Forza Futbol

A Better Lens at Spanish Football





Real Madrid v Real Betis
(Primera vuelta: 0-1)
The return fixture of one of the games of the season. Betis’ 1-0 win in round 13 might not have been an end-to-end classic, but it had an epic feel to it. After all, Real were still hoping to retain their league crown, while Betis were recovering from a morale-sapping thrashing in the derbi. The way they recovered, in front of a typically fearsome Benito Villamarin crowd, was heroic, as they battened down the hatches and survived a white onslaught to defend Benat’s fine first half goal.


Real Betis 1-0 Real Madrid by goalsarena2012
The circumstances leading into this match might be different, but the stakes are still high. Betis still have hopes of a European spot next season, and might just view the shifted priorities in Madrid as a real opportunity. Whisper it, but surely Pepe Mel must think that a distracted host might just offer him the chance to pull off a rare league double over Los Merengues.  Not sure I would agree with Mel here or bet on football.


Betis will have to address the central midfield malfunction which went a long way towards handing Sevilla a 3-0 lead in the first half of the derbi in the last round. They can’t afford such a misfire at the Bernabeu, and the question is whether Nosa is ready to step up from scoring an iconic goal to doing the job he was brought in to do, and impose himself on the heart of the match.


It was a fine header which snatched a point for Betis, and perhaps it will help to catapult him forwards and aid his acclimatisation in the Spanish game. Never mind the unpleasant treatment he got from his own fans; Nosa’s goal will earn the undying respect and gratitude of the right-minded Beticos, who have come out strongly in support of him after the abuse he suffered. It ought also to boost his confidence, and now he needs to kick on.


How Real handle this match is a key factor too, of course. Surely they won’t put out all the big guns, but their shadow eleven seems to have perfected the knack of playing unconvincingly but doing enough to win. This Betis side is capable of asking difficult questions of them, though, and isn’t liable to sit back and grind out a result. This could be well worth watching.


And on the most important matter of all regarding this fixture, we’ll find out what colour shorts Betis will wear!



Key Player

Gonzalo Higuaín

This is a fixture he has happy memories of. Last season he was in the middle of a remarkable purple patch, having hit three hat tricks in four matches, one for his country, two for his club. The final one was against Betis in a 4-1 and the final, match ball-clinching goal was particularly impressive. It was also Cristiano Ronaldo’s 100th game for Real, but he didn’t mark it with a goal, for once allowing someone else to enjoy the headlines.


Such prolific form seems a long way off now for Higuaín. He’s broadly considered to have gone backwards since then, with the consensus seeming to be that Mourinho doesn’t really fancy him any more. He’s found some form of late, though, hitting five goals and managing two assists in his last six games, including a fine finish to round off the 3-0 win at Athletic last Sunday. Fourteen goals in twenty starts isn’t a bad record by any stretch of the imagination, and Betis must watch him carefully again.






Sevilla v Atletico Madrid
(Primera vuelta: 0-4)
Sevilla might well stink on the road – a look back at their 4-0 thumping by Atletico earlier in the season will give you a chance to see just how bad they can be – but they’re redoubtable opponents at home, and as Atletico enter the final straight they’ll find this a less than straightforward match. They were made to look stupid at the Vicente Calderon, and will see this as a chance to redress the balance.


You might argue that knocking Sevilla’s away form is a little unfair after they raced into a 3-0 lead away to Real Betis last weekend. However, the way they capitulated from that winning position said everything about the frailties in Sevilla’s make-up.


But to accentuate the positive, their home record is formidable. They’ve won their last six home league matches, and seven of their last eight home games in all competitions.


Medel red card by Samu21213
They’ll have to maintain their fine form at the Estadio Sánchez-Pizjuán without Gary Medel though. As inflammable a player as you can imagine, Medel was inevitably sucked into a conflict in the derbi – perhaps deliberately sucked in by a crafty Jose Cañas – and picked up his seventh red card in eighty-nine Sevilla appearances and got dismissed in the derbi for the second season in a row. The Pitbull will therefore be missing from the heart of the match, robbing us of a potentially spiky contest in the centre of the pitch.

Copa Del Rey Sevilla 2 Atlético de Madrid 2 by acosart
They’ve given Atletico a sterner test since that thumping though, showng a great deal more spirit in the Copa del Rey semi-final. They’ve come a fair distance under Unai Emeri and now need to push and enjoy a strong end to the season, with some players needing to show they deserve to be part of his plans for next season.


One of those playes is José Antonio Reyes, who will also have a chance to show what he can do to his old team. Atlético’s fans used to chant his name, but it seemed to be done more as an ironic protest against unpopular coach Gregorio Manzano. Earlier in his time at the Calderon they were chanting “Reyes, die now!”


Atlético will have been relieved by a return to their familiar emphatic ways last weekend. Before then they’d suffered a disappointing wobble, dropping nine points from fifteen. However, their defence has maintained its fearsome record on the road: the last time they conceded an away goal in the league was on the 10th February, 418 minutes ago, when Leo Baptistao got his second in the Rayo derby.






Valencia v Málaga
(Primera vuelta: 0-4)
Which Valencia will turn up for this match? The side which looked rather innocuous in the first half of the previous round as Espanyol dominated them? Or the side which roared back after the break, looking themselves again and missing out on victory only through an equaliser from the last kick of the match, thirty seconds after the allotted injury time had ended? Not that Los Ches can complain after the madness of the round before that, when they got a late winner from a throw-in awarded to the other side, and to be fair the referee correctly added on that extra time in Barcelona as Valencia had taken the lead during the additional three minutes.


Málaga recovered from the disappointment of their European exit by grinding out a 1-0 win over Osasuna, a side against whom one goal is almost always enough. The danger for them is clear: with the end of their European adventure there’s a massive danger that their season will lose purpose and form will drift away. How successfully the coaching staff can convince the players that there really is a chance of overturning UEFA’s ban might be a key factor in keeping morale up.


It all seems a long way away from the sides’ clash in November, when Málaga thumped Valencia 4-0. It wasn’t a result which reflected the nature of the match, as Malaga really ought to have won it by a greater margin. The game offered a wonderful exhibition of how Manuel Pellegrini’s Málaga operates when everything clicks, but his similarly-monikered compatriot in the opposing dugout found it a lot less pleasant.


For Mauricio Pellegrino the match marked a key point in a series of horrible results which ultimately cost him his job. At the time it seemed a harsh call, but the subsequent success of Ernesto Valverde suggests maybe the change was for the best. The head-to-head might be gone, but Valverde will get a chance to show how far the team has come by clawing back a couple of those goals.




Celta de Vigo v Real Zaragoza
(Primera vuelta: 1-0)
Celta are now four points shy of survival and looking doomed. Real look like they’re joining them. Their defeat to Barsa in the last round put them in the bottom three, at last, after an agonising length of time spent hovering just above the drop zone, waiting for one of the bottom three to find some form. This match surely represents a final, desperate chance for one of these sides and a death knell for the other.


Deportivo La Coruna v Athletic Bilbao
(Primera vuelta: 1-1)
A fascinating match to come up at this point of the season. Depor’s sudden, remarkable run of wins has catapulted them improbably out of the drop zone, and Fernando Vázquez is on course to have a statue of him erected if he can keep it up. This northern clash brings them up against an Athletic side which has suffered through a depressing campaign, but at least they have never quite looked like it would deteriorate into a scrap against relegation. But if they lose this match, they’ll be just three points ahead of Depor. Marcelo Bielsa’s Is it time for Athletic’s fans to think the unthinkable?


Barcelona v Levante
(Primera vuelta: 4-0)
Levante are suffering a rather dismal 2013, which they’ll hope hit the low point last weekend. This match won’t offer any respite though.


Getafe v Espanyol
(Primera vuelta: 2-0)
You’ve got to admire Espanyol. The character they showed against Valencia in the last round encapsulated their season. Getafe themselves have had a typical season, quietly impressive. Both sides might well have an eye on next season already, and what they’ll need to do to build on their achievements since the winter break.


Granada v Real Valladolid
(Primera vuelta: 0-1)
Granada are in real bother and should look at a game like this as a crucial opportunity to pull away. Those opportunities are fast running out though: after this match they only have two games against sides in the bottom half of the table, one of which is resurgent Espanyol. No win in eight and three consecutive losses is a dreadful run of form which needs to end immediately.


Real Mallorca v Rayo Vallecano
(Primera vuelta: 0-2)
Real’s victory over Celta last Monday was massive, and leaves them just one point away from safety. Another home game offers them a real chance to make that final step out of danger.


Osasuna v Real Sociedad
(Primera vuelta: 0-0)
Twenty-six goals scored in thirty-one games is the rather worrying statistic haunting Osasuna. It means that they can’t quite pull clear of the relegation zone, and this doesn’t feel like a game they should approach with a great deal of confidence.



Mark Griffiths On April - 19 - 2013

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