball and slotted a long ball through; first, Javi Varas couldn't clear well, and the ball fell to De Marcos, who slotted the ball home. A terrible error from a normally solid team.

Ironically, the goal came only minutes after Athletic missed one of the best chances I've ever seen, as Fernando Llorente dribbled past a diving Varas, slotted the ball back to Muniain, whose shot on an open goal bounced off Escudé who was running back to help. 

With this win, Athletic made an important statement to the rest of la Liga--well, other than Real Madrid and Barcelona. They proved that they're able to beat strong opponents away from home, and to do it in a stylish, exciting way: exactly what Marcelo Bielsa was looking for. They deserved to win today, and if I were the coach of one of their upcoming rivals, I'd be nervous. This group of lions has just begun to roar. 


Sevilla Vs. Athletic Bilbao, 2011 La Liga: "Leones," "Rojiblancos" Level At One After Exciting First Half

Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao battled to an emphatic 1-1 draw in the first half of their Liga BBVA clash at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in Sevilla Sunday evening. Athletic started off the scoring in the 5th minute, as Iraola collected a bouncing ball at the top of the box and blasted it past Sevilla keeper Javi Varas. But Sevilla came roaring back in the 14th minute, when Kanouté collected a ball at the top of the area, and, fed it to a sprinting Jesús Navas with his head. The speedy winger slotted the ball across Basque keeper Iraizoz and into the bottom left corner of the net. 

The game progressed from there, with both sides holding the accelerator down and attacking at full speed. Sevilla almost too the lead on a couple of nifty moves from forward Álvaro Negredo, while Marcelo Bielsa's side looked equally dangerous, especially in the air. Fernando Llorente seemed to be the main target for los leones, though youngster Iker Muniain may have been the more dangerous of the pair, with a pair of biting, meandering runs to his credit.

Casual fans and diehards alike can only hope to see more of this type of play in the next half. Game on! 


Valencia Vs. Real Madrid, 2011 La Liga: Dull Game Turns Spectacular As Real Win 3-2

After a terrible first half which basically featured a Karim Benzema goal and nothing else following by an equally terrible opening to the second, Valencia vs. Real Madrid at the Mestalla did something strange. It turned surprising. Sure, there was just as much bad blood in the last half hour as there was during the fifteen minutes, but it translated to good football and amusing little tiffs rather than just the tiffs, which are far less endearing on their own.

As boring as the first half was, Benzema's goal merits a mention - a set piece from inside the Madrid half needed just three touches to find its way to the back of Diego Alves's net. The first was from Xabi Alonso, who launched a lovely long ball straight into the path of Benzema, who took it in his stride with his first touch before ripping a shot past Diego Alves with his second. It was excellent, and the rest of the half was not.

It looked as though we were heading for a boring 1-0 draw after the opening period of the second half featured mostly pushing and petulant little fouls, but the game suddenly sprang to life when Sergio Ramos headed in an inch-perfect corner to make the score 2-0. Valencia replied instantly, Roberto Soldado supplying an inch-perfect finish past Marcelo's outstretch leg after Iker Casillas could do little more with Daniel Parejo's initial shot than parry it to the waiting striker.

Then it was Real Madrid's turn to score again, Cristiano Ronaldo taking advantage of a misjudgement by Diego Alves to curl home from a silly angle, a goal which caused Jose Mourinho to mount Jose Callejon with what looked very much like the utmost of joy. But, in this crazy game, not even a 3-1 lead was safe, and Soldado somehow managed to ghost onto the end of an acrobatic Pablo Hernandez pullback and bring the score up to 3-2. Suddenly there was tension again, and the last few minutes of the match were... frenetic.

Soldado grabbed his third goal in spectacular fashion in the ninetieth minute only to be ruled offside. A late free kick say Diego Alves in Casillas's penalty area in the final minute of the four added on, and only a spectacular save and the crossbar stopped the ball from finding the back of the net. Seconds later and an inbound shot struck a still-prone Alonso on the arm before bouncing away to safety, causing the Valencia players to go berserk demanding a penalty. None was forthcoming, the corner was cleared, and Real Madrid had notched their 11th straight victory in all competitions. They've had easier wins.


Valencia Vs. Real Madrid Live, 2011 La Liga: Karim Benzema Puts Madrid Ahead

Real Madrid are doing a very good Liverpool impression today what with their horrible red third kits, and they only added to it with their first goal of the match against Valencia. There was absolutely no threat when Marcelo was fouled inside his own half, but Anfield old boy Xabi Alonso spotted the run of Karim Benzema well up the pitch and took the free kick quickly, unleashing a pinpoint long pass that found the French striker in his stride. The first touch was perfect, as was the finish past Diego Alves, and the visitors are 1-0 to the good.

It was very nearly 2-0 a few seconds later when Cristiano Ronaldo's through ball found the onrushing Sami Khedira, who broke free of the defence and finished well, but he was miles offside and so the goal was waved off. He looked so hopeful, too. Anyway, Valencia aren't playing too badly right now, but more defending like that and this game will be over in a hurry.


FC Barcelona Vs. Real Zaragoza, 2011 Spanish La Liga: Barcelona Demolish Zaragoza

Well, it wasn't meant to be for this tough, proud (read: terrible) Zaragoza side: they were destroyed 4-0 by a fantastic FC Barcelona side in the Camp Nou on Saturday night. Unfortunately, this should put to bed any hoped that the Aragoneses had of winning la Liga this year; on the bright side, the scrappy, young, unproven Barcelona side might have what it takes to make a run at this thing!

Oh, wait, that's not right. Actually, a fantastic-looking Barcelona side manhandled a just truly awful Zaragoza side, scoring at will, and even--though they didn't need it--making the most of a series of idiotic defensive errors. Out of the four goals Barça scored, three of them came from balls into attackers that were completely undefended. Granted, the two in the second half were both semi-accidental lucky bounces, but still, Zaragoza was just terrible on defense. 

Not that Barça needed the help: Leo Messi and Xavi directed the culé attack with a lethal pace, slowing and speeding up the game at will. Captain Carles Puyol scored the game's third goal in the 54th minute, after a brilliantly-taken free kick bounced off of Seydou Keita and onto the large-haired Catalan's right foot (and I say large, not long deliberately). David Villa blasted home the fourth after a brilliant attack culminated in a bounce right onto his head. 

But these were not lucky goals; rather, they were goals that a good, attacking team will get on good days. They were well-deserved, and Barcelona walked away just winners.


Valencia Vs. Real Madrid Live, 2011 La Liga: Lineups

Valencia host Real Madrid at the Mestalla on Saturday night, and if Los Che are going to get points, they're going to need a big performance out of Sergio Canales. Just kidding! He's on loan from Madrid, and Valencia owe his parent club a couple million Euros if he plays. He's not even in the 18. Sofiane Feghouli takes his place in the team. Real Madrid will be going with a 4-3-3 instead of their normal 4-2-3-1, starting all of Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Lassana Diarra. Why they feel they need that in the center of the midfield against a Valencia team without Canales or Ever Banega, I'm not sure. Here are the lineups.

Valencia Lineup (4-2-3-1): Alves; Mathieu, Rami, Ruiz, Miguel; Albelda, Costa; Feghouli, Parejo, Alba; Soldado

Substitutes: Barraga, Aduriz, Pablo, Topal, Piatti, Guaita, Jonas

Real Madrid (4-3-3): Casillas; Marcelo, Ramos, Pepe, Arbeloa; Alonso, Diarra, Khedira; Ronaldo, Benzema, Özil

Substitutes: Adan, Albiol, Higuain, Altintop, Sahin, Granero, Callejon

We'll have live coverage of Real Madrid vs. Valencia in our La Liga Week 12 StoryStream. For more on Los Merengues, visit SB Nation's Real Madrid blog Managing Madrid. For more on the entire world of football, check out SB Nation Soccer.


FC Barcelona Vs. Real Zaragoza, 2011 La Liga: Barça Leads 2-0 On Brilliant Passes, Shaky Defense

FC Barcelona is demolishing a genuinely terrible Zaragoza side, 2-0 after 45 minutes of play at the Camp Nou. In recent history, the culés haven't been particularly good after international breaks--traditionally, these have been their weakest fixtures. But, traditions are meant to be broken (wait, is this how that works?) and Pep Guardiola's boys have been absolutely dominant in the first half of what looks to be a dominant win. 

In keeping with their style, Barcelona grabbed control of the ball early and never let it go, dominating possession throughout the half. At one point, they were leading Zaragoza 11-1 in shots on target, but had only one goal to show for it--Gerard Piqué's uncontested header off of a Xavi free kick in the 18th minute. But Leo Messi snagged a goal before halftime to shut the door on Zaragoza; and that was pretty much that. 

Other than the two goals--actually, scratch that, the two goals were classic Barça, with the second coming on a questionably-offside-but-probably-not brilliant through ball from Cesc--the half was vintage Barcelona, as Pep's boys dominated almost every aspect of the game. We'll see if this continues in the second half. Well, actually, it's going to continue. Who am I kidding.


Real Madrid Vs. Valencia, 2011 La Liga Week 12: A Big Game, And A Total Mismatch

Valencia are a big club who should present a serious challenge to Real Madrid, but Los Merengues are heavy favorites as they are perhaps the hottest team in the world.

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