Monday, December 20, 2010

Heads Up

photo by storemvia PhotoRee

I watched Atleti take on Malaga in the absence of EPL action Sunday. While it wasn't the match I hoped to be witnessing -- that one would have pitted a certain team from Manchester against a fourth place side from London -- it served as an interesting diversion from the snowed-out schedule (or lack of) that the EPL served up this weekend.

Actually the match also served as a respite from the horrid football -- NFL style -- that I unfortunately saw first hand earlier in the day, while watching the Miami Dolphins host the Buffalo Bills. The Fins managed to run their standard offense fairly consistently today -- 3 runs and a punt -- on their way to another home loss in a season that is ending yet again in bitter disappointment and finger-pointing.

Atleti served up a better game, though, with a 3-1 victory that may take some of the pressure off embattled coach Quique Sanchez Flores. Diego Forlan was dropped from the Atleti starting lineup, and Reyes was a welcome return with the warm weather being judged to suit his style better than the last time we saw Atleti -- in their disappointing and snowy mid-week exit from the Europa League.

The sight of the lush green pitch at Malaga's Rose Garden -- located in the heart of Spain's Costa del Sol mediterranean vacation land -- was a stark contrast to the muted brownish-green grass of the English winter. The game's style also served a harsh contrast to that of its English relative, and seemingly matched its location, played at the leisurely mañana pace of a land accustomed to vacationers. Both sides were content in the first half to play languid, ticky-tack football, with long arcing crosses interrupting the tight, controlled passes from time to time; beautiful to watch, but a very different sort of game than that featuring the more direct style preferred in the EPL (often referred to derisively as "over the top" football).

Malaga lifted the tempo slightly in the second half, ostensibly at the urging of their pedigreed coach, Mañuel Pelligrini. It's been an eventful year for Señor Pelligrini, who moved both several hundred miles and 16 places south in the league table to take over the reins at Malaga following his stint at Real Madrid. Unfortunately, without personnel named Kaka, Higuain, Ronaldo and Casillas, Malaga present a more formidable coaching challenge than his last stop.

Los Colchoneros, absent golden boy Forlan, relied on the diminutive Simao Sabrosa and his Portuguese countryman, Tiago, to gain the victory today. Tiago opened the scoring for Atleti with a towering header, rising a full foot and a half above the nearest defender to deflect a Simao free kick into the upper right-hand corner for a 1-nil Atleti lead. 

Alvaro Dominguez doubled the lead in the 66th minute, again off the head, and once again both Simao and Tiago played a role, the wideman lofting in a free kick to his compatriot, with Tiago heading it across the goal mouth for Dominguez to stash home.  With Malaga still reeling from the second goal, a short three minutes later Simao lofted in one final free kick -- game, set and match -- with the coup de grace header supplied by (you guessed it) Tiago. After all, when you're hot you're hot.

On the defensive side of the ball, De Gea looked more like himself today, having seemingly found his sea legs after a rocky couple of weeks. The young Spanish 'keeper made several fine reflex saves on his way to keeping a clean sheet, and displayed great instincts and a renewed sense of confidence that will surely not escape the attention of the many teams watching him.

With the win, Atleti now find themselves in sixth place in La Liga, claiming a virtual European spot, although not the one they desire. If they can figure out a way to get Forlan back on the pitch playing more like he did last year, they may begin to kick on from here.

This is farlieonfootie for Dec 21.

1 comment:

  1. Portuguese footballers on the rise @ club level...hasn't yet translated into success for the selecao, but stay tuned.