Real Madrid have a championship-winning attack and a relegation-suffering defence. Barcelona seem to have excellent quality in both departments. The results of both sides this weekend only strove to emphasise this idea. Barcelona thrashed real Valladolid 6-0, while Real Madrid laboured to a 4-3 success in a whirlwind of a game against Malaga. The stunning parallel between both games was that strikers Samuel Eto’o and Gonzalo Higuain both scored 4 goals.
Real Madrid 4 Malaga 3
The latter was a source of ridicule for a small section of the Bernabeu crowd for his inability to hit the target regularly (and that doesn’t been scoring, but actually not skying his shots over the crossbar). Yet over the last few seasons, the Argentinean has improved his accuracy and his impact on the team. Scoring the title-winning goal last summer for Madrid to win their 31st title has been the catalyst Higuain has needed. When Real Madrid signed Fernando Gago and the River Plate youth product, many assumed that it was the former Boca Juniors man, who was the better signing. These pundits claimed Gago would replicate the legacy of Fernando Redondo. Instead, it has been Higuain, who has taken on the mantle of rescuer.
During the home 2-2 draw with Espanyol, Higuain was rightly criticised for profligate shooting. He had an endless stream of chances but failed to capitalise. The point is, the young striker was always in position to take the shot and shoulder the blame. On the other hand, Raul scored twice but was otherwise anonymous. The Real Madrid captain is rightly worshipped as a legend for his past exploits at the club, but in recent years it seems as if he doesn’t score, he’ll give you nothing. And on Saturday, it seemed Real Madrid were playing with 9 men (with Sergio Ramous getting sent off).
And speaking of Sergio Ramos, it hasn’t been the best of months for the full-back from Andalusia. His all-action style was heralded by many as he scored 10 goals last year and provided a dynamism that the ageing Michel Salgado was unable to. Yet, this praise nearly always overlooked his positional flaws. At Euro 2008, the gap between Ramos and Puyol was often huge, and exploited by many teams. It was just that the rest of the side was so complete. On Saturday, Malaga, exploited Ramos’ deficiencies time and time again. For the second goal, Ramos stood off his man, who whipped in a delightful low cross for Baha to score, with Ramos raising his hand and appealing for offside in vain.
Ramos created a new record for Real Madrid on Saturday, and not one he’ll want to remember. He has been sent off 9 times in just 4 years at the club (the latest one for violent conduct). Madrid legend Fernando Hierro was sent off 10 times in 14 years, but he is set to be surpassed with considerable ease, if Ramos continues to stick with this trend. Yet it isn’t just Ramos who is badly off form. Eliseu, the livewire Malaga midfielder, tricked his way past both Marcelo and Gabriel Heinze, before causing panic in the six yard box. He eventually slotted home after the ball rebounded off the post. If Madrid are to win anything this season, the defence must be sorted out.
Higuain was the only viable threat in the absence of goal-scorer-extraordinaire Ruud Van Nistlerooy. He tapped in his first, scored a penalty for a brace and rounded off the hat-trick with a wonderful low shot from distance into the bottom left-hand corner. Yet, Higuain wasn’t done there. After a dubious penalty decision, concerning the man of the moment himself, Higuain stepped up to attempt for his fourth; the penalty was saved but the rebound was tapped in by Higuain. As he ran in for Van Der Vaart’s low cross, he appeared to be accidentally tripped by the defender. The contact appeared to be minimal and his fall to the ground seemed natural, with it conceivable that a slight touch can knock a player off balance when running at high speeds. It was not a Gerrard-esque (see the 1-1 draw against Atletico) exaggeration, but even video evidence split opinion.
Barcelona 6 Real Valladolid 0
It was much easier for Barcelona, who cannot seem to stop thrashing every side that visits the Nou Camp this season. And Samuel Eto’o scored four in the first half to put the game to bed. Daniel Alves played in the Cameroonian attacker, who cut inside his marker and placed the ball past the keeper with ease. Then Eto’o fired home a rebound, after Henry’s shot was saved.
Then Lionel Messi cut inside and slipped a wonderfully weighted ball into the path of Eto’o, who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home for his hat-trick. Then the Argentinean’s dribble was blocked into the path of guess who? Eto’o. The clinical finisher fired home. Messi’s dribble was blocked and the ball ricocheted into the path of Eto’o, who took his fourth with ease. Pep Guardiola’s reaction to every goal was controlled to say the least.
He managed a little clap for the fifth though. Henry recovered a loose ball from a beaten defence and squared to Eidur Gudjohnsen. The Icelandic striker dinked the ball over the onrushing keeper to increase their comfortable lead to 5 goals. In the final minutes of the game, Aliaksandr Hleb drove forward down the right flank, played a one-two to find himself in the box. Even from six yards, the Belarusian elected to pass to give Thierry Henry the easiest finish he’ll ever have.
Barcelona has scored the largest amount of goals per game in Europe (34 scored in total and only 8 conceded), and the new squad rotation policy is working better than Rafael Benitez’s attempt ever did. When Real and Barcelona meet on December 14th, it appears that the best defence will win. And at the moment, Barcelona have that solidity, which eluded them over the past few years.
In the English Premier League, title rivals Arsenal and Manchester United played a wonderful game of ‘playground’ football, with both sides attacking at every opportunity. A Samir Nasri double won the match for the home team, before Rafael da Silva scored a sumptuous left-footed volley to make it 2-1 and the 6 minutes of injury time seem an eternity for the Emirates crowd.
Robbie Keane scored his first two league goals for Liverpool, after 12 league appearances, with Aurelio adding a third as West Brom fell at Anfield. Chelsea continued their excellent away form at Ewood Park as Nicolas Anelka’s brace beat Blackburn. Elsewhere, Tony Adams notched his first win as Portsmouth manager, stealing a 2-1 win at old rival Roy Keane’s Sunderland.
In Germany, Bayern Munich beat Schalke 04 1-2 in Gelsenkirchen, with Ribery and Toni replying to an early Jefferson Farfan goal. Surprise team Hoffenheim, ended a wonderful run of form, as they fell to Hertha Berlin and on-loan striker Andrei Voronin’s strike. Croatian duo, Petric and Olic gave Hamburg a 2-1 win over Dortmund, meaning Martin Jol’s side are two points off the pace.
In Italy, Juventus continued their winning run by beating Chievo 0-2. Inter regained top spot after a last minute 1-0 against Udinese, courtesy of Julio Cruz. Cicinho scored a last gasp own-goal in Bologna’s favour, allowing them to snatch a point against Roma, who remain languishing in the depths of Serie A. Milan suffered a similar fate, with Ronaldinho scoring on 79 minutes. Lecce’s Esposito equalised 2 minutes into injury time to salvage a draw, as AC Milan fell from top spot.
In Ligue 1, Lyon kept a 4 point gap at the top of the table after Fred gave them a narrow victory at Monaco, who languish in the bottom half of the table. Marseille remained second, after an easy 0-3 victory against promoted side Grenoble, with Ben Arfa, Kone and Cheyrou all notching goals.
Weekend Talking Points
A certain Welsh commentator at Fox Soccer Channel should never attempt a cry of ‘Goooool’, especially when it results in a screechy, high-pitched scream. He should also learn that Ronaldinho is not ‘Rolandinho’.
For the widely acknowledged best referee in the Premier League, Howard Webb was shocking for the early Saturday kick off between Arsenal and Manchester United.