La Liga 2012, Week 26: Referees, Controversies Take Center Stage

After Real Madrid barely eeked by Real Betis last night--thanks, in part, to some controversial refereeing decisions--Atletico Madrid scraped by Granada with some some tough calls (and Radamel Falcao). And all of this after Barcelona's Gerard Piqué was suspended for calling a referee's decision "premeditated." It's a tough time to be a ref in Spain.

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Racing Santander 0-2 FC Barcelona: Leo Messi Is Better Than Racing

Lionel Messi is a pretty good player, if you haven't heard (seriously, though, how many soccer articles start like that?). He scored two goals to lead FC Barcelona over a terrible Racing Santander side in El Sardinero (Santander) on Sunday afternoon. That was pretty much the whole story this afternoon, as Barcelona dominated Racing from start to finish, despite missing defender Gerard Piqué (who was suspended, and emo-tweeted about it), and playing a 3-4-3 formation.

Barcelona thrashed Racing. By every conceivable metric. From shots to possession to (the only one that matters) goals, Barcelona had their way with Racing's very poor defense. And it's not like Racing is the worst side in the league--they're almost the worst side in the league. But Barça has been pretty poor away from home, so there wasn't any real guarantee that they would dominate this game.

But it would be hard not to dominate with Messi playing as well as he has been over the last couple matches. He scored five goals against Bayern Leverkusen in the Champions League on Wednesday--an awesome match, and was super-ready to play this match. That's kind of a huge advantage, no matter how many emo defenders you're missing.

Messi's first goal came in the 29th minute, as Cesc Fabregas received the ball in the area and played the short Argentinian through on goal. Though the play appeared offsides at first, replays showed that Messi managed to stay onside due to some shoddy defending from Racing defender Álvaro.

His second goal came on a penalty shot, an area that has traditionally been one of the weaker aspects of his (admittedly near-perfect) game. He slotted the ball past Racing keeper Fernández easily. Though the penalty itself might have easily been called as a yellow card to Fábregas for diving instead, there is little to no chance that Barça wouldn't have found another way to score. Ho hum.


Valencia 2-2 Mallorca: Chés Choke, Squander Two Goal Lead

Valencia played two incredible halves of soccer against Mallorca this afternoon in the Mestalla stadium: but they were incredible in two very different ways. In the first frame, Unai Emery's boys absolutely dominated a Mallorca side that looked supremely mediocre: Tino Costa scored a very lucky goal in the 24th minute to open the scoring--his shot bounced off of Nunes, and soared around Mallorca keeper Aouate. But the goal was very much deserved, as los ché thoroughly dominated Mallorca.

Their second goal seemed to cement their dominance--and lock in the three points: Mallorca defender Tejero and keeper Aouate made a major error in communication, and their misplay fell right to the feet of Valencia forward Aduriz. 2-0 and the game was locked up.

Not so fast. Mallorca came out of the gate looking to get back in the match, and they brought themselves back to respectability almost immediately: Pereira found Nsue with a brilliant ball, and the striker slotted it home with ease in the 57th minute. Less than 10 minutes later, lightning would strike: the play fell to Nsue on the wing, and the playmaker slotted it back into Víctor, who stepped right in front of Valencia defender Mathieu.

It was a truly terrible piece of defending; but more than that, the second goal represented how far Valencia had fallen. They didn't look at all like the side that began the game, and the Mestalla crowd rightfully dismissed them by whistling and waving handkerchiefs.


La Liga Week 26: Atletico Madrid, Espanyol Take Home Important Victories

In a week filled with controversies surrounding Spanish referees--from Gerard Piqué's comments about premeditated decisions, to ex-Barcelona Vice President Godall's suggestion that Guardiola and company treat referees better to garner some favor, to referees not calling two penalties on Real Madrid in the last seconds of their 2-3 win over Betis--today's matches between Atletico Madrid and Granada, and Espanyol and Rayo Vallecano did little to throw water on the fire.

Atlético put on a show against a Granada side that lacked any punch offensively--los rojiblancos dominated the ball, and caused some havoc in Granada's back line, but couldn't seem to score. It wasn't Simeone's Atletico's best match of the year, but it certainly wasn't their worst; and what they lacked in subtlety on the ball they made up for in physicality and luck. Atleti scored their first goal in the 38th minute, when Miranda blasted in a bouncing ball off a botched corner by Koke. Minutes before, referee Mateu Lahoz had cut off a promising Granada attack by calling a handball on attacking midfielder Henrique--replays showed that this was not the correct call.

Granada were badly hurt by the goal. They tried to react for the rest of the match, but had a very complicated time moving out of Atleti's midfield; both sides had a couple chances in the second half, but nothing of interest until the 84th minute. Henrique, the player who had already been incorrectly penalized for a non-handball, went to ground to try to dispossess one of the Atleti players; Mateu Lahoz showed him a direct red card, an extremely harsh choice given the way the game had progressed.

Minutes later, Radamel Falcao scored to end the match, after a fantastic run by Juanfran. The goal was pretty much incidental, but I like the way that Falcao celebrates, so I guess there's that.

Final Score: Atlético Madrid 2-0 Granada.

Espanyol thrashed upstart Rayo Vallecano Sunday afternoon, to lay claim to one of the higher spots in the classification. Espanyol had seemingly lost their mojo, after a series of mediocre results that was capped off with a brutal loss at Real Madrid last week; however, they came out strong against a Rayo side that looked out of their depth.

Uche scored the first goal within three minutes, when he headed home a fantastic cross from the right side. Rayo goalkeeper Joel looked like he could have had a play on the ball, but he was inexplicably turned to stone (as they say in Spain) as the ball flew by him.

Coutinho sentenced the game only six minutes later after a brilliantly played quick foul in the midfield. Sergio García, long a favorite of mine, beat the entire Rayo side in midfield, then ceded to Coutinho at the last second. The game would only get more open from there, as Espanyol attacked relentlessly, and would go on to score three more times.

Ex-Espanyol forward (and Real Madrid legend) Raul Tamudo would write the footnote of the night: his goal in the 54th minute (to make it 4-1 to Espanyol) was his first in Espanyol's new stadium Cornellà-El Prat. He's now the only player to have scored at all three Espanyol stadiums (Sarriá, Montjuic, and Cornellà).

Final Score: Espanyol 5-1 Rayo Vallecano

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