Malaga CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga

Offshore drilling, Spain: Barcelona 3, at Málaga 1

Leave a comment

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.

Premier League “Goal Rush” to debut this weekend

Premier League
Leave a comment

At 10 a.m. ET this Saturday you will be able to access NBC Sports Digital’s newest product, Premier League Goal Rush.

It will be available on the NBC Sports App and on NBCSports.com as goals from all six matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be shown simultaneously as live look-ins occurs around all the grounds in the Premier League.

STREAM GOAL RUSH HERE

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Campionshi Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of NFL RedZone-like action from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window.

More info is available here, plus the quick snippet below explains what is coming up on Goal Rush and how to access it.


Premier League host John Dykes will host the program, which focuses on one match and features live look-ins on action at all the grounds. The show will follow the most important stories and include a round-up of all the first-half action at halftime. Viewers will also be kept updated with graphics, headlines and statistics.

“We are excited to offer Goal Rush, which will provide fans with a unique Premier League viewing experience during windows with simultaneous matches,” said Rick Cordella, SVP and General Manager, Digital Media, NBC Sports Group.

Goal Rush will feature Watford v. Arsenal, and include live look-ins at the other five matches in the Saturday 10 a.m. ET window. All Premier League matches in the 10 a.m. ET window will be made available on NBCSN or on Premier League Extra Time, a bonus television package available to MVPDs at no extra cost for customers who receive NBCSN. All games preceded and followed by Premier League Live pre- and post-match shows from the NBC Sports Group International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn.

All Premier League games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs. Coverage will be streamed via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value to for their subscription service, and making high quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms. The NBC Sports app is powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.

Premier League preview: Hull City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Hull last beat United in November 1974
  • United have won 3 of last 4 games at Hull in the PL
  • Zlatan has 3 goals in his first 2 PL games

Hull City host Manchester United on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 .m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports) with both teams perfect through two games.

That’s right. The Tigers have stunned everyone in the opening weeks of the season with caretaker boss Mike Phelan only having 13 fit senior players to choose from but they beat Leicester City and Swansea City to make it six points from six. Quite remarkable.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE 

Phelan was United’s assistant manager under Sir Alex Ferguson from 2008-13 and won three Premier League titles with the Red Devils. He still hasn’t been handed the Hull job permanently despite an incredible start to the season after Steve Bruce left in the summer and the Allam family continue to push ahead with plans to sell the club to Chinese investors.

As for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho and his newly-assembled side have gone about their opening PL games in workmanlike fashion with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring three goals in two games and Paul Pogba impressing on his debut.

United will be confident they can make it three wins on the sin and Mourinho’s biggest problem is keeping everyone his massive squad happy. Newsflash: that isn’t going to happen.

In team news Hull are gradually getting more players back with Harry Maguire available but they are still looking to add plenty of new faces before the transfer window shuts with Ryan Mason and others close to securing moves to Yorkshire. As for United, they have no new injury worries and Mourinho has a massive selection headache.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on the the final days of the transfer window: “I think we’re going to have a very quiet week, not surrounded by helicopters, waiting for somebody to leave or to arrive. I am more than happy with the squad I have. I have 23 players in the squad and, in principle, there is nobody leaving and nobody is coming.”

“It’s more than enough and, if you have a problem or an opportunity, then I have a few young players in the academy that I will be more than happy to give acceleration to in their process.”

Phelan on Zlatan joining United in past: “There have to be moments, in a career span like Sir Alex Ferguson had, when you come across and think about such star players as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The size of Manchester United means you want to recruit the very best. It demands it. He had to be a target. I am sure he was on the radar many times. But he was at top, top clubs and because of that, even though it was Manchester United, the prospect of him moving to the Premier League was always very slim — he was at the best anyway.”

Prediction

Hull’s bubble will finally burst and United will get on with the job with ruthless efficiency. Zlatan is on fire and will torment Hull’s makeshift defense, while Pogba will drive the Red Devils on from midfield. 3-1 to Manchester United.

Local lad Matt Targett aims to kick on at Southampton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Antonio Valencia of Manchester United closes down Matt Targett of Southampton during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s nothing like having a homegrown hero in your team and Southampton certainly knows all about that.

[ MORE: Saints to play Inter ]

Matt Targett is the latest product of Saints’ famed academy to break into the first team and the 20-year-old was born and bred in Southampton.

The England U-21 left back impressed under Ronald Koeman and and broke into the team as a 17-year-old during the 2014-15 Premier League campaign.

Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk ahead of Southampton’s clash with Sunderland this Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBC Sports) Targett revealed his pride at representing his team in the Premier League.

“I am immensely proud to be able to play for the club that I grew up watching and following,” Targett explained. “It has played such a big role in my life, having progressed through the academy to the first team. It’s a really special feeling to be able to run out on the St Mary’s turf and play for my hometown team.”

It has been a slow start for Saints this season with one point from their opening two games but new manager Claude Puel is putting his stamp on the team with a new diamond formation in midfield.

Targett — an attacking left back who is comfortable on the ball and can also operate as a wing-back and at left midfield — and his teammates know they must improve in the weeks and months ahead but they are confident they can improve as the season goes on.

“There are areas we know we can improve on as well as positives that we can build on,” Targett said. “Our new signings have integrated well into the group and there is a good feeling in the squad. We know the quality that we have in the team and we’re confident that quality will show.”

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Nordin Amrabat of Watford battle for possession with sMatt Targett of Southampton during the Premier League match between Southampton and Watford at St Mary's Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Looking ahead to the game against Sunderland this weekend, Targett knows it would be a nice feeling to head into the international break with a win and says Saints have been “working hard in training” to get a positive result against David Moyes‘ men.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Saints’ loss at Man United ]

At the ripe age of 20, Targett has now appeared in each of the last three PL campaigns for Saints and has racked up 33 appearances in all competitions despite having England international left back Ryan Bertrand ahead of him in the pecking order.

Target feels like he is ready to keep pushing on this season.

“Every Premier League season is a big one but clearly I am aiming to continue developing and progressing as a player,” Targett said. “I want to keep adding different elements to my game and listening to the coaches on what areas I can work on. It’s a big season for the club with Europa League football too, so I am very much looking forward to that.”

AVIGNON, FRANCE - MAY 29: James Ward Prowse, Jack Stephens and Matthew Targett, all of Southampton and England pose with the trophy during the Final of the Toulon Tournament between England and France at Parc Des Sports on May 29, 2016 in Avignon, France. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
James Ward Prowse and Matthew Targett (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

As is usually the case at Southampton, Targett is just one of a number of promising youngsters currently in the system. After selling on the likes of Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana to powerhouse clubs, Saints continue to churn out young internationals.

This summer Targett was part of a England U-21 side which had five Saints academy graduates — Arsenal’s Calum Chambers and Saints’ James Ward-Prowse (captain of England), Jack Stephens, Nathan Redmond and Targett himself — and won the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France.

Does he think he and Saints’ other youngsters are ready to play week in, week out in the PL?

“It was fantastic to be part of the winning Toulon team and great for Southampton Football Club to have several players gain that experience on the international stage. The club has a great reputation for nurturing talent and that success with the England under 21 side can only help us,” Targett said. “Although it obviously depends on several factors, the club has consistently shown that it gives youth that opportunity to go out and play in the biggest league in the world.”

On Friday Southampton were drawn against Italian giants Inter Milan, Sparta Prague and Hapoel Beer-Sheva in the UEFA Europa League group stage.

It is the first time Saints have ever reached this stage of the competition and local lad Targett is looking forward to some memorable nights ahead.

“It will be good to test ourselves against some of the best clubs on the continent and I’m sure we’ll be playing in front of some special atmospheres, especially at St Mary’s.”

Premier League preview: Tottenham vs. Liverpool

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Jordan Henderson of Liverpool and Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur at Anfield on April 2, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments
  • Spurs haven’t beaten Liverpool in seven PL games (0-5-2) 
  • Liverpool have the most PL goals in 2016 (45)
  • Liverpool first PL team since 1997-98 to open season with 3 away games

Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool at White Hart Lane on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) in an early season clash between two top four contenders.

Spurs have started the season in a solid manner, gaining four points from their opening two games but Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have yet to get going. As for Liverpool we’ve seen their Jekyll and Hyde persona at its finest as Jurgen Klopp‘s side ripped apart Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in a 4-3 opening day win but they lost at Burnley last time out.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

This fixture has seen Liverpool go unbeaten in their last seven games against Spurs, scoring an average of 2.7 goals per game. This is also the third highest-scoring fixture in PL history. So, expect plenty of entertainment.

Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool last season was at Spurs in October in a rather dull 0-0 draw. Liverpool won’t be involved in many scoreless draws this campaign as their top-heavy side possesses plenty of fine attacking talents in Daniel Sturridge, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Divock Origi to name but a few.

In team news Spurs are still without captain and star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, while Mousa Dembele is still suspended. Liverpool will be without Emre Can after he was injured in midweek and Philippe Coutinho is doubtful.

What they’re saying

Pochettino on Spurs improving: “Sometimes people don’t realise how important last season was. To be involved in the title race and to try to win the Premier League, many things happened that meant we improved a lot and learned a lot throughout the season. Now we will be tougher than last season when we try to challenge again.”

Jurgen Klopp on Sturridge playing out wide: “I don’t want to play Daniel as a wide player but of course he can start there and of course he can play there but in the decisive moments he needs to be involved in all of the finishing situations.  I think he scored both goals [when he was] inside the box so he wasn’t on the wing in this moment. That is flexible football. Daniel is a very smart player. He’s good at getting himself into positions where it’s not easy to defend. Both game Burton and Burnley were games where we didn’t need offensive wingers in these positions. It’s not a fixed position for him. There is absolutely no problem. I don’t know exactly what he said but when I talk to him there is absolutely no issue.”

Prediction

I think Liverpool’s defensive frailties are too severe right now for them to do anything other than attack. That will leave plenty of space for Kane, Vincent Janssen, Alli et al. to exploit and I see Pochettino’s side winning this. 3-1 to Spurs.