With the World Cup qualifiers approaching, it’s time to take a look at how Alejandro Sabella’s boys – and those he’s not called up – did in the weekend just gone for their clubs. Alejandro Faurlín impressed in defeat in England, Lionel Messi was subdued but ultimately decisive in Spain, where Marcelo Bielsa only gains in popularity in Bilbao, and we’ve got goals from Mexico and tales of woe from Portugal. Step this way.
In the Premier League, Jonás Gutiérrez had a relatively quiet match for Newcastle United, not hitting the heights of his brilliant start to the season but still doing his bit to help his side temporarily to second in the league, prior to Manchester United’s win over Sunderland. Mauro Formica was lively for Blackburn Rovers, but they couldn’t do enough to prevent Chelsea taking a 1-0 win away from Ewood Park.
Most of the Argentine action was at Loftus Road, where Manchester City visited Queens Park Rangers. Sergio Agüero was a little unlucky not to score, hitting the post with a fine effort in the first half and otherwise looking lively, but his limelight was stolen – on an individual level at least – by the superb performance of Alejandro Faurlín in spite of City’s 3-2 win. Faurlín impressed for QPR in England’s second division last season, and has shown so far this season that that was no fluke. He commanded the midfield brilliantly on Saturday.
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In Serie A, a Germán Denis goal was the only Argentine celebration of the round. Denis scored with ten minutes left to give Atalanta a 1-0 win over Cagliari which takes them up to eleventh in the table. Maxi Moralez was quiet alongside him, though did send in one cross for Denis which saw the big man’s header saved.
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Tom Clark blogs over here, and as usual is on hand to tell us what’s been going on in Mexico.
The 17th and final round of the Apertura in the Mexican Primera saw several clubs bunched near the top in a mad scramble for the final spots in the eight-club liguilla. The battles for qualification came down to the final weekend, with Argentines as per custom playing pivotal roles.
On Saturday 5 November Monterrey saw off Atlante 3-2 at home. Neri Cardozo initiated the scoring for the Rayados in the twenty-seventh minute by taking advantage of a midfield turnover and threading a pass through to compatriot César Chelito Delgado, who lost two defenders to finish. But more would be needed. The decisive goal came again from El Chelito: despite giving away a considerable height advantage, in the sixty-second minute the little man climbed high over a defender to head home.
San Luis meanwhile poured on the heat at home to Toluca, coming away 5-1 winners with the firepower coming predominantly from Argentines. In the twelfth minute, Alfredo Chango Moreno flew into the box to produce an impressive first-time strike. El Chango completed a brace on the day with a sixty-second minute penalty conversion. And Ismael Blanco contributed a sixtieth minute goal to this runaway victory for the Potosinos.
All those heroics by pamperos notwithstanding, the weekend’s results left both Monterrey and San Luis on the outside looking in, both clubs missing qualification by a scant two points.
Happier prospects remain however for Cruz Azul, the Blue Machine securing second seed in the liguilla with a 3-1 home win over hapless giants América, who were left stumbling to their worst season in history. Emanuel Tito Villa started things off for the Cementeros a scant minute and twenty seconds into the affair, with a towering header, and then in the seventy-fifth minute completed the humiliation of the local rivals by scoring on the half-volley to finish a counter-attack helped along decisively by compatriot Christian Chaco Giménez. Daniel Rolfi Montenegro pulled one back with a marvellous free kick, but it was a case of too little, too late for the once-proud Águilas (whose president, Michel Bauer, resigned two days later).
Cruz Azul meanwhile look forward to advance a successful campaign in a quarter-final tie against Morelia, starting two weeks hence.
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With Éver Banega suffering an injury that will keep him out of action for over a month, Valencia’s season was thrown into disarray. Another Argentine, Tino Costa, is the designated replacement for Banega and he immediately made an impact as Valencia beat Levante 2-0 away in the Valencian Derby. Costa delivered an incredible assist for the first goal, playing a first time pass through the entire Levante midfield and defence to find Jordi Alba whose effort went in off a Levante player. Costa proceeded to dictate the game and guide Valencia through a tough fixture, and it was apt he grabbed the crucial second goal with a free-kick that deceived goalkeeper Gustavo Munúa to complete a man of the match performance. Pablo Piatti made a late appearance but couldn’t get into the game at all.
Real Madrid continued their incredible form with another emphatic victory, this time scoring seven goals to Osasuna’s one. The form that Madrid are in is emphasised by the recent performances of Ángel Di María. The ex-Rosario Central man contributed another three assists, taking his total to 10 for the season. The first came when he killed the ball, before swinging in a cross from deep. The second was similar delivery-wise but more level with the penalty area while the third saw him disguise a short pass to Gonzalo Higuaín. Unfortunately for Di María just as he was once again finding himself, disaster struck with an injury which will keep him out for potentially over a month. José Mourinho now waits with bated breath to see whether the winger can be fit in time for the small matter of El Clásico in December. Higuaín as previously mentioned got on the score sheet and took his goal superbly with a curling effort. His performance too was another profitable and energetic one.
Di María v Osasuna
Higuaín goal v Osasuna
Espanyol drew 0-0 with Villarreal and although the game was a drab affair, there was plenty of Argentine involvement. Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino has taken it upon himself to convert Juan Forlín into a holding midfielder over recent weeks, rather than keeping him at centre back. The idea behind it is that Forlín is so comfortable on the ball it would make sense to use his talents further up the field. The ex-Boca Juniors man has been pretty good in the role, but still has plenty to learn, and was sent off for two silly fouls when his position and reading of the game could have been much better. Villarreal meanwhile went with the Gonzalo Rodríguez – Mateo Mussachio partnership at centre back and both weighed in with several timely interceptions, tackles and headed clearances. A clean sheet will do their confidence good.
The main game of the weekend was the clash at the magical San Mamés, between Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona. Josep Guardiola brought his side into a game against an idol of his in the form of Marcelo Bielsa. For the most part Bielsa managed to outwit Guardiola, negating the threat of the attacking players but what has won most praise in Spain is Athletic’s approach. Bielsa set his side up to frighten Barcelona and they did exactly that, with expansive attacking and hard pressing in midfield allowing Guardiola’s men little room. Lionel Messi was smothered throughout, until the final minutes when he pounced on a mistake in the Athletic penalty area to level the game at 2-2. Javier Mascherano had a game to forget at centre back and was pulled out of position often, got sucked into areas he shouldn’t have been and was anxious with his clearances and tackles. He also looked rattled dealing with giant striker Fernando Llorente. For once this wasn’t Messi’s weekend but Bielsa’s. Banners now adorn the glorious stadium in Bilbao with the face of El Loco. The Basques have made him one of their own, and you can tell he loves every minute of it.
Messi goal v Athletic
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Nico Otamendi found himself on the bench once again as Porto travelled to Olhanense. Fernando Belluschi was the sole Argentine starter as the out-of-form Dragons laboured to a 0-0 draw in the chilly Algarave. Otamendi’s slump down the pecking order has been rapid: 20 year-old Frenchan Eliaquim Mangala, a summer arrival, has replaced the former Vélez man as Vítor Pereira’s first choice to partner Rolando, as the under-fire Porto coach attempts to shake up a stale-looking squad.
Andrés Madrid completed ninety minutes for the first time since October 2010, but it wasn’t the happiest of days for the Argentine midfielder as Nacional contrived to throw away a 1-0 lead during the last thirteen minutes at rock-bottom Rio Ave. That said, Madrid continued to be a solid presence in and around the centre circle, and was one of the away side’s better performers.
The big game of the weekend saw Braga host Benfica, and Ezequiel Garay, Nico Gaitán and Pablo Aimar all lined up for the Eagles. Javier Saviola was an unused substitute. Floodlight failure meant that the first half took almost eighty minutes to complete, and unsurprisingly given this extended interruption (not to mention the antipathy between the two clubs) the game was a scrappy, ill-tempered affair. Garay had a running battle throughout with Braga captain Alan, whilst the more cerebral stylings of Gaitán (who was withdrawn at half time having been sick in the dressing room) and Aimar were sadly out of place. The final result was 1-1.
Both Emiliano Insúa and Fabián Rinaudo were injury absentees from Sporting’s 3-1 home win over União de Leiria, and whilst the left back is expected to return after the international break, Rinaudo will be sidelined for the next three months, after fracturing his lower fibula in Europa League action last Thursday. It was a freak injury, with no other players around the former Gimnasia man as his ankle simply gave way whilst he attempted to trap a pass. The defensive midfielder, who has already become a fan favourite at the Alvalade, was operated on last Friday, and a number of supportive banners were displayed during half time on Sunday.
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We start this week on the west coast of France as former Independiente full back Lucas Mareque was the only member of Lorient’s back four to keep his place following the 3-1 defeat to Montpellier. This time Les Merlus looked better organised with Mareque pushing on down the left Lorient went on to an impressive 2-0 victory. There was a nice moment with three minutes to go when Gabriel Peñalba made his first appearance of the season. Recovering from an injury it was nice to see the former Estudiantes defender finally make his return.
Down in the south of France there were three Argentines competing in the Cote d’Azur derby. Renato Civelli and Fabián Monzón were on the wrong side as they were beaten 2-0 by neighbours Marseille. Out-of-favour Lucho Gonzalez replaced Mathieu Valbuena with 30 minutes to go but again failed to make any impact. Recently his passing has been poor and Deschamps has dropped the playmaker and changed the formation to 4-4-2. Lucho’s superb early season form is now a distant memory. We finish off at the Stade Chaban Delmas as Paris St-Germain looked to gain a five point gap on the chasing pack with a win against Bordeaux. After taking the lead through Momo Sissoko, the league leaders would be disappointed to see Bordeaux equalise and hold out for a draw.
Recently the spotlight has been on Javier Pastore and his below-par performances. The trademark smile has gone, as have the flicks and tricks. El Flaco struggled to get on the ball and slowly faded out the game. The former Huracán and Palermo superstar has shrugged off his form and put it down to the increased amount of games he has been asked to play, and to the fact that he has been living out of a suitcase for three months. With new accommodation in place the Parisiens will be hoping Pastore’s form returns for the trip down to Marseille for Le Classique in two weeks. It remains debatable how helpful the trips to Buenos Aires and Barranquilla this week will be for the €42 million man.
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