That’s not the best headline I’ll ever put up on HEGS, I realise, but it is a fairly accurate one, at least. There were a fair few impressive performances by Argentina’s foreign legion during the weekend just gone, as action finally got underway in Spain, and continued elsewhere. Some of them are compiled here, ahead of Argentina’s friendly against Venezuela in Calcutta on Friday. As ever we’ve got correspondents watching Mexico, Spain and France here, as well as a (short) roundup from England, and are also joined by Ben Shave’s Portuguese league coverage, which includes the piece he did send me last week which got swallowed by an email gremlin.
In the Premier League the main Argentine story was that Franco Di Santo has scored his second and third goals for Wigan Athletic, and they proved crucial as his side beat Queens Park Rangers 2-0. Both of Di Santo’s strikes looked like absolutely beauties until the replays showed both were deflected, but in fairness to him he played well and ran himself into the ground throughout; they may have involved slices of luck, but he fully deserved them all the same. Alejandro Faurlín featured for the defeated visitors, playing a part in one or two promising moves but was ultimately unable to do much. Elsewhere, Fabricio Coloccini and Jonás Gutiérrez both featured as usual for Newcastle United, without much fanfare as they beat Fulham 2-1, and Sergio Agüero continued his blistering start to life at Manchester City, helping to set up one, and scoring the fourth in their 5-1 away tonking of Tottenham Hotspur.
Tom Clark blogs here, and keeps HEGS readers filled in on the action south of the border, down Mexico way.
The seventh round of the Mexican league Apertura featured some expert attacking work from familiar Argentine faces.
On Saturday 28 August a formidable Tigres team, at home to Atlas of Guadalajara, made one very pretty early goal stand up on the day. It came in the twenty-third minute and was produced by a slide-rule pass from HEGS sweetheart Lucas Lobos converted to a precision finish from Damián La Chilindrina Alvarez. (I’ve said familiar, but it may take a moment to recognize Damián’s new look).
On the same day struggling Estudiantes Tecos suffered again, away to Atlante in Cancun. But the strike of the day came from Estudiantes midfielder Rubens Sambueza, with a lovely free kick tucked into the right corner near the death. If you want to cut straight to the goal, it follows the handbags at 6:56 on this clip:
And on Sunday the 29th, Martin Bravo opened a sunny afternoon at home for Pumas (UNAM) with a twenty-third minute strike. But visiting Cruz Azul – with Christian Chaco Giménez on the pitch for the first time in this campaign, having sat out the first six rounds due to a suspension hanging over from the wild bronca in Michoacan that ended the Clausura unhappily for the Blue Machine – came back to overcome 2-1 on the day.
Ben Shave authors Cahiers Du Sport, and is one of the editorial team at In Bed With Maradona among other things. Here follows his first two roundups from Portugal, with apologies to him for my having missed the first one last week.
A total of eight Argentines graced the pitches of the Portuguese Liga as the second round of the 2011/12 season unfolded. First up were Nico Otamendi and Fernando Belluschi, as a now Radamel Falcao-less Porto hosted Gil Vicente. Otamendi’s impact was swift and memorable, with the centre-back clipping João Vilela inside the box to concede a clear penalty. Porto battled back to win 3-1, with Otamendi curbing his more erratic tendencies to deliver a decent performance. Belluschi came on for the final 20 minutes.
As usual, it was Benfica who provided the lion’s share of the weekend’s Argentine representatives, with Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Aimar, Nico Gaitán and Javier Saviola all lining up against Feirense. The three attacking players were all unlucky not to get on the scoresheet – Saviola missed an open goal early on, Gaitán saw a delicious curling effort tipped onto the post by Paulo Lopes, and Aimar shot narrowly wide on a couple of occasions. Garay was also impressive in his own way, and looks to have already established a good understanding with Luisão at the heart of defence. Enzo Pérez made a late cameo, with Franco Jara an unused substitute.
Fito Rinaudo was one of Sporting’ s most impressive performers during pre-season, with his complete and utter bossing of Juventus a particularly memorable display. Whilst Sporting have struggled in competitive action so far this season (Sunday’s wretched 0-0 draw at Beira-Mar was their third stalemate in seven days), Rinaudo has been an effective destroyer in front of the defence, although his long-range shooting has proved to be more of a threat to passing birds than opposition goalkeepers.
Fast forward to the weekend just gone, and with Sporting already exhibiting all the signs of a club in crisis, Rinaudo was demoted to the subsitute’s bench. The former Gimnasia man will probably be quite pleased in retrospect – the Lions lost 3-2 at home to Marítimo in quite frankly comic fashion.
Benfica travelled to an exceptionally foggy Funchal to take on Nacional da Madeira, with Pablo Aimar and Nico Gaitán in the starting XI (Enzo Pérez and Javier Saviola started on the bench). The aforementioned weather conditions put the game in jeopardy, but Gaitán was apparently unaffected – the number 20 managed to find Óscar Cardozo’s head with a perfect ball in to give Benfica the lead. Neither Aimar nor Gaitán saw out the entire match – Aimar was replaced by Pérez with twelve minutes remaining, whilst Gaitán was subbed off during injury time. Benfica won 2-0.
Porto’s trip to União de Leiria was postponed, as the Dragons were on Super Cup duty, against Barcelona. Nico Otamendi was the sole Argentine starter in a 2-0 defeat, whilst Fernando Belluschi made a brief cameo in the closing stages.
A bag of mixed fortunes for the Argentines in France this week. We’ll start with the good. PSG travelled south to take on Alain Casanova’s dangerous Toulouse side. After a mediocre first half the former Huracán and Palermo playmaker Javier Pastore stepped up and led PSG to victory. With PSG 1-0 down away from home, El Flaco slipped in Kevin Gameiro, who finished exquisitely levelling the scores. With only seconds remaining it was Pastore again who found substitute Mevlut Erding and the Turkish striker as he applied the finish.
Pastore played his first whole league game for PSG and certainly made an impact, the early relationship he is developing with Kevin Gameiro signals trouble for the rest of the league.
Whilst Pastore’s fortunes improved, the same couldn’t be said for Lyon forward Lisandro López. With his team 2-0 up at home to Montpellier he received the ball on the edge of the box. Flanked by two defenders the forward went to ground and fell awkwardly on his ankle. Stretchered off the pitch the signs didn’t look good. Initial reports confirmed there was no break or fracture but it was badly strained and it looks like Lyon will be without the 2009/10 Ligue Un Player of the Year for at least four weeks.
There were three Argentines on display at the Stade du Ray down on the Cote d’Azur. Renato Civelli and Fabián Monzón lined up in Nice’s defence and Santiago Gentiletti continued at left back for Brest. Unfortunately the game ended with no goals but all three played well.
Lucas Mareque again played the whole game as Lorient won 2-1 at home the left back was booked in the 2-1 win but was heavily involved. He has really played well since joining Lorient and has completely filled the void left by Jeremy Morel.
Finally on Sunday night saw the game of the week as Lille took on Marseille at the Stade Lille Metropole. Lucho González started but like last week he wasn’t at his best and the game passed him by. After coming back from a goal down Marseille took a 2-1 lead but the home side rallied and after a Moussa Sow penalty they delighted the home fans with a 3-2 victory.
Valencia began their season on Saturday fielding their two Argentines in the form of Éver Banega and new signing Pablo Piatti, both of whom played a part in beating Racing Santander 4-3. The former was impressive throughout the game, keeping things neat and tidy in the middle with the number 10 on his back – the shirt given to him upon the departure of main man Juan Mata. Piatti meanwhile found it tough going, as he was asked to slot into the role vacated by Mata, working between the lines and linking the forward line. Piatti ended up being substitute with 20 or so minutes left, but still has a big role to play this season.
Atlético Madrid began the post-Agüero era in disappointing fashion on Sunday as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Osasuna at home. Eduardo Salvio has returned from a successful loan spell at Benfica but struggled upon his return. Salvio was guilty of some poor passing and he lacked any cohesion with his team mates. He’s going to have to improve given the number of new attacking players coming into the club.
Real Madrid certainly weren’t slow out of the blocks on Sunday night, as they travelled to Real Zaragoza and won 0-6. Ángel Di María was the only Argentine to start, and though he lasted most of the match he was largely ineffective. He made the odd darting run, and made himself available for out balls from defensive areas but he doesn’t look fully sharp. Gonzalo Higuaín made an appearance from the bench with 15 minutes left but had little say in proceedings as Madrid continued to cruise. Real Zaragoza meanwhile fielded Leo Ponzio, who toiled away in defensive midfield to little avail as he struggled to keep up with an energetic Madrid midfield. Positively though, he didn’t pick up a yellow card and lasted 90 minutes – wonders never cease. Franco Zuculini also played for Zaragoza following his loan move from Hoffenheim, though he looked short of match fitness and suffered similarly to Ponzio against the Madrid tide – his substitution on 53 minutes came as no surprise.
Sevilla beat big-spending Málaga 2-1, and featured Diego Perotti in his usual wide left berth. Perotti was lively as ever and if Sevilla are going to use the counter attacking heavily this season, Perotti’s skill and speed will be vital for end product. The winger was eventually replaced by Emiliano Armenteros after the hour mark. Armenteros returned to Sevilla after a successful loan spell with Rayo Vallecano in the Segunda División, and he’ll be looking to take that form to the next level in Seville. Federico Fazio was an unused substitute. Málaga meanwhile have been splashing the cash, yet they still couldn’t find any of it to replace Martín Demichelis. The defender looked sluggish as he was given the run around by Sevilla’s attack, namely Álvaro Negredo, and despite the odd interception looked to find the going difficult. Diego Buonanotte remained on the bench, and will have to wait a little longer for his domestic debut.
Monday night and was the reigning Spanish and European champions’ turn. Barcelona made their 2011-12 bow with a 5-0 defeat of Villarreal. Lionel Messi was given a free role as Pep Guardiola went for a 3-4-3, and typically he excelled. Gliding through the motions and lines of attack and midfield Messi linked play brilliantly – the assist to Fàbregas was years in the making it would seem, and both his finishes showed the clinical touch is very much still at the forefront of his play. Javier Mascherano also featured, and kept his passing neat and tidy from the backline – the same can be said for his tackling too apart from on one occasion. Gonzalo Rodríguez and Matteo Mussachio had the unenviable task of attempting to stall relentless attacks from Barcelona, but failed miserably as the sheer quality of the opposition and the little protection they were offered from their own midfield contributed to the downfall.
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