What I watched this weekend

April 12, 2010

It was almost inevitable that after starting a blog about football and saying “I watch tons of football” that  I would hardly watch any this weekend.

On Saturday, I got home in time for the Real Madrid v Barcelona Clasico kickoff, but couldn’t find it on TV.  What?  Surely in Argentina they will be showing Leo Messi playing in the Clasico, right?  No.   All the online feeds I found weren’t cooperating either, until I found a good one with about 5 minutes left to go in the first half.  Hmm.  What I saw suggests that it could have been a 5-3 game.

Xavi (of the Hernandez variety, not of the Xabi Alonso flavor) played a number of perfect through balls, including the two that Messi chested down to have one on one’s…the first of which was the first goal, but the second of which was a nearly unexcuseable missed opportunity because Messi had so much time alone in the box.

While Barcelona certainly dominated the game and deserved to win, football can be funny like that.  Statistics have shown that time of possession is not a very good predictor of victory (I haven’t read the study yet, I plan to this week, but intuitively it doesn’t surprise me.)  Certainly Madrid had some opportunities when it was 1-0, and if they’d converted one or two of them, it would have been an entirely different game.

I didn’t watch any Italian football but did note that Roma has taken over the points lead.  Inter is a point behind, and AC Milan is 4 behind with 5 games left.  I won’t analyse schedules, but it’s interesting that Inter has slipped after it had a pretty large lead (12 points, was it?) earlier in the season.

On Sunday, I caught bits and pieces of Manchester City v Birmingham and Portsmouth v Tottenham.  For the latter game, though the score remained 0-0 when I had to leave, Tottenham looked firmly in control.   The FA Cup is funny like that though, it seems.  Chelsea v Portsmouth in Wembley:  1st vs last place in the Premier League for silverware.  It would be amusing if Portsmouth won silverware after managing just 14 points this season.  As for Man City v Birmingham, a fairly dodgy penalty against Scott Dann led to Carlos Tevez converting the penalty to make the game 1-0 in the 38th minute.  In the next 5 minutes, 3 more goals were scored.  Philip Dowd changed the game completely as referee.   Man City ended up winning 5-1, but I wish I could see the game without that penalty being called.  Birmingham was playing City fairly even.

Meanwhile, the other 3 EPL games in England were 0-0, just like in Argentina: three 0-0 ties was the Sunday action.   Sportscenter has to be frustrated when things like that happen.


El Clasico and Saturday’s other action

April 10, 2010

At 5pm UK and noon EST, Aston Villa plays Chelsea in the FA Cup Semis.  Aston Villa’s recent 7-1 loss to Chelsea looms over the tie.  Chelsea skipper John Terry also claimed that Villa wasn’t quite fit and that it showed at the end of games.  Why would you say that?  It’s not psychological damaging in any way, but it might be motivating.   The other EPL action: Hull City has Burnley at their grounds, while Sunderland visits West Ham.  Both of those are crucial ties for teams fighting relegation.

But the real action in Spain, where Real Madrid takes on Barcelona at the Bernabeu at 9 UK, 4 EST.  Kaka and Ibrahimovic are both out (and presumably not in a Alex Ferguson-Wayne Rooney type of way).

There are alot of parallels to last season, as Real Madrid came in red-hot.  If I recall correctly, Real Madrid was already out of Champs League as well, so La Liga was their priority.  Similar to this year, there were alot of new high-priced transfers that were playing well as individual pieces but wasn’t yet a team.   Madrid got wiped out 6-2 and unraveled which led to the re-assembly of the Galacticos again.  In truth, the game was a bit closer than that as Madrid scored first after 15 minutes with master poacher Gonzalo Higuain grabbing a goal, and the score was even 3-2 after 56 minutes…but only for a few seconds, as Henry immediately scored.

Barcelona’s lineup won’t be the same as last year’s, but much of the change is due to mere game-to-game fluctuations.  Madrid’s will likely feature only 4 from last year, with pretty much all the rest being new.

Barcelona has missed Eto’o, as he provided more pressure on the ball than Ibrahimovic does (and let’s be honest, Messi is relatively nonchalant about ball pressure).  Barcelona’s defense has had injury and suspension problems to the point where their defense is never playing together.   Although Barcelona beat Arsenal in the end pretty well, Real will probably play more defensive tactically as they lack the commitment to quality football that Arsenal has.   If Barca shows weak finishing like it did against Arsenal, let’s not forget the chances that injury-striken Arsenal had: with players like Higuain, Madrid will make Barcelona pay.

Barcelona is the better team.  But it’s an away game, they’ve played lots more matches overall and recently, there defense has been a bit shaky as players are constantly in and out…I would never bet against Messi, but I would pass on betting on this game.

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