Argentines Abroad: Another Messi double and more

Another weekend passed some time ago now, and illness during the week combined with the recording of a couple of Hand Of Pod specials is the reason this post is going up late, but we’ve news of Lionel Messi’s return to goalscoring form in Spain, a Mauro Formica goal for Blackburn in England, and Diego Milito’s derby winner in Milan among much more here. Read on.

In England, it was a happy day for Blackburn Rovers, who on Saturday got only their fourth win of the season. Mauro Formica got Blackburn’s third goal in a 3-1 win, coming off the bench to fire low past the goalkeeper in the 79th minute. Elsewhere Fabricio Coloccini was again impressive for Newcastle United, and Jonás Gutiérrez started the move which led to Leon Best scoring the only goal of their game against Queens Park Rangers.

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In Italy, Catania’s sizeable Argentine contingent, which includes Gonzalo Bergessio and Nicolás Spolli, saw their match against Roma – for whom Erik Lamela was playing – called off with 25 minutes remaining due to heavy rain rendering the pitch unplayable. Matías Schelotto and Germán Denis couldn’t do enough in Atalanta’s attack as they fell to a 2-0 loss away to Lazio, but it was a happier day for Rodrigo Palacio and Diego Milito.

Palacio scored what proved to be Genoa’s winner, putting them 3-1 up in a match they eventually won 3-2 against Udinese. Milito, meanwhile, nine minutes into the second half, scored the only goal of the game in the Milan derby, giving Internazionale a 1-0 ‘away’ win over Milan in the San Siro. Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Samuel also all featured for Inter, as did Ricky Álvarez, who’s fast becoming a fixture in the team with some impressive recent performances.

Highlights of the derby della Madonnina, with apologies for the music

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Now over to our correspondents.

Tom Clark, who blogs here, is as ever here to fill us in on what happened in Mexico.

The second round of the Mexican Clausura opened on Friday night 13 January. That evening Alfredo Chango Moreno put visiting San Luis on the road to a 2-0 victory over Estudiantes Tecos (UAG) with a nineteenth minute score; after having a first attempt, resulting from excellent combination work, denied, El Chango, who will never be accused of lacking a nose for goal, fought through for a follow that rewarded his excellent individual effort.

The following day, struggling Atlas hosted Cruz Azul, and became the latest victim of the Argentine scoring power of the Blue Machine. Emanuel Tito Villa notched an opener in the forty-third minute, and Christian Chaco Giménez completed the visitors’ 2-0 triumph by coolly dispatching an eighty-first minute penalty.

The weekend’s action concluded on Sunday the 15th with significant contributions from two Argentine-born veterans.

Vicente Matias El Toro Vuoso (now a “naturalised” Mexican, to use the curious term applied to international mercenaries) saved a point for América, at home to Toluca, with an eighty-fifth minute penalty to secure a 1-1 draw.

But the real pampero heroics of the day came from Martin La Rata Bravo of Pumas (UNAM), whose characteristically aggressive efforts made him the man of the match in a 3-0 home win over Morelia. In the seventh minute his slide-rule pass put Juan Carlos Cacho through for the opener. And then in the fortieth minute La Rata scored himself, seizing on and mercilessly punishing an embarrassing blunder by his compatriot Federico El Jefe Vilar, in goal for the Monarcas.

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Andrew Gibney runs French Football Weekly and is here to fill us in, of course, on the Chinese league. Okay I’m kidding. He’s telling us about France.

Ligue Un is back and so, it seems, is the form of Javier Pastore. Not only did the midfielder score in Paris Saint-Germain’s 3-1 win over Toulouse but there were definite signs that the former Palermo man is enjoying his football under new boss Carlo Ancelotti. The Argentine could have had a second when in injury time his low shot cracked off the post as he found space just outside the box. His flicks and neat touches showed glimpses of the player the Parisians had enjoyed at the start of the season.

After his rip-roaring return through injury, Lyon striker Lisandro López would have been sad to see the winter break. The former Racing striker was enjoying some excellent form before the break; his first game back would be a disappointment. He faced a difficult trip south to the Stade de la Mosson to take on second placed Montpellier. It wouldn’t be Lyon’s night. The frustration was there to see for Lisandro as he received little service and became an isolated figure up front on his own. At the opposite end it was impressive forward Olivier Giroud who scored the only goal of the game.

Elsewhere Fabián Monzón saw plenty of the ball but was largely ineffective as his Nice side fell 1-0 to Brest away from home. Santiago Gentiletti was on the bench for the home side. Lucas Mareque was heavily involved as Lorient were held 2-2 away at Nancy. Only two Lorient players saw more of the ball than the left-back and he was constantly trying to provide probing through balls to the frontmen. Mareque has impressed in his first season in Ligue Un but his manager Christian Gourcuff will look for slightly more in the final third from the full back.

Our round-up ends as it started and with a player finding a little bit of form again this season. During the fantastic 2-0 win over Lille the Marseille fans were delighted by the performances of Mathieu Valbuena and goal scorer Loic Remy, however plaudits go to the home side’s number 8 Lucho Gónzalez. He may not have contributed any goals or assists but he was influential in the all-important opening goal. After finding Valbuena with an exquisite pass the winger then provided the cross for Remy’s goal. Not many players would have had the vision to see Valbuena. Let’s hope it’s the start of the old Lucho returning. During the African Cup of Nations, his form could be vital to Marseille’s season.

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David Cartlidge is a co-editor of Spanish Football Info and is here to let us know what’s happened in Spain.

Real Madrid left it late on Saturday evening, but it was better than never. A 2-1 away victory over Real Mallorca maintained their lead at the top of the Spanish Primera División standings. Up against a rigid and resilient Mallorca side, it was tough going at times for the club from the capital. It was a huge relief then, when Gonzalo Higuaín stepped up to grab the equaliser with 15 or so minutes remaining. The former River Plate man made a sharp movement towards the neat post onto a slipped in pass, and his shot took a deflection to lift the ball over goalkeeper Dudu Aouate. As ever Higuaín worked incredibly hard, and made some smart runs in the second half as well as linking play well. He was involved in the second goal too, chasing down a lost cause and making sure chaos ensued in Mallorca penalty area, before the winner came.

Valencia meanwhile stuttered to a poor 1-0 home defeat to Real Sociedad. The team were lethargic throughout, and Éver Banega was one of the guilty parties in midfield who failed to get a hold of the game and direct Valencia. Tino Costa had little impact on the game also when coming on. Banega meanwhile insisted this past week an agreement is close over a new deal with Los Che.

The new era of El Cholo got well and truly underway in the early Sunday kick-off. Diego Simeone picked up his first victory as Atlético Madrid manager, and did it with some style as his side triumphed 3-0 over Villarreal. As well as harnessing the aggression and desire Simeone strives for, Atleti moved forward with the ball superbly and looked a threat on almost every move. It gave the Atleti fans something to finally cheer about after a dismal few months. Their hero well and truly delivered, but both fans and coach know there is a long way to go yet. Eduardo Salvio got a late run out, and made a few sharp little moves in attacking phases, and caused the odd moment of danger for the visitors. Villarreal started Gonzalo Rodríguez and he had a difficult time of it all day trying to halt the Atleti onslaught. He made several clearances, but could only do so much. The centre back gave away a penalty too, although it certainly appeared the foul was outside the area. Mateo Mussachio came on later in the game, slotting into midfield, in what was a move to limit the damage to the team. He made little impact there as Villarreal were immensely poor on the day.

Sporting Gijón earned themselves three vital points with a 2-1 victory over Málaga, and it was Óscar Trejo who grabbed all the glory. With the game seemingly petering out, a loose ball fell to Trejo and with a swing of the boot the ball ended up arrowing into the top corner. A truly glorious strike that sparked joyous scenes at El Molinón for fans of the relegation threatened side. For Málaga, Martín Demichelis featured, and he made a few decent interceptions and clearances to help his side. Willy Caballero did little wrong in goal for Málaga, and was left with little chance of preventing either Sporting goal. Diego Buonanotte made an appearance with the clock winding down, and he did his best to stretch the tired legs of Sporting, but ultimately failed to find any end product.

Barcelona made hard work of Real Betis on Saturday, but eventually came away with a 4-2 victory. After meandering over the last few weeks, Lionel Messi came back to life in decent fashion with two goals. Aside from those he made some neat runs, and linked well with those around him. He was often thwarted in the final third though, as numbers of Real Betis players swarmed. Javier Mascherano slotted into Barcelona’s defence once more, but didn’t have the usual air of confidence about him and seemed flatfooted at times, not reading the game as well as usual. He did make the odd interception though, and his work on the ball was excellent moving out of defence.

Lionel Messi vs Real Betis

And last but not least, Ben Shave, author of Cahiers Du Sport, is here to update us on the Portguese league.

Injury and lowly opposition meant that Benfica lined up against Vitória de Setúbal with no Argentines in their starting eleven – a rare occurrence. Nico Gaitán and Javier Saviola were among the substitutes, and both enjoyed late cameos as the Eagles ran out 4-1 winners – Gaitán notching an assist with a delicious cross for Nemanja Matic to head home.

Nico Otamendi and Fernando Belluschi both started in Porto’s 2-0 home win over Rio Ave, a victory which sees them stay in touch with Benfica at the top. Otamendi had a quiet evening thanks to Rio Ave’s less than penetrative attacking play, whilst Belluschi produced a number of precise passes as Porto attempted to play through their stubborn opponents. Belluschi was replaced with 25 minutes left by Juan Manuel Iturbe – laughably linked with a loan move to Bolton Wanderers in the more imaginative sections of the English press, but slowly adapting to life in Portugal. A willingness to shoot on sight and fearlessness when it comes to running at defenders have already been pinpointed as hallmarks of the 18 year-old’s game.

Emiliano Insúa started for Sporting at Braga, but was hauled off after the Lions went 1-0 down just after the second half started. This wasn’t a reflection on his performance, rather it illustrated the importance of this game – the eventual outcome (a 2-1 loss for Sporting) left them down in 4th spot.

You can follow the latest news from the selección and Argentina’s foreign legion of players, as well as the domestic championship, River Plate’s first second division campaign in over a century and the ever entertaining/tragic/infuriating capers of Julio Grondona & chums direct from Buenos Aires with HEGS on Twitter. If you’ve not signed up yet you can do so here. You can also join the official HEGS Facebook group, to keep up to date with the latest posts on the blog and discuss things with other fans. You’ll find it here. And remember to bookmark Hand Of Pod, our Argentine football podcast, or if you prefer you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.

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