Yesterday was quite an afternoon of football, with two compelling Cup matches. Turns out there’s more today–another Copa del Rey quarterfinal second leg, another Coppa Italia quarterfinal, and–this just in from our Uruguayan buddy–it’s time for Copa Libertadores again. Click thru for livesoccertv’s TV listings and match previews:
Coppa Italia quarterfinal – Milan vs Lazio – 8:45pm CET / 2:45pmET / 7:45pm GMT (USA: GolTV, ESPN3.com): From FootballItalia: “It is a swift return to San Siro [for Lazio], where the Biancocelesti were beaten 2-1 [by Milan] at the weekend.”
Copa dey Rey quarterfinal – Levante vs Valencia – 10pm CET / 4pm ET / 9pm GMT (No USA TV): The 2nd leg of this Valencia derby is at Levante’s home field (Estadio Ciudad de Valencia), with Valencia holding a commanding 4-1 lead from the 1st leg at the Mestalla. Remarkably, however, Levante are 4th in La Liga, just 4 points behind Valencia (31 vs 35, as compared with Barcelona’s 44 and Madrid’s 49).
Copa Libertadores – Peñarol vs Caracas – 5:45pmET (USA: Fox Deportes): “Uruguayan giants Penarol clash with Caracas of Venezuela in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores preliminary qualification play-off at the Centenario stadium of Montevideo on Thursday.”
Let’s also take a quick look back at what we watched yesterday:
Liverpool will be returning to Wembley, for the Carling Cup final, after stunning Man City at Anfield (yesteday’s result was a 2-2 draw, but Liverpool advance by virtue of a 3-2 aggregate score over the two legs, having won the first leg at Etihad Stadium 1-0). Crazily the second half of that English game overlapped with a much bigger game in Barcelona–the 2nd leg of the El Clasico Copa del Rey quarterfinal clash. We watched both games simultaneously, by virtue of sitting at the bar at Woodwork. But it made for a disjointed afternoon, given that the sound was on for Liverpool-City for that game, with approximately half the audience watching that one, while the other half focused on the Spanish match (including a table of rather distractingly loud jersey-wearing self-proclaimed Cules del Barça in the back, who had also been there for the first leg).
All that, plus conversation with a couple Liverpool supporters that we’d met at the spot before, meant that we didn’t really absorb the nuances of either match. From what we can recall (we should have jotted down some notes), it seemed like City was dominating (possession, at least) for long stretches in the first half, although Gerrard and Parker did fairly well in breaking up City attacks in the center of midfield–but of course Silva did get free on occasion, most damagingly for Nigel De Jong’s surprising screamer of a goal. On the other hand, Liverpool did grow into the match in the second half, with Gerrard, Downing and Adams on occasion delivering the fine balls they’re known for, and Kuyt getting into space on the right flank especially. It was from that direction that the decisive goal came from, with the irrepressible Craig Bellamy combining with Glen Johnson for the 74′ goal that gave the aggregate advantage back to Liverpool. It was a stunner since Man City had just pulled even on aggregate–and with an away-goal advantage–with an emphatic finish by Edin Dzeko, who got behind the Liverpool defender on the back post to slam home a Kolarov cross from the left wing (the rather loud Man City supporter who’s a Woodwork regular leapt to his feet and shouted “UNLEASH THE DZEKO!” for the whole bar to hear, which drew plenty of laughs. But his Liverpool-supporting friends/rivals had the last laugh..
All of our attention (and the sound system) shifted to El Clasico, which was about 25′ in by then. Out of the corner of our eye, we’d seen the two early misses by Higuain, and in general how Barcelona looked a little discombobulated, especially in trying to play the ball out of the back. Edhinho’s observations after the game: “Barca strangely lacked control and gave away the ball much more carelessly. Could it be that as Madrid plays them more and more, like regular pick up games, players start to read the now familar players’ moves and become more effective in pressurizing them to lose it?” But predictably, and to the joy of los Cules, Barca went up 2-0, off a dashing run and pass by Messi for a Pedro goal, and then from a cracker by Dani Alves just before the half-time whistle.
It seemed as if the tie had been decided–a 4-1 lead for Barcelona on aggregate, with 45 minutes left to play at the Camp Nou? No chance for Madrid, right–especially given the recent history between these two sides.
But then, to the confusion of Cules everywhere, Madrid did not fold, and Mourinho did not go insane. Instead he made some interesting and pivotal substitutions. Let me quote Sean’s “¡El Clásico Fantasico!” match report, since he watched the game in the quiet confines of home and hence with more concentration (he might have even taken notes, as he is wont to do):
Heading in at halftime Barcelona had shot twice, scored twice. Madrid had more chances, but weren’t bringing players forward quickly enough to play a possession game in Barça’s half. That changed in the second period, when Mourinho made three changes, bringing in Esteban Granero, Karim Benzema, and José Callejón for Diarra, Higuain and Kaka, respectively. Within 15 minutes the game was 2-2. Ronaldo was set free by a piercing pass off the foot of Germany’s Özil, and Benzema acrobatically brought down a cross before smashing home the tying goal. Along the way Callejón had a perfect cross skid off his pompadour that would’ve helped the effort.
Though I’m a Barcelona supporter, it was exciting to see younger players like Granero and Callejón get a chance to play alongside more often-seen Madrid creative players Benzema and Özil.
Enough about yesterday’s matches–we’ll revisit the Carling Cup ahead of the Liverpool-Cardiff City final, and we’ll revisit Barcelona-Madrid again in the coming months, as there will be at least one more Clasico (a La Liga fixture at the Camp Nou, which will likely be essential for Barcelona to even hope of catching Madrid in the table), and perhaps one or two Champions League matches as well.