successful Champions League night in Manchester, Gerardo Martino felt at liberty to experiment with the Barcelona lineup away against Real Sociedad. Leaving Xavi and Fabregas on the bench, Martino chose a new midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Song, and Iniesta. Even with the attacking trident of Messi, Neymar, and Pedro, Barcelona succumbed 3-1 to a much superior Real Sociedad.
Martino probably should have anticipated a tough match against the Basque side, considering that Real Sociedad remain unbeaten at home against Barca in La Liga since their promotion back in 2010. It wasn't surprising that the altered Barcelona defence of Adriano, Bartra, Pique and Montoya had difficulty against the dynamic and hard-working Sociedad attack. Carlos Vela up front supported by the left-footed playmaker Sergio Canales, along with Zurutuza and Griezmann on the wings quickly put the blaugrana on the back foot with their fast-moving combination play.
Thirty-two minutes in Barcelona conceded the first, with Song unfortunately redirecting a corner past Victor Valdes for an own goal. Just a few minutes later Barcelona briefly decided to right the ship, with Messi rifling a low shot into the corner after a brilliantly set up dummy by Sergio Busquets. With both sides even at halftime and Gerardo Martino sent to the stands by the referee, Barcelona looked ready to turn the game around in order to equal Real Madrid's 63 points at the top of the table. However it was Real Sociedad who came out in the second half with one-touch counter-attacks, cutting through the Barcelona defence at an alarming and impressive rate.
Now unbeaten in ten league matches (seven wins, three draws), Real Sociedad have scaled their way up to fifth place in the table, just behind Athletic Bilbao. With the race for the La Liga title as exciting as ever, the competition for the fourth spot (the final qualifying Champions League spot) is just as tight and exciting, especially with Real Sociedad playing wonderfully thanks to its set of starlets. Griezmann continues to be eyed by just about every top European club, and the resurgences of Carlos Vela and Sergio Canales have blossomed an attacking force which is tearing through La Liga defences. Real Sociedad have claimed three important points against Barcelona in their fight for fourth place, however when the summer approaches the club will have a new challenge in retaining Griezmann and the rest of their top players.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Previously against Chelsea, when Fernandinho was replaced by the barely moving pony-tailed figure of Martin Demichelis, Manchester City suffered as Chelsea's quick moving quartet tore through the field in their counter-attacks. Now at his more comfortable centre back position against Barcelona, Demichelis was still the weakest link in an otherwise fairly well-constructed Manchester City team. Pellegrini's choice to use only one striker in Negredo, along with Kolarov sitting in front of Clichy on the left wing in the packed five-man midfield closed down on the available space for Barcelona to use in the midfield. City's disciplined and deep defending was stifling opportunities for the visiting Spaniards, however also led to their stuttering offence never really able to retain possession. Demichelis' sending off was a liberating of the shackles, as Manchester City was never truly dangerous until the Argentinean defender mixed everything up with his late tackle on Messi in the 53rd minute.
Messi himself put away the penalty, and a ten man Manchester City began to shine without the presence of Demichelis. They lost that reserved fear of the blaugrana which held them back in the first half, and began to play with a hint of the recklessness which previously belonged to the man who got himself sent off. David Silva came close with a well-created volley, however Barcelona continued to dominate possession and continuously found ways to cut in behind the City defence. In the final minutes Dani Alves combined in a passing triangle with Neymar, darting past the home side's defence to slide the second goal in through Hart's legs.
With this fairly comprehensive home loss, it's difficult to consider that Pellegrini's Manchester City has resigned itself to being knocked out of the tournament. Despite a return leg victory being a monumental task for City, the side showed itself to have the mettle and intensity to compete with Barcelona for an entire match, even with only ten men. If Pellegrini can put aside whatever strange preference he might have for Demichelis (whether he be playing in or out of position), and instead start using the various players available to him (Lescott, Javi Garcia, and many more), there's the true possibility of his team mounting a comeback.
The Chilean manager's tactics weren't off the mark, rather, they were just brought down by a single clumsy Argentine defender. Pellegrini finally got his formation set up without any gaps, and in the second leg without Demichelis, perhaps along with Aguero fit and back in the side, Manchester City is suddenly looking much competitive than some might expect.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
The black body with neon design is an interesting choice, most reminiscent of referee kits. Germany on the other hand have a Flamengo-esque combination of red and black horizontal stripes, with a slightly more defined collar than the Spain jersey. Both of these teams will be debuting these jerseys in upcoming friendlies: Spain against Italy at the Vicente Calderon Stadium and Germany against Chile, both on March 5th.
Although these are simply friendly matches, there might be some incentive to prove something (especially for Italy) after the latest FIFA rankings were updated today. Italy moved down to eighth after Switzerland jumped up to sixth, and Spain and Germany remain in first and second untouched by the movement in the top fifteen. Portugal moved up to fourth, while England was bumped down two places to fifteenth after USA and Chile leapfrogged the three lions.
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Thursday, February 6, 2014
In a way it seemed inevitable from the very start. Inter Milan were without Cambiasso, Guarin, and new signing Hernanes, forcing Mazzarri to pick a midfield of Kuzmanovic, Kovacic and Taider. With the outstanding trio of Pirlo, Vidal, and Pogba, the Juve midfield quickly took control of the match. It was Pirlo who dismantled the Inter defence with his picked out pass for Lichtsteiner to head into the far post.
It seemed fitting for Lichtsteiner to score, his relentless pressing forward on the right side paired with Asamoah on the left kept Inter Milan uncomfortable in possession, and unable to widen their attacking play. The dependence which Mazzarri’s sides on their wide players led to a rough match for Inter, the neutralized pair of Nagatomo and Jonathan were completely ineffective throughout the match.
Two more goals by Chiellini and Vidal were enough to put away any possibility of an Inter comeback. The only positives for Mazzarri came with the introduction of two new signings, the midfielder Botta and the former Torino defender D'Ambrosio both put in good performances. D'Ambrosio helped steady the defence, and Botta provided additional creativity and decisiveness going forward, so much so that he's rumoured to have a place in the starting lineup next week against Sassuolo.
With Roma's match against Parma suspended, Juventus is temporarily nine points clear ahead of the giallorossi. Antonio Conte's meticulous preparation and relentless hunger for improvement is pushing his team to important heights. However what remains to be conquered is Europe, and the tenacity of this bianconeri side will have to be proven against Trabzonspor later this month in their Europa League tie.