Malaga CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga

Offshore drilling, Spain: Barcelona 3, at Málaga 1

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The typical formula for combating Barcelona is absorb their attack, stay very deep and compact, and on rely on counters. While the approach rarely leads to results, teams like Celtic, Chelsea, and Rubin Kazan have had success. Only José Mourinho’s Real Madrid has been able to go blow-for-blow with their rivals (and during the Special One’s first year in Madrid, it was too close to literal blows).

That’s why it’s surprising when a team like Málaga not only plays Barcelona straight up but is able to compete with Spain’s runaway leaders. For over a half on Sunday, only an aberrational first half mistake separated the two sides.

In the second, however, a Cesc Fabregas goal doubled Barcelona’s lead, and although Málaga again dialed up the intensity after a brief period of shock, Barcelona a superficially comfortable 3-1 victory.

It’s not exaggeration to say this game could have gone either way. Ignacio Camacho’s ill-advised first half back pass (after a collision between Málaga teammates on a Willy Caballero goal kick) gifted Lionel Messi the half’s only goal. Before that, Málaga was almost as dangerous as Barcelona, frequently able to get at their opponent down Barça’s right flank.

Given the tenacity with which Málaga was playing, the game may have broke differently were it not for one unfortunate, atypical mistake.

Man of the Match: Barcelona was playing, right? OK, then: Lionel Messi was Man of the Match.

The choice is both the default and justified. While the opening goal was gifted — Camacho’s backpass easily intercepted before Messi rounded Caballero at the edge of the area to finish into an open net — Messi assisted on each of Barça’s other goals. In the second half, a nice 20-yard diagonal allowed Fábregas to race past Sergio Sánchez and finish against Caballero’s left post. On Thiago Alcantera’s 82nd minute goal, Messi laid off a pass to the substitute midfielder ahead of his 19-yard blast.

(MORE: Video of Messi’s goal Sunday)

By Messi’s standards, it was an average day. He less dominant than opportunistic, but in match where Málaga’s tenaciousness held most of his teammates in check, the Ballon d’ Or winner was still the game’s best player.

Threesome of knowledge

1. Beware Málaga in Champions League – Spain-based Guardian and Sports Illustrated correspondent Sid Lowe was high on Málaga’s chances to go far in Champions League when December’s knockout round draw was made. Manuel Pellegrini’s team had cruised through their group, but against a floundering Milan, a Zenit squad in turmoil, and an outgunned Anderlecht, it was difficult to gauge how ready Málaga was for the next phase.

If Málaga plays like they did today, they’ll be a major threat in the knockout round. Few teams have players like Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets in midfield. The elite talents of that trio were the only thing that kept Barcelona in control at the Rosaleda. Were it not for the midfielder-esque skills of central defenders Gerard Pique and (to a lesser extent) Javier Mascherano, Barça would have been thrown off by high pressure from Roque Santa Cruz and  (and Jeremy Toulalan and Camacho in behind them). Less talented teams would have crumbled.

Even Real Madrid at their best — as talented but slower than Barcelona — would have had trouble. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are capable of dealing with Málaga, but teams like Manchester United, Juventus, and Paris Saint Germain? They’d struggle.

Porto – Málaga’s Round of 16 opponent? They’re in trouble.

2. That extra dimension of Andrés Iniesta – Were it not for Andrés Iniesta’s ability to turn upfield and move the ball vertically, Barcelona may have been relegated to knocking the ball sideways to try and get around Toulalan and Camacho. But at various moments in the match (most importantly, during Málaga’s last surge in the middle of the second half), Iniesta’s ability to dribble through Málaga’s initial pressure was the only thing that allowed Barcelona to keep the ball.

It was an example of the exquisite balance in Barcelona’s midfield. Neither Xavi nor Busquets are capable of carrying the ball like Iniesta, yet Iniesta can’t run a game like Xavi. And neither man’s capable of providing Busquets’ support.

Today, Barcelona needed Iniesta to shine. When teams pack it in, they’ll need Xavi to unlock them. And against teams that can win the ball and counter through the middle, Busquets will need to step up.

3. Barcelona’s defense coming around – Early this season, Barcelona’s defense looked suspect, but because their opponents rarely had the ball, the goals allowed numbers stayed low. Yet when you watched Tito Vilanova’s team you couldn’t help but wonder what teams like Bayern Munich would do to them in Champions League.

Now the defense is coming around. During Málaga’s first half advances, the back stayed organized as attacks into the space behind Daniel Alves forced the defense to reorganize. Gerard Pique (playing right-center half) calmly forced the play away from goal, where Sergio Busquets dropping into the back left the team prepared to deal with Málaga’s followup.

Instead of seeing their defenders isolated and desperate, Barcelona fans saw their team coolly deal with the type of attacks they’ll see against the world’s better teams. And with their defense playing better, those fans have reason to expect their guys will hold up.

Packaged for takeaway

  • By the end of the game, Barcelona’s possession number was at a typical 64 percent, though the shots on goal only favored them 4-2. Most of possession came in the second half after Fábregas’s goal temporarily disillusioned Málaga.
  • At times, there seems to be little difference between the team’s two right backs: Spanish internationals Jordi Alba (Barcelona) and Nacho Monreal (Malaga). But in the second half, Alba flashed the quality that sets him apart, coming from nowhere to overlap Iniesta in the box during one mid-half movement. Nothing came of it, but the speed with which Alba joined the attack created a “yeah, that’s what makes him different” moment.
  • Were it not for some strong reads early from Caballero, Barcelona may have rolled out to a typically easy victory. Three times in the first half hour Caballero charged off his line to deal with attacks. Still, it was an early stop on Lionel Messi that really deserves some attention. It wasn’t a leaping save, so you won’t see it in a highlight, but in going to ground on his right arm before reaching across his body to stop the ball with his left, Caballero showed the type of athleticism that’s often overlooked. A lot of goalkeepers can make the leaping stop, but to be able to both divert an attacker and recover to block his followup is something that would ask too much of a lot of pure shot-stoppers.

England: Allardyce in hot water after controversial Telegraph report

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21:  England manager Sam Allardyce and his assistant Sammy Lee listen to speakers during the UEFA EURO 2020 launch event for London at City Hall on September 21, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Sam Allardyce might be in a bit of trouble.

The England manager has been “caught” on tape by undercover Telegraph reporters in what’s being called a sting. Some of the banter is simply Allardyce being Allardyce — ripping on personalities he doesn’t like — and won’t affect much at all.

[ MORE: Watford’s Deeney rages after loss ]

Being outspoken isn’t a crime, after all. Other talk, though, could be quite damaging to the ex-Sunderland and Bolton boss. Allardyce reportedly flirted with getting big money to speak to a company that would be pitching third party ownership of players, which is strictly prohibited by FIFA.

From The Telegraph:

He agreed to travel to Singapore and Hong Kong as an ambassadorand explained to the “businessmen” how they could circumvent Football Association rules which prohibit third parties “owning” players.

Unbeknown to Allardyce, the businessmen were undercover reporters and he was being filmed as part of a 10-month Telegraph investigation that separately unearthed widespread evidence of bribery and corruption in British football.

The article is a part of an investigation the Telegraph claims will cause many problems for some big names in England over the coming days.

It could all come to nothing, though reports below show the Football Association will look into the Telegraph’s claims.

Watford’s Deeney raging after loss: “We got bullied to a man”

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Troy Deeney of Watford looks dejected during the Premier League match between Burnley and Watford at Turf Moor on September 26, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Watford’s spirits have gone from the penthouse to outhouse in barely a week.

The Hornets hammered Manchester United last week only to look listless against Burnley at Turf Moor on Monday.

[ MATCH RECAP: Burnley 2-0 Watford ]

Outshone under the bright lights of Monday Night Football, Watford captain Troy Deeney is, in a word, angry.

From the BBC:

“Poor. I’ll have to watch my words or I’ll get in trouble. We got bullied to a man, Burnley stuck to their gameplan, fair play to them.

“We lost 2-0 on TV, we got run over and both goals could have been avoided. I’m very disappointed. You set high standards and if you don’t match them people will ask questions.”

With Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Swansea City, and Hull City next on its Premier League docket, this is not a time for Watford to accept inconsistency.

To a man.

Burnley 2-0 Watford: Defour’s incisive crosses lead Clarets to win

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Jeff Hendrick of Burnley scores his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Burnley and Watford at Turf Moor on September 26, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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  • Hendrick scores first PL goal
  • Clarets dominate first half
  • Defour with two assists

Jeff Hendrick and Michael Keane headed in Steven Defour crosses to lead Burnley to a comprehensive 2-0 win over Watford on Monday at Turf Moor.

Burnley joins five teams, including Watford, on 7 points. Goal differential has them tied with Leicester for 12th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson was allowed to dribble in from the wing, and swung his left peg into a shot that went wide of a diving Heurelho Gomes.

Hendrick got the better of Gomes soon after, losing Jose Holebas and rising high to head home Defour’s corner kick.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Defour swept another cross above the fray in the 50th minute, where Keane leapt above the sleepy Watford back line to head past Gomes.

There were more chances for Burnley to go up three than Watford to trim its deficit, though Isaac Success almost dribbled his way to an 84th minute goal, and the Clarets will enjoy the tape from a thorough victory.

USWNT’s Lloyd shows human side, including rift with her family

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 06:  Carli Lloyd of United States celebrates after scoring during the Women's Group G first round match between United States and France during Day 1 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Mineirao Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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Carli Lloyd’s voice catches just briefly when she considers whether revealing the emotional scars of a longtime rift with her parents might someday bring her family back together.

It’s an ever-so-slight display off raw emotion from Lloyd, belying her usual no-nonsense exterior.

[ MORE: Spurs’ Kane returning early? ]

“Growing up my family meant the world to me. I would listen to every single thing they said. I would look forward to Christmases and Thanksgivings and just being with them,” Lloyd said. “And then to have this spiral, with not speaking to them, has really saddened me over the years.

“It’s been hard because there have been so many joyous moments in my career and my life and they haven’t been a part of that. So you know, definitely down the road, I’d love for things to work out and get back on track. Maybe this is a great opportunity for it to happen.”

Lloyd divulges that she has been estranged from her family since 2008 in her new memoir, “When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World,” which comes out on Monday.

Although she is intensely private, she says the discord in her family has been part of her journey. She had to be totally honest with her co-author Wayne Coffey.

“I don’t do fake,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press, echoing a theme from the book.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley to Swansea? ]

Lloyd’s rise culminated last year when she scored three goals in the World Cup final over Japan to win soccer’s biggest trophy. She was later named FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year.

But the 34-year-old midfielder’s career was peppered with setbacks. Lloyd was benched before the 2012 London Games by then-coach Pia Sundhage, who liked the combination of Shannon Boxx and Lauren Holiday. The demotion didn’t last long because Boxx was injured in the opener.

Lloyd started the rest of the way and scored both goals in the gold-medal match against Japan at Wembley Stadium. She’s the only player to score winning goals in consecutive Olympic finals: At the Beijing Games in 2008, she scored in overtime for a 1-0 victory against Brazil.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

By her side for the past 13 years has been James Galanis, her mentor and coach. Lloyd considered quitting the sport after college but her father approached Galanis after a training session and asked him to help his daughter.

Lloyd is fiercely loyal to Galanis, crediting him with making her the athlete she is today. He endearingly refers to her as “Ms. Lloyd” in emails.

She’s also loyal to another friend, goalkeeper Hope Solo.

When Solo was ostracized from the national team during the 2007 World Cup for comments she made following the semifinal loss to Brazil, Lloyd stood by her. Coach Greg Ryan had decided to play Brianna Scurry in goal rather than Solo and the United States lost 4-0. Solo publicly questioned the decision.

“Hope and I weren’t actually close prior to this. We got into a little bit of an argument about a car situation when we were in residency in 2006. With her big personality and my strong personality, our egos clashed,” Lloyd said, laughing. “This 2007 moment, I didn’t like what was happening. … I thought to myself, `This isn’t right.”‘

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Solo has often been a lightning rod for controversy and is currently suspended from the U.S. team for six months after calling Sweden a “bunch of cowards” for their defensive tactics during the Rio Olympics. U.S. Soccer has said the suspension was the culmination of several missteps.

“I’ve tried to wrap my head around the Olympics and just the way that we finished up, and Hope’s comment, and her suspension,” Lloyd said. “It’s weird. It’s weird being in camp without her there, weird sitting on the bus and she’s not across from me.

“I hope that in time after the suspension is over, after she settles down and U.S. soccer settles down, I hope that maybe they can come together and work it out.”

The United States was sent home from Brazil after the 1-1 draw with Sweden was decided by penalty kicks. It was the Americans’ earliest-ever exit from the Olympics after winning three straight gold medals.

For now Lloyd is looking forward to the immediate future. First there’s a book tour. In November she’ll marry high school sweetheart Brian Hollins.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats

Ongoing are the collective bargaining agreement talks with U.S. Soccer. The team’s current contract expires at the end of this year.

The players are looking to bring their salaries more in line with those for players on the men’s national team. Lloyd was among five players who drew national attention when they filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging the federation with wage discrimination.

“Things are moving along,” she said about negotiations. “We’ve dealt with this before, where it gets down to the wire. It’s not something to stress out about, it’s the nature of the business. We had a World Cup, we had the Olympics, so things have been pretty busy. But we do have some time before the new year.”

[ MORE: Chelsea clear out? ]

Beyond that, there’s preparation for the 2019 World Cup in France and the 2020 Games in Japan. Lloyd will be 38 when the next quadrennial wraps up.

“I think the next three years of my journey is really all about enjoying the ride. It’s going to be over in a blink of an eye,” she said about her career. “I owe it to myself, I owe it to James, and all of my support system, to just make the most of it.”