Best matches I was lucky enough to view:
La Liga: Valencia v. Malaga–This match was a beautiful, wide-open shootout and a fitting end to 8 hours of Saturday match viewing. Malaga struck first with a vengeance and displayed impressive pace from the outset. Things quickly took an unfortunate turn for the visitors, though, when recent transfer Martin Demichelis was sent off with a straight red card that led to a Valencia equalizer and a Malaga side reduced by one. It was actually hard to tell which side was playing a man-down, as Malaga kept attacking and took the lead before the break on Rondon’s 2nd goal of the match. Valencia’s manager, Unai Emery, made a crucial substitution at the half, introducing Roberto Soldado and Ever Banega who added critical firepower to Valencia’s attack. The second half was a blur of blitzing, full-throttle football that saw Soldado and Vanega both notch goals to give Valencia a 3-2 lead. Vanega’s goal came shortly after Malaga had been reduced to 9 men in the 65th minute. The conditioning and resolve showed by a depleted Malaga side was inspiring to watch and I jumped out of my seat when Julio Baptista scored in the 79th minute. This was sort of like the AC Milan/Udinese match from a weeks back where you just felt that the side who had possession of the ball last would win. Unfortunately, for a valiant Malaga squad, on this day, that side was Valencia who earned the full 3 points on a late strike by Aritz Aduriz. You always hear cliches in sports about teams pulling together and not giving up etc., but this performance by Malaga was a true and pure testament to the fact that those types of mythical, gritty performances do occur from time to time. A truly exciting match.
image courtesy of soccernet.espn
Premier League: Aston Villa v. Manchester City–So I wake up this morning and start prowling the websites looking interesting news and angles to write about only to be greeted with comments from Barcelona’s honorary president Johan Cruyff saying that the team would consider selling Dani Alves to Manchester City rather than risk losing him for nothing when his contract expires next summer. I guess poaching Yaya Toure last summer wasn’t enough for City. Barca’s wizardry seems to be a force beyond nature and human comprehension, but to my mere mortal eyes-Dani Alves, while not enjoying the stature of a Xavi or Iniesta, few do, appears to be a fairly important cog in Barca’s intricate machinery. Although his absence in the Racing Santander match didn’t seem to slow them down much, I think they need him to win the Champions League and achieve all the goals they are capable of this season. This all serves as a build-up to conveying my excitement upon seeing Joe Hart cough up an extremely juicy rebound that Darren Bent easily slid into the net, giving Villa a 1 goal lead that they would, ultimately, hold on to, costing City a chance to keep pace with Manchester United and Arsenal at the top of the Premier League. The intensity of the second half as City sought an equalizer made for great viewing and I found myself instantly becoming a Villa fan. My heart stuttered slightly when the ball slammed off the post in the 83rd minute and seemed to hang in the box for hours. Edin Dzeko misfired on at least one header that looked destined to level the score for City. I hate teams in any sport that just try to buy and buy and buy their way to relevance and titles. Especially bumblers like the owners of Washington Redskins, and to a lesser degree Manchester City, who never seem to get it right. I’m going to end this with a story from the Spoiler underlining City’s folly far more emphatically than I could. Apparently, Real Madrid was “staggered” to learn how much money Emmanuel Adebayor earns to get into fights with his teammates and warm the bench on match days. Bravo!
Can a side score 5 goals and still be boring? I think United provided the answer on Saturday. Seriously, though, I loved Dimitar Berbatov’s superb finish on his 3rd goal of the match and the sly little shrug he gave afterwards. Do sloths have sharp teeth? I don’t know. Berbatov reminds me of a sloth. I mean that to be complimentary, but I don’t know any way to make the complimentary nature of that sentence shine through as intended. He never, ever looks like he’s working hard, but he’s always where he needs to be to score goals. He’s effortlessly dangerous. It reminds me of Eduardo Galeano’s description of German legend Gerd Muller in his excellent book Soccer in Sun and Shadow, where he writes the following:
“Nobody saw a wild wolf in the field. Disguised as an old woman, his fangs and claws hidden, he strolled along, making a show of showering innocent passes and other works of charity. Meanwhile, he slipped unnoticed into the box…” Galeano page 144
That’s how I see Berbatov. The wolf comparison was taken.
I didn’t get to watch any Serie A matches in their entirety, this weekend, but I was struck by how compelling the second half of the scoreless Sampdoria v. Juventus match was. The was a certain beauty and grace to the grind on the pitch that is hard to describe, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I have a soft spot in my heart for AC Milan, which may be confusing in light of my disdain for spend-happy sides like Manchester City. There is just something about this side, especially with Ibra in the fold. He had another great showing on Sunday against Cesena, notching his 12th goal in 19 Serie A matches. I remember watching Cesena defeat Milan back in September, so this was definitely an important 3 points for the league leaders. Also, it appears that Mark Van Bommel will be joining Milan! I’m curious to see how his bruising, intimidating style blends into this side. Interesting.