Real bristling with confidence before Champions League semi

April 25, 2011

In our latest Monday Spanish soccer post, Mark Elkington in Madrid looks at the state of play ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final between arch rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, Diego Forlan’s relegation to the bench at Atletico Madrid and the curse of the balls on the pitch.

Real bristling with confidence before Champions League semi

Last week’s dramatic King’s Cup final victory over Barca has provided a palpable boost to Real coach Jose Mourinho and his players and they romped to a 6-3 win at third-placed Valencia on Saturday despite resting several key squad members.

Barca, by contrast, laboured to a 2-0 success at home to Osasuna, one that nonetheless preserved their seemingly unassailable eight-point lead over Real at the top of La Liga with five games left.

However, their problems were compounded by injuries to Gabriel Milito and Maxwell. With Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and Adriano already on the medical list, coach Pep Guardiola has a severe defensive headache.

David Villa provided a bright spot amid the injury gloom by breaking his 11-game goal drought when he opened the scoring with a typically clinical strike at the Nou Camp.

Real’s cup win, their first since 1993, came after the 1-1 draw at home to Barca in La Liga, a result which helped banish memories of their 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Catalan club in November’s league game in Barcelona.

Guardiola admitted that the balance of power had shifted to the Spanish capital since then and Real are now seen as slight favourites to progress to May 28’s Champions League final in London.

“We know that Madrid are not going to lose any more (league) games because with a title in the bag they are liberated and we have to get back to winning ways,” Guardiola told a news conference after the Osasuna game.

“We are not going (to Madrid) in the best condition but in mental terms we will travel to the Bernabeu with a lot of enthusiasm,” he added.

“We accept that Madrid are favourites, they have earned that in the last few weeks, and we’ll try to turn that around.”

Is Forlan heading for the back door?

Diego Forlan was a dejected observer from the bench again as Atletico Madrid thumped Levante 4-1 at the Calderon on Sunday.

The Uruguyan striker, who was voted player of the tournament at the World Cup finals in South Africa last year, has not started their last four matches, and three wins and a draw suggests he has not been missed.

His two goals against Fulham in last year’s Europa League final seem to have been forgotten by many Atletico fans, and when he came out to warm up in the second half the standard “U-ru-gua-yo!” (Uruguyan!) chants sounded half-hearted.

The 31-year-old came on for the last 20 minutes to the now typical mixture of cheers and whistles, and put a one-on-one chance wide after being played through by two-goal Sergio Aguero.

Forlan’s refusal to profess his undying love for Atletico, his argument that he is only being honest when he says he would leave if the offer was attractive enough for him and the club, has not endeared him to many die-hard ‘rojiblancos’.

“It’s a difficult situation for him that he isn’t used to, but the coach has to take the decisions he thinks are best,” Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores told reporters.

After almost constant speculation over his future in his four years at Atletico, the two-time European ‘golden boot’ winner, looks like he may finally be on his way this summer.

Atletico moved four points clear in seventh with five matches left to play, and along with Sevilla (sixth) and Athletic Bilbao (fifth), who both won on the weekend, look to be on course to secure the one of the three Europa League slots for next year.

Balls on the pitch

Throwing an extra ball onto the pitch to force the referee to halt play has become something of a craze in La Liga during 2011.

It first came to my attention at the end of January when Osasuna fans disrupted Real Madrid’s attempts to come back from 1-0 down, by throwing balls out of the stands at the Reyno de Navarro stadium, forcing the referee to halt play while they were removed.

Earlier this month, Real Zaragoza coach Javier Aguirre apologised to Getafe when balls were thrown on to field of play from his own dugout, as his struggling side hung on to a 2-1 lead at the Romareda.

On Sunday, it happened again when Sevilla ball-boys used the same tactic to interrupt Villarreal’s late charge at the Sanchez Pizjuan, as the home side clung to a 3-2 lead.

“It’s a bad craze that is becoming a regular occurrence in Spanish football,” Sevilla coach Gregorio Manzano told reporters.

It seems like a minor offence but is particularly effective at stopping a rival’s counter-attack when you are caught short at the back near the end of a match.

The Spanish soccer federation’s standard 600-euro fine for clubs does not seem an effective deterrence.

“Futbol is played with one ball…some people should learn before coming to stadiums and ruining a nice, exciting game,” Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi said on his Twitter feed.

PHOTO: Real Madrid’s Kaka celebrates after scoring against Valencia during their La Liga match at the Mestalla in Valencia April 23, 2011. REUTERS/Heino Kalis.

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Real bristling with confidence before Champions League semi…

In our latest Monday Spanish soccer post, Mark Elkington in Madrid looks at the say of play ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final between arch rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, Diego Forlan’s relegation to the bench at Atletico Madrid an……

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Re:balls on the pitch
It happened again last night in Zaragoza’s match at home to Almeria.
Balls were thrown on the field of play at La Romareda on two separate occasions, as bottom club Almeria tried to come back from 1-0 down in the closing minutes.
Zaragoza are becoming serial offenders!

Posted by Moosejaw | Report as abusive