There’s a whole slate of FA Cup matches in England, including Sunderland-Arsenal (see PoliticalFootballs’ most recent post for a full list of those fixtures), and domestic matches in Germany, Italy, etc. But we’re finding ourselves getting increasingly fascinated by Spanish football beyond the big two.
Saturday, Feb 18
La Liga, Getafe-Espanyol 12pmET (ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com): Our continuing quest to go beyond the big two in Spain. Indeed, these two clubs are severely overshadowed in their hometowns by those big two–Espanyol by their Catalan rivals Barcelona, Getafe by Real (and Atlético) Madrid. But this season finds both teams in what Sid Lowe has called this season’s “slow bicycle race for La Liga’s final Champions League spot“: Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia are almost sure to finish 1-2-3, and there’s an entire peloton of teams jockeying for 4th place. Espanayol is in 5th place, even with Levante (Valencia’s 2nd team!) at 32 points–but that’s only 5 points more than 12th place Getafe (and 9 points more than 18th place Racing Santander!). See below for the full La Liga table.
- 21yo Portuguese Rui Fonte, who came up with Sporting CP and spent some time in North London (“Apt both on the wing or as a forward, some have even gone as far as comparing him to the legendary Luis Figo for his impressive performances in Portugal’s U21 side”)
- 19yo Frenchman Thievy Bifouma, who has “helped fill the void left by the outgoing Osvaldo [who Espanoyol sold to Roma] by partnering Alvaro Vazquez and Vladimir Weiss in the Catalan’s exubertant, Champions League-chasing strikeforce…Deployed mainly on the left by Pochettino, Thievy’s tireless workrate and power on the ball has gone down well with the club’s faithful, who could well be watching a golden generation of talent should the club be able to fend off the inevitable interest that will come their way.”
- 19yo Brazilian Philippe Coutinho: “On the last day of the winter transfer window, Espanyol pulled off a major coup by sealing the loan signing of Inter’s teenage playmaker Phillippe Coutinho, with an option to buy included. …At just 18, the former Vasco man debuted in the Brazilian national team, and is now at the perfect club to grind out his talent and help re-establish him as one of the stars of tomorrow.”
Note also that the other two members of Espanyol’s strikeforce mentioned above are youngsters as well: Vladimír Weiss is a 22yo Slovakian on loan from Manchester City, and Álvaro Vázquez is a 20yo Catalan who came up through Espanyol’s youth system (and has appeared for Spain’s U20 and U21 teams). The squad also contains another young player on loan from Milan: 22yo left back Dídac Vilà, who AC Milan loaned back to Espanyol for this season after Milan purchased him during the January 2011 transfer window. He’s another Catalan product of Espanyol’s youth system–aside from spending last spring with Milan, he’s been with Espanyol since he was 10 years old.
For more on Espanyol, see this piece, also on Forza Futbol: “A Barcelona Outsider: The Case for RCD Espanyol”
Sunday, Feb 19
La Liga, Athletic Bilbao-Malaga (10amET, DirecTV): Two more teams involved in that slow bicycle race, separated by just a point in the table. Malaga travels from the south coast to the moutainous north, to play in the Basque cathedral of football–San Mames.
La Liga table as of Feb 17 2012 (via the Guardian Football State Centre)
|1||Real Madrid CF||22||19||1||2||75||21||54||58|
|6||Atlético de Madrid||22||8||7||7||31||27||4||31|
|18||Racing de Santander||22||4||11||7||18||26||-8||23|
|19||Real Sporting de Gijón||22||5||4||13||20||43||-23||19|
England FA Cup, Sunderland-Arsenal noon FSC: After Wednesday’s horror show in Milan, Arsenal has to travel up north to take on Sunderland for the 2nd weekend in a row. They salvaged a come-from-behind victory last weekend courtesy of an extra-time score from Thierry Henry. But the Frenchman is on his way back to this side of the Atlantic, to rejoin the New York Red Bulls after the MLS team turned down Wenger’s request to extend Henry’s loan. Will Arsenal pull themselves together after Wednesday? Or does Arsenal’s implode like last season, but this time in February?