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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Red Star euphoria and Monaco chaos No ratings yet.

Red Star made history in Belgrade by beating Liverpool on Champions League’s match-day 4 in group C. The Serbian side did the same already however it was over 45 years ago.

Champions League doesn’t provide a lot of surprises in terms of winners but in the group stages there are some. And this season we’ve had 1 major surprise every round. But the developments in the Serbian capital on Tuesday night are beyond every immagination – rookie in the competition wins against last season’s runner-up.

Red Star make history

As Napoli already felt in the opening game, there’s nothing to cheer about when you’re visitor in the famous Marakana, now Rajko Mitić stadium. Even if the red and white didn’t have a great game and actually had a lot of luck when earning a point against the Partenopei, they got it.

Red Star Liverpool

Tuesday night, however, the victory was well earned. After shipping in 10 goals in the last two CL trips to Paris and Liverpool you’d be forgiven if you wouldn’t give the Serbs a chance. And after their first choice forward was ruled out, slims chances took another cut.

Milan Pavkov

But in tight situation heroes are born and new hero in the Balkan country is Milan Pavkov. Who? Milan Pavkov.

To tell you the truth I didn’t hear of him either before his heroics against the Reds so more then the obvious I can’t explain.

Red Star Pavkov

He’s been at the club since 2016 but has managed just a few goals in the first season. The ever-demanding football public in Belgrade derided him however club president maintained his faith in the player.

To calm the surroundings the player was sent on loan to Radnički Niš last season where he flourished with 23 goals. That convinced everybody that there’s something in the big target man and he was brought back this summer.

The return wasn’t all roses either and until his double against the English giant he scored 5 goals in domestic league. And that’s much saying much given the quality of the competition.

In the CL preliminary rounds he did have some playing time but without any particular success. Apparently he’s a big occasion player and after his last performance more pitch time is guaranteed and we’ll just have to wait and see if he can deliver with higher expectations.

The game

Anyway, Liverpool opened the game in familiar fashion and after a sitter missed by Sturridge at the beginning it looked as if another high-scoring result is on the cards.

But the home side refused to just roll over and die! After the initial scare went by and some equilibrium was installed, Pavkov rose highest and nodded home an inviting cross from a corner.

Heating atmosphere in the stadium gave even more courage and while the guests were still wondering what happened Pavkov hit again.

This time it was an individual action as his relentless pressing awarded him a ball on the half-way line. He resisted Wijnaldum’s come-back, adjusted the ball on his preferred right foot and fired a thunderbolt past a helpless Alisson from 20 meters.

30 minutes played and 2-0 for the heavy underdog.

Red Star Salah

In little more then 5 minutes 2 strikes and the stadium erupted! If it was hot till then, it must felt like hell for Liverpool since.

The Beatles city team upped the pressure, controlled the game and found a way to be dangerous however I don’t remember any clear-cut chances of miracles from the home side goalkeeper.

Liverpool can be glad that both confrontations between Napoli and PSG ended without winners and actually have still everything in their own hands.

It’s now a very tricky situation in the group standings with 2 games left to play and all teams being within 2 points. Nobody gave Red Star any particular chance in getting any point from the 6 games they got to play and now they’re in with a shot of qualifying for the next stage. Perhaps to optimistic but the chances are there.

Juventus implosion

It might not be such a big surprise as in Belgrade but Manchester United’s victory in Turin against Juventus is surely a contender for top 3 surprises in CL this season.

It didn’t look like that at all at the beginning. The Bianconeri were their usual dominating self, controlling the proceedings and having the English counterpart on the ropes for over 80 minutes.

Chances were coming at will and if there wasn’t De Gea with his saves there was a post of a crossbar to keep Khedira and Dybala at bay respectively.

Juventus

However in the 65th minute Juventus finally got its break-thru with a fantastic finish from the star man – Ronaldo. Bonucci sent an exquisite over-the-top invite and the Portuguese super-star finished with rarely seen accuracy and power to finally give the much-deserved lead for the home side.

The punishment

Since the Red Devils have looked uninspired and unmotivated, their usual self this season, few could have predicted what followed.

The goal shook the visitors but the reaction needed some more time to be seen. Eventually Mata scored from a free-kick in the 86th minute and even a draw would be too much for the performance.

However, shocks weren’t over yet.

We’ve already learned that Juventus is so dominant this season that a lack of challenge brings the worst out of them. It happened against Genoa in Serie A a few weeks ago and it happened again last night.

Just a few minutes after the equalizer Manchester took advantage of Italian champions’ relaxation and scored again! Well, they didn’t have to because Bonucci and Alex Sandro took care of it by scoring an own goal in comical circumstances.

It’s hard to explain what happened but in the end doesn’t even matter too much. Mourinho and his team got an important win and reminded Allegri and his squad of a crucial moment in football matches. IT NOT OVER UNTIL THE FINAL WHISTLE IS BLOWN!

You’d expect such an experienced team to learn their lesson and see out games they deserved to win with greater authority. However, over-confidence obviously got the better of much-needed humility and fooled them. Again!

Proposal to Mourinho

This season his team has decided to play only in second half. I’m not sure if it’s a strategy, a necessity or just happens but in majority of first halves Manchester United was horrific. Against Juve, Chelsea and numerous other times United just stood there the first 45 minutes and let the opposition run them ragged.

Mourinho

Since it’s a trend this year Mourinho should have his team play an internal game for 45 minutes before the official match kick-off. In that way when the actual game starts they’d be already playing 2nd half . Perhaps in this way they would play the whole match on expected level. Even if in the later stages of the game Mourinho’s team would be a bit tired by then the result would probably be gained and could let the opposition chase the result.

Perhaps it’s an idea worth exploring.

Monaco chaos

AS Monaco is a club with rich tradition and with some success along the way. As far as last season played perhaps the most entertaining football on the continent and more importantly gained results.

This season it’s in complete chaos! On-field performances are bordering on the ridiculous and the league table clearly shows it. 

Coach change is inevitable in such situations however it didn’t bring any positive effect. Thierry Henry is a legend and his football knowledge is beyond doubt. However leading a demotivated and seemingly tense group of players appears to be a bridge too far for a managerial debut on the highest level.

Henry

Owner’s arrest and suspicion of fraud doesn’t help either and I wouldn’t be surprised if a talent exodus would be on the table in January. The talent is there and there won’t be any shortage of suitors. But given the club’s situation many of them could be sold way bellow market value.

Goals conceded against Club Brugge demonstrate current atmosphere in the camp. No focus, no idea what’s going on and no vision. Just confusion, lack of concentration and general state of shock!

The rest

Of the rest no stand-out results.

Inter got an undeserved point at home against Barcelona with the usual Icardi finding a way past Ter Stegen. At the end both will take it without stress as the result helps both clubs closer to the objective.

Tottenham got a laboured victory against PSV to keep the hopes alive. However, to secure progression they need to stop giving away early and cheap goals.

Napoli also got an undeserved point but because should got all 3 of them against timid PSG. The French champions will be glad with the result but they must improve drastically if they wish to advance to the next stage.

Manchester City fired 6 past Pyatov at the Etihad stadium. The performance was as dominant as ever but the game will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. It’s hard to explain, you have to see for yourself.

However, in Sterling’s defence, the goal he scored beginning of the 2nd half was simply brilliant.

Bayern Munich won against AEK to book its place in the knock-out phase but can’t be considered out of crisis. What the demanding public has to watch at the Allianz Arena isn’t worth of the glorious history the club carries and the squad assembled.

Ajax got and important point in Lisbon in their quest to make it in the next round.

Roma did the same in Moscow.

And Real Madrid’s resurrection under the guidance of Santiago Solari continues. 3 games, 3 wins, 11 goals scored and 0 conceded. That’s a record suitable to Real’s fame. The opposition wasn’t exactly world-beaters however neither was Real lately. And the fact that Benzema still remembers where the goal stands and started to hit it is a very good sign.

Red Star produced the shock of the round this time. That’s the beauty of the Champions League. Let’s hope leaked changes in the making don’t ruin the beautiful game.

Full results:

Group A

 Monaco 0 – 4 Club Brugge

 Atletico Madrid 2 – 0 Borussia Dortmund

Group B

 Inter 1 – 1 Barcelona

 Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 PSV Eindhoven

Group C

 Red Star 2 – 0 Liverpool

 Napoli 1 – 1 Paris Saint Germain

Group D

 FC Porto 4 – 1 Lokomotiv Moscow

 Schalke 04 2 – 0 Galatasaray

Group E

 FC Bayern München 2 – 0 AEK Athens

 Benfica 1 – 1 Ajax

Group F

 Lyon 2 – 2 Hoffenheim

 Manchester City 6 – 0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Group G

 CSKA Moscow 1 – 2 Roma

 Viktoria Plzen 0 – 5 Real Madrid

Group H 

 Valencia 3 – 1 Young Boys

 Juventus 1 – 2 Manchester United

Group standings

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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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