Barcelona new low, Real on a high No ratings yet.

Barcelona roller-coaster season continues with a home defeat to mediocre Real Betis. Madrid giants took the opportunity to close the gap.

12th match-day in LaLiga brought a major surprise with the Andaluzian green and white claiming all spoils at Nou Camp.

Barcelona slump

Barcelona trouble

Home game against Betis had all the necessary ingredients for an easy, Barcelona-like goal difference boosting league match with a routine win.

Midweek point against Inter in Champions League that sealed the qualification to the next phase held the mood high. Messi’s return to action after the injury upped the atmosphere additionally. And the opponent had scored a solitary goal in previous 5 away games.

What can you expect in these circumstances? Total domination in a high scoring win.

In the end that’s exactly what happened however not to the hosts liking.

Right from the start it was clear that Barca can’t create as much as would have expected. Initial apparent supremacy was cut short by Betis goal.

Defensive frailty      

After 20 minutes, in which both sides created some interesting situations in opposition’s box, Betis took the lead. And naturally in the most predictable way – counter attack.

Junior Firpo entered the box from the left and cut in onto his right foot. Sergi Roberto, not a natural defender, tried to confront him and deny shooting space, if it can be said so. However the Brazilian found enough time and space to release a shot that left no chance to Ter Stegen.

Betis celebration

If he was cutting inside you’d expect one of the center back’s to be there to watch Sergi’s back. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Admittedly, Barcelona’s right back didn’t cover himself with glory on the occasion anyway some kind of back-up should be there.

Firstly, because it has to. Following defensive basics, every player has to have somebody covering his back.

Secondly, the nearest Firpo’s teammate was some 20 to 25 meters away! And between them, beside Sergi, 4(!) other Barcelona players. Four! Chasing shadows. Taking a rest. Not sure what were they doing, but surely they were not defending.

Catalan pride was never known for their defending and fans are used to see similar scenes. Therefore probably weren’t too much concerned especially as soon after had a close range sitter saved by Pau Lopez in visitor’s goal. Our time is here, probably crossed their mind.

Barca team most likely believed the same as stubbornly refused to defend!

Not an accident

Pique

As if trailing by a goal wasn’t enough of a challenge for them, the hosts time and again allowed too much space for the opposition to thrive in. Subsequent warning shots weren’t taken seriously and Betis duly doubled their advantage.

This time they didn’t even bother to pose any kind of resistance! Joaquin was left undisturbed to slot into an empty net some 6-7 meters from goal.

If Lenglet and Jordi Alba at least pretended to mark somebody, Pique and Sergi Roberto didn’t bother even that much to at least fake it.

They did, however, learn the lesson from the first goal and watched each others back. Shame that the threat was coming from somewhere else…

After the break Barcelona went all out attack and eventually scored, courtesy of a gifted penalty by Betis defence, who until that point looked very tight and organized.

Game back on, you’d think! But since blaugrana apparently decided that won’t do any sort of defending in this game the goalkeeper shouldn’t be any exception. It was a rare mistake by the usually very dependable shot-stopper.

And to make things worst the goal came only a couple of minutes after Barcelona reduced the deficit. 71st minute, 1-3, but still a lot to come.

Till the last minute lack of the very minimum of concentration and attention on both sides helped to make it an entertaining, high-scoring and dramatic match.

Messi not enough

Messi scored two goals, had a few of trademark runs throughout the match and some decent shots but even he can’t make up for a collective black-out.

Messi vs Betis

One of the stand-out members of the team and Catalonia in general, Pique, had a lapse of concentration that lasted for some 95 minutes. On several occasions was recalled from the manager but ultimately didn’t help.

Barcelona’s performances and particularly results this season oscillate from great, like the mauling of Real Madrid and Inter, to ridiculous, like defeats to Leganes and Betis.

Since it’s not an isolated incident it makes you wonder what to expect when the crucial part of the season arrives. What kind of Barcelona will we see against top European sides in international competition and in domestic season-defining trips to Madrid?

Betis will cherish the 3-4 victory in one of the most iconic stadiums in the world for a very long time. And rightfully so.

Real Madrid’s resurrection

Benzema scoring

Since Santi Solari took over the reins Real Madrid started to score goals and stopped conceding them. True, opposition faced in the last few weeks was far from world class but in September and October anyone could take the famous scalp.

This weekend’s trip to Vigo was pointed out as the trickiest fixture at the beginning of the short tenure.

But since Benzema remembered that he’s a top notch striker and found his shooting boots, Celta couldn’t prove too big of an obstacle.

Even if in the end the hosts had more possession and provided some attacking threat Real’s win was just and deserved.

Solari has been offered to guide the team further on, as expected, due to result  tendency overturned and lack of quality alternatives. Hopefully he’ll make the best of it and build a reputation as a manager. But don’t expect any Zidane effect.

Catching up

After the disastrous clasico defeat title challenge looked unrealistic. Both in terms of performances and point gap.

However, if Real continues to improve his game and Barcelona keeps blowing hot and cold we could be in for a very interesting season.

Solari satisfied

Especially with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid, both winning by minimal margin this weekend, not giving up.

And Deportivo Alaves and Espanyol still hanging in there. Surely not title contenders but potential party-breakers for somebody.

Elsewhere

Surprises also elsewhere, beside in Barcelona, as Valencia, 4th Spanish team in the CL this season, won away to Getafe. Strange to hear, I agree, but it’s only second league victory for Los Che.

Somewhat expected visitor’s triumph in Valencia where Real Sociedad, best league record on the road, won against high-flying Levante. The Valencia outfit, nicknamed the frogs, have an indifferent home record but still sit in 8th place with just 3 point shy of Real Madrid.

Barcelona’s lack of defensive stability this season has been one of the talking points. If they don’t find a solution quickly Madrid giants and possibly also Sevilla will soon overtake the lead.

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Solari Santiago – the cure? No ratings yet.

Santiago Solari took the reins as Real Madrid manager after the club released Julien Lopetegui the day after the El Clasico debacle.

The inevitable thing happened. Real Madrid appointed new manager after disastrous September and October. Julien Lopetegui was shown the door and Santiago Hernan Solari took his place. Born October 7 1976 in Rosario, Argentina, Solari is a familiar face at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Solari the player

I’m sure by now all football lovers learned his history as a player and as a manager in Real’s youth teams. Extremely talented and smart player, Solari managed to find a lot of playing space in the Galactico era beginning of the century.

By now you all refreshed your memory with his success and the part he played in the goal of the century scored by his predecessor in the hot-seat.

You’ve also read that after over 200 games played for the Madrid giant he headed to Internazionale Milan and spent there 3 years. He won 3 scudetti in Italy however he wasn’t as influential as he was in Madrid.

After the European experience he went back home to River Plate, the club that lunched him in professional football. After a single season he went North to Mexico and eventually ended his playing career in Uruguay with Penarol.

Personally, I have fond memories of him as a player. To tell you the truth I always bought him on Football Manager. A left winger with a lot of creativity, precise crossing and dazzling dribbling abilities but also responsible and not afraid to take the responsibility and shoot when given the opportunity.

You could see that he understands the game and what managers demand from him. He wasn’t publicly exposed as some of his teammates however in terms of football intelligence, class and talent he was rightfully part of that group of players that beside aforementioned Zidane included the likes of Ronaldo, Figo, Raul, Roberto Carlos et al.

Solari

What to expect?

 

It’s hard to predict what to expect from him as a Madrid interim manager.

Solari’s record as a youth team manager is a mixed bag. He didn’t set the league on fire, didn’t achieve headline-grabbing results and didn’t have to deal with international superstars that have no issues in telling the manager to shut up.

For all comparison drawn with Zidane I see some big differences between their coaching paths.

Solari Zidane

Not Zidane

For once, Zidane was Ancelotti’s deputy for a couple of seasons. Daily worked alongside the manager mostly renewed for his human abilities. Ancelotti is a great tactician, proved it on more then a few occasions, however his ability to establish a close relationship with the players and thus getting the best out of them is probably his distinguished quality.

Zinedine had the chance to observe the master at work for a very long time and being an intelligent person picked up some important tips.

Solari has been the club as manager at youth level long enough to learn from both however not on daily basis.

Secondly, Zidane won literally everything as a player. When somebody walks into the Merengue dressing room and wants to be heard needs to have something that back-up his words. Who can have more backing then Zidane?

As said Solari spent 5 years at Madrid and played an important role in the team’s success but was never the standout personality of the team. Collected only 11 caps for Argentina and never won greatest individual prizes.

Thirdly, the Frenchman inherited the squad from a highly unpopular manager among the squad. Getting the team on your side wasn’t that hard.

The Argentinian is succeeding a manager who had a good portion of the team on his side. Lopetegui was even presented to Perez as possible substitution for Zidane by captain Ramos and other Spanish national team players.

Fourthly, Zidane had Ronaldo in the squad. That’s an easy 50 goals per campaign. And the whole team was hungry for success.

Solari is inheriting a team that has unbelievable trouble to score goals. Real is having a lot of shots on goal but can’t seem to hit the net. And doesn’t have a player with 50 goals. Neither 2 of 25.

What are Solari’s chances?

Within the next 2 weeks Real has to nominate the new full time manager, according to La Liga rules.

In these 2 weeks Real will play in Spanish Cup against lower league Melilla, league match against Real Valladolid, CL clash with Victoria Plzen and a tricky visit to Celta Vigo. Even if his team win all of these matches nothing extraordinary would happen.

However, not everything is lost in advance and Santiago has a few aces up his sleeve.

Competition

One of them is that currently available coaches are publicly being discredited by most representative players. Conte has been given for granted however Ramos lately gave significant statements that could prevent Perez from pursuing the Italian.

Conte

Plus Conte has legal issues to solve with Chelsea before he can take over at another club. And his overall requests are quite demanding.

Arsene Wenger is free and could sign immediately but he’s not much of an upgrade from Conte in terms of managing style. Just ask Robin Van Persie why he left Arsenal for Manchester United.

Wenger

Other candidates being mentioned in the media lately (Maurizio Pochettino, Roberto Martinez and even Jose Mourinho) have valid contracts with other employers and having them released so soon isn’t possible. Or at least very hard.

Therefore if Solari manages to avoid embarrassing results in the next few weeks, produces acceptable football style and wins, he might get a chance to see out the season.

Vinicius Junior

Beside lack of valuable alternatives another ace in his sleeve could be Vinicius Junior. The young Brazilian attacker has been overlooked by Lopetegui. Since there isn’t anybody who’s scoring goals a bet on the summer acquisition can’t make things any worse. The youngster certainly has the ability to play on this level and could prove a hit. Validating an investment is always a good thing.

Sentence

He’s been thrown at the deep end but he’s familiar with the environment, expectations and knows how things work at the club.

Had the chance to follow closely, as a player and also manager at the club, how to treat superstars and squeeze out the best of them. He has to learn extremely fast how to apply the knowledge.

Solari 2

His predecessor didn’t set a high standard, squad has a lot of quality and experience, has a prodigy to count upon and the market isn’t offering anything outstanding that can be appointed quickly. And also the opposition he’ll be facing in the trial period isn’t extraordinary so he has a chance to bring home some points.

All in all Solari just might earn the right to manage the team till end of the season. I’m not expecting any Zidane effect but a decent campaign. And if Perez throws in a valuable player or two in January, who knows, we could be surprised.

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Barcelona vs Real Madrid No ratings yet.

Barcelona vs Real Madrid, the game of all games. El Clasico has become more than a football match a long time ago. And it’s a long time since its meaning and influence has outgrown the Spanish borders.

In the general Franco era the Barca stadium was one the the very few places where catalans could be, well, Catalans. Probably this is one of the reasons of the clubs motto mess que un club. And what better way to promote it then when you play the capital representative?

History of the El Classico

First game was played in Madrid in 1902. The occasion was a tournament organized by King of Spain Alfonso XIII and it included the Basque club Vizcaya. Barca won against then-called Madrid FC 3-1 but lost in the final against the Basques.

First league match was played in 1929 when the Spanish domestic competition started. Real payed visit to Barcelona on match-day 2 and won 2-1. On the reverse fixture Barcelona returned the favor and won 1-0 in Madrid clinching the title in the process.

Games played over 100 years ago mean nothing for today’s outcome however last game was some 6 months ago and still meant next to nothing as too many changes happened since. It ended 2-2 at Camp Nou with the home side down to 10 men for the whole second half. Interestingly, in that match both teams scored very similar goals. One from a nice team move and the other an individual effort from Messi and Bale from the edge of the area.

In total 238 clasicos were played with Real in slim advantage. 95 wins for Los Blancos against 93 for Barcelona. 50 matches ended in a draw. 

El Clasico nr. 239

El Clasico

Much publicized Ronaldo and Messi absence threatened to take away all the stardust from the encounter. However both teams posses enough talent in their ranks to offer us an entertaining match. At least Barca do!

It all started in pretty familiar fashion; Barca kept the ball and Real chased it while trying to keep it tight in defence. It didn’t work! Already in the first real attack Barca got the lead. Rakitič found Alba with a thru ball, the Spaniard went undisturbed till the goal-line and cut back a pass that Coutinho just couldn’t miss; 1-0. Real barely held any possession and already had to chase the game.

Coutinho goal

The goal apparently shook the European champions as couldn’t calm down and in the space of just a few minutes Ramos gave away the ball on two occasions that could cost the visitors dearly.

It was only in 24th minute that Real managed a prolonged possession. And when it happened, well, Barca doubled the lead.

As everybody likes to hold statistics for first times, this El Calsico provided another first time; VAR penalty.

Alba won space for a cross again, Suarez got in front of Varane who inevitably brought him down. The referee had to be warned by his assistants in the studio to check the video. For the majority of the fans in front of the screens it was clear; penalty for Barca.

Suarez took it expertly and even if Courtuois was close the ball hit the net; 2-0 and virtually game over.

Suarez goal

In the first half Real managed to test Ter Stegen’s awareness. In fact Bale, Marcelo and Ramos just checked if he was awake at all! It looked as if the trio had an internal bet on who can take a shot from greater distance! Bale dared from some 22 meters in complete imbalance, Marcelo from 25 with his right foot and Ramos from over 30 meters.

No Ronaldo – big problem

And that was pretty much everything Real prepared for the first half.

After the second goal Barcelona seemed to leave the initiative to Real and was happy to wait for mistakes to exploit all the space in behind the visitor’s back-line. And duly got into some interesting positions that had to be taken!

Rafinha with an over-powered thru ball, Coutinho with a mistimed jump and Suarez with a completely missed cross, didn’t react as top class players as they are.

So what conclusions could be taken at half time?

Barca was 2-0 up and could be at least 4 or 5-0. Real was catastrophic!

Couldn’t hold possession, couldn’t get the ball into dangerous areas, couldn’t defend, couldn’t press with purpose, couldn’t … anything!

Modrič didn’t have a kick, Isco couldn’t find any space between the lines so he came very deep to get on the ball. Nacho was being torn apart on the flank, Casemiro couldn’t even count the opposition much less get close to it. Ramos misplaced few bloody passes, Varane wasn’t focused, Benzema… was he even there?

In short, nothing worked!

Second half

Whatever Lopetegui would come up during the interval would be better then the first half. And he came with a big surprise!

The move that he made I wouldn’t guessed in 100 years! And I’m sure very few would! He brought on Lucas Vasquez for Varane!

The change required also a formation change that could be interpreted in various ways; perhaps it was a desperate move from a desperate man. Maybe he’s already preparing the team to Conte’s preferred formation. Possibly it was to prove to his boss and everybody else that he’s capable of tactical twists. 

Whatever the reason, it worked! Well, at least for 15 minutes.

Lucas went to the right-wing slot, Casemiro stepped in-between Nacho and Ramos, Kroos took the Brazilian’s place in front of the defence and Marcelo hugged the left-hand line. This allowed more space for Modrič and Isco in the central areas to search for pockets of space from where they could hurt the opponent.

It looked as a 3-4-1-2 or a 3-5-2, very unusual for the team from the capital.

Lopetegui

And after Suarez gave the ball to Ramos in a 5 on 4 situation, Real collected the fruits of the change. Lucas found space on the right flank, served Isco in depth who immediately cut the ball back into the area. Lenglet could only deflect it and the sphere flew straight to Marcelo in the middle of the area. The flamboyant full-back calmed the ball on the chest and in an elastic stretch re-opened the game. With his right foot. Again!

Lifeline?

I wrote that Real can’t depend on the Brazilians weaker foot to get the goals but apparently they have no other option considering the form of the attackers.

It was 49th minute and at last there was a game to be played! And after Modrič hit the post just 5 minutes after Marcelo’s goal it looked as if Real was ready to produce a historical come-back!

That was a period where Barcelona had big trouble coming over the half-way line, couldn’t keep possession and couldn’t hold Madrid’s attacks at bay.

Real’s resurrection was short lived. Soon after Modrič missed to level the game Barca found the rhythm, organized the pressing and stopped chasing shadows.

Blanco’s dominance ended already in the 60th minute when Barca had prolonged possession and finalized it with a fantastic team move that brought Suarez to hit the post too.

Before the game went completely out of reach for the visitors Benzema showed why they miss Ronaldo so much. Lucas again broke free on the right side and provided an exquisite cross. The Frenchman was some 4 meters from the goal with the ball on his head but managed to send it over the bar, for the relief of the Blaugrana fans and players alike.

Valverde, who saw that the opposition is growing and finding too much space to play in, went for additional cover. In came Nelson Semedo for the uninspired Rafinha. Anyway, the results of this change were yet to be seen when Real had its last moment.

Valverde

Good pressing forced Ter Stegen to anticipate the kick. The ball ended in central midfield, worst place it could finish when you’re pressed. Real regained possession and Isco served a golden ball to Benzema only for the under-fire (ex)striker not being ready when it mattered most, again!

No Messi – no problem

On the other side Suarez is always ready! Sergi Roberto, who moved up the pitch with the introduction of Semedo, swerved an inviting cross for the Uruguayan striker. Unlike his counterpart, Suarez hit a perfect header and left Courtois with no chance. Some 12 meters out! 3-1 to Barcelona and game over. Again!

Lopetegui tried last joker he had in his sleeve, Marco Asensio. The Spanish next big thing came on for the inconclusive Bale, the supposed star of the team after the Portuguese super-star left Santiago Bernabeu.

Right after coming on Asensio had a shooting chance but he sent it over. Right after another promising situation went down the drain, the home side decided that they won’t allow any more surprises.

Ramos miss-controlled a simple ball, Sergi Roberto bounced on it and served the hero of the night in space, free on goal.

The Uruguay striker just got third child in midweek, Lautaro, and had to celebrate family increase with a personal hat-trick. Once in front of the Belgian in Madrid’s goal he went for a soft chip. Deft touch that cleared all doubts.

Minute was 83rd and you’d think that the home side had enough but when it comes to crushing the rivals from the Spanish capital, it’s never enough. And duly produced another reason for joy to the fans.

Dembele, who came on for Coutinho, got away from Nacho on the left with incredible ease and chipped in a ball that was begging to get nodded in. Timely came across another reserve player, Vidal, who accepted the invitation. 5-1!

Out of Benz

And if there were any hopes for Benzema to prove that he can secure part of the goals Ronaldo did, they all died in the 90th minute. Lovely one-two with Mariano, on for the injured Marcelo, on the edge of the box freed him in front of Ter Stegen. Nice move but ugly finish. The story of Real under Lopetegui.

Benzema

The last 10 years or so Real got used to this kind of treatment at the Camp Nou. With some honorable exceptions, they always get beat. Hard!

And now Barcelona is just a win shy of Real in overall head-to-head counting!

What next, Perez?

If this result doesn’t bring an end to Lopetegui’s reign in Madrid I don’t know what will. However, his dismissal will only serve to mask the faults of the board and the president over the summer.

Antonio Conte has been heavily tipped as the next on the hot-seat. Excellent coach with proven winning mentality and results to back up his uncompromising rhetoric when it comes to justify team selection and under-par performances.

After years of success in international football Real will need bigger change then just the manager. The current squad has been together for some time now and fresh blood is needed in order to regain the hunger needed to achieve great results. And high quality in the end zone also!

Barcelona vs Real Madrid ended in familiar fashion, Barca demolishing the opposition, and it’s not funny any more. For nobody!

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