Zidane’s dilemma

Another Champions League semifinals, another meeting between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Both clubs have already played 24 times in the top continental tournament, but it never gets old. So far, 12 wins for Bayern, 10 for Real Madrid and only two draws. Similarly to any other major derby, the specific circumstances of each team don’t really matter: when they play each other, nothing is off the cards.

There’s plenty of angles to discuss this matchup. An obvious one is James Rodriguez, who went from supersub under Zidane to outstanding starter under Heynckes, who is finally getting the most out of the gifted Colombian. The Germans’ need for revenge must also be part of any preview about this fixture, as Real Madrid have won at the Alliance in their last two visits, one of them in stunning fashion (4-0) back in 2014, when no other than Pep Guardiola occupied Bayern’s bench.

However, the main running subplot in this column’s humble opinion is Zidane’s dilemma regarding his tactical formation / starting xi to face the in-shape Germans. Continue reading “Zidane’s dilemma”

Fallas weekend

Review of La Liga’s 29th week

Every major – and probably minor – city in Spain has its own party week. Based on similar excuses, such as its patron saint or the anniversary of its foundation, mayors spend tons of cash to organise huge celebrations. Working becomes impossible, with the main streets packed with locals and visitors, and the beer flowing like wine. Continue reading “Fallas weekend”

Back to the 4-4-2

Preview of La Liga’s 28th week

Since Neymar left Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde has progressively evolved towards a 4-4-2 formation that now seems untouchable, with Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets in the centre of midfield. Azulgrana purists complain around the world, shaking their heads in disbelief, but the team defends better than many of its previous versions, and its results are impeccable so far.

raki busy
Two DMs playing for Barcelona? Who said Jehovah?

Continue reading “Back to the 4-4-2”

Underdogs at home

Titanic_Orchestra
Gents, let’s play the old “The BBC will start again”

I admit that, in the last few days, I’ve often thought of Zinedine Zidane and the current Real Madrid squad as a footballing version of the Titanic orchestra. When the season is almost lost, the director sticks to the tried and tested, refuses to make any adjustments, and plays the same songs as the ship starts to sink. Continue reading “Underdogs at home”

Speak up

Preview of La Liga’s 19th week

Xavi en QatarI’m sure we all agree: one of the most frustrating aspects of modern football is the development of a generation of players and coaches trained to say absolutely nothing during an interview. Able to speak like politicians, they avoid anything remotely similar to uttering a real opinion about other teams, teammates, coaches and anything that could somehow get them into trouble. Continue reading “Speak up”

Gluttony before Christmas

Preview of La Liga’s 17th round of fixtures

In his last column, Phil commented how odd this round of fixtures is. Indeed, the first match is to be played on Tuesday and the last on Saturday, which makes for a very long “weekend”.

That said, it’s a cracking set of matches: the 17th round includes El Clasico, the Galician derby, the “other” Madrid – Barcelona derby between Atletico and Espanyol, the Valencian Community derby between Valencia and Villarreal, two duels involving Sevilla teams and Basque teams, a relegation thriller with Malaga visiting Alaves… Continue reading “Gluttony before Christmas”

We need you, Basques

Preview of La Liga’s 16th week

derby vasco

With the obvious depressing state of Basque football, the fight over a top six finish in La Liga seems already settled for the rest of the season. Unless something shocking happens in the next couple of months, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Sevilla, Villarreal, Valencia and Atlético de Madrid will end the tournament in spots that give access to European football next season, while the rest of the clubs will have to fight to avoid relegation or die of boredom in mid table.  Continue reading “We need you, Basques”

Barcelona win the Madrid derby

messi rie
Messi, closer to another La Liga title

The match:

The derby exemplified quite well why these two Madrid teams sit 10 points behind leaders Barcelona. Neither Real Madrid nor Atletico can score like they did in previous seasons, and that without major changes to their starting line-up in the summer. Their lack of goals has to do with the shape of their starters, although in the case of Real Madrid some may point to the reduced attacking alternatives from the bench now that Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez have left.

But the fact is that the same Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema that so well interpreted the service that Real Madrid’s midfield provided last season, and the same Antoine Griezmann who looked omnipresent in the final third for Atleti just a few months ago, now look completely disconnected from the rest of their teams, unable to find an opening in 90 minutes. Continue reading “Barcelona win the Madrid derby”

A desperate Madrid derby

italy outI don’t dislike international breaks one bit, especially when World Cup spots are at stake. Although the bunch of nil-nils was a bit disappointing, we got to see some feel-good stories and a few shocks, such as the Italian disaster. However, I’ll admit that these breaks do alter the pace of the national tournaments quite a bit and all they imply: analyses, gossip, team’s form, certain La Liga blog… Continue reading “A desperate Madrid derby”

Boring Liga?

ligaboring

Right before another international break, La Liga offers a somewhat underwhelming picture: an unassailable leader; a mild fight over Champions League spots; few real candidates to compete for Europa League positions; and a crystal clear bottom-three.

Is the tournament becoming boring? Continue reading “Boring Liga?”