That Was The Season, That Was.

And then the season was over.

Like that.

A football season that commenced in late August and concluded in early June. Vilanova won the title in his debut season as coach, a season punctuated by treatment for his cancer and despite Barcelona often not playing as fluently as they may like. Madrid continued to have the upper hand over Barcelona in clasico’s but seem to have forgotten how to approach games against more defensive teams. So Barcelona and Madrid finish in the top two. Same old, same old.

The real story in Spain, as ever, lay elsewhere. The battle for the European spots and the struggle to avoid relegation.

La Real enjoyed a superb second half of the season suffering just two defeats in the league to return to Champions League football for the first time in 10 seasons. Even a momentary lapse in form as the season concluded could not prevent them from pipping a Valencia side who were slumped in mid-table when Valverde replaced Pellegrino in December. Boardroom instability and financial problems reign supreme at the Mestalla once more. At least with the appointment of Djukic as Coach, Los Che have the chance to rebuild provided he is supported adequately.

When the Champions League campaign ended in controversial circumstances, the glue which Pellegrini had used to bind Malaga together began to peel away and the Andalusian’s form shaded. With an exodus likely and European football increasingly unlikely due to a UEFA penalty for financial irregularities, the side simply ran out of gas. Holding off Betis to finish in 6th place all things considered is still an achievement.

The entertaining Real Betis return to the European arena with Pepe Mel, so close to being sacked last year, still guiding them. How the squad copes over the close season will be crucial. Will Joel Campbell remain on loan? Will Benat stay at the club?

Subject to Rayo being excluded from European competition, again over financial irregularities (although given what Paco Jemez has achieved on a miniscule budget and the manner in which he has achieved it, exclusion is so harsh but could actually be a blessing) Sevilla take the final Europa League spot as Del Nido states that at least 30% of the first team should comprise cantera products in the future.

As some sides appear to be making tentative steps towards resolving financial problems, another three are plunged back into financial crisis.

Depor started the final day of the campaign in 17th position and with their fate i their own hands yet succumbed to a second relegation in three season as their Galician neighbors Celta, managed to avoid the drop under the gaze of coach Abel Resino who has since departed to be replaced by Luis Enrique.

Manolo Jimenez could not perform the same heroics he had done just last year and Real Zaragoza went down following a dreadful run of form in 2013 with two wins, six draws and 12 defeats sucking the Aragonese side down into la Segunda. Where they will be joined by Mallorca. It all seemed so far away for the Islanders when they briefly led the division before Caparros paid for the rapid decline with his job. Manzano could not stop the rot sufficiently either.

How all three cope off the pitch will be just as important as how they cope on it in over the next 12 months.

And so to the team of the season.

It’s important to note that my team of the season contains no Barcelona or Real Madrid players although given how some performed this season, maybe I should have allowed their selection purely to then not select them based upon their performances.

Instead, my team comprises players from others sides. This is, of course, an entirely subjective assessment. There will be some you agree with and some selections which you completely oppose. It’s players who have performed well within their team and who I enjoy watching. I also attempted to find players who would fit the preferred system. Therefore, with inverted wingers, I needed string overlapping full backs. The side will line up in the ubiquitous 4-2-3-1.

Goalkeeper

Courtois (Atleti)

It’s really a straight choice between Willy from Malaga and Courtois from Atleti with the Belgian getting the nod. Whereas Willy performed heroics at times, with Courtois you sense he is always capable of such feats. A dominant presence in goal for Atleti despite his young age. Atleti’s loss will be Chelsea’s gain in the longer term although in terms of his development, he is ready for first team action in London right now.

Right Back

Carlos Marinez (Real Sociedad)

A position where a player from the big two would have secured a starting berth via Dani Alves. This should not detract from the campaign that Martinez has enjoyed. Its demanding being a full back for La Real. You must provide the defensive solidity that Montanier required to use as a platform but equally, you must contribute to the attack with overlapping runs beyond an inverted winger, normally Vela. Martinez did both and not only that, he often excelled at both.

Left Back

Filipe Luis (Atleti)

Whilst Martinez’s team mate de la Bella had a great season, it was probably eclipsed by Luis Filipe from Atleti. Again, Atleti employ a system that requires the full backs to provide the width and Filipe is more than capable of providing such width. Not as attacking as the likes of Jordi Alba but substantially better defensively.

Centre Back

Demichellis (Malaga)

A defender who many will have thought had seen his best years. Never the quickest, his lack of pace could have been an issue instead his experience at the heart of the Malaga defence was one reason why the Andalusian’s gained such good results during the season. His ability to marshall the defence that maintained a disciplined, organsied offside line covered his main deficiency.

Centre Back

Inigo Martinez (Real Sociedad)

Currently starring for the U21’s in the European Championships in Israel, it seems only a matter of time before Martinez is plying his trade elsewhere. Another product of the La Real cantera, Martinez is composed on the ball but can also mix things up when needed. An excellent combination of skills to possess and the reason why he is so highly valued.

Defensive Midfield

Javi Fuego (Rayo Vallecano)

Javi who? Javi Fuego. Paying for Madrid’s 3rd or 4th team depending upon how you classify Getafe, Javi Fuego has gone under the radar of many now for some time but has just secured a well deserved transfer to Valencia. Occupying a deep midfield position, Fuego is a robust, combative figure unafraid to commit to the tackle. Yet that sells his game short. With a high interceptions rate showcasing his reading of the game, he is also a vital component for recycling the ball for a Rayo team that played neat, attractive football.

Defensive Midfield

Illarramendi (Real Sociedad)

Partnering Javi Fuego is Illarramendi from La Real. Like his team mate Inigo Martinez, Illarra is displaying his skills in Israel right now. String in the tackle, mobile, aggressive but capable of fine passing, he has been compared to Xabi Alonso who came through the La Real cantera too. Illarra offers greater defensive cover but lacks the same range of passing that Alonso possesses. Again, like his team mate Martinez, Illarra combines a range of desirable qualities and is possibly a more unique player in the Spanish game for that combination.

Left Wing

Jonas (Valencia)

The selection of Jonas ahead of the likes of Griezmann on the left may raise some eyebrows but the Brazilian had the unnerving habit of popping up in central areas with crucial goals for Valencia as the side made a surge for the final Champions League spot. His 13 goals and three assists helped maintain Valencia’s challenge through to the end of the season. What is key is his willingness to move centrally and support both the attacking midfielder and the striker.

Attacking Midfield

Banega (Valencia)

There are a plethora of players who could be utilsied in this position. The likes of Isco, Verdu, Xabi Prieto and even Leo Baptistao have all enjoyed fine seasons. My own selection goes to a player who has not always displayed the correct attitude towards his career or his club but who, when on form, is capable of producing moments of real quality. Step forward, Ever Banega, a man who helped drag Valencia forward when it looked as if they would remain in mid table. Freed from a deeper position, the advanced placement which Valverde offered him together with team mates ready to link, provided the key pass. The Argentinean weighed in with four goals and four assists from his 29 appearances

Right Wing

Vela (Real Sociedad)

Real Sociedad’s top goalscorer despite operating for much of the season as an inverted right winger. The position enable the Mexican to drift inward, often into space, and onto his favoured left foot. Vela had 14 goals and 9 assists for La Real and his versatility enables him to play across the front line including operating as the central striker, even during games too. He was most damaging though when moving at pace down the right.

Striker

Falcao (Atleti)

In his final season for Atleti prior to his move to AS Monaco, el tigre once again proved why he is one of the most feared strikers in the game. Scoring 28 goals in 34 appearances, other facets of Falcao’s play are sometimes overlooked. He has become much more rounded at Atleti and links with teams mates far better often moving wide to find space before moving centrally into the area. The assist he provided in the Copa del Rey Final for Diego Costa an exampled of this growing awareness in his game. He is becoming the complete striker.

Roll on season 2013/14.

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Malaga vs Real Madrid – Tactical Analysis

Falling 16 Points behind Barcelona or dropping Iker Casillas for “technical” reasons. What was the bigger story for Real Madrid from La Liga at the weekend?

The game against Malaga became something of a distraction when the news broke over the inclusion of Adan ahead of Casillas. Mourinho would have faced questions even with a win but the defeat simply intensifies the pressure.

Line Ups

There were three changes to the Malaga team that won the Andalusian derby against Sevilla.

Weligton, Iturra and Santa Cruz were replaced by Sanchez, Portillo and Saviola.

Pellegrini opted to line up in a 4-3-1-2 formation which could equally adapt to a diamond in midfield with Isco at the point and Camacho at the base. Eliseu and Portillo moved wide.

 

Malaga Starting Line Up

Malaga Starting Line Up

Mourinho made four changes to the side which could only draw at home to Espanyol.

The main change was, of course, the replacement of Casillas in goal by Adan. Arbeloa moved to left back replacing Coentrao allowing Essien to come back in at right back. Modric and Callejon dropped out with Di Maria and Benzema coming back into the side.

It was the customary 4-2-3-1 formation from Madrid.

 

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Real Madrid Starting Line Up

Malaga started this game well before Madrid provided more of a threat as the half wore on. Both Ronaldo and Di Maria spurned excellent chances for the visitors in the first half which they would later regret.

Malaga took control of the game early in the second half. With clever movement combined with passing, Malaga always had a man available to pass to whilst Madrid became increasingly disjointed as the match wore on with some strange substitutions.

The game demonstrated how Malaga have developed as a team under Pellegrini this season with defensive solidity and attacking creativity. Madrid, meanwhile, appear to have regressed under Mourinho this season looking increasingly like the side during his first season in charge when individual brilliance significantly outweighed the collective whole.

 

Demichellis

Malaga goalkeeper Willy Cabellero is amongst the candidates for the Zamora goalkeeping award in La Liga this season. In addition to making a couple of excellent saves during the game, one of the reasons why he is in contention for the award is the form of the defence in front of him and Martin Demichelis.

The Argentinean central defender was a key element in his side’s success against Madrid. Despite lacking pace, Demichelis reads the game well enabling him to make a number of key interceptions during the game as detailed below:-

Demichelis Tackles vs Real Madrid

Demichelis Interceptions vs Real Madrid    http://www.squawka.com

In addition to this, Demichelis was successful with both of his tackles and only one of his nine attempted clearances failed during the game. Pellegrini favours his side to hold a high defensive line and Demichelis leadership skills assist with this greatly.

The only blot on an otherwise excellent defensive performance for Malaga was the two Madrid goals they conceded. The first goal was a bizarre own goal when Benzema clipped the ball off Sanchez foot. The second Madrid goal would have been equally disappointing when Camacho was dispossessed by Ozil who quickly chipped the ball to the Frenchman to score his side’s second goal.

Malaga Attack – Movement of Isco

One of the reasons why Malaga enjoyed such a positive start to the second half and were the more dominant team throughout this period was the manner in which they attacked. With Eliseu on the left, Portillo on the right and Saviola as the central striker this enabled Joaquin to move across the pitch. Similarly, Isco also enjoyed the ability to move laterally across the pitch linking with both Eliseu and Portillo and creating problems for the Madrid midfield pairing of Khedira and particularly Alonso.

Isco Heat Map vs Real Madrid

Isco Heat Map vs Real Madrid                        http://www.squawka.com

Xabi Alonso is not the most mobile of players and does not want to be pulled wide. With clever movement, Isco was able to continually find space between Madrid’s lines.

Isco made 49 successful passes from his 59 attempted and scored the opening goal of the game from his one shot on target. Initially marked by Pepe when a cross was delivered, Isco moved back out to the edge of the penalty area and collected Joaquin’s cut back before firing the ball low past Adan for the opener.

The ease with which he found space was typical of his performance on the night.

Real Madrid Changes

Mourinho made three substitutions in the second half.

Trailing 1-0, Mourinho withdrew Arbeloa and introduced Callejon in the 58th minute. Just five minutes later, Di Maria was replaced by Kaka.

The shape of the Madrid side was deteriorating as the second half progressed and these two changes created further problems.

The final substitution saw Xabi Alonso leave the pitch to be replaced by Luka Modric in the 76th minute. At this stage it was now clear that Madrid  would simply go long from back to front with nothing in the way of creative play. A move confirmed when Sergio Ramos went up front as an auxiliary striker from the 85th minute onwards.

As the game drew to a conclusion, the TV cameras caught Casillas, Arbeloa and Alonso all sitting side by side on the bench. There is already speculation over why the latter two players were withdrawn. Whilst the removal of Alonso was surprising, given the effort he had already given in the game and the first part of the season, it’s perhaps not that unexpected.

The replacement of Arbeloa by Callejon was the most baffling substitution. Whilst being designed for Callejon to push forward on the left, he was back by Malaga ’s attacks with Gamez moving forward and Joaquin drifting across to the right. Malaga took the lead from this area of the pitch.

Meanwhile, Essien remained on the pitch and offered little. Why not switch Arbeloa to the right and withdraw Essien?

Sergio Ramos – Good Egg?

Mourinho recently commented to a member of the Madrid press that there were “three bad eggs” in the squad. Two of these “eggs” would be Casillas and Ramos. With Casillas dropped, Ramos took over the captain’s armband for the game.

Over the past season or so, Ramos has shown time and time again exactly why he is now rightfully considered a top class international defender. Against Malaga he attempted six tackles and was successful with each of them:-

Ramos Tackles vs Malaga

Ramos Tackles vs Malaga                                              http://www.squawka.com

All the tackles came on the left side of defence. It’s worth noting that in the 58 minutes that Arbeloa was on the pitch, Ramos made two tackles in the left back area. When Callejon entered the game for the remaining 32 minutes, Ramos was increasingly called into action on the left and successfully made another four tackles.

Sometimes though, it’s the stats that cannot be measured which are so important. The drive and determination shown by Ramos has been essential to his side. If Madrid are going to get back on form this season and challenge for the Copa del Rey or Champions League, the form of Ramos will  be crucial.

Santa Cruz Goals

The Paraguayan’s first goal came via the right wing with Callejon badly exposed. Jesus Gamez had time and space to measure a low cross into the penalty area with Callejon slow to close him down and then standing off Gamez and allowing the cross. There had already been a warning over Callejon’s deployment at left back with Joaquin beating the makeshift defender with ease.

Gamez delivered a low cross which Joaquin flicked goal ward for Roque Santa Cruz to tap in unmarked at the back post.

Santa Cruz scored his second to give Malaga a two goal lead after 75minutes. Isco initiated a counter attack by playing a lofted pass to Joaquin on the halfway line. The winger progressed down the left, cutting inward before a deft pass released Santa Cruz  on a cross over run and his low shot found a gap at the near post.

 

Malaga Changes 

By sharp contrast to Mourinho, Pellegrini made three clever substitutions.

Leading 1-0, Saviola was withdrawn for Santa Cruz . The Argentinean had provided effort but little in the way of a cutting edge but his workrate had been valuable.

Following the Madrid equaliser, and in a moment when Madrid threatened to take the lead and were in the ascendency, Pellegrini introduced the combative Iturra for the more attack minded Portillo to strengthen the central area of the team.

Finally, with time running out, Seba Fernandez took the place of the tiring Joaquin. A move which helped eat up some previous seconds with the score at 3-2 and also enabled Malaga to have fresh legs to chase any long passes for the remaining few minutes.

 

Casillas Dropped

It’s difficult to examine the game without comment on the decision to start with Adan in goal.

Leaving aside Mourniho’s comments that Casillas was dropped for technical reasons and that on current form, Adan is performing better. The question which must be asked why Mourinho would choose to replace Casillas in such a significant game for a relative rookie at this level? Despite Adan being 25 years old, this was just his 15th top team appearance for Real Madrid.

There have been problems with Madrid defending set pieces this season with the accusation that Casillas stays on his line and fails to command his box. Whilst that may be true to a certain extent, a team defends a set piece as a unit. Teams may be scoring against Madrid but when the ball is delivered into the penalty area, it should be cleared. And with the number of goals that Madrid are conceding, Mourinho should be addressing these problems on the training pitch.

The answer against Malaga was to pull every player back to defend corner kicks. This is not an efficient use of resources and also weakens one of Madrid’s key strengths; their superb counter attack. When a ball is cleared from the corner, there was no Madrid player waiting 30 or so yards from goal to collect the ball and instigate a quick transition. Instead, Malaga regained possession.

 

Conclusions

The miracle of Malaga under Pellegrini continues. Despite losing key players in the summer and the ongoing financial problems which present obstacles to European football next season, the team march on.

Whilst the defeat was another significant blow to the team, the challenge to retain their La Liga crown was not lost at La Rosaleda on Saturday evening. The title was lost on earlier trips to Andalusia this season with defeats at Sevilla and Real Betis.

With the departure of Mourinho at the end of the season inevitable, this defeat will add weight to those who claim he is prepared to drag others down with him. The decision to drop Casillas over a personal dispute