Monday, May 18, 2015

Barça take the league and reach Berlin

Barça secure La Liga and reach the European Cup Final, Sevilla are in the Europa League Final


THE SPANISH WEEK IN REVIEW


Five days of triumph for FC Barcelona - winning the Spanish league and reaching the Champions League Final, and tragedy for Real Madrid, losing the league and getting knocked out of Europe.

The big two went their separate ways in Europe first. Barça lost 3-2 in Munich but advanced 5-3 overall while Real could only draw 1-1 at home to Juventus and left the competition 3-2 on aggregate.

A weird yet entertaining match at the Allianz Arena saw Barcelona lose yet come away victorious, thanks to Messi's minutes of magic in the first leg.

The game was very open and five goals could well have been more. Mehdi Benatia's opener for Bayern in the seventh minute briefly gave Bayern hope of overturning the 3-0 first leg lead but then a Neymar brace put Barça out of reach at 5-1 on aggregate with two away goals.

Luis Suarez set up both strikes unselfishly, confirming how well the two South Americans are gelling with another Latin lyricist Lionel Messi pulling the strings close behind them.

With the tie out of sight, attention turned to Pep Guardiola and the strange figure he cut on the touchline. What was going through his head as his former proteges dismissed his current crop with such ease?

Was he contemplating eating his words and returning to his spiritual home? How long will it take to bring the German champions up to the same level? And will Munich even give him the time...?

The fact Germany's top side, featuring five World Cup winners, had been so comprehensively dismissed is proof enough this is a fine Barcelona side, albeit not as revolutionary as Guardiola's.

Bayern salvaged some pride with two second half goals to secure a victory, but left confounded at the overall gulf in class.

*Real's season ended in all but name on Wednesday evening as they drew 1-1 at home to Juventus and exited the Champions League 3-2 on aggregate.

The holders only needed a 1-0 result to set up a relishing final against Barcelona in Berlin but allowed the Serie A champions to grab a precious away goal and then shut up shop Italian-style and see out the minutes.

Real ran and ran in pursuit of a winner following Juve's leveller but Gianluigi Buffon was never put under sustained pressure, so well-drilled was the back four in front of him. Despite their panoply of attacking talents, Carlo Ancelotti's team ran out of ideas and sweated their way to a draw.

Iker Casillas was possibly at fault for not saving Alvaro Morata's shot but he might have been unsighted in a crowded box for a fatal split-second.

Casillas then kept Real in the game with a crucial save from a breakaway, though finished by using up the last minute of extra-time by making a silly foul throw.

It was not all doom and gloom for the home side. Marcelo, so often at fault in losing the ball in previous matches, had an impressive game with plenty of attacking contributions and distribution.

Gareth Bale enjoyed the lion's share of Real chances but fired wide or headed high. Only once in the first half did his old magic fleetingly return when a swerving rocket into the top corner was tipped away by Buffon.

The Welshman certainly could not be faulted for trying, but again seemed to be on a different wavelength at times and the angrier elements of the Bernabeu duly slated him once again.

Real missed Luka Modric's invention in the middle; Toni Kroos did little more than hold his position and make simple lay-offs; the returning Karim Benzema showed flashes of danger in the first-half but tired and was subbed in the second.

Cristiano Ronaldo coolly out-thought Buffon for the penalty but started to disappear after the break and his colleagues should have made more of his electric acceleration and heading prowess.

Isco was stuck out wide and unable to cause as much trouble as he had done before, but when James Rodriguez cannot find the space to invade, you know you are up against a master defence.

At least as much credit has to go to Juve for their masterful tactics and defensive nous as blame to Real for not scoring more.

Yet in the end, Real's 'BBC' attack did not have the cutting edge and deadly firepower of Barcelona's three-pronged vanguard of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

So, we will not have a clasico final to the Champions League after all and after last year's all-Spanish final, there will be only one La Liga representative in Berlin.

A Barca v Real final would have been billed as the match of the century here. Now instead there will be a more sober prognosis of the Italian/Spanish tactical clash which awaits.

Real fans might have felt sheepish cheering their conquerors in the final, but when the opposition is their biggest rivals and merengues old boy Morata showed such dignity by not celebrating twice when scoring against his former club, they should come down heavily in favour of La Vecchia Signora.

Ancelotti meanwhile will be having a sleepless night or two over Real President Florentino Perez polishing the axe of dismissal now there are no more cups to play for.

* Predicatably the Madrid press went into meltdown. Marca had 'The fiasco of the century' as its banner headline, calling it a 'failure to reach 'the mother of all finals.'

AS more soberly splashed, 'Morata should have been there'.

* Real Madrid's team bus was met by 5,000 ecstatic, cheering supporters with flares and fireworks in an extraordinary pre-match welcome before the Juventus encounter. Talk about counting chickens before they are hatched...

The players needed protecting by police from Madridista hotheads as they drove away from the Bernabeu after the match. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad...

* Sevilla maintained their unsung hero status, dispatching Fiorentina 2-0 in Italy to advance 5-0 on aggregate to the Europa League final, where they will play Dnipro of Ukraine.

Carlos Bacca got the show going with a goal in the 22nd minute and Daniel Carrico made it 5-0 to the holders on aggregate five minutes later. Fiorentina enjoyed two-thirds of the ball but could not score, missing a second-half penalty as well, leaving Unai Emery's side to advance impressively to their fourth Europa League final in ten years.

Dnipro, who beat Napoli in the semi-finals, await in the final on the 27th of May in Warsaw. The first Ukrainian side to reach a European final since Shakhtar Donetsk in 2009 will have a short hop to Poland for the match, though Sevilla should start as favourites.

EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL - Sevilla v Dnipro, Warsaw, 27th May
COPA DEL REY FINAL - Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona, 30th May
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL - Barcelona v Juventus, Berlin, 6th June



*It was no surprise that Sunday saw Barça clinch the league and kill off Real's season definitively, but for Los Merengues at least the end was swift. Leo Messi, who else, scored the only goal of the game at Atletico Madrid with a beautifully disguised shot after combining with Pedro.

That was enough to keep the gap at four points with one game to play.

Real did their best to be fair, winning 4-1 at Espanyol with Cristiano Ronaldo bagging another hat-trick with an ease he never found against Juventus, but it was a phyrric victory. The only silver linings were that Real bounced back from their midweek heartache with aplomb and CR7 moved two goals ahead of Messi in the Pichichi race.

LA LIGA TITLES


  1. Real Madrid 32
  2. Barcelona 23
  3. Atletico Madrid 10
  4. Athletic Bilbao 8
  5. Valencia 6
  6. Real Sociedad 2
  7. Deportivo La Coruna 1
  8. Sevilla 1
  9. Real Betis 1


*Valencia could yet pip Atletico for third place on goal difference, which would mean they go into the Champions League group stages automatically. Valencia must win at Almeria and hope Granada magically win at home to Los Colchoneros.

Over their shoulder, Sevilla could grab fourth spot and a Champions League place if they win at Malaga and Almeria draw with or beat Valencia. Fifth place qualifies for the Europa League.

* Deportivo La Coruna and Granada both won to sensationally lift themselves out of the drop zone with a game to play. Deportivo won 2-0 at home to Levante and Granada 3-0 away to Real Sociedad. Granada host Atletico and La Coruna must travel to Barcelona next however.

* After a second sucker punch in a week, the pro-Real Madrid press (AS & Marca) consoled themselves by cheering Real Madrid's basketball team winning the Euro League over Olimpiakos of Greece, for page after page.

PICHICHI race:

Cristiano Ronaldo 45, Lionel Messi 41, Antoine Griezmann & Neymar 22, Carlos Bacca 20


MOST HAT-TRICKS IN LA LIGA HISTORY:

Cristiano Ronaldo 26, Lionel Messi 24, Telmo Zarra 22

Telmo Zarra (1921-2006) played for Athletic Bilbao in the 1940s and '50s.

* Real Betis stay top of the Liga Adelante beating Lugo 5-1. Pepe Mel's team have a six-point lead over Girona and Sporting Gijon, who will duel for the second automatic promotion spot.

Las Palmas, Real Valladolid and Real Zaragoza occupy the remaining play-off spots.


* Spain will play Costa Rica on the 11th of June in Leon.

* Spain's U-17 side were knocked out of the European Championship on penalties by Germany.

*This week's transfer rumours centred around David De Gea's will-he, won't-he vacillation. According to which day you read, he is staying at Old Trafford or heading to the Bernabeu but nothing is for sure, other than that Real Madrid is a tempting offer for the former Atletico man.

"I don't know why he has not taken a decision yet," said Louis Van Gaal, admitting the club nevertheless had a list of replacements to hand.

West Ham are said to be still interested in Rafael Benitez as their new boss. Napoli's exit from the Europa League may make that more likely, although Real Madrid are also said to have sounded him out if they decide to fire Ancelotti.

Real Madrid have also spoken to Jose Mourinho about a sensational return to the Bernabeu, it was claimed, although Zinedine Zidane and Porto coach Julen Lopetegui remain in poll position should Florentino Perez choose to wield the axe.

Gareth Bale's latest 'failure' to guide his club to victory means rumours of his departure will not subside. The latest chit-chat is that Man City and Man Utd are in a bidding war.

Arsenal and Sevilla are interested in Juve's Spanish target man Fernando Llorente.

Liverpool are looking to tie up a deal for Real midfielder Asier Illarramendi, whose appearances have been limited at the Bernabeu. A fee of £15 million has been mentioned.

The Reds are said to have had a £14 offer for Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez rebuffed and are mulling over a £20 approach instead.

Man City have quashed rumours they could sell Sergio Aguero to Real Madrid.

Barcelona were once again strongly linked with Borussia Dortmund midfielder Ilkay Gundogan.

Real are said to be interested in Chelsea's Petr Cech if they cannot land David De Gea.

Los Merengues are also pondering buying back Alvaro Morata from Bayern after his goals kkocked them out of Europe. This could pave the way for Karim Benzema's departure, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd all interested.

Chelsea were linked again with Atletico goleador Antoine Griezmann, as were Bayern Munich.
The Frenchman's departure could open the door for Erik Lamela to move from Tottenham to Madrid for a fee of around €20 million.

Atletico are also interested in Napoli's former Real marksman Gonzalo Higuain, and Elche's Brazilian defender Jonathas.

Everton have been told to bid £13 million if they want to sign Celta Vigo winger Nolito.

Valencia's Nicolas Otamendi has a £36 million contract clause allowing his departure. Man Utd are said to be after the Argentine centre-back.

Atletico Madrid and Valencia are both trying to land PSG's Uruguayan star Edinson Cavani.

Sevilla will buy out the contract of striker Iago Aspas, on loan from Liverpool.

Rayo Vallecano boss Paco Jemez has said he expects to work in England before long. "The issue is when," he told Marca, "but for now I'm very happy in Spain; however if tomorrow or in three years I have to pack my suitcase then I will."

THE FINAL DAY'S BIG GAMES:

Saturday, 23rd May LA LIGA 5.30pm GMT

3rd place and Champions League:
Granada v Atletico Madrid
Almeria v Valencia

4th place and Champions League:
Malaga v Sevilla
Granada v Atletico Madrid
Almeria v Valencia

5th place and Europa League:
Almeria v Valencia
Malaga v Sevilla

Race to escape the drop:
Almeria v Valencia
Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna
Eibar v Cordoba
Granada v Atletico Madrid

Top Five: Barcelona 93 pointsReal Madrid 89, Atletico Madrid 77Valencia 74, Sevilla 73
Bottom Five: Deportivo La Coruna 34 pts Granada 34, Eibar 32, Almeria 32, Cordoba 20


(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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