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La Liga around the web | El Centrocampista
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El Centrocampista

Soccer Nomad: La Liga around the web

Lionel Messi and Cristian Tello

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The last round saw lost points on several fronts as Valencia, Bilbao and Villarreal dropped vital points towards their respective goals. The Big Two continued their match towards 90+ points, while the relegation fight remains unsettled.

I was able to catch two games live last weekend. One I should have skipped (Malaga v Levante) and the other was just a footballing masterclass (Racing v FC Barcelona).

 

Malaga 1 Levante 0

So I spent the first half wondering which game was worse, this one or Everton v Spurs. I decided that this game was because at least there were chances in the EPL game. This game followed the template of the first meeting—Malaga enjoying possession but not really asking the questions. Los Granotes kept 10 men behind the ball and really made the intricate passing of Cazorla and Toulalan and Isco problematic. The service from wide areas was poor so the visitors were able to say compact. The best chance was a serve from the right channel that a Levante defender almost put in their own net.

A couple of tactical notes. Levante really made a point of double teaming Joaquin in the right hand channel, yet Malaga kept playing there. Literally in the first 15-20 minutes, the hosts never played to the left despite the space being available. Isco flashed in and out of the match; I felt Cazorla should have been on the ball more; I thought Welington had a decent game; as for Toulalan, have to say he had a great match, breaking up attacks and starting moves for the hosts.

Rondon finally scored one of the billion chances in front of goal, but I’m not even sure he got the final touch. Anyway, really couldn’t figure out Malaga’s strategy after that. They didn’t tika taka the visitors to death, nor did they step on their throat. They continued to dribble into pressure, turn the ball over and hope that Levante turned gave it back on the fourth or fifth pass instead of the second or third pass like the first half. Levante almost had a chance to equalize with about 20 minutes to go but Kone could not meet a fine cross. There was also a free kick with 10 minutes to go which bamboozled the defense and only a timely intervention by Willy kept the hosts in the lead.

Malaga are now in fourth and, with Bilbao losing the late Sunday match, maybe Los Boquerones can actually meet their goal of qualifying for the Champions League.

John Pelini recapped the match at El Centrocampista. I valued the second set of eyes and he saw many of the same things as me, although he mentioned many more chances for Levante in the second half as the visitors searched for an equalizer. He gave his man of the match to Toulalan, which I agreed with.

Mike Barnes summed up the game at A Different Liga, pointing out Malaga’s rise to fourth has due to a fine run of form—12 points from their last 15. Didn’t realize it had been that good. He also mentioned that Pellegrini has mixed veteran experience and youth, although there are still plenty of younger players that could make their mark.


Racing Santander 0 FC Barcelona 2

FCB has struggled on the road this season and Pep set out his squad in a nominal 3-3-4, with Cesc and Messi flanked by Cuenca and Pedro. As the half progressed, Busquets played his hybrid CM/CB position.

Racing were clearly determined to park the bus and get stuck in. This mentality, combined with a dodgy surface, caused the Blaugrana to struggle in the opening exchanges, with even Xavi looking a little off. But slowly the visitors came into the match and finally made the breakthrough on 28 minutes as Messi scored after Xavi flicked the ball into space and Cesc smashed it across the goal box.

After the half, FCB kept the hosts on the rack, and only the goalkeeper and some unfortunate touches kept the match close. The turning point of the match came when Mario saved Cuenca’s fine effort. Cesc touched the rebound past Cisma, who took the Spaniard down. Even after a couple of viewings, I’m still not sure it was a penalty. Messi tucked it away and that was that. FCB had two more moves of real quality and precision that deserved goal, but the game petered out, with the Blaugrana relaxing and allowing Racing to create a couple of half chances. The visitors could have added a third through Messi, Pedro and Tello but no dice. All in all a comfortable win that saw Pedro and Masch have good matches, hopefully providing the needed depth as the Champions League looms large.

Meg Ryan’s match review put things in perspective: While miracles may still happen and the league could still be won, Spanish competition has become more of an exhibition for the blaugrana. A delightful exhibition at that. The league is over but the Blaugrana still play a beautiful brand of football, which overcame a cynical Racing team on Sunday afternoon. Each match is a chance to bask in their glory as they prepare to defend their Champions League title.

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Articles

Bassam at Real Madrid Football Blog praised Real Betis for their effort and organization in a narrow defeat to Real Madrid. Los Merengues were off kilter, especially in the back, and the hosts exploited this to create a competitive match. Maybe Madrid were looking ahead to the Champions League game.

Last week I presented differing points of view on Emery’s future at Valencia and Sid Lowe discussed the same topic in his weekly column. Have they hit the glass ceiling? Has Emery’s influence worn off? Can this team do better? Sid presents many of the factors affecting Valencia at the moment. Without a splash of cash I don’t see much changing.

Speaking of Valencia, Elisa from Forza Futbol is in Spain and saw first hand Valencia’s collapse against Mallorca, giving praise to Caparros as he tries to save the islanders from relegation. Make sure to check out their site this month for first hand accounts of game and goings-on.

Phil Ball weighed in on the greatest ever debate, as Messi had an amazing week. He correctly points out that perceptions of the little Argentinean are skewed by tons of footage, the age in which he plays and stylistic tastes, but already he has to be in the conversation.

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Podcasts

In a second interview from the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, Ravi from Forza Futbol talked to Alexi Lalas about several topics. The former US international discussed the progess of the MLS over the last ten years, the upcoming Euros, CR7 v Messi, and the nature of being a manager instead of a coach.

On the Sky Sports La Liga Weekly pod, Andy and Sid looked back on the results of the Big Two, how La Liga compares to the rest of Europe, Bilbao’s slip up against Osasuna, and Gijon’s chances for survival.

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Visit Austin Long at Soccer Nomad and follow him on Twitter @austinlong1974




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