Monday, February 23, 2015

Barça hiccup but Ronaldo 'does not drink water'

THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW

* The depressing but far from shocking smell of match-fixing wafted into Spain this week as it was revealed Osasuna's former president is under investigation over four matches at the end of last season.

It seems his club had a scam underway to avoid the drop but their plan backfired as other teams' results meant they were relegated on the final day.

Real Betis are also under the microscope for a 4-3 win at Valladolid in the penultimate game of their 2013-'14 campaign, a scoreline beneficial to Osasuna. Central defenders Antonio Amaya and Jordi Figueres were allegedly offered €250,000 each to participate.

In their final match, Osasuna needed a 3-0 win over already relegated Betis to stay up and raced into a 2-0 lead after a quarter of an hour.

But then, after news filtered through that rivals Granada were winning at Valladolid and Almeria drawing with Athletic Bilbao. Betis scored, the game ended 2-1 and both went down. If there was an attempt to nobble players, it all ended messily.

The Basque club's accounts are now being scrutinised and appear curious, including a cash withdrawal of €1.5million, a transfer of €1 million to two estate agents and €1.4 million to a firm on the island of Madeira.

* Real Madrid were pretty in pink in midweek as they won 2-0 away to Schalke in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg. Cristiano Ronaldo broke his month-long duck to score in the 26th minute, meeting a Dani Carvajal cross with a well-timed diagonal run between the centre-backs to nod home.

And the Portuguese star was heavily involved in Real's clincher ten minutes from time, beating two markers before setting up Marcelo for a rifle into the top corner. Job done for Real, now it's the turn of Atletico and Barcelona this week.

In other CL ties, Spaniards had mixed results as Xabi Alonso was sent off in Bayern Munich's 0-0 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk, though fellow countryman Juan Bernat went the 90.

Chelsea's Spanish trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas came away pleased with their 1-1 draw at PSG.

Porto, managed by Spaniard Julien Lopetegui, had three Spanish starters in their 0-0 draw at Basel - Marcano, Tello and Oliver Torres.

* In the Europa League Round of 32, the three Spanish clubs had a pretty successful week; Sevilla won 1-0 at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach, Villareal won 2-1 at home to Salzburg and Athletic Bilbao drew 2-2 away to Torino. Roberto Martinez's Everton had a comfortable 4-1 away win at Young Boys of Berne.

* Domestically, Real are back in the driving seat as Barcelona slipped up at home, losing 1-0 to Malaga. Juanmi gobbled up an underhit back-pass by Daniel Alves in the seventh minute to score. His club, whose nickname is the Anchovies, then shut up shop and frustrated Barça, conceding 73% of possession.

Perhaps Catalan minds were on their upcoming return to the Champions League at Manchester City, who won 5-0 by comparison, although Jose Enrique rested only Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic from his first eleven.

Barça's home hiccup allowed Atletico Madrid to close the gap between them to three points after a comfortable 3-0 home win over Almeria.

Real concluded proceedings with a 2-0 win at Elche on Sunday night to move four points clear at the top. Ronaldo put the seal on a positive week by notching Real's second goal and his 29th strike of the season.

Valencia are still fourth after a fifth win in six, 2-1 at Cordoba, while Sevilla sit five points behind, having conceded two late goals to lose 4-3 at Real Sociedad.

Celta Vigo won the Galician derby 2-0 away to Deportivo La Coruna.

* Iker Casillas played his 500th La Liga game on Sunday. The veteran Real goalkeeper has begun to move aside for Costa Rica's Keylor Navas at the Bernabeu, but aged 33 he still has a lot of playing time left. As it stands, the Madrid-born goalie is third in Real Madrid appearances and seventh in the list of La Liga.

Raul tops the Real ranks with 550 appearances and fellow goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta heads the all-time list with 629 between 1981 and 1998.

* 17 thugs have been banned by Real Madrid for singing abusive songs about Lionel Messi (calling him a retard) at the Bernabeu in December. The Spanish League has just clamped down on Barça fans singing 'Cristiano is a drunkard' but displaying a level of with normally associated with English supporters, the same fans retorted this week, 'Cristiano does not drink water'.

* While halting plans for a renovated stadium, the city of Madrid has approved a 23-storey block with a five-star hotel looking out over the Bernabeu. A room with a view indeed, or a sneaky way of selling executive boxes outside the ground...?

* In this week's transfer rumours, it was claimed Real Madrid are willing to let one of their central defenders, Pepe or Raphael Varane, leave at the end of the season, and UK tabloids filled in the gaps by claiming Chelsea and Manchester United are willing to swoop.

Barça's Brazilian full-back Dani Alves looks headed for the exit in the summer as the club has failed to make him a new offer. Alves' agent, who happens to be his ex-wife, told the press, "He is listening to offers...We are more sad than disappointed with Barça." Alves' cock-up in Saturday's defeat to Malaga seemed to all but confirm his P45.

David Moyes has made a solid start to his Spanish career with Real Sociedad but West Ham may offer him a quick return to the Premier League at the end of the season.

Sociedad flew Burnley striker Danny Ings over to Spain to discuss a summer move. The 22 year-old is out of contract then but FIFA rules would mean a fee of €200,000 if a deal is agreed now.

Barcelona and Spain attacker Pedro is said to be in the sights of Arsenal, Liverpool and Man. Utd., while Barça are sniffing around Bayer Leverkusen defensive midfielder Lars Bender.

Atletico Madrid, who have a recent history of recruiting top strikers like Sergio Aguero, Falcao, Diego Forlan, Fernando Torres and David Villa, are seeking to tie-up the signature of Colombian marksman Carlos Bacca from Sevilla.

Bacca has lived in the shadow of Falcao, Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez for his country but the 28 year-old's stats are still impressive - 14 goals in 24 starts this season, the fourth-highest in La Primera.

* Barça have renamed their training ground after their former coach Tito Vilanova, who died of cancer last year aged 45.

* At a promotional event, Leo Messi was asked about Barcelona's style of play this season and replied that there had only been minor changes. "We have not lost the Barça philosophy," he said. "We have two things - direct play and one-touch football," adding that Barça had learnt to play better on the counter. Then they lost 1-0 at home to Malaga. These things take time.

* This week's top games; kick-off times GMT

Tue 24th Feb:
Champions League (19:45) Manchester City v Barcelona, Atletico Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen

Thu 26th Feb:
Europa League - Borussia Moenchengladbach v Sevilla, Salzburg v Villareal (1800), Athletic Bilbao v Torino (20:05)

Sat 28th Feb:
La Primera - Granada v Barcelona (15:00)

Sun 1st Mar:
La Primera - Valencia v Real Sociedad (11:00), Sevilla v Atletico Madrid (18:00), Real Madrid v Villareal (20:00)

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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