Tag Archives: Barcelona

Are Real Madrid now La Liga favourites?

Due to Liverpool’s Premier League dominance this season, many fans have cast an eye over European football in the search of a title race. It looked like a fantastic one was forming in Germany, with Bayern Munich stumbling through the campaign and all of Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach showing impressive form.

Unfortunately, the appointment of Hansi Flick by the Bavarians turned out to be a stroke of genius, as they put together an incredible run only losing twice in the Bundesliga between 9th November and the end of season. The 1-0 win over Dortmund after the season’s restart all-but-killed the title race with six games to go.

Serie A was also shaping up very nicely, with Inter Milan and Lazio giving Maurizio Sarri’s ailing Juventus side a run for their money. Juve have since improved slightly but that tile race is very much still on. It’s Juve’s to lose, however, as they’re now four points ahead of Lazio with 10 games to go and eight points ahead of Inter.

The closest major title race now appears to be in La Liga. Unfortunately, it’s only a two-horse race and it’s between two of the biggest teams in the world. In a similar style to Bayern, Real Madrid started the season horrendously but now appear to have found some impressive form.

They sit two points ahead of Barcelona having played the same amount of games. Los Blancos have won their last five La Liga fixtures and put themselves in a great position to win their first title since 2016/17. It would also serve to keep Barcelona at arms-length in the fight to have the most La Liga titles in the history. If Zinedine Zidane’s men can deliver the title this season, they’ll have 34 titles in comparison to Barcelona’s 26.

In terms of the run-in, Barcelona have a very tough couple of games coming up. They’re home to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday night and then have an away trip to sixth place Villarreal. After that, however, the fixture list looks more desirable. They have the derby vs bottom-side Espanyol at the Camp Nou, followed by a trip to 14th place Real Valladolid. Next up is a home game vs Osasuna who sit in 11th and they round off the campaign away at 16th placed Alaves.

Real probably have the toughest fixture list out the two sides but not by a clear margin. They have three games that could be very difficult. The first is at home to fifth placed Getafe. That game is followed by a trip to San Mames to play Athletic Bilbao. A more appealing home match against Alaves is followed by the visit of Villarreal to the Santiago Bernabeu. They finish the season away at Leganes.

Barcelona have made a stuttering restart to the season, with draws against Sevilla and Celta Vigo allowing Real to claim top spot. Quique Setien’s inability to get the best out of Antione Griezmann is starting to cause fractions at the club. As well as this, the recent swap deal involving Arthur and Miralem Pjanic now means that one of Barca’s key midfielders is likely disgruntled at being forced out the club that he had no initial interest in leaving.

Beyond this title race, Barca seem to be a club in turmoil. Their recent transfer dealings have been questionable to say the least. Their wage bill is full of wasted talent that it will be hard to offload in a Covid-19 effected transfer market. Lionel Messi seems to look more unhappy game by game and the majority of the first choice eleven are heading well into their mid-30’s. It’s this ageing squad factor that makes the Arthur and Pjanic swap deal even more unusual. Arthur is 23, and Pjanic is 29.

Less and less players seem to be graduating from La Masia to any great effect in the first team, with Ansu Fati the current exception. Just in the past few days it’s been announced that promising academy full backs, Marc Cucurella and Marc Jurado, will be leaving the club.

Real Madrid seem to be riding the crest of a Karim Benzema’s inspired wave right now. The French forward has come into his own as the club’s main man since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure. The return of Marcos Asensio from a lengthy injury spell has given them a new attacking option, and the youthful Vinicius Junior is starting to fulfill his considerable potential.

If Barcelona were to deliver a third successive title to Catalonia, there’s a very real chance that it would merely paper over some very big cracks at the club. Setien hasn’t settled in as expected, and the squad is in need of a major overhaul.

A title for Real on the other hand may be the springboard for another era of dominance. While their squad still has some players the wrong side of 30, it looks in better shape than their fierce rivals.

La Liga Match Day 30 Preview: Tough Fixtures for the Top Two and a Relegation Six Pointer

La Liga’s blistering return to our screens continues over the coming weekend, with Barcelona and Real Madrid both facing tough away tests. There’s also a huge game at the foot of the table.

Table toppers Barcelona will be looking to strengthen their grip on the title but face a difficult trip to Andalucía to face Sevilla on Friday night. The Catalans secured a comfortable 2-0 victory over Leganes last time out, which took them up to 64 points but Real Madrid are not far behind. There’s just a two point gap between the teams following Real’s impressive 3-0 home win over Valencia on Thursday night.

Since the restart Sevilla have comfortably dispatched city rivals Real Betis 2-0 and laboured to a 1-1 draw with Levante. Despite that draw, however, they still sit in third place and are on track for Champions League football. The situation is still very tight behind them though, with just five points separating them in third and Villareal in seventh place.

Real’s difficult away game meanwhile comes at Real Sociedad, who, just like Sevilla are embroiled in the hunt for Champion’s League football. Their entertaining brand of football coming up against the superstars of Real Madrid should make for a fascinating encounter. Despite such a difficult start to the campaign Real know they’re in with a great chance of snatching the title back from Barcelona. With nine games to go however, they can’t afford any slip ups.

Two other teams involved in the race for Champion’s League football are Atletico Madrid and Getafe. They both have very winnable looking home fixtures this weekend. Diego Simeone’s side host 14th placed Real Vallodolid, who look like they’ve almost amassed enough points to avoid a relegation battle this season.

Atleti currently, however, are the lowest scorers of the top eight sides with just 37 goals. This lack of potency in attack means that home games against stubborn mid-table sides can become very frustrating for Diego Simeone’s men. This means an early goal could be vital. They found their shooting boots last time out by beating Osasuna 5-0 away from home. Getafe’s presentable fixture meanwhile is against 16th placed Eibar, who are only three points above the drop zone.

There’s a proper relegation six-pointer on Friday, as 18th placed Mallorca host bottom side Leganes. Mallorca currently have 25 points, while Leganes sit on 23. There’s a risk for Leganes that they could soon see themselves cut a drift, but a win on Friday would breathe new life into their campaign.

Here is the full fixture list:

Friday 19th June:

Granada vs Villareal 18:30 BST

Mallorca vs Leganes 18:30 BST

Sevilla vs Barcelona 21:00 BST

Saturday 20th June:

RCD Espanyol vs Levante 13:00 BST

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Betis 16:00 BST

Getafe vs Eibar 18:30 BST

Atletico Madrid vs Real Valladolid 21:00 BST

Sunday 21st June:

Celta Vigo vs Deportivo Alaves 13:00 BST

Valencia vs Osasuna 18:30 BST

Real Sociedad vs Real Madrid 21:00 BST

What is the state of play in Spanish La Liga?

Following the successful return of the German Bundesliga on May 16, the next of the leading European leagues to restart following the COVID-19 pandemic is the Spanish La Liga.  So how was it left when play was suspended on March 12?

Current situation

Well to start with Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid had just suffered a surprise defeat at Real Betis to hand the initiative back to reigning champions Barcelona.

The Catalan side currently hold a two-point lead over their fierce rivals, who remain in second.  The last time the league leaders played was on March 8, when they secured a hard fought 1-0 win over fourth place Real Sociedad thanks to a Lionel Messi 81stminute penalty.

Real Sociedad, however, bounced back just a few days later to secure a 2-1 win away at relegation threatened side Eibar moving them back up to fourth.

Atletico Madrid meanwhile, had wasted a 2-1 advantage at home against fellow Champions League hopefuls, Sevilla as they were ultimately held to a 2-2 draw.   The club from Seville currently sit third but are only two points ahead of Diego Simone’s side which is sixth.

The league’s surprise package so far this campaign has been Getafe, Jose Bordalas’s underdogs are fifth and have not only enjoyed league success but had also just knocked out last seasons Champions League semi-finalists, Ajax, to progress in the Europa League.

At the other end of the table, Barcelona’s local rivals, Espanyol, had suffered a 1-0 defeat against Osasuna leaving them six points from safety. Leganes and Mallorca are the other teams that currently make up the bottom three; however, Celta Vigo, Eibar and Real Valladolid remain very much in danger.

Next fixtures…

The league is set to resume on Thursday June 11 with the Seville derby between Sevilla FC and Real Betis. On Saturday June 13, league leaders, Barcelona are due to travel to face strugglers Mallorca, while Real Madrid will be looking to get their faltering title challenge back on track when they meet Eibar on Sunday June 14.

The plan is for the Spanish sides to complete their 11 remaining fixtures in just over a month, which would mean finishing on July 19.

La Liga chief Javier Tebas also spoke of plans to give a tribute to those who have died from the pandemic.  Fans will be encouraged to create audio recordings of themselves applauding the victims, which will be played in the 20thminute of each match.

Tebas said:

“Fans make football so special, and as they cannot be in the stadiums, we have created this initiative so they can play a part in the return of the competition and show their support for the heroes of COVID-19.”

How to watch?

La Liga fixtures will be available to watch free on Sky and Premier Player online for free throughout June.

Chelsea vs Bayern Munich – the 2012 Champions League final retold

Ryan Bertrand on the left wing and Ross Turnbull on the bench. Not quite what you expect from a Champions League winning side, but then again this Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich was a poetically absurd masterpiece. 

Chelsea had had a mixed season. Despite victory in the FA Cup against Liverpool, their league campaign had seen them finish in a disappointing sixth place.

Andre Villas Boas, dubbed as a Jose Mourinho protege having been the special one’s assistant at Porto, had struggled since his appointment in pre-season. He eventually faced the sack in March, with Roberto Di Matteo coming in to replace him.

Di Matteo in fact actually managed to take Chelsea down a place in the league, but his success in the Champions League finally fulfilled Roman Abramovich’s desires. 

 They did so, however, in the strangest fashion – during a write off season with a disappointing league finish after their dominance in the 2000s. After the brilliant Premier League record breaking side that had been built during this time, helmed by Mourinho at his peak. 

After a scintillating few years at the top of English football, the early 2010s had seen a stalled start to the decade with a few remnants of their previous side. The 2011/12 season however culminated in Chelsea finally winning the Champions League.

To compound the ridiculousness of the situation further, they did so against a brilliant Bayern Munich side in their own stadium. 

They were spearheaded by Mario Gomez, with Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery on fire as inverted wingers and Thomas Muller at his brilliant best in attack. They were supported in midfield by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos, with Phillip Lahm at full back and Manuel Neuer in goal at his sweeping best. 

It was a Bayern side on the rise in parallel with German football on the whole. Spain had dominated the past four years internationally and at club level, with Barcelona claiming two out of the previous three Champions League titles. But Germany had been the brilliant young side at recent international tournaments and despite Spain winning Euro 2012 that year, the stage was set for Die Mannschaft to claim the World Cup in two years time. 

The transition in the Champions League would have to wait another year courtesy of Chelsea, although symbolically both sides would vanquish the two Spanish giants – Real Madrid and Barcelona – in the semi finals in dramatic fashion. Bayern on penalties against Real and Chelsea after an epic defensive performance over two legs against Barcelona. 

Despite their incredible semi final performances against Barca, Chelsea were still rank underdogs that night in Germany. They were likely inspired by their remarkable upset in the semis, the Blues played the role perfectly and were able to frustrate Bayern for almost the entire 90 minutes. 

Di Matteo’s intentions for his side to frustrate were clear as soon as the teams were announced. His decision to play the aforementioned Bertrand – a young left back who was yet to make a Champions League appearance – on the left wing was a clear attempt to sure up that flank against Robben. 

It was a move that echoed Mourinho’s decision to play Christian Chivu on the left wing in Inter Milan’s semi final second leg against Barcelona in 2010. 

The German champions were dominant, managing 28 shots during normal time – although only six of these were on target. It’s remarkable when watching back over the match to see how many shots were hit somewhat in hope and often scuffed or sliced. Chelsea’s resilience did seem to get to Bayern, as well as the pressure of playing in their own stadium. 

The Germans dominance did eventually tell in the the 83rd minute as Schweinsteiger collected the ball on the edge of the Chelsea’s area. His beautifully weighted cross curved towards the giant frame of Gomez at the far post, whose presence drew in David Luiz and Ashley Cole. Who they didn’t spot was Muller creeping in and as the ball floated over Gomez’s head, Muller was there to head the ball into the ground and past Cech into the roof of the net. 

The Bayern team piled on top of Muller in joy and relief that they had finally broken down Chelsea’s stubborn resistance. They had surely sealed the Champions League. 

That was until Chelsea won their first corner of the match five minutes later in the 88th minute, courtesy of skilful and dogged work from the recently introduced Fernando Torres. 

Juan Mata stepped up to take it, and drilled his in-swinging corner in flat towards the near post. Frank Lampard lost his marker Gomez, and barrelling past him with a helpless Jerome Boateng trailing in his wake came Didier Drogba. Lahm couldn’t climb high enough, and Drogba bulleted his header over the head of a stunned Neuer, who couldn’t get his hand to the ball quick enough to turn it over. 

Extra time had been forced and while there were 30 more minutes of pressure for Chelsea to withstand, from that point the creeping sense of inevitability had set in. An inevitably that seemed to infect Robben as Drogba clumsily brought down Ribery in his own area during the first half of extra time to concede a penalty.

Robben stepped up to face Petr Cech who, despite his all round brilliance as a goalkeeper, had little reputation for stopping penalties. The ball was drilled low and hard but not quite in the corner. Cech guessed correctly to his left and was down just in time to send the ball spinning away from the goal line. 

Chelsea clung on and despite a few scares, hauled themselves over the line to take the game to a penalty shootout. 

Bayern had dominated the match, been within minutes of winning it and missed an extra time penalty. It had been a agonising day for them and they were about to experience the pain of losing on penalties. 

Lahm scored first and Mata saw his effort saved by Neuer. 1-0 to Bayern, and it looked like finally, the Bavarian side would be able to get their hands on the trophy. 

Subsequently though, Ivica Olic missed missed Bayern’s fourth penalty and Schweinsteiger their fifth, paving the way for Drogba to once again be the hero. He stepped up and coolly sent Neuer the wrong way, giving Chelsea their first ever Champions League. 

It was a comical way for them to win it. This side that generally disappointed following the great Chelsea team of just a few years previous. They were able to do it against all odds, conquering Barcelona in the semi finals and a superior Bayern Munich side on their own turf. 

Most remarkable of all, however, they did it with a Di Matteo masterstroke of Ryan Bertrand on the left wing. 

Man Utd vs Barcelona : David vs Goliath?

Two of the most decorated clubs in European football are set to lock horns at Old Trafford on Wednesday in what is the standout fixture of this season’s quarter-final ties of the UEFA Champions League.

Manchester United and Barcelona have given us some unforgettable and exhilarating games in the past, and the same is being considered again, when the two teams play each other after 8 years, at the Theatre of Dreams, with United looking to take revenge of their defeat to the Catalans in the final of the competition in 2011.

Manchester United come into this match with not the best of form, having lost three of their last four matches in all competitions. However, their heroics against PSG in the Round of 16 of the competition must have given enough confidence to Solskjaer’s side to get one over the La Liga leaders in the same fashion. Barcelona come into the game undefeated in the competition so far, with their talisman, Lionel Messi, being in scintillating form of late and will be his side’s main attacking threat if they are to carry any advantage back to the Camp Nou for the second leg.

Manchester United have a number of injury issues to contend with. Defenders Antonia Valencia and Eric bailly are out long term. Their mid-field maestro Ander Herrera ,their man for the big games, is also set to miss out with injury along with former Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez. Marcus Rashford did miss the last game against Wolves, but is training this week and Solskjaer remains confident he will be ready for the big match. All eyes will be on star midfielder Paul Pogba and if United are to take any positive result out of the game, his contribution and performance will be critical. If Barcelona do start with Sergi Roberto as right back, both Pogba and Rashford will be looking to take advantage from the left side of the pitch as he is not a natural full back and it could be a weak link for the Catalans. United are likely to sit deep and defend with the hope of hurting Barcelona on the counter, utilizing the pace of Rashford, Lingard and Lukaku up top.

Expected Line up: De Gea ; Young , Smalling, Lindelof, Shaw ; McTominay, Fred , Pogba ; Lingard , Lukaku, Rashford.

Barcelona come into the tie as favourites with almost a fit starting 11, Ousmane Dembele seems the only one likely to miss out through an injury even though he has travelled with the squad. Gerard Pique on his return to Old Trafford is expected to start alongside Clement Lenglet in the center of defence, with veteran Sergio Busquets guarding the back four and making it difficult for the United attackers to get any space and time on the ball.

With Phillipe Coutinho expected to start alongside Messi and Luis Suarez as the attacking three, United defenders will be have to be hot on their heels throughout the game as even a small mistake can be punished in the most severe form by the Barcelona attack.

Expected Line up : Ter Stegen ; Roberto, Pique, Lenglet , Alba ; Rakitic , Busquets , Arthur; Messi, Suarez, Coutinho.

Even though most expect Barcelona to come out on top at Old Trafford, Solsjkaer’s side cannot be taken lightly and it won’t be easy for Barcelona who are yet to win a match at United’s home. And given the way Man Utd produced the epic comeback against PSG with their sheer spirit and determination, you never know if United could indeed pull out a surprise and go to the Camp Nou for the second leg with an advantage.