Monday, October 08, 2007

La Liga: state of affairs in Europe

My take on Barca's win over Atletico will come later. For now, an update on how the Spanish teams are doing in European competition.

Champions League

The official UEFA website has the group standings after two games.

Sevilla 4-2 Slavia (Sevilla goals by Kanoute, Fabiano, Escude, and Kone)

I'm sure this victory came as a great relief to Juande Ramos, as it arrested a 4-game losing streak and gave them something to build on in the group. Fortunately for them, they have one of the easier groups, and should eventually progress - fingers crossed - despite their current dodgy form. For now, Sevilla sit second in the group with 3 points, level with Slavia.

Lazio 2-2 Real (Real goals by van Nistelrooy (2))

Not the result Schuster would have wanted, given Lazio's troubles in Serie A this season, but it was never going to an easy ground to go to, and a point is certainly good enough keep Real on track to progress. They have the advantage of two of Europe's greatest goalscorers in the Champions League, van Nistelrooy and Raul, and it's certain served them well so far. Real are top of the group, level with Olympiakos on 4 points, and poised to look down from their perch as the other three teams battle it out for the other spot.

(By the way, I see that Schuster has proclaimed Real's defence the best in Europe. Perhaps he has a very short memory?)

Valencia 1-2 Chelsea (Valencia goal by Villa)

Oh dear. Almost every journalist writing about this game presumed that Valencia would win, given the supposed chaos and discontent at Chelsea. I thought so too. Credit to Chelsea, they did very well to win the game, and Drogba's goal was sublime, but surely Valencia could have done better, especially after taking such an early lead. If conclusions are to be drawn from this game, one could perhaps say that Chelsea aren't nearly as bad as everyone feared given Mourinho's departure, and Valencia, despite their winning run in the league (which has just been broken this weekend) aren't quite in the best of form. From what I've seen, there's still some problems in midfield, and some would also point to the departure of Ayala in the last transfer window as the source of uncertainties in defence. In any case, Valencia are second in the group on 3 points, level with Schalke. I'm fairly confident in their ability to progress, but Schalke are a substantial lurking threat.

Stuttgart 0-2 Barcelona (goals by Puyol and Messi)

I've already written about this game, although not at length. I should probably mention that Stuttgart were very unlucky and probably deserved a goal, although as Frank Rijkaard said, Barca really should have put the game to bed in the first 30 minutes instead of wasting chance after chance. In the context of the group, Barca are top on 6 points, level with Rangers, which puts them into a good position heading into the double header with the Scots.


Given the great success of the Spanish clubs in last season's competition (3 of the semifinalists were Liga teams - Espanyol, Sevilla, and Osasuna) we can only hope that this season's entrants can do the same. Curiously, there are 4 completely different teams this time around (the other team from last season being relegated Celta Vigo). Sevilla of course have moved up in the world to the Champions League, while Espanyol and Osasuna's fine UEFA Cup runs affected their form in the league and the domestic cup and they could not qualify.

Zaragoza 2-1 Aris Thessaloniki (Zaragoza goals by Oliveira and Sergio Garcia; 2-2 agg, Aris win on away goals)

I can't help but like Zaragoza, who along with Villarreal seem to be the most 'South American' teams in the league. It was great to see them do so well last season and I looked forward to seeing them in European competition. Unfortunately, Zaragoza's early season slump in the league extended to their form in the UEFA Cup, and they were eliminated by the Greek side. It is no doubt an incredibly disappointing result for the club and their fans, but the one consolation is that they can now concentrate on getting their league form back, which they now seem to have done. This season's battle for European places looks likely to be fiercer than ever, and if they're to have another shot at European competition, Zaragoza have to have their act together.

Erciyesspor 0-5 Atletico (goals by Aguero (2), Jurado, Rodriguez, Forlan; 0-9 agg)

Having had a couple of scares in the Intertoto Cup, Atletico put on two displays befitting a club of their stature and cruised through into the group stages. Luis Garcia - who I'm pleased to see back in Spanish football - and 'Kun' Aguero were very impressive over the two legs. It remains to be seen how the gruelling schedule of UEFA Cup football will affect Atletico's challenge for at the very least a Champions League place given the deficiencies in their squad when it comes to the defence.

Twente 3-2 Getafe (Getafe goals by Belenguer and Granero; 3-3 agg, Getafe win on away goals)

Getafe, who qualified for the UEFA Cup because they were Copa del Rey finalists (having beaten Valencia and Barcelona over two legs to get there) barely scraped through to the group stages, having scored two goals and then conceded two in extra time. Given their struggles in La Liga, where they are second bottom on 2 points, having yet to win a single game, this is a pretty good result. However, if they continue to struggle in the league, I'm not sure an UEFA Cup campaign will be very helpful.

BATE 0-2 Villarreal (goals by Cani and Angel; 1-6 agg)

Villarreal have had such great results in recent years in European competition, and it's wonderful to see them back in Europe again. I'm hoping they can go far this season, given the quality of their squad. As in the case of Atletico, though, they have to be wary of the effects an UEFA Cup campaign can have on the struggle for a Champions League place in the league.

Here's one for nostalgic Barca fans: Henrik Larsson's Helsingborg overcame a 2-goal deficit in the first leg, winning 5-1 at home against Heerenveen of the Netherlands to go through 8-6 on aggregate. No prices for guessing who scored 3 of the 8 goals for the Swedish side over the two legs.

This is not Europe related, but for interest's sake, I thought I'd mention that we have a winner in the La Liga sack race: perhaps rather predictably, it's bottom club Levante's Abel Resino. Ironically, Resino was the man who took over in January and led the club to survival last season, but 1 point (!) from 7 games so far this season sealed his fate.

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