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After a massive disappointing season, I’ve taken a break from writing till Euro 12 commences. But I’ve been reading quite a bit of football related stuff these days.

Rather than how Real Madrid and Chelsea won La Liga and Champions League, last season will be remembered for how Barcelona blew it up despite having so much talent at their disposal.

I also watched a lot of Barcelona matches and rather than focussing on their tactical aspects, like million other people got mesmerised by their possession play and intricate passing. Those who stayed awake could put 1+1 = 2 and rationalize Barcelona’s tactical approach. But how many of them went a step ahead and wrote book on How to beat them is hard to find.

Although Pep Guardiola has stepped down from the helm after conquering the world, I was sure that the myths about Barca’s tactics would’ve continued even in Tito Vilanova’s tenure as well. All that would’ve turned out to be true had I not come across “Objective Barcelona: How to beat the most powerful team in the world” by Bruno Miguel Espalha.

Bruno has been a lifelong Benfica fan from Lisbon. He’s been obsessed with this project and really an immense credit should go to him for writing down such a bold topic.

Incredibly easy to understand, the book isn’t even thick as your remote control. In just 55 pages, the book gives you complete understanding of how Barca’s ‘Tiki Taka’.

Initial part tells you how Tiki Taka was evolved from Cruyff’s total football. Best part about the book is with the help of graphics and actual still’s from the matches, author has so easily illustrated Guardiola’s 4-3-3 and experiment’s with 3-4-3 system. The book also breaks down his playing model focussing on Defensive Phase, Transitions and Offensive Phase.

Although Barça’s build up play from the back has been seen on TV thousand times, it is really interesting to actually refer to diagrams and read about it. Also with the help of tactical images and actual imagery it is very interesting to know how Barca narrow down the pitch and expand it depending on the situation. We must’ve heard pundits try to break down the system and speak about it, but it really sticks in your mind once you have it in hand with a language that is easy to understand.

Bruno dedicates next chapter exclusively to Dead Balls. How Barcelona executes their set pieces and how they defend against the opponents has been illustrated wonderfully.

Later in the book, Bruno has touched the points like How to defend against Barcelona, importance of pressing Busquets and stopping Messi. Last part of the book gives you complete analysis on how and When Barça has scored and conceded the goals since Pep Guardiola has taken charge.

On the website, he has done tremendous job on illustrating the tactics with the help of video clips. Watching those videos reminded me of Championship Manager’s match engine.

I’m including table of contents from this book, so the readers will know how deep the study and thought process has gone into it.


Table of Contents

FOREWORD
CHAPTER I – INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER II – BEGINNING OF A DREAM
CHAPTER III – THE ARCHITECT
CHAPTER IV – THE ARTISTS – 2011/2012
CHAPTER V – GUARDIOLA’S TACTICAL SYSTEM
Description of the 4-3-3 System
Playing model implemented by Pep Guardiola
The 3-4-3 Experience
Fundamental characteristics of the players
Key Players
CHAPTER VI – DEFENSIVE PHASE
CHAPTER VII – TRANSITIONS
CHAPTER VIII – OFFENSIVE PHASE
Build Up From The Back
Build Up From The Midfield
Build Up On The Final Third Of The Field
Lionel Messi Movements
CHAPTER IX – DEAD-BALLS
Kick-Off from Barcelona
Goal Kicks for Barcelona
Corner Kicks Against Barcelona
Corner Kicks for Barcelona
Wide Free Kicks Against Barcelona
CHAPTER X – STRATEGY TO ADOPT
How to Defend Against Barcelona
Defending in 4-3-3
Defending in 4-4-2
Attacking Barcelona
Pressing Sergi Busquets
Stopping Messi
CHAPTER XI – STATISTICS
Goals Scored and Conceded By Game Period
Goals Scored By Type
CHAPTER XII – THE FUTURE WITHOUT GUARDIOLA


The amount of time and effort has gone into this project of demystifying Barcelona has been incredible and it should be duly appreciated and rewarded.

It doesn’t really matter whether you are Barcelona fan or hate them to the core, the book is must read for all football lovers to know the mechanical process that goes in so the outcome is such a beautiful poetry.

I wonder whether the Author sent the rough draft of the book to Real Madrid and Chelsea clubs for review.

You can buy the book form Amazon.com and it comes for the Kindle too.

For easier reference, I’m including few details about the book so that the readers can have a quick look and get their own copy.

Author: Bruno Miguel Espalha

Objective Barcelona: How To Beat The Best Team In The World

Website: http://objectivebarcelona.net/

ISBN: 978-989-20-2907-8

© 2012, Bruno Miguel Espalha (brunoespalha@objectivebarcelona.net)

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A different outlook towards European transfers from 2011-12 season.

For football fans the season of 2011-12 has been nothing less than iconic. If enthralling finish to the season finale was an icing on the cake, then it was the transfer activity that helped to bake such a delightful cake. The gossips and speculations which were started during the preseason were more than enough to last till midseason window, also some of them are still going on. In terms of player transfers, this season has been record-breaking.

Never before football world has seen so much of money being spent on the players transfers. Not only cumulative expenditure by European clubs on sheer acquiring players was astonishing, the sheer volume of player movement was higher than before.

Most of the clubs in the various leagues haven’t been able to balance between expenditure and income through the transfers. Very few clubs have actually registered a profit purely through buying and selling their players (not considering profits through any other source)

Have a look at the staggering figures above. English Premier League which is considered as one of the best football leagues has become a major attractive product even for the players. 518 players arriving and 479 players leaving in 20 Premier League clubs (albeit players going/returning from Loans are included) give the perfect testimony of how much cut throat competition is amongst the players willing to succeed and how little margin available for the players to establish themselves in the league. English clubs have shelled more money than any other club in Europe or probably in the world as well.

Rapid globalization of the sport and incredible money there’s on the offer though ever improving television deals, sponsorship deals and corporate tie ups means clubs must strive hard to elevate their performance on the pitch and bag more and more success.

Success at any COST has become mantra in football as even Dutch sides, usually famous for exporting their talent have signed in 259 players and let go of the same number. Although their selling power isn’t what it used to be, as they could muster only 111m £ from their sales, they’ve signed the players for far less average value than of any other league.

Billionaire’s Clubs

Much credit for this frenzied activity across European football can be given to changes in clubs’ ownership. Oligarchs and Petroleum tycoons have set their eyes on football as their muse and have gone on acquiring stakes in various clubs across Europe and pouring in their money in order to make these clubs the European powerhouses.

Being acquired by Sheikh Mansoor from Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, Manchester City have not taken a break from their last season’s spending spree and continued to pour in money in the transfer window. Chelsea hasn’t stopped doing so since 2004 by grace of their Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Well, both the clubs finally reaped some rewards though. Paris Saint-Germain in France, Málaga CF in Spain who have recently been acquired by Middle Eastern oil rich sheikhs, have started to flex their muscles and recent exploits of Russian “Goldmember” Suleyman Kerimov in war-torn town of Makhachkala meant all these went on to pour incredible money in the club and lure players by giving them ridiculously high salaries.

This money indeed opened the opportunity for minnow clubs to put their best players in the showcase and sell them to big clubs to earn a fortune and invest that money to improve their training facilities and youth setups. Not to say, money which has been earned by selling players isn’t always entirely poured into upgrades but sometimes that money can help club secure their survival and sometimes Chairman takes it in his pockets to pay is personal debts (Mr. Glazer)

Big Stats

Have a look at the clubs who topped the in their leagues in terms of spending money and earning money. Amongst all the big spenders, only Juventus could manage to win the league title where as in France it was PSG’s title to lose and they did exactly that. Chelsea’s spending did not buy them a league title but their old guard bought few years ago won them the Europe’s biggest trophy.

In Spain surprisingly Atlético de Madrid outspent traditional big spenders Real and Barça. Also they’ve been only club in Europe who topped their league in terms of spending and earning most money on transfers. Arsenal filled up their coffers by cashing in on Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri. Lille topped in Ligue 1 last season by selling Cabaye, Rami, Gervinho and Moussa Sow, and it is certain that they’ll earn more money this season from only 1 player, Hazard.

FC Utrecht in Holland sold their starlet Ricky van Wolfswinkel to Sporting Lisbon, Strootman and Mertens to PSV and spent that money to buy Alexander Gerndt from Helsingborgs of Sweden which turned out to be Holland’s most expensive import of the season.

The table below shows European leagues’ top imports, exports and top inland transfers.

Balázs Dzsudzsák was transferred from PSV to Anzhi in August for 12.5m £ but played in only 8 games before breaking a collar-bone during a match against Rostov. Although the injury was supposed to keep him out for remainder of the season, he was transferred to Dinamo Moscow in January for 16.5m £. He made his début in March for Dinamo and played in 9 games.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had already moved to AC Milan from Barcelona in 2010-11. But this move was on loan with an option to make a move permanent at the end of the season. Having scored 21 goals and 13 assists in total 41 appearances in his first season for Milan, they wasted no time and purchased Zlatan for 21m £.

Out of these expensive imports from each league Only Kun Agüero managed to win a League title and ironically it was Kun himself who dramatically scored a winner in dying seconds in final game to win the title on goal difference.

Falcao on the other hand did not win league title as Atlético Madrid finished 5th (44 points behind Real Madrid). But he played an instrumental part during Atlético Madrid’s Europa League win over Athletic Bilbao where he scored a cracking brace in the final.

Following table shows how many players from these 7 leagues were transferred to foreign clubs.

Although England have relied on their neighbours Scotland for fringe players, they turned to Spain for their marquee signings, spending more than 7 times money than they paid for players coming from Scotland.

English teams signing players on high wages mean the chances of quality players leaving England is very remote as they really can’t be afforded anywhere else. English clubs sold only 8 players to Russia and managed 41.5m £. Out of these 8, Yuri Zhirkov and Christopher Samba were sold to heavy spenders Anzhi for 13m £ and 12.5m £ respectively.

After Russia, English clubs sold 27 players to Spain for cumulative 31.5m £. Well, out of these 27, Cesc Fàbregas’ transfer to Barcelona fetched 30m £.

Bundesliga players don’t really move to English Premier League. Out of 22 players sold to English clubs, only 7 players were fetched money. Dissecting further, out of these 7 players, 3 were signed by Arsenal for their youth team. Only Papiss Demba Cissé, Per Mertersacker and Pavel Pogrebnyak have made their mark as regular first team players.

German clubs have shown faith on their neighbours Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Poland and Czech Republic as out of 339 players signed from foreign clubs, 137 were signed from these 5 leagues. Only 35 players have been signed from France (17), Italy (10) and Spain (8).

Let’s have a look below on the season’s top 20 transfers and see how they fared.

1) Falcao: Having seen Kun Agüero and Diego Forlan in the summer Atlético Madrid spent 41.5m £ Falcao and were repaid every penny of it. In his first season in Spain, Falcao scored 24 League goals and 9 Europa League goals. He continued his lethal scoring in European games as he helped Atlético to win their second Europa Leaue title in 3 years. By achieving this feat, Falcao won back to back Europa League titles.

His lethal scoring means Atlético Madrid went on 9 matches’ unbeaten streak out of which 7 were victories. During this streak he scored found the net 8 times and provided 2 assists. His heroics in the League and Europe mean he has successfully put himself on the radar of major buying powerhouses. Chelsea might launch a bid for him.

Score: 9/10

2) Kun Agüero: Manchester City’s 39.5m £ were paid in most sensational fashion as he scored a vital winner in the last seconds which ended City’s 44 year wait for the League title. Kun scored a brace on his début against Swansea and never looked back. Although initially taunted for scoring only at home games, his 9 out of 30 goals in the historic season have come away from home.

Somewhat failed to shine in Champions League, Agüero has a challenge in front of him to score against big guns playing away from home. 23 league goals, 8 assist and 5 MoM awards meant an incredible transfer hit.

Score: 9/10 

3) Javier Pastore: Initially linked with all the big European clubs, Pastore was sold to Nuevo (oil) rich PSG for 37m £. 22-year-old Javier Pastore scored 13 goals and provided 6 assists in the league.

Pastore’s performances have been inconsistent over the season but at least he seemed to have chosen the right club. Big money signing like him meant he got plenty of playing time in PSG. PSG’s ambition backed by Petro dollars from Sheikhs means more quality signings will be made over the summer.

Pastore too, hasn’t impressed in Europa League this season as PSG crashed out in the group stages. If Pastore manages to play in maximum games, he’ll continue to flourish.

Score: 8/10 

4) Cesc Fàbregas: Cesc’s transfer saga must’ve been like one of those never-ending daily soaps. When he put a pen to paper and officially wore Barça jersey, there were many doubts on how he will fit in Barca’s tiki taka system considering Iniesta – Xavi’s irreplaceable duo and emergence of Thiago Alacantara.

But he proved his doubters wrong as he slotted in very well in Barca’s system. Till February, he had scored all of his 15 goals and was Barca’s 2nd leading goal scorer behind Messi. But since his last league goal has come on 9th January against Espanyol.

Towards end of the season Cesc had been extremely wasteful as he squandered a lot of importannt chances. He has a lot to prove to Barça faithful and repay their faith.

Score 6.5/10

5) Fábio Coentrão: When Coentrão arrived in Real Madrid with a 26.5m £ price tag, he was seen as a complete solution to left-sided defensive problems. But after initially featuring in Real’s all the matches and playing complete matches, Mourinho seemed to have lost faith in his abilities as Coentrão was overlooked in the favour of Marcelo.

Coentrão only started 12 league games and 7 Champions League games during his first year in Spain. Clearly a case of lost confidence, unless he shines in Euro 2012, his place in Mourinho’s starting line up will still be in a limbo.

Score: 5/10

6) Samir Nasri: He went to City for winning the titles and that’s what he did after moving from Arsenal for 24m £. He played a vital role in City’s first ever Premier League title.

He scored 5 goals and provided 9 assists and started 26 games for City in his first season. Although his goal scoring record in City has not been more prolific than in Arsenal, but in City goal scoring was primarily taken care by their forwards. Whenever Nasri got to play in City’s star studded line up, he made sure that his performances didn’t go in vain.

Score: 8.5/10 

7) Samuel Eto’o: Check http://www.best-reviewers.com/how-much-money-does-samuel-eto-o-make-6285.htm. The website basically a great humiliation tool which shows you by how much money he’s earned since your’ve entered the website. You may close the website for your pleasure but he’ll still keep on earning that money for his prowess.

When unknown Anzhi Makhachkala appeared in the news and their plans to lure Eto’o to Russia, the world maybe laughed on them. But before everyone could realise, Eto’o was off to Russia in a 24m £ deal which’ll offer him 350k £-a week salary.

Since scoring on his début to salvage a draw for Anzhi, Eto’o scored 13 goals in 22 League matches. Anzhi’s inconsistent league form prevented them from mounting a serious challenge for European competitions.

Only few months in Russia’ Eto’o was linked with a loan move to Inter and a move to MLS. Although nothing like that happened, but he’s now linked with PSG.

With Guus Hiddink in charge of Anzhi for the coming season, it is yet to be seen whether Eto’o sticks around for pure footballing reasons or answer’s PSG’s call.

Score: 6.5/10

8) Juan Mata: Undoubtedly Chelsea’s best signing since few years. He’s been an absolute catalyst and a perfect bridge between Chelsea’s slow defence and quick counter attacks. It’ll be wrong to judge Mata’s contribution just in terms of stats.

His all-round game surely brought much more to Chelsea than just 6 goals and 13 assists. His vision, passing, through balls and finishing certainly makes him one of the scintillating player to watch.

Mata has surely justified his 23.5m £ price tag by playing key role in Chelsea’s historic Champions League winning season.

Score: 9.5/10 

9) Alexis Sánchez: Like Pastore, Udinese’s versatile striker Alexis Sánchez was coveted by almost all the major clubs who were trying to lure him into big money signing. But he finally he answered Barcelona’s 23m £ call.

Even after his move, there were lot of doubts on how much playing time he’ll get in the presence of Villa – Messi – Pedro. Injuries too did not help his cause much as he was sidelined twice for lengthy spells.

Due to injury to David Villa, Sánchez got to play more games than he might’ve anticipated. Messi’s sensational form meant Alexis’ good performances often went unnoticed. In his injury marred first season for Barça, he managed to pay 31 games and score 15 goals and provide 5 assists.

He’s young and can play everywhere in attack. If he can keep himself away from injuries, he can surely be one of the great talenst to watch.

Score: 7.5/10 

10) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: What to say about him? Moody, Maniac but Maverick nonetheless. He spearheaded AC Milan on his own and launched a serious title bid for consecutive Scudetto with AC Milan. Prior to finishing second in this season he holds a unique record of wining 7 league titles in last 7 years with different teams.

Although not his first season in Milan as he’d spent a previous season on Loan, he technically became Milan player this season when his loan deal was made permanent by Milan. He scored 28 goals in the league and 35 in total and finished as Serie A’s top scorer.

There are still question marks over his temperament. But surely ranks as one of the best strikers in the world football at the moment.

Score: 8/10

11) Stewart Downing: In 36 League games only thing he’s got to show is 72 shots and 19 of them on target and No goals or assists. Even for him it must be difficult to remember what he actually did in Liverpool.

He was the most expensive English player to be transferred this season for 20m £. But under his presence Liverpool broke their barren trophy spell and won the Carling Cup. Probably this is his biggest contribution. He can be used as a lucky charm in the coming season.

There’s nothing more to say.

Score: 4/10 

12) Romelu Lukaku: Top scorer in Belgian league at the age of 16, Lukaku was a hot prospect and when Chelsea signed him for 19.5m £, it was certain that he would go on to lighten up the Premier League.

But he was completely overlooked by AVB till he was in charge of Chelsea. Even after Roberto Di Matteo took over, Lukaku could not knock the doors of the first team.

He’s still 19 and with a monstrous physic and power, the future is still bright for him, provided he gets the opportunities.

Score: Hate to do this, but an absolutely zero impact in his season, 4/10

13) Manuel Neuer: His first season in Bayern colors has been poor for Bayern in terms of results. Not to say Neuer has been fantastic in the season. At 19.5m £ transfer fee, he became world’s 2nd expensive goalkeeper behind Buffon.

After his mistake on 1st day cost Bayern a home defeat, he went on to keep clean sheets in next 12 consecutive games, beating Bayern’s record.

An excellent shot stopper and great distributor of the ball, Neuer’s vulnerabilities in coming off his line were exposed at times. Bayern’s penalty shoot out hero in the Semi Final, scored a penalty in Final’s shootout but he was let down by rest of his team mates who couldn’t convert their penalties.

By keeping 17 clean sheets in the league he ensured Bayern conceded least goals in the Bundesliga.

Score: 7.5/10

 14) Santi Cazorla: Has to be Málaga’s player of the season. Santi Cazorla sealed an 18.5m £ move from Villarreal in the summer. He figured in Málaga’s all 38 league games.

Santi being a versatile midfielder played in every position in the Málaga’s midfield. Having a squad built around him, Cazorla fulfilled the role of playmaker to the best.

He scored 9 goals and provided 5 assists and ensured Málaga finish 4th and qualifies for next season’s Champions League qualifiers. Week in- week out, he produced consistent performances on the pitch regardless of Málaga’s inconsistent form. Santi probably is an only Non Barca-Madrid player who can claim his place in La Liga’s team of the season.

Score: 9/10 

15) David de Gea: When Sir Alex Ferguson signed this lanky 20-year-old goalkeeper from Atlético Madrid for staggering 17.5m £, he was convinced that David de Gea will successfully replace Van Der Saar. But De Gea took a long time to adjust with physical style of English football and his vulnerability against long shots was exposed in his first ever game.

He made a lot of mistakes early in the season which resulted in letting in lot of goals and even United’s untimely exit from the Champions League. De Gea improved with every passing game. He showed tremendous shot stopping abilities and good concentration and helped United to mount a serious title challenge for the League.

But he still needs to improve tremendously to be considered as one of the best goal keepers in England and Spain.

Score: 7.5/10

16) Phil Jones: Jones is another youngster bought by United with a long-term vision to replace Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. United splashed 17m £ for this versatile 20-year-old player from Blackburn. Jones’ versatility might’ve counted against him as he played in Central defence, Right back and Centre midfield positions.

After showing scintillating form early in the season, Jones suffered recurrent injuries which hampered his growth in the 1st year at Old Trafford. Later on in the season, Jones showed the signs of lacking confidence in him own abilities.

Jones is very comfortable on the ball and is good likes to dribble in the opponent’s box every time he can. Although he’s one for the future, his first season has been of mixed performances

Score: 7/10

17) Balázs Dzsudzsák: Hungarian marksman Dzsudzsák  has been double transferred from PSV to Anzhi to Dinamo Moscow in the same season costing Anzhi a 12.5m £ and Dinamo a 16.5m £. Due to his injury he missed most of the season at Dinamo.

Despite getting 630 minutes in 9 matches after his injury, Dzsudzsák is yet to open his goal scoring account.

Unfortunate lad, but he’s got to justify his price tag in coming season.

Score: 4/10

18)   Ashley Young: 3rd of United’s summer signing, Young too suffered lot of injuries in his début season at Old Trafford. Young has been excellent on wings but at times he’s been very ordinary.

Although he could play in only 25 matches (19 starts), Young scored 6 league goals and provided 7 assists.

With Valencia cementing his spot on the right-wing, Young has to fight Nani for the permanent berth on the left-wing. To succeed at United, Young has to show consistency in his performances.

Score: 6/10

19) Jordan Henderson: Liverpool spent 16m £ for this youngster from Sunderland. Although it appeared that he’s been played out of position far too often, he actually has started 20 out of 31 games in his favoured Central midfield position.

Another failed signing from Liverpool’s “Moneyball” experiment, Henderson can compete with Downing for ‘Wasted Resources of the Year’ award.

Henderson’s previous season in Sunderland was really good and he successfully orchestrated their midfield.  He couldn’t find any rhythm what so ever in Liverpool jersey.

Score: 5/10

20) Gökhan Inler: Inler’s acquisition for 15.5m £ from Udinese was final piece in Napoli’s jigsaw. They needed a midfield dynamo to back their attacking trio of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik. Inler provided just that.

From Centre Midfield position, Inler averaged 2.8 tackles and 2 interceptions per game. He also averaged about 50 passes per game with 86.5% success rate. Considering Napoli’s counter attacking style these stats shows Inler has proven to be good initiator of attacks.

His both goals came in the Champions League and at the crucial moments. Inler gave consistent performances despite Napoli’s mixed results.

Score: 7/10


Real Madrid finally won League title after 4 years, Manchester City won it after 44 years. Montpellier won their first ever Ligue 1 title and Borussia Dortmund won League and Cup double. In Holland Ajax won their 30th League title.

All these teams will be looking to freshen up their squads by bringing in few new faces where as Barcelona, Manchester United, PSG, Bayern will be looking to avenge their league defeats by revamping their squads.

New season is certain to break more transfer records. We just have to see how many of them rise up to the occasion and deliver; else we’ll still be singing “Oh Caroll!”.

In my earlier article, Will the real 4th place team please stand up? we had a look at how incredibly tight was the fight for last place and how it was majorly due to inability of the teams to capitalize on other team’s failure.

By the time I’d written the previous article, the season had undergone 23 out of 38 games and the table stood like this.

In that post, I had touched upon the forms of Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Levante, Rayo Vallecano, Malaga and Osasuna. Valencia were enjoying a cozy cushion of 7 points above the 4th placed team.

It has been 10 more games since the last article that means everybody had 30 points up for grabs and I was certain that the races for the final Champions League playoff place (4th in the League) and Europa League places (5th and 6th) would have been more of less settled.

How wrong was I? Nothing like that has happened and almost all the teams which we’d discussed above have shown a tremendous inconsistent form and have failed miserably to achieve their goals. Their performances over the season can’t be termed anything but  “Les Misérables” – the poor ones, the wretched ones.

Currently after 33 rounds, the table stands like

Now there are 2 battles have emerged. With 5 more rounds to go and maximum 15 points up for grabs, incredible 9 teams are separated by mere 6 points.

Although all the teams remain same except Getafe and Seville coming into contention, their form over last 10 games has been precarious to be considered as European football contenders.

Lets look at the progression of League positions of the above teams.


Los(t) Che: Highest League Position: 1, Lowest League Position: 7

Valencia’s 7 point cushion over the 4th placed Espanyol after 23 games has been evaporated. Their lead at the 3rd place has been reduced to just one point.

Have a look at Valencia’s form throughout the season.

After 22nd match, the wheels on Valencia wagon have come off. Midweek distractions (Champions League, Europa League and Copa del Rey) can be given as an excuse for many of these draws and defeats.

Valencia drew 1:1 with Barcelona in the 1st Leg of Copa del Rey Semi Final and a week later were defeated in the 2nd Leg 2:0. The game vs Atletico Madrid was sandwiched in Copa del Rey SFs, this game was drawn 0:0 in which Valencia fired just 1 shot on target.

Similar pattern was seen when 2 legs of Valencia’s Europa League round of 32 against Stoke were followed by an away trip to Nou Camp where they were hammered 5:1 and a 1:2 home defeat against Sevilla.

Valencia have raked up 1.75 pts per game at home and in 1.41 pts per game away from home. In their remaining 5 fixtures Valencia will play 3 games at home vs Real Betis, Osasuna and Villarreal whose away form has been 1, 0.87 and 0.56 respectively.

But Valencia will play Europa League semi final legs on 20th and 27th against Bilbao followed by a blockbuster showdown against Malaga.

Valencia will have to prioritize between,

  • Europa League title,
  • 3rd spot in the League which will ensure direct qualification for Champions League group stage.
  • 4th spot in the League which will take them to the Champions League playoffs.

My predictions for Valencia’s remaining fixtures are, Betis (H): D, Malaga (A): L, Osasuna (H): W, Villarreal (H): W, Real Sociedad (A): W.


Malaga: Highest League Position: 3 , Lowest League Position: 10 (not considering 1st day defeat)

In my earlier post Project Malaga, we’ve seen How Malaga were yet to arrive despite big spending and their form earlier in the season was nothing near to ‘Champions League playoff contenders’

But finally it seem like slowly but surely the ‘Project’ has finally taken a destined direction. 5 impressive wins in 6 games and drawing 1:1 against Real Madrid at Bernabeu, had seen them leapfrogging Levante, Espanyol, Bilbao.

Malaga had displaced Valencia from their 3rd place after week 31, but In their last defeat to Villarreal, Malaga conceded 2 goals in last 7 minutes to go down 2:1 and a draw against 10 men Sociedad. They have a very talented squad in the League, but 2 losses and a draw in their last 4 games again cast some doubts about the temperament, desire and ability to lift the game of the players.

Malaga’s Home form is 3rd best in the League behind Barca and Real Madrid with 2.1 points per game, but their away form has been equally disastrous (0.93 per game). Their 2 out of 4 away wins have come recently.

3 out of 5 of their remaining 5 matches are away from home against Osasuna, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid whose home form is 1.9, 2.8 and 1.9. These fixtures are 34th, 36th and 37th in the league calendar.

My predictions for Malaga’s remaining games are, Osasuna (A): W, Valencia (H): W, Barcelona (A): L, Atletico Madrid (A): L, Gijon (H): W


Levante: Highest League Position: 1, Lowest League Position: (not considering 2 initial draws)

Best romantic story of La Liga. Club haunted by serious money problems, unpaid wages and a poor league form last season have managed to turn things around on the pitch. Their 7 consecutive league wins saw them at the summit which they held for 2 weeks.

Then followed 2 bad streaks for them. First was 3 consecutive losses (10,11,12) and another 8 match win less streak without wins which had 3 draws and 5 losses (16-23). They bounced back with 4 wins in 5 matches and went level on points with Malaga and exchanging 4th spot, but they failed to capitalized on this form and lost their last two games. Other teams were unable to take advantage of this slip up and allowed Levante to retain their 5th spot, Malaga’s 1 point off 2 games meant the gap between them remained only 3 points.

Levante’s away form has been decent with 1.12 points per game and at home they’re formidable proposition with 1.76 points per game. Levante will play 3 of their remaining 5 matches away from home against Seville ( 1.68 points / game at home), relegation threatened Zaragoza (1.18 pts / game at home) and Real Mallorca (1.43 pts / game at home).

Of all the teams fighting for 4 spot, Levante will fight hard as some Champions League money will do much good to their financial cause.

My predictions for Levante’s remaining games are, Sevilla (A): L, Granada (H): W, Zaragoza (A): D, Mallorca (A): D, Bilbao (H): W.


Osasuna: Highest League Position: 5, Lowest League Position: 15

They are a surprise package of the league and certainly most unlikely team to compete for a European spot.

Only 6 teams out of 20 have scored less goals than Osasuna, and only 3 teams out of 20 have let in more goals than Osasuna, but most importantly only 3 teams out of 20 have lost less matches than Osasuna.

Stats stand heavily against Osasuna in the final flight. 37 goals scored and wooping 53 goals conceded in 33 matches is certainly not an exciting stat also their longest winning streak lasted just 2 games. Osasuna’s league position has been helped by failure of other teams to pounce on their losses.

Osasuna’s home form is incredible. They have picked up 1.88 points per game at home, winning 9 games out of 17 including a famously gunning down mighty Barcelona (3:2). But away from home, their form is precarious. They have only 2 wins, 8 draws to their credit away form home, and 6 losses. Out of those 6 losses, 8-0 against Barcelona, 7-1 against Real Madrid and recently 6-0 against Rayo Vallecano have been real thumpings.

Osasuna’s run down is pretty difficult. They’ll host Malaga and Sociedad and will travel to Villarreal, Valencia and Racing Santander.

My predictions on Osasuna’s remaining games are, Malaga (H): L, Villarreal (A): L, Valencia (A): L, Sociedad (H): D, Santander (A): W


Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol and Getafe all are tied on 45 points, 6 points adrift of current 4th placed Malaga.

Have a look at their away form throughout the season. It really a poor statistic by some of the giants of Spanish football. Sevilla has been UEFA Cup winner in the past and Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao along with Valencia make 3 out of 4 Spanish teams in Europa League’s semifinalists.

Athletic Bilbao:

Although Athletic Bilbao have been sensational in Europa League knocking out Manchester United and Schalke, in the League they haven’t been able to exert their force. Their haven’t been able to win more than 2 matches on the go, and this feat too they could achieve only once. On the other hand they’ve managed to lose 3 games in a row twice in the season.

Bilbao initially went 6 away games unbeaten, but in their last 6 away games they have managed only 2 draws and losing 4.

Bilbao will travel to relegation bound Santander, Zaragoza and 4th spot contender Levante. Their home games are against unstoppable Real Madrid and resurgent Getafe.

Another Europa League semi finalists Atletico Madrid share the similar tale and yet more disappointing away form.  

Just 4 wins, a draw and 5 losses in their last 10 matches meant they could win secure only 13 points out of possible 30. Out of these 10 matches 5 were at home and Atletico managed 3 wins and 2 losses, which were against Barcelona and Real Madrid. Their performance in both of these matches were excellent.

Out of remaining 5 matches, Atletico will play 3 at home against Espanyol, Sociedad and Malaga.

I’ve been impressed by Getafe so far who had a disastrous start to the league campaign. After 10th game, they found themselves at the bottom of the league with only 7 points to show.  They managed 4 wins in next 6 games. Getafe could manage only 19 points after first 16 games and managed a respectable 12th place.

Well, if a 12th place team can have only 19 points after 16 games, the inconsistency of the entire league barring top two is brutally exposed.

However Getafe have managed 26 points from next 17 games with 7 wins, 5 draws and 5 losses. They just thumped another contender Sevilla 5-1 at home last night. Unbelievably 26 points in 17 games is a highest tally among the above teams involved.

Getafe’s run seem to be the easiest and their recent form is decent too. They’ll play Granada (A), Mallorca (H), Santander (H), Athletic Bilbao (A) and Zaragoza (A).

Relatively weekly points progression of the teams will show the fact that how closely these teams are knit and how a couple of good result or a couple of bad results can change the standings completely.


Parting Shot:

I don’t want to start a debate on which league is best in Europe or in the World, but I couldn’t resist the temptation of checking out the League standings across the Europe after 33 games and checking out where a team closer to 52 points does stand.

In no other leagues does team with 1.58 points / game stands a chance for a direct qualification in group stage of the Champions League, rather those teams are struggling for their chances to play in Europe.

In the following table shows 3rd place teams in Major European Leagues and their performance in terms of points per game.

In Major European Leagues, La Liga has a team with lowest points/game at 3rd place in the League.

Well, Spain maybe the European Champions and World Champions and they might have a best shot in conquering European Championships again.

Valencia, Athletic Bilbao maybe playing beautiful football, Malaga may have a best assembled petroleum squad, Levante might be defying all the odds stacked against their existence, but unless you perform consistently in terms of results, and rely on mediocrity of other teams to secure better positions, you won’t stand a chance in Europe’s élite club competitions.

I believe, this is a very strange season all over Europe. Football Leagues in every nation have a different story to tell.

Italy has a two horse race, England has a three where as Germany has a four horse race, everybody is losing in Holland, it is all but wrapped up in Scotland and Fuel rich PSG are being pushed to the limit in France.

In Spain, the season is promising a full drama till the end of the season. No, not for the the title decider, but in the middle of the pack.

While 15 fixtures are yet to be played, Real Madrid are sitting comfortably at the top of the table with a massive 10 point lead over Barcelona.

Barca have thrown away the league. Thanks to their terrible away form, Barca have picked up just 17 points from possible 33, where as Real have picked up 28. Even Rayo Vallecano have managed more away points than Barca, 18.

Barca will have to up their away form and hope for some miracles. Otherwise the Real seem to have wrapped up the league. As usual, Valencia are third placed. There is incredible 21 point gap between the leaders, Real Madrid and Valencia. These three teams will finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd and will qualify directly for the next year’s Champions League group stages.

But what about fourth place? Who wants to have a shot at Champions League playoff round next year? Who wants to be a millionaire?

No one.

Further 7 points adrift of Valencia and 28 points of Real Madrid, at 33 points from 23 games, the real drama starts.

Flight to the Fourth.

It is an incredible melee of 14 teams. Only 7 points separate 4th placed Espanyol and 17th placed Villarreal.

Espanyol and Athletic Bilbao are tied on 33 points but Espanyol are placed ahead of Bilbao on better head-to-head points (ESP 2-1 ATH and ATH 3-3 ESP). Thus in case of same points by the end of the season, Espanyol will always be ahead of Bilbao.

Atletico Madrid and Levante are tied on 32 points, but since Atletico beat Levante 3-2, they are placed 6th and Levante are 7th. If Levante beat Atletico in the reverse fixture, head to head goal difference will be taken into consideration.

Rayo Vallecano, Malaga and Osasuna have acquired 8th, 9th and 10th places and all have 31 points.

Seville and Betis are locked 11th and 12th with 29 points. Mallorca, Getafe and Granada are on 13th, 14th and 15th with 28 points. Real Sociedad and Villarreal are on 16th and 17th with 27 and 26 points.

Okay, the chances of Seville, Betis, Mallorca, Getafe, Granada, Sociedad and Villarreal getting a fourth spot are less realistic but from 15 remaining fixtures, if anybody manages to hit a hot streak of wins, it’ll go down to the wire.

Main reason of this situation is none of these teams have a consistent run of results. Lets have a look at the points picked up in their last 6 league games and the impact on their standings.

Position Now

Position 6 weeks back

Team

Points picked up

Points available

4

8

Espanyol

9

18

5

9

Athletic Bilbao

10

18

6

11

Atletico Madrid

12

18

7

4

Levante

2

18

8

13

Rayo Vallecano

12

18

9

6

Malaga

6

18

10

5

Osasuna

5

18

Despite Levante’s dismal form, Malaga and Osasuna couldn’t continue their initial good form and all three have been struggling recently. Even with huge spending spree and incredibly disastrous performances, Malaga too have a chance to get a playoff spot.

Espanyol and Atletico Madrid had a great chance to change the table scenario but they too could manage 2 and 3 points respectively in their last 3 games.

Rayo Vallecano have been promoted in La Liga this season. And they are playing some good football in the league. With 3 consecutive wins Rayo Vallecano have surged ahead, and are deservedly claiming their stake on that 4th spot.

Nobody is showing a true potential to be worthy of a Champions League playoff spot. Instead of good performances and consistency, it seems they all are waiting for others to press self destruction button. Lets see if the coming week will help reshuffling of this pack.

Next week’s fixtures
Espanyol vs Levante: It is a potential 6 pointer game and the winner will be either 4 or 2 points clear of each other. But Levante’s away form has been disatrous. They have lost all 6 previous away matches in the league. Although Espanyol themselves are not in a great form, I still think they’ll beat Levante comfortably at home, maybe 2-0.

Villarreal vs Athletic Bilbao: Although it is a battle between 17th and 4th placed team, only 7 points separate these two. Both the teams have picked up 10 points in their last 6 games. Historically Villarreal have been good against Bilbao at home. But they’ll have to wipe out last week’s 4-0 drubbing by Mallorca, where as Bilbao have thrashed mega rich Malaga 3-0. This one is tough to call. I guess Villarreal can nick it 1-0.

Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona: Atletico have been formidable at home against Barcelona. They have beaten Barca 4 times in last 6 seasons. Barca’s away form hasn’t been too good either. In last  6 away matches, they have picked up only 8 points, where as Atletico have picked up 13 points in last 6 home games. I can see a draw here. Probably a 2-2 result.

Rayo Vallecano vs Real Madrid: They say all good things must come to an end. Rayo Vallecano are on a impressive form, whereas Real Madrid are on exceptional form. Rayo have notched up 5 wins in 7 games, but Real have been on a steam roller, winning all 8 out of 8 previous games. I don’t see anything else but Real winning this one. Predicting scoreline is like throwing two dice and read the numbers on top. Real can score any no. of goals between 1-6.

Malaga vs Zaragoza: Sunday Lunch time kick off. Zaragoza are at the bottom of the league and on a paper it should be a comfortable win for Malaga. But the football is never played a paper. Although Zaragoza has beaten Espanyol in two weeks back, I don’t think they’ll be able to repeat the miracle. Malaga to win 2-0.

Osasuna vs Granada: Granda are playing good football considering they’ve returned to the top flight after 35 years absence and they’ll go on to beat Osasuna, maybe by a goal to nil.

If all the above predictions come true, then we might see Espanyol pulling themselves clear by just 3 points ahead of Athletic Bilbao. If the same trend and inconsistent form continues in the weeks to come then likes of Seville and newly promoted Betis will join the gang. Whoever presses the panic button will drop out of the race. I guess Levante have already done it.

The joke is, just because everybody is playing badly, cometh the end of the season, they will still have a chance earning themselves a Champions League playoff spot.

Will the real 4th place team please stand up?

 

I’m sure, football fans across the globe were put on alert as two mighty projects were launched in Spain and France. The football world is rapidly falling prey to the “Big Property Showoff” between Russian oligarchs and Arab Sheikhs, Malaga and Paris Saint Germain are the latest renowned clubs from La Liga and Ligue 1 to be acquired.

Bankrolled by virtually endless money, these projects have been launched with the aim of bringing silverware to the gold laden countries in the middle east by virtue of winning club football championships and tournaments in European leagues.

Both clubs having been acquired by the Royal family members from the middle east, have undergone a total revamp on the pitch, coaches and backroom staff. Both the clubs have acquired prized signings, Santi Cazorla and Javier Pastore, have been going through a season of mixed performances.

We’ll look at both the Projects in this two legged blog. First lets have a look at Project Malaga.

A member of the Qatari Royal Family, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani purchased Malaga for a reported 36 million euros on June 11, 2010. He announced his arrival a year ago with low key optimism and said, “Our goal is to help Malaga take the necessary steps to consolidate its presence in La Liga”, than saying that Malaga has arrived on the European scene and is ready to rub shoulders against the likes of Barca and Real. Well, foreign investment or acquisition seems to be the only way for the small teams in Spain to take heads on with big two due to their unfair TV rights system.

After securing the services of Manuel Pellegrini in November 10, club took its first steps towards the stability by signing Bayern’s Demichelis (on loan), Atletico’s Asenjo, and ex-Seville, Arsenal and Real Madrid hit man Julio ‘the Beast’ Baptista.

After a humiliating defeat by Barca’s B team on the final day of the 10-11 season, this season has been marked as a launch of the “Malaga Project”, and Ruud van Nistelrooy from Hamburg, french medio Jeremy Toulalan from Lyon, right back Sergio Sanchez from Sevilla, left back Nacho Monreal from Osasuna, centre back Joris Mathijsen too from Hamburg, Isco from Valencia, Joaquin Sanchez (once named Spanish Figo) with his unfulfilled promises arrived. Demichelis’ loan was made permanent and then Malaga confirmed it’s marquee signing Santi Cazorla from Villareal. This all zing bang arrived for no less than 52 million euros.

Although Malaga are sitting in the 8th place with 28 points, just 3 points behind 4th placed Levante and Champions League playoff round spot, there are worrying points.

1) The Form,

2) Goals at both the ends.

The season has been one with ups and downs. They started with a loss away at Sevilla, followed by 3 wins in a row (vs Granada, Mallorca and Bilbao), a draw and a win again (vs Getafe), propelling them to 4th place.

Then the wheels came off. Malaga played next three games vs extremely cash strapped Levante, giants Real Madrid and a neighborhood club Rayo Vallecano and lost all 3, conceding 9 goals and scoring nothing in reply.

Next 4 games saw a win against Espanyol, draw against Betis and two consecutive wins against Racing Santander and Villarreal.

June when the things seem to have got back on track, Malaga hit a form which can be termed no less than a calamity. A set of next 3 matches before the winter break saw them  losing dramatically to Real Sociedad in 91st minute to an incredible goal, drawing to Osasuna and losing tamely to Valencia. Meanwhile they managed to see off Getafe over two legs in round of 32 of Copa Del Rey.

The return from the winter break was equally disastrous. The draw to Atletico Madrid was sandwiched between losses to Real Madrid in both the legs of Copa Del Rey round of 16. Malaga lost again to Sporting Gijon and got trounced 1-4 at home to Barcelona. They finally beat Sevilla 2-1 at home on 29th Jan 12, which was their first victory since 28th Nov 11.

Till today in January window, Carlos Kameni, once highly rated goalkeeper from Espanyol has been signed.

Pellegrini seem to have settled on 4-4-1-1 formation. Caballero in goal, Jesus, Demichelis, Mathijsen, Monreal in the back, Joaquin on wide right, Duda and Toulalan in the centre and Santi Cazorla on the left. Teenager Isco is being preferred ahead of Baptista, Juanmi to play behind striker Van Nistelrooy.

However there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in the starting line up. Only Martin Demichelis  has started in all the 24 games. Toulalan has made 22 starts, Mathijsen 19. At right back, Jesus Gamez has made 15 starts where Sergio Sanchez has made 10 starts (9 RB, 1 CB). The story at the left side of the defence is same. Monreal has started in 14 games and Eliseu in 10. Joaquin on the right has started 14 times where as Seba has started in 9 games in the same position. Cazorla has started 17 games on the left, 4 in the center and one on the right. Ruud has started in just 14 games.

The goals are coming in far lesser numbers than expected out of this attacking line up. Malaga has scored only 24 goals in 20 league matches and 5 in 4 Copa del Rey fixtures. 16 of those 24 have come at home and 8 away. No less than 15 players have been on the scoresheet.

Santi Cazorla is leading the pack with 4 goals and 6 assists, all of the goals have come in first 4 matches, leaving him with a barren spell of 20 matches. Seba, Rondon and Ruud van Nistelrooy all have scored 3 goals each.

At the back, Malaga have shipped a whooping 29 goals in 20 League matches, 14 of them being conceded at home and 15 away. Malaga’s Home and Away form has hit a strange symmetry. Having played 10 games each, home and away, their record reads 6-2-2 at home and 2-2-6 on the roads.

Although Malaga has made a mixed start, with 18 games still to go, they’ve got to get some stability and right balance. The players surely need to lift the game and in turn lift Malaga up the table with an ambition to compete in European tournaments next season.

With Fernando Hierro as a Sporting Director, gritty coach like Manuel Pellegrini, stars like Santi Cazorla and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani’s limitless money at disposal, nothing seems out of bounds.

We will have to wait and see when the Project Malaga really kicks off.

to be continued with Project Saint Germain.