Football Article

Spanish La Liga Halfway Mark Report Card

We are 19 games into the Spanish La Liga campaign, and as predicted the title race appears a two-horse race, but there’s plenty going on in the battle for Europe and to avoid the drop, so now is the perfect time to assess it all.Is there any stopping Barcelona?>

Almeria Position; 20th’‘Grade; D’’

Record; 2-8-9 (Home 0-6-3, Away 2-2-6) Leading scorer; Pablo Piatti & Jose Ulloa (5 goals) Most assists; Hernan Bernardello (3 assists) Star player; Pablo Piatti Key player; Kalu Uche

It’s been a campaign to forget for Almeria, with manager Juan Manuel Lillo sacked in November after the awful 8-0 loss against Barcelona. Normally, strong at home, Almeria are yet to win this season at the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterraneo and that could be the key to their survival under new boss Jose Luis Oltra. Besides for the Barca defeat, they’ve been okay in defence, but they probably need some shoring up in the backline.

Athletic Bilbao> Position; 7th’‘Grade; B+’’

Record; 9-2-8 (Home 7-0-3, Away 2-2-5) Leading scorer; Fernando Llorente (11 goals) Most assists; Andoni Iraola (3 assists) Star player; Fernando Llorente Key player; [[Bilbao:Javi Martinez]]>

Joaquin Caparros continues to do a fine job with the Basque club who are enjoying the fruits of their impressive youth system. Fernando Llorente has had a fine campaign with 11 goals which is just what Bilbao needed after struggling for goals last term. Defensively there have been a few issues and that needs work.

Atletico Madrid Position; 6th’‘Grade; B’’

Record; 9-3-7 (Home 6-2-2, Away 3-1-5) Leading scorer; Diego Forlan & Sergio Aguero (7 goals) Most assists; Simao (5 assists) Star player; Diego Forlan Key player; David De Gea

After last season’s disappointing ninth-place finish, Quique Sanchez Flores has benefitted from the whole season in charge to push Atletico near the top four, but they are off the pace at the halfway mark. Their defensive issues appear to have been resolved, but the goals aren’t flowing like they once were and striking the balance is proving tricky. The loss of Simao to Besiktas is a blow.

A team with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi is tough to stop>

FC Barcelona Position; 1st’‘Grade; A+’’

Record; 17-1-1 (Home 8-1-1, Away 9-0-0) Leading scorer; Lionel Messi (18 goals) Most assists; Lionel Messi (13 assists) Star player; Lionel Messi Key player; Xavi

Little has gone wrong for Barcelona this term with Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi in wonderful form. There’s not much more to say about Barca and Pep Guardiola except they’ve been brilliant and appear set to claim another Spanish title. The 5-0 win over Real Madrid was the highlight. The improvement of Pedro and acquisition of David Villa has made Barcelona deadly too. Pleasure to watch.

Deportivo Coruna> Position; 13th’‘Grade; C’’

Record; 5-6-8 (Home 3-4-2, Away 2-2-6) Leading scorer; Adrian (4 goals) Most assists; Adrian, Diego Colotto, Riki & Ruben Perez (2 assists) Star player; Alberto Lopo Key player; Daniel Aranzubia

After a rather dreadful start to the season, Miguel Angel Lotina has guided Deportivo away from the drop zone and near midtable. But the key issue for Depor is their lack of goalscoring prowess and they desperately need an attacker for the second-half of the season. Typically, they’ve been tough to break down

Espanyol Position; 5th’‘Grade; A-‘’

Record; 11-1-7 (Home 8-0-1, Away 3-1-6) Leading scorer; Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (7 goals) Most assists; Luis Garcia & Jose Maria Callejon (4 assists) Star player; Luis Garcia Key player; [[Espanyol:Ivan Alonso]]>

Espanyol boss Mauricio Pochettino continues to deliver good things to the Cornella-El Plat faithful. This campaign has been exceptional, mainly down to the side’s brilliant home form. Carlos Kameni has been superb in goals again to keep things tight, while the much-needed goals have been delivered in some shape by Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and Luis Garcia. A genuine top four hope.

Getafe Position; 8th’‘Grade; B+’’

Espanyol are impressing many>

Record; 8-3-8 (Home 5-1-4, Away 3-2-4) Leading scorer; Manu (4 goals) Most assists; Jaime Gavilan Martinez & Manu (3 assists) Star player; Manu Key player; Javier Arizmendi

The capital club lost key duo Roberto Soldado and Pedro Leon before this season but despite their lack of resources, manager Michel has managed to maintain his attractive style of football and continue to get the results as they sit in the top-half. Some more return from underwhelming new signings Arizmendi and Pedro Mosquera could be crucial to their European hopes.

Hercules Position; 12th’‘Grade; B+’’

Record; 6-4-9 (Home 5-1-3, Away 1-3-6) Leading scorer; David Trezeguet (9 goals) Most assists; Tote (3 assists) Star player; David Cortes Key player; David Trezeguet

After 13 years outside the top flight, Hercules has made a good impression back in La Liga, being the only side to defeat Barcelona so far. Their big signings in David Trezeguet and Royston Drenthe have impressed but a recent pay issue may undermine the club’s success with the Dutchman set to depart.

Levante Position; 19th’‘Grade; C’’

Record; 4-3-12 (Home 3-1-5, Away 1-2-7) Leading scorer; Felipe Caicedo (7 goals) Most assists; Juanlu (4 assists) Star player; Felipe Caicedo Key player; Manuel

Newly-promoted Levante’s inexperienced squad have struggled to adjust to the top flight but there have been positives with Felipe Caicedo scoring plenty. Xavi Torres, Javi Venta and Juanlu have been important but they really need to add depth to their back four.

Malaga Position; 16th’‘Grade; D’’

Record; 5-2-12 (Home 2-1-6, Away 3-1-6) Leading scorer; Rondon (5 goals) Most assists; Eliseu (5 assists) Star player; Eliseu Key player; [[Malaga:Duda]]>

Moneybags Malaga have had a campaign to forget following a slow start to the season, the sacking of Jesualdo Ferriera and the November arrival of ex-Real Madrid boss Manuel Pellegrini. Malaga’s defensive record is the worst in La Liga and they desperately need a settled backline to give them hope of avoiding the drop. They will spend in January and that could be crucial to their survival hopes with Martin Demichelis and Julio Baptista already arriving.

Cash-strapped Mallorca are fighting>

Mallorca Position; 9th’‘Grade; B-‘’

Record; 8-3-8 (Home 6-2-2, Away 2-1-6) Leading scorer; Pereira (5 goals) Most assists; Pierre Webo (5 assists) Star player; [[Mallorca:Dudu Aouate]]> Key player; Pierre Webo

As per usual, Mallorca’s home form has been a key to their success this season, conceding just four goals at the ONO Estadi so far. The cash-strapped club has done reasonably well under Michael Laudrup, but they’ve been unable to follow up on last season’s successes. They haven’t been able to cover the loss of Aritz Aduriz, as they are short a few goals, but look solid enough for a cash-strapped club.

Osasuna Position; 15th’‘Grade; D+’’

Record; 4-6-9 (Home 4-4-1, Away 0-2-8) Leading scorer; Carlos Aranda (3 goals) Most assists; Fernando Soriano (3 assists) Star player; [[Osasuna:Juanfran]]> Key player; Walter Pandiani

The bad news for Osasuna is star man Juanfran has left the club for Atletico Madrid already in the January transfer window. It’s a blow as they search for avenues to goal. They have struggled in front of goal this term, with just 17 strikes in 19 games, which is the reason they are battling down in 15th. Their away form has been horrible too.

Racing Santander> Position; 14th ‘‘Grade; C+’’

Record; 5-5-9 (Home 4-3-2, Away 1-2-7) Leading scorer; Markus Rosenberg (5 goals) Most assists; Pedro Munitis (4 assists) Star player; [[Racing:Tono]]> Key player; [[Racing:Pedro Munitis]]>

Racing remain a club who will be looking over their shoulder for much of this campaign but they’ve been solid enough at the back, led by goalkeeper Tono, to keep out of trouble so far. Their problem is they are the league’s lowest scorers and never replaced departed striker Mohamed Tchite.

Higuain; Out for the season>

Real Madrid Position; 2nd’‘Grade; A’’

Record; 15-3-1 (Home 9-0-0, Away 6-3-1) Leading scorer; Cristiano Ronaldo (22 goals) Most assists; Mesut Ozil (7 assists) Star player; Cristiano Ronaldo Key player; Karim Benzema

Anywhere else in the world, Real Madrid would be taking their domestic league by storm, but Barcelona’s standard means there’s work to be done at the Santiago Bernabeu. Jose Mourinho has improved this team, and they’ve made few errors but the big moment was the 5-0 loss at Nou Camp. Cristiano Ronaldo has been fantastic, while Mesut Ozil has found his feet. On the road they’ve had a few issues and that could be the key to finding their consistency to contending for the title. It seems it’s slipping away unless they can win the second El Clasico. Gonzalo Higuain being ruled out for the season with injury won’t help their chances either.

Real Sociedad Position; 11th’‘Grade; B+’’

Record; 8-1-10 (Home 5-0-4, Away 3-1-6) Leading scorer; Xabi Prieto (6 goals) Most assists; Xabi Prieto (8 assists) Star player; Xabi Prieto> Key player; [[Sociedad:Joseba Llorente]]>

The newly-promoted club have impressed plenty in Spain with their attacking talents of Xabi Prieto, Joseba Llorente and youngster Antoine Griezmann. Uruguayan boss Martin Lasarte has done a fine job with this club, after winning the Segunda Division last season, but his next challenge is organising the defence which has leaked too many goals this season. But Sociedad are on their way to comfortable survival.

Sevilla struggling>

Sevilla Position; 10th’‘Grade; C’’

Record; 8-2-9 (Home 4-2-4, Away 4-0-5) Leading scorer; Frederic Kanoute (8 goals) Most assists; Diego Perotti, Frederic Kanoute, Alvaro Negredo, Renato (2 assists) Star player; Frederic Kanoute Key player; Andres Palop

After missing out on UEFA Champions League qualification, it has been a campaign to forget for Sevilla. Boss Antonio Alvarez was dismissed in September, replaced by ex-Mallorca boss Gregorio Manzano and he has done okay steadying the boat, but there’s still issues, especially defensively with 31 goals shipped in 19 games. Another big change from last season is the lack of goals coming from their strikers, with Luis Fabiano and Alvaro Negredo struggling for form. Plenty needs to change if they’re to threaten for Europe. They also lack a central midfielder to control the game.

Sporting Gijon> Position; 17th’‘Grade; C’’

Record; 3-7-9 (Home 3-3-4, Away 0-4-5) Leading scorer; Diego Castro Gimenez (7 goals) Most assists; Alberto Rivera & Miguel de las Cuevas (3 assists) Star player; [[Sporting:Diego Castro Gimenez]]> Key player; [[Sporting:Arnolin Gregory]]>

Into their third season back in the top flight, Gijon are finding it harder to hold their La Liga status. The club’s attacking duo of Mate Bilic and David Barral are struggling for impact, leaving a big burden of the creative Diego Castro Gimenez. Sebastian Eguren has been a good addition in midfield, and they’ve been okay defensively, but need to toughen up on the road.

Valencia Position; 4th’‘Grade; B+’’

Juan Mata has been in fine form>

Record; 11-4-4 (Home 6-3-1, Away 5-1-3) Leading scorer; Aritz Aduriz (7 goals) Most assists; Juan Mata (7 assists) Star player; Juan Mata Key player; Pablo Hernandez

Los Che appear to have done well to overcome the loss of talisman David Villa and winger David Silva, with an exciting first-half of this season which has them on their way to Champions League football. Perhaps they need to add some firepower with Unai Emery’s only out-and-out striker options being Aritz Aduriz and Roberto Soldado. Juan Mata has been exceptional in their top four bid, while at the back they’ve held firm. Promising.

Villarreal Position; 3rd’‘Grade; A’’

Record; 12-3-4 (Home 9-1-0, Away 3-2-4) Leading scorer; Nilmar (10 goals) Most assists; Borja Valero (7 assists) Star player; Giuseppe Rossi Key player; [[Villarreal:Cani]]>

Juan Carlos Garrido continues to do wonderful things with the Yellow Submarine as they’ve made a challenge at the top two, although that’s destined to peter out. Villarreal have played some fine football this term, particularly in the attacking third with Nilmar, Giuseppe Rossi, Borja Valero and Santi Cazorla all combining well. Seasoned stars like Marcos Senna, Cani and Joan Capdevila have helped keep things tight, conceding just five goals at home this term. But it’s their attacking talent which has impressed most and it’s been great to watch. Unfortunately, a knee injury to Nilmar may thwart their momentum and present a challenge looking ahead.

Zaragoza Position; 18th’‘Grade; C-‘’

Record; 3-7-9 (Home 3-2-5, Away 0-5-4) Leading scorer; Gabi (4 goals) Most assists; Ander Herrera (3 assists) Star player; [[Zaragoza:Ander Herrera]]> Key player; [[Zaragoza:Florent Sinama-Pongolle]]>

There hasn’t been a lot to get excited about for the Aragon club who sacked Jose Aurelio Gay in November after a poor run, replacing him with ex-Mexico boss Javier Aguirre. Aguirre’s arrival hasn’t really ushered in a change of form although recent wins over Sociedad and Levante have boosted their survival hopes. Having scored only 17 goals this term, more is needed from Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Nicolas Bertolo, while players like Edmilson need to shore up the backline. But with Aguirre slowly making an impact, there is plenty of reason for hope.

Ben somerford
Sports Pundit staff writer
@bensomerford

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