Matchday 16 in La Liga had quite a few exciting clashes. While FC Barcelona entertained Real Madrid’s neighbours and second position holders Atletico Madrid, at the Camp Nou, Real Madrid hosted Barcelona cross-town rivals Espanyol. A lot has been going on in the Real Madrid camp with rumours rife that this is perhaps Mourinho’s last season at the Spanish capital. Real Madrid hardly looks the threatening team that they were last season. Mourinho’s top-heavy model is perhaps taking its toll.
Vilanova’s Barcelona has had a remarkable start to the season. With 46 points out of the possible 48, this is one position which every manager will dream of. However, apart from the 2 super powers in Spain, another team that has been making the headlines for some time now is Atletico Madrid under Diego Simeone. Yes, they have not had the best of results against the big-two, but they have been phenomenal otherwise. Leading them is Radamel Falcao, as rightly pointed out by Vilanova, perhaps the best striker on the planet right now.
The Game Which May Have Rung The Knell For Mourinho
As if the midweek defeat to Celta Vigo wasn’t enough, the two points dropped at home against Espanyol will surely add to Mourinho’s
woes. The manager’s tactical experiment didn’t really pay-off. With Ronaldo and Ozil on the wings, Modric in the centre and Callejon upfront, Madrid combined excellently for the first chance which was not given its due treatment by the newly signed Luka Modric. Modric’s misery continued and he hit the post around the 26th minute mark and also showed signs of frustration when he lost the ball. Previously the signings of Luka Modric by Real Madrid and Alex Song by Barcelona were seen as the two teams inclining towards each other’s philosophy and style. None of the former English league players have quite settled in the highly technical Spanish league, but the latter seems to be better off than Modric at Real Madrid.
Espanyol, FC Barcelona’s neighbours, drew first blood and eventually earned a point to give Barcelona the headstart in a top of the table clash – and bizarrely it was former Barcelona forward Sergio García, who ripped open the Madrid defense and dumbfounded Iker Casillas with the opener. Although Real Madrid came from behind and took the lead eventually to give it up again, the first goal made it clear that Spanish champions were in for a long and cold night. With Ronaldo and Coentrao on the scoring chart, Real Madrid submitted their lead again in the dying moments of the match, this time to Juan Albin. “I think it is almost impossible. We are talking about ten points that could be 13 today, and in December that is a lot,” said a Jose Mourinho who, they say, is supposedly as gritty as they get.
Lionel Messi v Radamel Falcao
That’s what the media christened the clash between the top two teams in Spain. Leo and El Tigre did well, but if one looks at the game beyond the top two offensive players in Spain, Sergio Busquets had an amazing game with quite an impact. The best part about Sergio’s game is his simplicity and intelligence. He scored his first goal of the season with a cool finish. Radamel Falcao did justice to his reputation with a goal that was nothing short of splendid. The surprising thing is that it was a Leo Messi error which led to the goal. The Argentine lost the ball cheekily to Diego Costa who passed it to Falcao just near the centre line. A sublime first touch, followed by raw pace and composure and then a delightful chip over Victor Valdes for an exquisite finish; Atletico got the lead at the Camp Nou.
However, as Vilanova’s team has done on a number of occasions this season, Barca came back from behind. A special mention must be made of Adriano’s goal which is perhaps the goal of the weekend by a distance. After a brief moment on the right flank, the Brazilian cut in and took an audacious shot from outside the box, with his left foot and even a promising 6’5” goalkeeper couldn’t get close to it at full stretch – a goal par excellence. And then the Barca magic started with Busquets, and Leo getting the rest. Lionel Messi got his 90th official goal of the season. With 15 wins, 1 draw and 54 goals – Vilanova’s Barcelona couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, especially when their nearest contender is trailing by 9 points.
Rest Of Spain
Valencia and Sevilla dropped points at home against Rayo and Malaga respectively. Malaga are fourth in the league, 5 points adrift of Madrid and they have played some scintillating football this season. Ernesto Valverde lost his first match as Valencia manager after a brilliant start. A mistake from Tino Costa led to a penalty which was converted by former Valencia man Alejandro Dominguez. Valencia now lie 11th in the league with only 6 wins from 16 games. Rayo, who were behind Valencia have now made an entry in the top 10.
Sevilla had more chances but they were wasteful and were punished by Malaga. The visitors had a pedestrian first half but they stepped up after the break and Martin Demichelis put them ahead 5 minutes into the second half. Alvaro Negredo had a decent game in comparison to his teammates and hit the post at the beginning. Around the 70 minute mark, Fazio was red-carded for a professional foul on Joaquin inside the penalty box. Portuguese international Eliseu converted from the spot and gave Malaga the lead which eventually guaranteed them all three points.
Elsewhere, Zaragoza lost to Levante at home and the latter have leapfrogged Betis to fifth position, albeit Pepe Mel’s side have a game in hand. A first half goal from Ruben Garcia was enough to earn Levante all three points.
Athletic Bilbao won their 6th match of the season against Mallorca on Saturday. An Aritz Aduriz goal in the 11th minute and an exceptional performance from Iraizoz and Aurtenetxe were highlights of the match. Perhaps Bielsa is preparing Bilbao for life after Llorente.
Statistics Round Up
1. Lionel Messi how has 90 official goals in 2012 and he is yet to score 1 goal in a match. All his league scalps are braces and 1 hattrick.
2. FC Barcelona broke Real Madrid’s 1991-92 record of the best start to the league campaign with 12 wins in 13 matches. Surprisingly, Real Madrid didn’t win that season – Barcelona did. So Vilanova is right in keeping his team grounded.
3. Lionel Messi (25) now has more goals than Cristiano Ronaldo (14), Higuain (7) and Benzema (3) combined.
Goal Of The Week
Adriano’s blistering strike against Atletico Madrid has to be the GOTW. A stunning left-footed shot which left a 6’5” goalkeeper, at full stretch, lacking. Stunner to say the least.