Good Day, Bad Day: Barça blow, cry baby Cristiano & barking Bielsa

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Good Day

Karim Benzema
The striker is the current French toast of the town - no, he hasn't been covered in egg yolk, though whatever the on-fire forward does in his own free time is his business. It was Benzema who kick-started Madrid’s midweek comeback against Málaga in the cup and it was the Frenchman who was the best of a bad bunch with a brace against Granada in a 5-1 win that gave Madrid a five point lead at the top of the table.
José Mourinho’s men were equally as lethargic as the side that was so dramatically blasted by the coach after Tuesday’s game, and found that Granada were quite hard-to-handle with the tie relatively open until the opening minutes of the second half. Fortunately for Madrid, the team’s league campaign is not the most challenging in January so the players have plenty more opportunities for a yawn, stretch and nut scratch before polishing off their opposition.

Although Levante could only manage a goalless draw at home to Mallorca - mainly thanks a great display from goalkeeper Gustavo Munúa - draws for Osasuna and Málaga and a defeat for Sevilla meant that the damage from two dropped points was limited.

It’s a very happy new year for Paul from Barcelona, who was at Cornella El-Prat to see what was a fairly newsworthy event in the Catalan capital.
“Call it poetic justice, fate or chickens coming home to roost. I myself prefer to see it as ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’. Yes, it was a penalty. Yes, it was handball (more later) but a quick history lesson sees the ref's decision as par for the course, but what's different here is that it went against Barça.
In 15 years of attending these games that's the first big decision that's gone in Espanyol's favour. So, I think fair is fair. On the subject of handballs, Leo Messi's reaction to his cheating is priceless. Best leading actor surely ?
Barça seemed strangely subdued last night. Was it the atmosphere - not as hostile as two years ago but still pretty intimidating - the Christmas break or Espanyol's tactics? Messi looked bored, Alexis cost how much! Xavi and Andrés Iniesta don't seem to have left feet. Playing three at the back didn't seem to work. If Espanyol had had a half decent striker instead of Thievy, the result could have been very different.
Hats off to Pochettino. Got his tactics spot on, especially second half when he brought on Javi López who had a blinder. Sergio García and Jordi Amat also stood out for me. The ref was ok in parts (especially at the end) but the linesman who spotted Messi's cheating, hand-to-ball not ball-to-hand like Raúl Rodríguez, had a 'mare. He gave a foul against Thievy when Puyol miscontrolled it and a blatant foul on the same player by Piqué right on the edge of the area.
Well done to Pep for taking the result with good grace and Sandro Rosell too despite his recent mad speech in Qatar. I've now seen the top two live and one looked way better than the other. Wasn't the one I was expecting to be honest.”
Paul, Barcelona

Marcelo Bielsa
A bad result for the Athletic boss, but a ‘good day’ prize for Bielsa for being so highly entertaining during Sunday’s afternoon game and keeping LLL more than occupied during a fairly plodding goalless draw with Getafe.
Not once did Bielsa sit on the visitor’s bench. Instead, Argentinean spent the Getafe clash crouching down at either side of the dugout and hugging the sides, along with the occasional squat by the touchline. As one Twitterer suggested, a ‘squat-off’ with Andrés Villas-Boas would be fine festive entertainment.
LLL was not a huge fan of his tactical changes to Athletic though - Javi Martínez is wasted at centre-back whilst there was no target man up front until Fernando Llorente was introduced in the second half as the forward recovers from injury.

Pepe Mel
A 2-0 win over Sporting suggests the decision from the Betis bosses to hang on to Pep Mel despite a run of just one point from thirty in a terrible phase in 2011 was the right one. Sunday evening’s victory was the club’s third in a row.

Atlético Madrid
Really hard to know where to stick Atlético Madrid this week, but for the sake of a bit of a change, it’s a ‘good day’ award for the Rojiblancos despite yet another doomed attempt to win away from home after a goalless draw at Málaga.
Despite just one game in charge, the stamp - no pun intended towards the Argentinean’s victims during his playing career - of Diego Simeone was clear to see on Atlético: an awful lot of tough tackling but not too much threat going forward.
There is much talk in the Madrid press in the post match reaction of concentration, intensity and foundations being built but some fancy football is going to be needed next week in a key home clash against Villarreal if Diego Simeone’s happy relationship with the Atleti fans isn’t going to last as long as a Kardashian’s marriage.

Rayo Vallecano
It wasn’t a particularly happy holiday in Vallecas after four defeats, a cup knock-out and the players refusing to attend the club’s Christmas dinner after a dispute over money with the owners. But spirits were certainly higher on Sunday with a boisterous, bustling busy 2-1 win over a lethargic Sevilla in front of truly fantastic fans.

Racing Santander
The 1-0 win over Zaragoza - an awful game by most accounts - sees the record of the managerial trio in charge of the team stand at two wins and two draws since the sacking of Héctor Cúper. They are also now out of the relegation zone by a point. Too many cooks? Pah!

Curses! It was all looking rosy for new Villarreal boss José Molina when his side lead local rivals Valencia 2-1 with just four minutes to go. But then the defence failed to clear their lines and Ariz Aduriz swept the ball home to level matters. Although Villarreal slipped into the relegation zone, a point against a tasty team seems some cause from optimism in el Madrigal.

Bad Day

While one doesn’t want to talk about counting chickens before the fat lady sings, she’s certainly tucking into a second helping of brownies and custard when it comes to Barcelona’s title chances. A combination of poor away form, the tendency to switch off during games, a bad recent record against Espanyol and a last minute penalty decision going against the Dream Boys left Barça five points behind Real Madrid after a 1-1 draw in Cornella.
But to be fair to Barcelona there has been very little moaning about the call that saw an unpunished handball from Raúl Rodríguez. There is a general acceptance that the nothing more was deserved for a starting eleven that was the same as the one that faced Real Madrid, but certainly didn’t put it as much effort.

Cristiano Ronaldo
The Portuguese player’s extremely pouty response to his first and Real Madrid’s fifth goal of Saturday’s victory has received a very hostile response in normally friendly waters. Although Aitor Karanka claimed that Ronaldo “was only angry because not everything worked for him,” nobody believed José Mourinho’s number two for a second.
Instead, it’s quite clear that Ronaldo is still the incredible sulk after being booed by some sections of the Santiago Bernabeu during el Clásico in December. “Cristiano is a magnificent player but sometimes his pride lets him down,” tuts AS editor Alfredo Relaño, with colleague 'Mad' Tomás Roncero suggesting that José Mourinho should "sit down with Cristiano and calm him down.”
Marca were equally as critical with Sunday’s editorial suggesting that “if Cristiano doesn’t like how the Madrid fans express themselves, the worst thing he can do is show it in the celebration of a goal.”

Dani Alves
Supporters in the stadium heard the racist noises aimed at Barcelona's Dani Alves, TV viewers heard them too. But it appears nobody else did, not even the Brazilian himself.
“I was very focussed on the game and didn’t hear anything. I never hear what goes on around me, but it took place then I condemn it. We hope to get rid of this kind of behaviour,” said Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino after the game. 

This season’s Málaga isn’t actually that good - notable exceptions such as Isco and Santi Cazorla aside - but a few decent results could see la Liga’s nouveau rich team making the Champions League places, which are just five points away, simply because everyone else around them is equally as disappointing or - as in in Osasuna and Levante's case - will probably lose form as the season goes on.

The Sevilla manager’s instincts are always to avoid defeat rather than go for the win, and this is costing Marcelino’s men badly, with the club now on a run of three league defeats. In the final half an hour, Sevilla showed how well they can go forward when two strikers are played after the introduction of Freddie Kanouté, but it was too little, too late despite Marcelino after the game talking about luck and the size of the Vallecas pitch.

Real Zaragoza
They may have a new manager in Manolo Jiménez, but the result was the same - a defeat, the club’s eleventh in 17 games. “No football, no heart and no soul,” blasted the match report from AS on a team that are bottom of the table with just ten points.

If Zaragoza look set to take up the first relegation spot then Sporting could well be claiming the second. The away defeat to Sporting makes it just one win a five for Sporting.