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5 Matches, 479 Minutes and 27 Goals

November 7, 2011

Sky Sports schedule for this Sunday offered those of a footballing persuasion the opportunity to watch five football matches straight, with only punditry and advertisement intervals to fill the time in between. With not much else to do, I decided to take on what I had perceived to be a challenge.

1. Opening Act: “The Inevitable Slaughter”

Real Madrid 7-1 Osasuna

This was ultimately a nice game to ease into the day ahead. With a brief taxing moment in the first half, Real Madrid nonetheless eased to a comfortable victory. A victory that gave further ammunition to those who believe Liga BBVA to be a two-team division.

The divide in technical ability between the two sides was evident from the kick-off and were it not for a momentary switch in concentration to berate the referee then Real Madrid would not have conceded. Osasuna’s goal was a nice moment of parity but there was always the feeling it would be brief and that it was simply delaying the inevitable. Unfortunately, Osasuna’s equaliser only added greater pace to Real’s attack and they soon restored their advantage before racing off into the sunset, leaving Osasuna to lick their wounds. Osasuna don’t boast a single international player to their name so these two weeks might seem a little longer to those from Pamplona.

2. Second Act: “The Ugly Duckling”

Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-1 Wigan Athletic

Looking at the five matches on paper, this would appear to be the one that’d be the more fiercely contested with both teams in similar positions. What transpired, while often leaving much to be desired on grounds of technical ability, was an entertaining game albeit not one for those with a penchant for romantic football.

Attacking movements were often broken down by inadequate passing than well-timed intervention. Both teams appeared to struggle for confidence. The even-nature began to lean in the away teams favour when Wolves took the lead. Wolves might’ve felt Wigan’s pain as Stephen Hunt gifted Wigan a penalty. Ben Watson’s effort from the spot was poor but luckily the band bounced straight back to him for him to draw his team level. It was deserved but the second half illustrated more of what’s wrong with Wigan than anything about the home side.

Wigan’s approach play was steadily improving but they really struggled in the final third in turning their chances into something more important. Wolves’ 2nd goal is well worth re-watching if for nothing else, Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi’s double save. The second part was an amazing effort which had the perverse beauty of falling to the feet of David Edwards who made certain of Wolves retaking the lead. From there, the game followed a typical pattern and Wolves seemed happy to watch Wigan falter, pouncing again to make it 3-1. Were it not for Al-Habsi’s man-of-the-match-award-winning performance then the score could’ve been a lot worse for the visitors.

3. Third Act: “The Clinical Nature of Club Stature”

Fulham 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur

Sky Sports does like its London derbies doesn’t it? This would appear to be the friendliest of London’s derby offerings what with Martin Jol saying hello to his former club in a way devoid of bitterness.

Tottenham’s counter-attack served them well in this game as Fulham dominated proceedings especially in the second half. In the first half, the visitors performed admirably in resisting Fulham’s desire to translate their dominance of possession into sustained attacking pressure. An injury blighted thoughts at the half-time break as the host’s Czech right-back Zdenek Grygera’s screams were rather disturbing. He was subsequently stretchered off with what appeared to be a knee injury.

My interest in the game had tired but persistence was key as it would be rewarded with a much more entertaining second period. Fulham eventually broke through the Spurs defence and their early goal certainly re-energised the contest. However Fulham’s efforts were met by a concerted defensive effort epitomised by Brad Friedel’s display. If there was one fault of the home side, it was that as the game wore on, they appeared to lose any resemblance of structure they had when going forward. That is all good and well if you have players with understanding bordering on telepathy but otherwise it can be counter-productive as Fulham found out to their dismay as Jermaine Defoe made it 3-1 to the away side in added time.

4. Fourth Act: “The Battle of San Mames”

Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Barcelona

This was the game that i was looking forward to the most due to by-in-large Bilbao’s tactician, Marcelo Bielsa pitting his wits against this Barcelona team, managed by a man in Pep Guardiola who has confessed his admiration of the Argentine coach. Heavy rain at San Mames only added to the test faced by the Catalan side.

Coupled with Bilbao’s effective pressing system, Bilbao gave a great account of themselves, leading the game on two occasions. Ander Herrera started the scoring with a superbly placed shot beyond Valdes reach, one in which the likes of Iniesta would’ve been proud of. Barcelona’s equaliser seemed to have come out of the likely Bilbao route to goal with an excellent cross from Eric Abidal being met by a fine header from Cesc Fabregas.

The second half saw conditions come into play more and it had an unfortunate effect on the game as it slowed the game down at certain points with the pitch’s water retention leading to a greater number of inconsistent touches. Bilbao would retake the lead courtesy of what appeared to be the game of bagatelle in a footballing context as a Bilbao corner took several ricochets in the box before finding its way past Victor Valdes. This gave Bilbao 10 minutes to hang on to the lead which was seemed a challenge considering their earlier lead lasted all of four minutes. As the game approached its conclusion, Bilbao’s defensive lynchpin and occasional loose-cannon Amorebieta was shown his second yellow card and shortly after Lionel Messi gave Barcelona a share of the points following a defensive mix-up. All-in-all an enjoyable game which will only continue to provide encouragement to the home support while raising questions of how Barcelona can’t quite seem to put in the performances away from the Camp Nou that they put on for their native support.

5. The Final Act: “The Shambolic Finale”

Getafe 3-2 Atletico Madrid

To finish the day came a Madrid derby pitting hosts who found themselves at the foot of the La Liga table and visitors who continually underachieve in relation to the individual talent that the squad possesses. The opening stages of the game were tentative and it was more the ferocious and unforgiving manner that the referee adopted that caught the eye, resulting in 11 yellow cards issued in the fixture. This would be a theme of the game overall but in the first half, his constant use of cards added an edge to the game that really was not there. His sending-off of Getafe centre-back Lopo was nonetheless correct and Falcao scored the resulting penalty giving the away side the lead. Up until then, the Colombian forward had resembled a lost and frightened child.
Getafe showed signs of frustration but after a period of time, they started to channel it into a more positive display resulting in a deserved equaliser direct from a free-kick with five minutes of the first half remaining.

They continued their resurgence into the second half and took the lead with four minutes of the restart. Atletico continued to struggle to maintain any sort of structure to their play but would equalise in fortunate circumstances. Getafe’s spirit did not wane and while the decision was at minimum questionable, they were awarded a penalty just a few minutes after Atletico levelled which Castro converted for Getafe to retake the lead. Overall, the game was entertaining but seemed to be a collection of interesting incidents than anything else. It would be fair to call it borderline shambolic as both teams have striking deficiencies. Getafe will take heart from the manner of their victory if nothing else while pressure will certainly increase on Atletico’s current boss Gregorio Manzano.

Conclusion

There were moments where my attention waned but all-in-all the five games offered varying degrees of entertainment across the plethora of emotions one can gather from the sport of football. The needless debate of which league is better came to my attention a few times over the course of the day and such a desire to say one is greater than the other will continue to baffle me. I enjoy watching football regardless of where it’s being played. It can differ thanks to cultural diversity and that is something brilliant that should be celebrated not something for people to use to point-score against another footballing culture.

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