Barça stun City Messi's pizzas & the tree of life


*Spanish clubs had a largely positive week in the return to European action with Barcelona's win at Manchester City in the Champions League the pick of the ties.

City stunned at home
City stunned at home
On paper it seemed a reasonable comparison as both sides sat second in their respective leagues, Barça with 56 points from 24 matches and City with 55 from 26. But Manuel Pelligrini's team began in the driving seat, at home and on the back of a 5-0 win while Barça had just lost at the Camp Nou to Malaga.

Yet as the Catalans raced into a 2-0 lead after half an hour, the gap between Europe's two big leagues suddenly looked far larger than many had realised.

Luis Enrique's team played at a frightening intensity compared to the English champions, with fullbacks bombing forward, midfielders zipping the ball around and attackers pressing so high up the pitch the home supporters were left mute.

After the Malaga malady, Barça looked desperate to bounce back and strangle the tie dead as soon as possible. And they bossed the game in every area.

Outclassed by a more mobile and fast-moving opponent, City could only resort to fighting spirit and muscle to extract anything from the night. Sergio Aguero's second-half strike was all they eked out of a sobering experience.

Lionel Messi's relentless exuberance saw him find the net before being flagged offside but he did win a penalty in injury time. Neymar failed to kill the tie as Joe Hart saved and Messi headed the rebound wide, but few give City much hope of emerging victorious at the Camp Nou having given away two away goals.

Messi, Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique were criticised for visiting a waterfront casino the night before flying to Manchester, but after the 2-1 win, all was quickly forgotten as they hit the jackpot in Manchester.

In Tuesday's other CL match, Alvaro Morata scored in Juventus's 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund but fellow Iberian Fernando Llorente stayed on the bench.

Atletico Madrid lost 1-0 at Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday thanks to Hakan Calhanoglu's rocket strike and will be eager for revenge at the Manzanares after a legal-looking Fernando Torres goal was ruled out and Tiago red-carded as the atmosphere deteriorated. Bayer were the better side overall but Atletico also had their chances, which sets up a second leg to relish.

*Two out of three Spanish clubs made it to the next stage of the Europa League on Thursday. Sevilla won 3-1 at Borussia Moenchengladbach to advance 4-2 on aggregate while Villareal won 3-1 at Salzburg to go through 5-2 overall. But Athletic Bilbao are out after losing 3-2 at home to a dogged Torino, who qualified 5-4 on aggregate.

The Basques needed only a 0-0 to advance but played catch-up three times on a rain-soaked night at the San Mames.

As luck would have it, Sevilla and Villareal were drawn against each other in the Round of 16. Sevilla are the holders of course and have won the Europa League three out of the last nine years, while Spanish teams have won the trophy six of the last eleven seasons.

Villareal coach Marcelino coached Sevilla two seasons ago and lost his job after a defeat to his current club.
* Back in La Liga, Barcelona made light work of winning 3-1 at second-to-last Granada, although Messi's clinching goal was offside. Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic stood out for the visitors.

Real Madrid stumbled at home on Sunday drawing 1:1 with a spirited Villareal to leave only two points between the top two.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a second-half penalty only for the visitors to reply through Gerard Moreno's sharp finish from the edge of the box. Despite the subsequent onslaught, Real failed to convert any chances and had to settle for a point.

With the clásico at the Camp Nou to come on the 22nd of this month, Barça have the title within their own hands with 13 games to play.

Atletico Madrid failed to impress in a 0-0 draw away to Sevilla, who came closest to scoring by hitting the post.

Third in La Primera, Los Colchoneros are on course for another Champions League spot as the top four qualify and fifth-placed Sevilla sit seven points adrift, but with the gap between Atletico and leaders Real now six points, the odds on them retaining their title are slim.

Coach Diego Simeone has even gone on record as saying "Our league is with Valencia and Sevilla."

* Athletic Bilbao were the only club who failed to sign a pledge to strike if the allocation of Spanish TV money is not reformed to stop Barcelona and Real Madrid hoovering up the loot.

Los Leones operate a unique 'ethnic' recruitment policy of sourcing players solely from the French and Spanish regions of the Basque Country so see the reform plan as a way rival clubs could get a leg up on them by having more money for signings. Presumably they are content with the big two staying out of sight.

* Chelsea's three Spanish internationals emerged winners from the League Cup Final at Wembley with Diego Costa, unrecognisable from his sluggish form for La Roja, scoring the clincher.

* Carles Rexach, a senior figure behind the scenes at the Camp Nou, gave a frank interview to a radio station this week, admitting Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova had fallen out so much that Guardiola did not visit his former colleague when he was undergoing cancer treatment in New York.

Rexach also noted Messi's famous love of junk food, commenting, "I think last year he ate more pizzas than he would have like to or should have."

* Atletico Madrid's midfield star Koke could be on his way to the City of Manchester stadium for €60 million according to rumours this week. City are also said to be willing to offer Barcelona €138 million for Luis Suarez in the summer.

Another rumour said Tottenham are scouting Sevilla's Carlos Bacca and Arsenal Juve's Alvaro Morata.

* Luis Enrique gave an interesting insight into the Camp Nou's pressure cooker in a press conference:

"This is just the environment we find ourselves in," said the Barça coach. "It is the fans, the surroundings of the club, the ex-players...You sometimes need extra things at this club to decorate the tree of life."


Weds 4th March: COPA DEL REY semi-final 2nd leg:
Villareal (1) v (3) Barcelona  7pm
Espanyol (1) v (1) Atheltic Bilbao 9pm

Sat 7th March: LA PRIMERA
Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid 5pm

Sun 8th March: LA PRIMERA
Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano 11am
Atletico Madrid v Valencia  8pm

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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