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La Liga – Ronaldo Scores Five

Ronaldo puts five past Granada and Mathieu uses his head (again) against Celta Vigo in the weekend’s La Liga action.

 

Cristiano Pent-naldo

Somewhere in Madrid, they’re still scoring.

Real Madrid provided the slaughter of the week on Sunday, as they defeated Granada 9-1 in the club’s biggest margin of victory in nearly 50 years. This result temporarily put Los Blancos atop the La Liga table (Barca’s win later in the day would nullify that), while it also kept Granada chained to the relegation zone.

Perhaps even more startling than the total tally was Ronaldo’s five goal display. By the time the Portuguese’s hat-trick was lodged in minute 38, it felt like the kind of day that could get out of hand in the statistical department, and it obviously was. Ronaldo’s five-piece goes down as his most in a single game as a professional and puts him three ahead of Lionel Messi in this year’s picicci race.

Putting a performance like this in context is tricky. Detractors will say that it was against Granada at home, therefore such a showing isn’t all that impressive. But if that were the case, this milestone of his would’ve been reached before this past weekend. Conveniently, I’d say that the most rewarding way to view this achievement — as a rare feat only possible by a few players in the world aka the best ones — is also the truth. I frequently try to remind fans of the game to cherish Lionel Messi because when he’s gone you’ll notice. Well, Ronaldo’s the only real cohort Messi has ever had, and it’s not because every great needs a rival. It’s because he’s forced his way into The Discussion of Messi. Only an all-time great can do something as impossible as be justifiably compared to Messi.

Remember to cherish Ronaldo. He’s once in a lifetime, too.

Disappointing Derby at the Mestalla

Every so often, two elite sides who champion free-flowing football play each other, and the soccer gods weep at its majesty. The passes are crisp, the chances are plentiful, and the defenses are heroic. And we, the fans, are enamored. It’s a special occasion where delivery meets expectation in the most perfect way.

But then there’s times when those same teams in the same situation lay an egg. Or two (0-0). In these games, the passes are crispless, the chances are bare, and the defenses, well, they’re still heroic, just in a less attractive way. That was the Mestalla on Sunday.

Valencia and Villarreal played to a rigid scoreless draw on Sunday in a promising but underwhelming Valencian derby. To be fair, there was no quit or reservation from either sides. Both teams played with heart and intensity and could’ve stolen all three points at any time. But as far as spectacles go, it was wholly average.

Though Valencia started the match on the front foot, Villarreal began to dominate part way through the first-half, overrunning midfield and stifling the home team’s flow. The game shifted again in the second-half when Los Che manager Nuno Espirito Santo brought on forwards Alvaro Negredo and Rodrigo. The subs played more to the direct approach Valencia chose to employ for much of the match. However, all attacking strategy and tactics proved fruitless as neither side was able to breach the others’ goal.

SOCCER: AUG 04 International Champions Cup - Valencia C.F. v Inter Milan

Although their quest for third place lost a little steam with the draw, Valencia should still feel happy with their current form. Six wins and no defeats in their last eight Liga matches indicates the kind of up-kick necessary for Champions League qualification.

What’s specifically interesting about Los Che is their broad range of impact players. No single player has double-digit league goals or assists, however, fourteen players have scored at least one goal and nine have assisted multiple times. Yet, Valencia still posses standout talents like Paco Alcacer and Pablo Piatti, who’ve both contributed seven goals of their own, and captain Dani Parejo, who leads the team with eight. Then there’s the stonewall defense of Shkodran Mustafi and Nicolas Otamendi, who together have aided in allowing only 22 goals this Liga campaign, a record bettered only by Barcelona (17).

Conversely, a draw on Sunday will be considered refreshing for Villarreal, who’ve been on a dreadful run as of late. With only one victory in their last eight games in all competitions, the sixth-place Yellow Submarine run the risk of being caught by Malaga if they don’t wake up soon. The Boquerones currently trail Villarreal by only five points.

 

 

Barca Go Big, Late

Set-pieces. It’s a term thought to have been foreign to the Barca way. Short, quick passing; fluid link-up play; frenetic pressing of the ball — these are the tenets of Barcelona’s playing philosophy. The inclusion of free-kicks and corners on that list hasn’t been necessary. And why would it be? When you’re cutting teams to shreds from open play year after year, the role of set-pieces becomes a luxury rather than a cornerstone. It’s great when that’s the case, but what about when it’s not? What do you do when those luxuries become strengths? Well, if you’re smart, you exploit them.

Luis Enrique’s Barca soars because of their three-headed trident of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez. Yes, the core values of the system are still there: they’ll always play possession football with a firm focus on passing. But the broad perspective has changed because of what those three superstars offer. (It’s a no-brainer, really.) But, every so often, there will be days like Sunday, when Barca are faced with inspired quality opposition like Celta Vigo, who will courageously and — at times — successfully attempt to out-tiki-taka the tiki-taka. It’s then when a Plan B must be implemented. Enter the set-piece. Enter Jeremy Mathieu.

SOCCER: MAR 22 La Liga - Real Madrid at Barcelona

Just as we saw in last month’s Clasico against Real Madrid, the deadlock versus Celta was shattered by a Messi-assisted free-kick ferociously headed into the net by Mathieu. This time at the far post.

Due to Celta Vigo’s exquisite marking of their attacking trio, Barca’s chance creation hit major speed bumps on Sunday. Messi couldn’t find the space to abuse, Neymar was frustrated into making poor decisions, and Suarez was largely ineffective. Though they’ll probably always be towards the bare end of the league’s set-piece stat charts — their eight goals from set-pieces remains fourth worst in La Liga — it was quite nice to see a Barcelona match that hinged on the efforts of the squad beyond the open play of the three usual suspects.

In addition to Mathieu’s overall showing, it took massive defensive efforts from Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets to stave off the energetic Celts. If we’re assigning a Man of the Match, it probably goes to one of those two.

Although the win wasn’t beautiful in the traditional Barca way, it was just beautiful in its own way. Sometimes that’s just as good and even more necessary.

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