Monday, October 22, 2007

Espanyol-Madrid Recap: Return of Poor Play

Well, per my prediction Madrid lost to Espanyol 2-1 in what was arguably their most lackluser performance of the season. This loss seemed to be inevitable coming into the match. Madrid has been on a downward slope since the beginning of the season, and Espanyol has become somewhat of a giant killer in this young season, taking down Valencia, Sevilla, and now Madrid. Also, Madrid was hit hard during the international break due to injuries and the "incident in Rio." Robben, Heinze, Robinho and Baptista all succumbed to the curse of the international break.

Madrid's game was thrown off when Albert Riera put in a header for Espanyol in the first minute of play. The rest of the game was mostly one-sided with most of possession and the scoring chances going to Espanyol. The midfield was simply shocking for Madrid. Sneijdner did nothing, Guti spent more time rolling on the ground asking for calls than actually creating anything, and Diarra was decent but got hurt in a collision and his play suffered. The only spark in the middle was Higuain, who was active but not good enough.

Early in the second half, Raul Tamudo put in a beautifully crafted goal just out of the reach of Casillas. That turned out to be the game winner, as even after the goal, Madrid's game was sluggish and unimpressive for most of the half. This changed in the 90th minute when Sergio Ramos (the only Madrid player who played well the entire game) put one in on a corner kick with a left-footed volley he redirected into the net. The first goal put some life back into the team and they seemed to have that Capello-era belief that they could win. However it was too little too late, and shortly after the goal the final whistle blew.

Madrid's run of getting results despite weak play appears to have come to an end. This week's Champions League tie will be a very big test for them, as we get to see how they'll react to their first setback of the year. An interesting story to watch is what will come of Baptista and Robinho. It was clear in the game on Saturday that Robinho was needed to inject some life into the team. However we still don't know exactly why he and Baptista missed their flight and what Schuster will do in response.

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