A brand new feature on this website is the introduction of weekly & fortnightly columns focusing on various leagues, countries and regions across the World. Adam Gray analyses and gives his opinion here on the talking points in Spanish football.
Real Madrid expose the gulf in El Clasico class
The season’s first Clasico was won by Real Madrid and their devastating counter-attacking that left Barcelona unable to deal with the scintillating football the home side produced in the Bernabeu on Saturday evening. Luis Enrique’s bold decision to hand Luis Suarez his competitive debut for the club, 2 days after his 3 month ban for biting concluded, first looked like it would pay off, but then it back-fired as the Uruguayan’s lack of match-fitness became palpable.
Suarez started brilliantly, providing Neymar for the game’s opening goal in the fourth minute, but then his lack of regular match-time became a problem as Marcelo managed to break free from his attentions to give support to Isco who was stationed on the left of Real Madrid’s front 3. With Isco’s habit of coming in-field to allow the Brazilian to overlap freely, his pull-back led to Gerard Pique’s handball and the penalty from which Cristiano Ronaldo equalised.
Similar to Suarez on the left, Neymar also failed to keep the excellent Dani Carvajal at bay and with their full-backs driving them up the field, together with Barcelona’s own lethargy in possession and static movement, an issue that was apparent in last week’s win over Eibar, saw Madrid take control and slack marking from a corner saw Pepe head them into the lead. With Barcelona drawn out in search of the equaliser and hindered by an oddly lightweight midfield, Madrid’s power on the counter-attack took control and Karim Benzema rounded the game off after a fine move that involved Isco, Ronaldo and James Rodriguez in the build-up. To suggest Real Madrid’s effectiveness on the counter, they made 91 passes in the opposition’s final third compared to Barca’s 184, and with 14 attempts coming from counters across the season so far, they are La Liga’s most potent counter-attacking side.
Madrid created 14 chances to Barcelona’s 11 and 8 of them came in the penalty area, compared to Barca’s 5 which indicated most of the visitor’s 54% possession came in front of Madrid’s back-four without penetration. Lionel Messi did have a glorious chance to make it 0-2 early on while Iker Casillas made a superb save to deny Jeremy Mathieu from making it 2-2, but even Enrique admitted Madrid thoroughly deserved the win. It was a thoroughly entertaining affair, though the result reflected a gulf between the two sides. Madrid now look fearsome after a poor start to the season (they have now hit 28 goals in their last 6 league games), while Barcelona look ponderous and sluggish, as many in the Spanish media pointed out it could have easily been a bigger margin.
You can read an in-depth Tactical Analysis of the El Clasico here.
Same flaws remain for Rayo Vallecano
The only teams to average more than Rayo Vallecano’s 56.8% possession last season were Real Madrid and Barcelona and this year only those 2 and Celta Vigo can better Rayo’s 54.3% under possession-devotee Paco Jemez. Control of the ball has never really translated into consistent results for Vallecano though and in Malaga on Sunday they enjoyed 51.7% of the ball but were demolished 4-0. Malaga however were irresistible and Nordin Amrabat, normally at home on the left of midfield, scored and registered 2 assists as a central striker, maintaining his superb form under Javi Gracia since signing on loan from Galatasary.
Malaga have conceded just 1 goal at home in 4 games under Gracia and look to be making La Rosaleda a fortress once more, forging a solid defensive base to allow Samu Garcia, Jaunmi and Amrabat to terrorise the opposition in attack.
Ferrer is gone but will Arrasate be next?
After going 8 games without a win, Albert Ferrer was sacked as Cordoba coach on Monday and replaced by former Valencia coach Miroslav Djukic. The Serbian’s first game in charge was the 1-1 draw with Real Sociedad who could now themselves be looking for a new coach as rumours circulate that Jagoba Arrasate now faces the sack at the Anoeta. La Real are separated from Cordoba’s place in the relegation zone by a single point after failing to win since Matchday 2 and on Saturday they were within 3 minutes of a much-needed win only to be denied by Xisco’s late equaliser.
Inigo Martinez was excellent as he opened the scoring and led Sociedad’s fine defensive effort with a commanding display, though only Levante and Eibar have conceded more shots on goal than Sociedad this term and they again caved in after handing most of the ball, 54.7% of possession, to Cordoba. Arrasate has failed to get the best out of his attacking players Carlos Vela, Albert Finnbogason and Sergio Canales after losing Antoine Griezmann in the summer and with Thomas Tuchel heavily linked to the job, the axe looks to be coming down on the 36 year old.
Alcaraz can’t change Levante’s fortunes
Another new manager took charge in La Liga this weekend, Lucas Alcarez at Levante who saw his bottom of the table team lose 3-0 at Celta Vigo after succeeding Joe Luis Mendilibar last week. Levante have the worst defence (23 conceded) and the weakest attack (4 scored) in the league and they were duly outplayed in Galicia, managing just 4 shots to Celta’s 13. The Valencian’s badly miss the influence of Keylor Navas, now at Real Madrid after keeping 16 clean sheets for Levante last term and in Diego Marino, who allowed a routine stoppage time shot from Alex Lopez slip underneath him, they have a hapless replacement. It is shaping up to be a long, hard season for Levante and their new coach.
Talent Radar player of the week
Sergi Darder (Malaga): the 20 year old only lasted an hour of Malaga’s 4-0 thrashing of Rayo Vallecano, but he was duly instrumental as his team ran into an unassailable lead by half time. By only making 22 passes he wasn’t on the ball often, yet Darder was instrumental alongside Ignacio Camacho in disrupting Vallecano’s flow of possession. He completed 3 dribbles to move Malaga up the pitch on the break, made 2 chances and chipped in with the second goal of the game, showing good anticipation to arrive on the end of Vitorino Antunes’s square ball. Darder has been in and out of the senior team since signing from Espanyol in 2012, but now under Javi Gracia, the energetic midfielder will be hoping he can gain a consistent place in the side by continuing a good run of form. Darder’s performance earned him a spot in this week’s Talent Radar Team of the Week.
Written by Adam Gray.
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