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Villarreal were expected to put up a fight on Monday night at the Camp Nou. They weren't expected to win, of course. It's Barcelona at the Camp Nou. But with Villarreal's strong squad and Barcelona missing Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol and Daniel Alves, the tandem of Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar was supposed to put the Blaugranas under some pressure.
Barcelona played a back three with no true central defenders, and yet, Villarreal was able to do no such thing. It took them until the 87th minute of the match to put a single shot on target. Nilmar and Rossi hardly touched the ball while Lionel Messi did what Lionel Messi does, turning in a brilliant man of the match performance as Barcelona coasted to a 5-0 victory.
The newly-christened Argentine captain netted twice and provided an assist, and that doesn't count the dozen other chances he was involved in. Thiago Alcantara looked nothing like a 20-year-old as he scored a goal and provided an assist, while both Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez were able to net debut goals. Xavi and David Villa were used as substitutes. Barcelona looked better at football than just about anyone has ever looked with Xavi and David Villa on the bench.
Barcelona moves on to play...oh, who cares. If it's not Real Madrid, it'll just be the same thing all over again. And that's just fine.
Since Cesc Fabregas scored just before halftime on his debut, Alexis Sanchez couldn't let him have all the fun. Less than two minutes into the second half, the Chilean winger has a goal of his own, pushing the score to a 3-0 Barcelona lead over Villarreal. Then, Lionel Messi netted another less than 10 minutes later, and it's now 4-0. The Yellow Submarine look completely hopeless, and the incredible thing about it is that they're not a bad team. They should be competing for a Champions League place this year. But Barcelona are just too good.
The assist came from Thiago Alcantara, who does not look like a 20-year-old playing his 15th game for Barcelona's first team. He's been absolutely stunning so far, and he's living up to Pep Guardiola's comments that he's farther along at 20 than Xavi was at the same age.
And just because he was sick of setting up his teammates and not doing any scoring, Lionel Messi added one of his own, assisted by Andres Iniesta. Something tells me the scoring is not done.
What more can be said about Barcelona that hasn't already been said? With three out of four members of their first choice back line out, as well as key backup Adriano, the Blaugranes have shifted to a 3-4-3 formation that essentially includes 10 players who are either normally midfielders or playing like midfielders today. It's worked wonders so far as they've barely given Villarreal a sniff in the first half. At halftime, they lead by a score of 2-0.
Thiago Alcantara scored the opening goal, with Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas combining for another fantastic goal just before the stroke of halftime. The first one was mostly an individual effort, with Thiago running through traffic before hitting a great left-footed strike from just inside the penalty area. The second was a classic Barcelona team goal, with Messi threading a perfect through ball to Cesc, who rounded the keeper before scoring with a tap-in.
Unless Juan Carlos Garrido has a magical masterplan to beat a system he and no one else has ever seen before, Villarreal are not going to be back into this match.
With central defenders Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol out injured, along with fullbacks Daniel Alves and Adriano, Barcelona has decided that defense is dumb and that they don't need it. They're playing a ridiculously attacking 3-4-3 that looks like a 1-6-3 at times (I'm not joking) and it's working wonders so far. Villarreal can't find the ball and Barca have a 1-0 lead, thanks to Thiago Alcantara.
The young midfielder has been spectacular throughout the preseason for Barcelona and he's picked up in La Liga just where he left off there. The defense of the Yellow Submarine certainly could have defended a bit better, but there's no taking away from the finish. Dribbling through a crowd as Villarreal failed to close him down, Thiago got himself into shooting position and hit a great left-footed shot low and to the far post from the edge of the 18 yard area, placing it perfectly into the back of the net.
With 4 defenders injured and Dani Alves suspended, Barcelona are forced to go with a makeshift back 4 for their La Liga kick off. With Xavi rested and David Villa also only fit enough for the bench, former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas makes his long-awaited La Liga debut, and the talented youngster Thiago Alcantara also starts, with Andres Iniesta on the left of the front 3.
The defence, however, is where it gets interesting: Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets, normally defensive midfielders, are the two centre backs, while it appears that Alexis Sanchez, normally a very attacking right winger is going to play at right back. Given that Dani Alves usually spends most of the time attacking, it shouldn’t be a problem, but it may be something that Villarreal can exploit, with Giuseppe Rossi and Nilmar likely to pull away to the left.
Substitutions: Jose Manuel Pinto, Marc Bartra, Andreu Fontas, Jonathan Dos Santos, Xavi, Sergi Roberto, David Villa
Sevilla eeked out a well-deserved 2-1 win against a Málaga side that looked disconnected and unsure of themselves for most of the match. Álvaro Negredo’s two first half goals held up despite Málaga’s late push that resulted in newly-acquired Santi Cazorla’s beautiful free kick goal in the 80th minute.
While this wasn’t the game I expected—I was thinking more like 4-3 to Málaga—it did contain some of the highlights we were looking for from a clash of two offensively dynamic yet defensively challenged teams: Negredo’s two goals in the first half were absolutely sublime, as was Cazorla’s perfectly placed free kick in the 80th minute.
Aside from that, though, the match lacked the pace and flare one would have expected: while Málaga dominated possession they were unable to put together a proper attack against a mediocre Sevilla defense. We can, at least, forgive Málaga for some of the way they played: they’re a very new team, with all the players (and the coach) just beginning to get a feel for each other.
Another of Málaga’s newly-acquired jewels, Joaquín, put on quite a show on the right side, though he had little to show for his pressure and speedy runs down the flanks. Striker Ruud van Nistelrooy looked tired and out of sync with his midfielders (read: old), and no one seemed to be able to put a ball close enough to his shoes or his forehead to make his presence known.
Sevilla, on the other hand, looked consistently dangerous on the counter attack, putting together lots of chances from their speed alone. Jesús Navas in particular combined well with Negredo on the break.
Both teams will be at least partially happy with the way they played: Málaga dominated possession but looked out of sync with each other, while Sevilla threatened constantly on the break and put away the majority of the chances they created. While the game itself wasn’t as entertaining as we thought it could have been, it was still an intriguing preview to both of these teams’ upcoming seasons.
Sevilla got on the board really quickly against the new up-and-coming Málaga, with a goal from Álvaro Negredo in the second minute. Jesús Navas swung in a perfect cross that just eluded two Málaga defenders and found Negredo's head; Negredo easily redirected the ball past a diving Caballero for the first goal of the evening.
The second goal came about a bit less straightforwardly: Sevilla launched a counter attack after significant pressure from Málaga, and Negredo collected a bouncing ball from Perotti in the before hammering home the 2-0. Unfortunately, the counter attack came after a particularly strong Málaga attack that culminated in a possible penalty against Sevilla's Escudé, who hit a Joaquín cross with his arm in the penalty box. Referee Delgado Ferreiro waved play on as almost every player on Málaga raised their arms in protest.
While Sevilla are dominating on the scoreboard, Málaga will be happy with their offensive game for the most part: they created a few chances that they should have put away, but the over-riding feeling that they must have is that they don't know each other well yet. Players seem out of sync, missing each other in space, and miss-timing their runs: this is a phenomenon that is very common with teams who have just been put together, and it'll get better with time.
Sevilla have been very economical with their chances, converting the few that they had (and nearly scoring what would have been the goal of the year after a couple volleys in the midfield allowed Negredo to blast a on-hop shot from 4o yards out that Caballero barely saved). They look strong on the counter attack, and good in the air--two things that have come to define this Sevilla squad.
Stay tuned for more--I'm pretty sure this game has a few more goals left in it, as both teams are strong offensively but have extremely weak defenses. Always a recipe for excitement.
Nouveau-riche Málaga take on Sevilla in the Sánchez Pizjuán in Sevilla; this Andalusian derby should make a more interesting matchup than yesterday’s Betos-Granada, mainly because both teams are aiming for Europe rather than aiming to stay in the first division.
I’m a big believer in Málaga this season, though it could take a while to get everything sorted out on both ends. What we can definitely be sure of is that they’ll score tons of goals—with Ruud van Nistelrooy as your striker, that’s the one certain prediction I can make.
Sevilla: Javi Varas, Martín Cáceres, Spahic, Escudé, F. Navarro, Jesús Navas, Medel, Trochowski, Perotti, Manu and Negredo.
Málaga:Willy, Jesús Gámez, Demichelis, Mathijsen, Eliseu, Joaquín, Toulalan, Apoño, Cazorla, Rondón and Van Nistelrooy.
In the opening round of last year's La Liga season, Real Madrid were disappointing in a 0-0 draw against Michel Laudrup's Mallorca side. The 'Mourinho can't get the job done' hyperbole started flowing from the first day and it took months for Madrid to start looking like a side that could contend for trophies. It appears that they're going to get off to a much better start this season, as they stomped Real Zaragoza 6-0 on Sunday night at La Romareda.
Cristiano Ronaldo was absolutely spectacular as he scored an opening day hat trick, but Mesut Özil was probably the star of the show with his nearly flawless passing. The German international was instrumental in setting up most of the goals and put on an absolutely brilliant performance.
Though the score was only 2-0 at halftime, the game already looked pretty done and dusted after just 45 minutes. Zaragoza barely put up a fight in the first, and once the third goal went in, they looked even more out of the match. That goal - a long range effort from Xabi Alonso - was probably the best of the night.
Ronaldo would score two of this three after that Alonso goal, with the other coming from substitute Kaka. The Brazilian international is believed to be available for transfer and is permanently behind Özil at the Santiago Bernabeu at the moment, but he might have played himself back into favor with his brilliant goal.
Would it have hurt you to get your boys to put up a fight, Mr. Aguirre? Okay...probably. You probably would have had to scream so loud that you actually hurt yourself. I completely understand.
Another game against a La Liga minnow, another walk in the park for Real Madrid. They've hardly been challenged by Real Zaragoza in what is now the opening round in La Liga, and they lead by a score of 2-0 after 45 minutes of play. Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Özil have been their usual brilliant selves, while Karim Benzema is doing his best to dispel the myths that he's lazy and not good enough to wear the Madrid shirt.
With Sami Khedira out with an injury and Lassana Diarra out of favor, Fabio Coentrao has stepped into the center of midfield to partner Xabi Alonso in a double pivot. Normally a left-sided player, Coentrao has been used centrally by Mourinho in the pre-season and is doing well in his new position. With Coentrao in the double pivot and Ronaldo wide left for the day, Madrid are so left-leaning that they've almost tipped over La Romareda.
Madrid sustained pressure from the opening whistle to the halftime whistle, creating chance after chance. Their opening goal came in the 24th minute, and it was an absolutely fantastic team move. Benzema started it with his hard work tracking back on defense, Özil provided the assist with a spectacular pass into the box, and Ronaldo finished it off with his first touch from 12 yards out, cutting in from the left.
The second goal came five minutes later, with both fullbacks getting involved. Ronaldo started the move with a great ball out wide to Sergio Ramos, who put in a cross. Ronaldo went up for a bicycle kick but realized that he had no chance to get to the ball. Somehow, like a gymnast or a diver, he stopped himself in mid-air and allowed the ball to fall to Marcelo, who buried the chance with a great shot to the far post.
Zaragoza were always going to struggle to get points off of Madrid, but Javier Aguirre's boys look pretty helpless. A game against Madrid is an unfair sample to judge Aguirre's team and his managerial competency, but this looks very much like a team that will be in a relegation battle this season. Hopefully, for the sake of the neutrals, the Blanquillos can put up more of a fight in the second half.
Real Madrid begin their two horse race against Barcelona today in Zaragoza, where they’ll have to deal with a very amped up Javier Aguirre. Managing Madrid, our SBNation Real Madrid blog previewed the match:
Gone are the days when Zaragoza boasted the likes of players such as Diego Milito; gone are the days when Madrid felt lucky to eek out a 2-2 draw (this is my second 2007 Liga reference in two columns about this match). Last season los blancos manhandled the Aragonese side away in the first half of the season (1-3), but then lost (2-3) after the Liga was already over in late April thanks, in part, to a shockingly bad mistake from Iker Casillas.
I suppose I’m not giving enough credit to Zaragoza: Lafita, for example, is a strong player, as are Ikechukwu Uche and Javi Paredes. But they’re not a team that should give madridistas nightmares (hello, Deportivo la Coruña).
It’s always interesting when a fanbase is more scared of a team in second division than of the team that they’re about to play in the first division. In Madrid’s case, though it’s sort of warranted: they’ve always had an impossible time beating Depor away from home, and were very happy to see them drop down to Segunda.
Real Zaragoza: Roberto; Juárez, Da Silva, Meira, Paredes, Abraham; Barrera, Zuculini, Ponzio, Lafita; and Uche
Real Madrid: Casillas; Ramos, Carvalho, Pepe, Marcelo; Xabi Alonso, Coentrao; Di Maria, Özil, Cristiano Ronaldo; and Karim Benzema
36 year-old José María Movilla became the oldest person to play for Rayo Vallecano in Primera on Sunday, and he marked the occasion by netting the game-trying goal against Athletic Bilbao in San Mamés, Bilbao.
Both teams came into the match with something to prove: Athletic Bilbao was looking to make a mark with their new coach Marcelo Bielsa, and Rayo was looking to prove that they belong in la Liga. Both teams more or less managed to accomplish their objectives, though Bielsa will rue various missed opportunities both before and after Iturraspe’s 55th minute strike.
Rayo will be happy to grab a point from a notoriously tough stadium: they’re the first newly-ascended team in the history of the Liga to not lose in their debut in San Mamés.
FYI: Euskatel-Euskadi cycling star Sami Sánchez did the honorary kick-off before the match. Sánchez is not Basque.
Atlético Madrid couldn't pull out a victory at home against lowly Osasuna on Sunday at the Estadio Vicente Calderón in Madrid. While the madrileños dominated for most of the game, Osasuna's defense held firm and mostly forced los rojiblancos to take long-distance shots that never troubled Osasuna's keeper Fernández.
While Atlético's midfield trio of Suárez, Tiago and Gabi kept Osasuna under pressure for most of the match, they couldn't seem to get the ball up to their offensive trident in a position to make a play on goal. But I still think that will come with time: new signing, and probably center forward Falcao didn't make his debut, while Diego Forlán stayed on the bench waiting for news of his transfer (with his ear pressed to the ground I'm sure). The team lacked punch offensively, but that makes sense when both of their main goal scoring threats didn't see a minute of game time. I'm all in on the Atleti boat this season (even though I shouldn't be).
What an intense Saturday in Spain! Putting aside the player’s strike, the mounting debt, the television crisis, and the possible end of soccer on the radio, there’s not much more a fan could want from the first three la Liga matches. Real Sociedad capped off an impressive performance over Sporting Gijón with a couple of red cards, and Valencia stormed back in the last minutes to flip a 2-3 defeat to Racing Santander into a 4-3 victory thanks to four goals from Roberto Soldado. Oh, and Vadillo, Real Betis’ 16 year-old right winger made his Liga BBVA debut…and had to be substituted after a nasty challenge.
0-1 Agirretxe Min. 34
0-2 Agirretxe Min 65
1-2 De Las Cuevas (penalty) Min. 68
Real Sociedad went in to Gijón and pulled out a well-deserved victory with two goals from Agirretxe. The donostiarras controlled the game from the first whistle with an organized, balanced possession-based attack, and showed off some of their impressive young talent, as both Íñigo Martínez and Illarramendi delivered poised, veteran performances. Shockingly, the match was essentially devoid of major refereeing mistakes, despite the fact that referee Paradas Romero showed two red cards and awarded a penalty to Sporting (normally in Spain, and I guess in soccer generally, such occurrences are followed by rioting). While Real Sociedad dominated most of the match, Sporting made a push towards the end of the second half after Rivera came in for Sergio Álvarez in the deep-lying playmaker role. Rivera’s presence inspired Sporting to push to try to equalize, and while they came up short, they can at least be happy that they weren’t completely annihilated. Yay?
1-0 Soldad Min. 1
1-1 Soldado (own goal) Min. 7
1-2 Acosta Min. 14
1-3 Adrián Min. 56
2-3 Rami Min. 58
3-3 Soldado Min. 88
4-3 Soldado Min. 90
Well, isn’t that a heck of a scoreline? Can you imagine Roberto Soldado’s emotions during that game? First minute, “yay! I scored!” Five minutes later, “oh sh*t, own goal. I suck.” Last minute: “well, we’re gonna lose because of me—wait! I scored again!” Two minutes later: “Wooo! I’m the best! I scored again!” (Thank you, thank you, that dramatic interpretation brought to you by a generous grant from no one, and from viewers like you). Seriously, though, this game could literally not have been more entertaining to watch. It had everything that we like about mid-table Spanish soccer: exciting passing and finishing, shaky defending, incredibly runs, and even more incredibl(y bad) defending. Roberto Soldado went from goat to glory in two breathtaking minutes, and Valencia fans will surely forget the fact that their team was getting handily beaten by an inferior Racing side for most of the 90 minutes. Racing will hang their hats on the fact that they went into Mestalla and outplayed Valencia for much of the match; oh, and they’ll also have to thank their keeper Toño for letting them stay in the match at all—that guy is a super-athletic save machine.
Unfortunately, Sergio Canales didn’t make a splash in his debut for los Ché, probably because he was told that he’d have to room with Éver Banega if he messed up. OK fine, that’s not true. But it would be an awesome punishment or hazing ritual.
0-1 Rubén Castro Min. 87
The first (and arguably less interesting) of two inter-Andalucía derbies ended 0-1 to Betis, as Rubén Castro netted the winner in the 87th minute. The main highlight? 16 year-old Vadillo made his debut for Betis and played a phenomenal first half; he was subsequently dropped by a really rough tackle at the beginning of the second half and had to be immediately replaced. The game looked to be heading to a rather exciting 0-0 draw (there were various shots off the post—including one that was infinitesimally close to being our second own goal of the evening—and at least one missed penalty), when Rubén Castro collected a ball in Sporting’s area and slotted it by Roberto to pick up the three points for Betis. The match could have come to blows numerous times (we all know how intense these Andalusian derbies between Betis and Sporting are. Wait, no we don’t), but referee Pérez Lasa, despite missing an obvious penalty committed by Sporting’s Lucena on Betis’ Sevilla, managed to keep the players cool just long enough to get them all off the pitch. And that’s really all we can ask for in these feisty just-came-up-from-second-division derbies.
The Liga BBVA will finally start up this Saturday after what felt like years of annoying transfer rumors, bankruptcy notices, players with unpaid salaries, labor disputes...wait, what? I'm being told that all of that is still going on. Oh well, enjoy our La Liga preview for Week 1.
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