Vilanova-less Barcelona Win Again; Mourinho Drops Iker Casillas

The last match-week before the Christmas break has been quite an eventful one. First Barcelona lost their manager to a relapse of cancer and amidst speculations, Jordi Roura took over as the interim manager. Vilanova underwent an operation on his parotid gland last Thursday, and the 44-year old will now be undergoing chemotherapy for 6 weeks. Barcelona has had personnel undergoing serious health issues in the past few seasons, especially the 2011-12. They had to surrender the La Liga primarily because of injuries to key personnel and despite their manager being subjected to unwarranted health issues, Barcelona look well set to regain control over La Liga.

Real Madrid look distraught. As if on field issues weren’t enough, Real now has severe off field problems too. Iker Casillas, the talisman of the club, was dropped last weekend against Malaga. Jose Mourinho, not only underestimated Malaga, but also tried to exert his dominance as the boss of the team – they moves backfired terribly and now Real find themselves 7 points adrift of Atletico Madrid, who lie second. Jose Mourinho’s men are now 16 points behind Barcelona and the self-proclaimed “Special One” has already given up on the La Liga. And the manager’s attitude has been rubbed on the team as well, when Ramos admitted the same. The fact that they have drawn English heavyweights, Manchester United, in the next round of the Champions League isn’t good news either.

Vilanova-less Barca Conquer Valladolid

Barcelona started their match against Valladolid with Jordi Roura as the interim manager. Thiago Alcantara got a start after quite some time and had a decent outing. Leo and Xavi had a great outing, like they usually do, but Pedro impressed despite not finding the back of the net. He hit the post once but looked livelier than he usually does. Alexis Sanchez disappointed yet again and perhaps its high time Villa gets back into the scheme of things for Barcelona and their title aspirations. Sergio Busquets, although sparsely given the recognition he deserves had a good outing and made the game look easy for the Catalans despite some concerns during the first quarter.

Dani Alves had one of the better games this season. He looked out of steam and jaded but against Valladolid the Brazilian looked good

Perhaps, time’s running out

and allowed Pedro to move freely. Valladolid put pressure on Barcelona in the first quarter of the game and forced the team to mispass. Gradually the visitors got into the groove and took control. An important aspect for the Barcelona defense was that Pique looked well poised and was at ease with the ball. His potential as a defender was never in doubt and on the last match day of the year, he showed once again as to why he is considered as one of the top centre-backs on the planet. Jordi is undoubtedly Barcelona’s signing of the season (given the only other was Alex Song, who hasn’t yet settled in). His assist from a stunning Leo Messi pass found Xavi and broke the deadlock. Later into the game, David Villa came in and the Barcelona attack looked even more incisive. Lionel Messi finally did something which he hadn’t done in the 2012-13 season so far – he scored a single goal. Not a brace of a hattrick, just one goal and ended the year with 91 goals. Not even a few top-notch teams in Europe have such numbers, leave alone players. And the icing on the cake is that he has had 25 assists too on the way – sublime stuff.

Cristian Tello, who recently signed a contract, found the back of the net with unnerving ease minutes after coming on. His rise has somewhat stunted the opportunities for Cuenca, who might be on his way to Valencia on loan, come the winter transfer window.

Real Madrid Dropped Iker Casillas

Although all the attention was on the omission of Iker Casillas – the talisman of Real Madrid, the fact remains that Madrid are a huge 7

Casillas

Distraught Casillas

points adrift of their cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. Jose Mourinho men have lost 2 of the last three matches and drawn the other one. This is a mini-crisis in the bigger one and Real Madrid look highly unstable. Last week The manager’s tactical experiment didn’t really pay-off. With Ronaldo and Ozil on the wings, Modric in the centre and Callejon upfront. This week the decision to drop Iker Casillas was nothing short of a disaster. As per reports emerging in reputed international dailies, Mourinho tagged the exclusion of Iker as a “purely tactical” decision and when further questioned whether he thought Adan was more competent than Casillas, his answer was surprisingly in the affirmative. One might just wonder, it is perhaps these intricacies make his the self-proclaimed “Special One.”

Malaga, surprisingly managed by another Real Madrid outcast – Manuel Pellegrini, was underestimated and Real paid the price. Although the first half belonged to Real Madrid, the were clearly outplayed in the second. Cristiano Ronaldo, in the race to win the FIFA Ballon d’Or trophy alongside Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, missed a chance which might just cast a shadow of doubt in his inclusion in the top three. Nevertheless, Ronaldo still remains one of the top footballers on the planet, if not the best.

Isco showcased the wonderful talent that he is, and at 20 he will only get better. Spain’s midfield is in safe hands. Khedira perhaps could have done a little better in order to obstruct Isco’s shot and give Adan some more assurance in his first high-profile match. Jose Mourinho got the equation wrong and even the introduction of Callejon in place of Arbeloa didn’t work in Madrid’s favour. Later, Malaga defender Sanchez scored an own-goal from a Ronaldo assist. Roque Santa Cruz scored one for the hosts to give them the lead once again and later got the winner as well. The introduction of Kaka for Di Maria did not help the team. Real’s second goal was perhaps a gift from Malaga, but the team still lacked the intent to score the equalizer.

Reports have emerged from Spain regarding quite a few skirmishes in the Madrid camp. It started with Raul leaving unceremoniously followed by Valdano. Later Zidane too departed quietly, although it is a known fact that he went out to complete his coaching qualifications. The conflict involving Ramos and Ozil too made headlines. And now the Iker Casillas conundrum. The common link is however, the man from Portugal who made history with the likes of Porto and Inter Milan. Casillas however, has been a thorough gentleman and has accepted the manager’s supremacy without much hue and cry. Talisman indeed.

Rest Of Spain

The clash between the La Liga laggards meant that one would be going into the Christmas break, the happier team and it’s the team from Barcelona. Espanyol continued their good form and defeated Deportivo and almost moved out of the relegation zone. Former Barcelona player, Simao scored around the half hour mark to secure the lead, which was doubled in the dying moments of the match by Christian Stuani. The loss leaves Super Depor at the bottom of the table with just 12 points from 17 games. Survival looks bleak for the team, which won the La Liga at the beginning of the decade.

Rayo beat Levante by three goals to nil – a surprising result given Levante’s form this season. Garcia, Piti and Vazquez found the back of the net for Rayo. Levante now lies sixth, with 27 points from 17 games and Rayo lies eighth, two points adrift in the same number of matches.

Sevilla lost yet again. This time to Sociedad. And it’s been quite some time that they’d won a game in the league. Carlos Vela opened the scoring for Sociedad in the 18th minute, which was cancelled by Medel 5 minutes into the second half. Bella scored after the hour mark to give Sociedad the final goal of the night and all three points.

Atletico, Valencia and Mallorca won their respective matches against Celta Vigo, Getafe and Betis. The match between Valencia and Getafe proved to be a goal fest with 6 goals scored. Valencia scored four and Getafe the rest. Soldado, Jonas, Ricardo Costa and Nelson Valdez scored for the hosts and Alvaro Vasquez and Alexis found the net for Getafe.

La Liga has now gone into a vacation mode and all the actions will be back, no sooner that the first weekend of January, 2013. With the winter transfer window, due in a few days, a lot of action might be seen in the next few days and the equation might change with modification in the squad, come the year 2013.

Top Scorers

Lionel Messi FC Barcelona

26

Radamel Falcao Atletico Madrid

17

Cristiano Ronaldo Real Madrid

14

Aritz Aduriz Athletic Bilbao

10

Ruben Castro Real Betis

9