MONACO - AUGUST 26: Head coach Josep Guardiola of FC Barcelona gestures during the UEFA Super Cup match between FC Barcelona and FC Porto at Louis II Stadium on August 26, 2011 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

La Liga, Week 1: Barcelona Obliterate Villarreal 5-0

Everything went according to plan for Barcelona on Monday night, with Lionel Messi on song as they coasted to a 5-0 win with their revolutionary (read: ridiculous) new 10 midfielder formation

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Barcelona Vs. Villarreal: Full Time, Blaugranas Stomp Yellow Submarine 5-0

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.

For more on the two teams, check out FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes and Villarreal blog Villarreal USA.


Barcelona Vs. Villarreal: Alexis Sanchez Scores Debut Goal, Lionel Messi Adds Another

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.

For more on the two teams, check out FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes and Villarreal blog Villarreal USA.


Barcelona Vs. Villarreal: Halftime, Blaugranes Lead By 2-0 Score, Basically Everyone Brilliant

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. 

For more on the two teams, check out FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes and Villarreal blog Villarreal USA.


Sevilla Vs. Málaga Fulltime: Sevilla Win 2-1 Despite Cazorla's Late Strike

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.


Real Zaragoza Vs. Real Madrid: Full Time, Madrid Runs Riot In 6-0 Romp

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.


Real Zaragoza Vs. Real Madrid: Halftime, Los Merengues Lead Off Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo Goals

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.


La Liga Matchday One, Saturday Recap: Valencia Scores Twice in Final Minutes to Win 4-3

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. 

Sporting Gijón 1-2 Real Sociedad

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? 

Valencia 4-3 Racing Santander

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.

Granada 0-1 Real Betis 

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.

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