Sultry Barca and Sulky Totti; the Weekend Review (part two)

Andres Iniesta feels the impact as Fernando Amorebieta sees red for his lunge at the San Mames

So it turns out that a bit of a lacklustre midweek performance really doesn’t mean anything, then. After struggling against Sporting Gijon without Lionel Messi on Wednesday night it looked as though Barcelona would have an uphill struggle against Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames, but not a bit of it. Pep Guardiola’s side were back to their best and swept their spirited opponents away with a 3-1 win.

They were given a helping-hand when Fernando Amorebieta was sent off for a slightly over-the-top challenge on Andres Iniesta, while Mikel San Jose struck the post with the match still goalless, but nobody could argue that Barca did not deserve their win.

Seydou Keita opened the scoring with a typically Barcelona goal before Xavi added a second from the edge of the area. The hosts briefly threatened to steal a point after David Villa saw red for lashing out at Carlos Gurpegi before Igor Gabilondo pulled a goal back in stoppage time, but Sergio Busquets killed off any hopes with an excellent finish after a classic counter-attack.

The result sent Barcelona second in the table behind unfancied Valencia, the debt-ridden club who picked up a comfortable win away at Sporting Gijon thanks to early goals from Mehmet Topal and Roberto Soldado.

With the summer departure of three World Cup winners, namely David Villa, David Silva and Carlos Marchena, and two stadiums in limbo (one they can’t afford to finish, one they can’t sell), nobody expected Los Che to even retain their Champions League place. It is, of course, very early days and there is almost certainly no chance that they can last the distance, but if Soldado and Aritz Aduriz carry on putting the goals away and Juan Mata continues to flourish they could yet finish in second place.

That is the very runners-up place that could well be made vacant by Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho’s side are struggling to find any sort of rythym this season and, just as Barca proved that a narrow midweek win means nothing, Madrid showed that their 3-0 canter against Espanyol was not the end of their problems.

Newly promoted Levante were widely expected to collapse when they hosted the 31-time champions but they sat tight across the edge of their own area and rode out a 0-0 draw. Indeed, the only clean breakthrough the visitors made was in the 94th minute, but Manolo Reina was at hand to dive at Gonzalo Higuain’s feet to avert the danger.

Higuain, who had a goal chalked off for offside just before the break, has proved to be particularly wasteful so far this season and could see himself dropped to the bench in favour of Karim Benzema for the Champions League tie with Auxerre.

But the wastefulness problem has not been exclusively Higuain’s, however, with Real Madrid firing more shots off target than any other team in the whole league. Cristiano Ronaldo has the most of those with 16.

“The marking by Pique was harder than the one by my girlfriend” Fernando Llorente inadvertently stirs the pot of gossip that dogs the Barcelona defender.

Villareal leap-frogged Barcelona to go second in the table with their crazy 3-2 win away at Malaga on Monday night. Eliseu put the home side ahead after four minutes before later being sent off for, well, kissing Carlos Marchena. It was certainly more of a kiss than a headbutt, anyway. Villareal bounced back with two goals in three minutes from Santi Cazorla and Giuseppe Rossi before Salomon Rondon levelled it up at 2-2. Cazorla struck again four minutes later with a goal that proved to be the winner as the second half failed to live up to the frantic pace of the first.

One team outside of the early-season title race is Sevilla, and that’s probably why they have sacked their manager Antonio Alvarez. Well, any excuse. For one reason or another, Alvarez has been living on borrowed time for a while now, despite guiding his team to last season’s Copa del Rey and a Champions League berth, and Sunday’s 2-0 loss to newly-promoted Hercules proved to be the final straw.

That Champions League qualification came thanks to a last-kick-of-the-season Rodri goal that robbed pre-season relegation favourites Mallorca of a maiden appearance in the competition. The manager of Mallorca at the time? Gregorio Manzano. The man appointed to replace Alvarez today? Gregorio Manzano. Sevilla will be the well-travelled boss’ 17th club.

As mentioned above, Hercules continued their impressive start to the season as they saw off Sevilla thanks to two David Trezeguet goals. Esteban Vigo’s men, who have already beaten Barcelona at the Nou Camp, sit in 8th place in the la liga table.

Elsewhere, Deportivo La Coruna’s miserable run continues; they have now gone 563 minutes without a goal from open play and sit one point off bottom-side Real Zaragoza.

Zaragoza are indeed a side in desperate trouble. Going down 1-0 at Atletico Madrid as they did is no disgrace, but the toothless manner in which they did will be a huge worry to the team who finished five points off relegation last season.

Atletico’s win came thanks to Diego da Costa’s goal set up by the returning Filipe. Filipe, who broke his leg while playing for former club Deportivo last season, almost certainly would have made the Brazilian World Cup squad but for his injury and looked as impressive as ever on his Atletico debut and indeed first game back from that injury.

The villain of the piece was Matteo Contini who, after five minutes of madness thanks to an indirect free kick six yards from Atleti’s goal, stepped in front of a full-pace Jose Reyes to block him off. When the inevitable contact was made Contini went down dramatically, and Reyes was ridiculously sent off.

One last note before moving on from Spain. Osasuna, who shouldn’t go down but are trying their hardest, lost 1-0 away at a Lolo-inspired Espanyol in front of 10 (yes, 10) travelling fans.

The Roma faithful would be well-advised to put away the balloons.

Italy, now, where Claudio Ranieri’s under-performing Roma pulled off the unthinkable as they toppled Champions Internazionale courtesy of a last-gasp Mirko Vucinic winner.

The game appeared to be dawdling towards a goalless finish when the Serbian striker, who came on for an increasingly ageing and energy-less Francesco Totti for the final 15 minutes, flung himself at Daniele De Rossi’s cross to head his side to their first win of the season.

Totti, 34 today, had had such a poor game that he started to try the patience of the loyal Stadio Olimpico following and marched straight down the tunnel after his withdrawal and may not have even been in the stadium when Vucinic nodded home.

On the subject of substitutes, Claudio Ranieri had ordered rotund striker Adriano to warm up late in the game only to tell him to get back into his tracksuit after 10 minutes of touchline jogging. Ranieri later said that he didn’t like Adriano’s demeanour, although some have since suggested that the brief exertion tired the Brazilian out.

“He made a face I did not like”. Claudio Ranieri was less than enamoured with Adriano.

The defeat for Inter gave either Chievo or Brescia the chance to go top of the league, but neither could take up the invitation. Brescia went down 2-1 at Bari, while Lazio took Chievo’s opportunity for them as the Rome club moved second on goal difference with a 1-0 win thanks to Mauro Zarate.

Zarate had missed an absolute hatful of chances but Lazio fans, who snapped up more season tickets than their Roma rivals for only the second time in their history, will not mind too much thanks to the fine form of Brazilian Hernanes. The former Sao Paulo midfielder, who was listed as the most promising young footballer on the planet by The Times in 2009, has lit up Serie A so far with a string of virtuoso performances.

“If [the forwards] won’t run, I’m leaving”. Cristian Chivu showed his frustrations to Inter boss Rafael Benitez mid-match.

Juventus sprang into life on Sunday night with an impressive 4-2 win over Cagliari that saw them leap from 19th to 9th in the table. Milos Krasic, the new fan-favourite in Turin, scored a hat-trick that did nothing to dampen comparisons with Pavel Nedved.

AC Milan, too, jumped up the table thanks to a brilliant lob from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The temperamental talent flicked Andrea Pirlo’s long ball over Genoa ‘keeper Eduardo with the end of his big right boot to seal a narrow 1-0 win at the San Siro.

Manchester United may have decided against signing Adem Ljajic, but the former Partizan Belgrade play-maker has been making waves for new club Fiorentina. Earlier this month La Viola manager Sinisa Mihajlovic said the 18-year-old should ‘eat less chocolate and cut his hair’, but, just like Ljajic scoffing down the Dairy Milk, Mihajlovic was made to eat his words after his side’s 2-0 win over Parma.

Playing behind Alberto Gilardino in everybody’s favourite 4-2-3-1 formation, the Serbian created space for himself and his team-mates time after time with his clever movement and got himself on the scoresheet when he converted his side’s second goal from the penalty spot.

That is all for this weekend’s round-up, but there is plenty more action to come with the return of the Champions and Europa Leagues, so keep your eyes peeled for Tuesday’s ones to watch.

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