Thursday, May 28, 2015

Statement by FIFA President Blatter

FIFA President Sepp Blatter

This is a difficult time for football, the fans and for FIFA as an organisation. We understand the disappointment that many have expressed and I know that the events of today will impact the way in which many people view us.

Anti-FIFA graffiti in Porto.

As unfortunate as these events are, it should be clear that we welcome the actions and the investigations by the US and Swiss authorities and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken to root out any wrongdoing in football.

While there will be many who are frustrated with the pace of change, I would like to stress the actions that we have taken and will continue to take. In fact, today’s action by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General was set in motion when we submitted a dossier to the Swiss authorities late last year. Let me be clear: such misconduct has no place in football and we will ensure that those who engage in it are put out of the game. Following the events of today, the independent Ethics Committee – which is in the midst of its own proceedings regarding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups -- took swift action to provisionally ban those individuals named by the authorities from any football-related activities at the national and international level. These actions are on top of similar steps that FIFA has taken over the past year to exclude any members who violate our own Code of Ethics.

We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and we will work vigorously within FIFA in order to root out any misconduct, to regain your trust and ensure that football worldwide is free from wrongdoing.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Xavi's Adéu & Depor's Great Escape, Ancelotti sacked


The Spanish Week in Review

Camp Nou.

Tiki-taka legend Xavi Hernandez lifted the La Liga trophy and waved goodbye to the Camp Nou on Saturday.

Championship celebrations mixed with melancholic tributes to a man who had spent 17 years a player for the blaugrana and 24 years in total on their books. It was indeed the end of an era for probably the club's greatest ever midfielder.

93,000 fans transformed the Camp Nou into a the biggest farewell imaginable, a sea of blue and maroon confetti and gigantic Xavi and 'Campions' banners.

All of Luis Enrique's players donned number six shirts at the end to salute their illustrious colleague's final league game and gave him the bumps, although there are still the finals of the Copa del Rey (in Barcelona) and the Champions League to play, as Xavi reminded them in his swansong address.

Despite telling the fans they had made him "the happiest person in the world", Xavi himself seemed subdued if not a little sad as he shed a tear or two.. In truth he has not looked happy this season with his substitute cameos, following on from his bitter farewell to la selección in Brazil last summer.

The magic triangle of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta is now history, replaced by the attacking trident of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. He is no longer the fulcrum of the team, his buzzing around the middle replaced by the box-to-box Ivan Rakitic. Aged 35 it seems the right time to call it a day for Barça.

Xavi has won more trophies than any Spanish footballer, bagging a full set of La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League, World Club Cup, European Championship and World Cup.

505 appearances and 58 goals for Barça, 133 caps and 12 goals for Spain, Xavi never won the Ballon D'Or / FIFA World Player of the Year but did pick up World Soccer's Player of the Year in 2010 and was player of the tournament at Euro 2008.

* Amid all the celebration of Barcelona's title triumph, Luis Enrique's role was again underplayed by the media. Despite forging a winning side which recently has looked near unbeatable, the Asturian's lack of aura compared to Pep Guardiola entails a relative lack of admiration. If Enrique wins the treble, he surely must be accorded more respect than he has garnered hitherto.

* The Xavi Adéu  masked what was a near-miraculous escape from relegation for Deportivo La Coruña, who came away with an unlikely 2:2 draw to save themselves and send Eibar down instead.

With nothing but pride to play for and allowing reserves Douglas, Masip and Sergi Roberto a run-out as well as Thomas Vermaelen his debut, Barcelona had ambled into a 2-0 lead after an hour thanks to a Lionel Messi brace.

With Eibar racing into a 3-0 lead at home to Cordoba after 33 minutes, the Galicians looked dead certs for the Liga Adelante.

But Lucas Perez raised hopes with a 67th minute strike and five minutes later Salomou thumped in a loose ball to make survival reality again.

At the final whistle, La Coruña's staff poured onto the pitch for five minutes of merited ecstasy before the Xavi 'despedida' (farewell) took flight.

Deportivo and Granada both escape the drop having finished on equal points to Eibar but with a better head-to-head record. Joining Cordoba and Eibar in the second division are Almeria, who ended their season losing 3-2 at home to Valencia.

Atletico Madrid drew 0-0 at Granada to confirm third place. Valencia and Sevilla both won to finish 4th and 5th respectively.

Spain has an arsenal of teams in next year's European competitions:

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid go into the Champions League group stages, with Valencia starting in the qualifying round and Sevilla joining them if they win the Europa League final this week. Five Spanish clubs in the Champions League next season looks distinctly possible.

As it stands, Sevilla will join Athletic Bilbao and Villareal in the Europa League.

Sevilla travel to Warsaw for the Europa League final on Wednesday against Dnipro of Ukraine.

Real Madrid's season ended in bizarre fashion as they came back from 2-1 and then 3-2 down at home to Getafe to win 7-3. As the visitors took the lead, Carlo Ancelotti and Iker Casillas were once more subjected to some booing, before a second-half blitz made the scoreline look like a comfy win.

Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed another hat-trick to win the Pichichi trophy, Real's only silverware this season. James Rodriguez, Chicharito, Jese and Marcelo added the others. Norwegian 16 year-old Martin Odegaard finally made his debut, replacing Ronaldo for the last half hour.

Gareth Bale was not in the 16, leading to more speculation about his future. His omission was officially down to injury but also coincided with the visit to Madrid of his agent Jonathan Barnett, who had complained about him not getting the ball enough.

Ancelotti's future was the major talking point post-match with everyone wondering if he would sink or swim. In midweek, news emerged from Germany that Jurgen Klopp had been offered the Real job, but few in Spain took it at face value.

Rafael Benitez seemed a more likely replacement. Emilio Butragueno had refused to confirm Ancelotti had a job next season on more than one occasion, keeping the rumour mill alive, but Real's hierarchy usually talk in vague equivocation.

Cristiano, James, Toni Kroos, Marcelo and Luka Modric all voiced support for their Italian boss but on Monday the news emerged Ancelotti had indeed been fired. CEO Florentino Perez only stated that the club "needed a new impulse" as explanation.

Despite winning the Champions League last season, Real's failure to bring home silverware this year has done for the Italian. The decision was clearly taken following the semi-final loss to Juventus.

Ancelotti leaves with his head held high however, and he was popular with fans as well as players. Losing the league by two points and exiting the semi-finals of the Champions League are no disgrace, yet gargantuan standards are expected by Florentino Perez.

Real had a ropey March and lost the lead in La Primera after losing the clasico at the Camp Nou. Record signing Gareth Bale has been off-kilter too many times while the aggregate loss to Juve showed a team which had run out of ideas when up against a strong defensive unit.

When given the chance, Isco has impressed and James Rodriguez has had a good first season, which has been somewhat overlooked given Bale's travails. Karim Benzema has been a dangerous presence up front.

When Real lost James as well as Luka Modric, for key spells in the season, they suffered, as Toni Kroos has not been able to influence in the same way as the Colombian and the Croatian.

Despite Ronaldo's huge goal haul, the Portuguese has looked isolated in too many key games. Once more Real have looked the sum of their parts at times.

* It has been far from a vintage season, but with only two points the winning margin, the second clasico of the campaign, which Barcelona won, proved decisive.

* Barcelona look unstoppable this season but their reserves, Barcelona B, are rock-bottom of the Liga Adelante and barring a miracle, are headed to the third tier. Perhaps their famous academy is not all it has been cracked up to be after all.

* The new Barça shirt featuring hoops instead of stripes has been given the thumbs-down by the blaugrana faithful. 57% of Mundo Deportivo readers and 73% of Sport's disliked it .

* Sami Khedira fired a parting shot at Real Madrid, claiming he was deliberately overlooked this season by powers-that-be above Carlo Ancelotti. The 28 year-old World Cup winner made only 11 appearances this season, eight of them as a substitute.

* Real Betis will play in La Primera next season after clinching promotion from the Liga Adelante. Pepe Mel's side are six points clear with one game to play. The Seville side will be joined by Girona or Sporting Gijon plus the winner of the second division playoffs.

La Primera (LIGA BBVA): End of Season Statistics:

PICHICHI trophy (top scorer)

1) Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 48
2) Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 43
3) Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) 22
    Neymar (Barcelona) 22
5) Carlos Bacca (Sevilla) 20
6) Bueno (Rayo Vallecano) 18
7) Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao) 18
8) Luis Suarez (Barcelona) 16
9) Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) 15
10) Jonathas (Elche) 14

Others: Gareth Bale 13, James Rodriguez 13, Mario Mandzukic 12, Carlos Vela 9.

Most goals scored by a team:

1) Real Madrid 118
2) Barcelona 110
3) Sevilla 71
4) Valencia 70
5) Atletico Madrid 67

ZAMORA trophy (best goalkeeper by goals conceded ratio)

1) Claudio Bravo (Barcelona)
2) Diego Alves (Valencia)
3) Sergio Asenjo (Villareal)
4) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)
5) Gorka Iraizoz (Athletic Bilbao)

Completed Passes:

1) Roberto Trashorras (Rayo Vallecano) 2264
2) Toni Kroos (Real Madrid) 2241
3) Sergio Busquets (Barcelona) 2056
4) Dani Alves (Barcelona) 1992
5) Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 1998

Tackles Won:

1) Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Bilbao) 399
2) Andreu Fontas (Celta Vigo) 398
3) Sidnei Da Silva (Deportivo La Coruna) 379
4) Gustavo Cabral (Celta Vigo) 376
5) Nicolas Otamendi (Valencia) 351

Most Assists:

1) Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 17
2) Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 14
3) James Rodriguez (Real Madrid) 13
4) Nolito (Celta Vigo) 12
5) Koke (Atletico Madrid) 10


Most Bookings:

1) Espanyol - 110 yellows, 4 reds
2) Celta Vigo - 113 yellow cards, 1 red
3) Sevilla - 111 yellow cards, 1 red
4) Atletico Madrid - 106 yellows, 5 reds
5) Granada & Rayo Vallecano - 107 yellows, 2 reds

Most red cards:

1) Almeria 11
2) Cordoba 9
    Valencia 9
4) Malaga 8
5) Rayo Vallecano 6


1) Victor Sanchez (Espanyol) 17 yellows
2) Alberto Lopo (Deportivo La Coruña) 14 yellows, 1 red
3) Raul Baena (Rayo Vallecano) 14 yellows, 1 red
4) Dani Parejo (Valencia) 13 yellows, 1 red
5) Sebastian Dubarbier (Almeria) 11 yellows, 2 reds

Most Fouls:

1) Espanyol 612
2) Sevilla 599
3) Celta Vigo 576
    Elche 576
5) Malaga 563

* UEFA issued their La Liga XI of the season: Bravo, Alves, Pique (all Barcelona), Otamedi, Gaya, Parejo (all Valencia), Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Krychowiak (Sevilla), Messi (Barcelona), Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Griezmann (Atletico Madrid)

* This week's transfer rumours

Unai Emery is second behind Rafael Benitez in the race to replace Ancelotti. Milan are also after the Sevilla manager.

Inter are hunting Barcelona's Spanish international attacker Pedro.

David de Gea looks odds-on now to leave Man Utd for Real Madrid with Keylor Navas possibly as part exchange.

PSG have offered £88 million for Cristiano Ronaldo.

Juventus are favourites to sign Real's Sami Khedira.

Liverpool were linked again with Real Madrid midfielder Asier Illaramendi

Atletico Madrid are tracking Colombian U-20 winger Jeison Lucumi of America de Cali.

Diego Simeone's side are also looking at Celta Vigo's Nolito and Aston Villa's Christian Benteke.

Tottenham are interested in Celta's Danish midfielder Michael Krohn-Dehli

Valencia's Nicolas Otamendi is headed for the exit door. Man Utd are said to be mulling over a £36 million offer for the Argentinian.

Real, perhaps inevitably, were linked with the Anfield wantaway Raheem Sterling.

Barcelona, improbably, were linked with Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey as a Xavi replacement.

Chicharito is attracting the attention of Inter, who are on the lookout for a new striker.

Dani Alves has said Barcelona do not rate him, and could be on his way to Man Utd.

Carlo Ancelotti has said no to Milan but could be offered the West Ham job after Sam Allardyce and the Hammers went their separate ways. The Italian had previously said he would take a year off and get treatment for a back injury.

Watord want former Atletico coach Quique Sanchez Flores to take over at Vicarage Road.

Chelsea and Man City want Barça's Alex Song, who has been on loan at West Ham this season.


Wed 27th May EUROPA LEAGUE final

Dnipro Dnipropretrovsk v Sevilla  19:45 GMT

Sat 30th May COPA DEL REY final

Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona   20:30 GMT

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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



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.


  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.


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


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."


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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A hot afternoon in the Spanish Segunda

Ponferradina 0:1 Llagostera   

Liga Adelante, El Toralin Stadium, Ponferrada, Spain


Ponferradina 0:1 Llagostera

This afternoon I took a trip to Ponferradina, seventh in Spain's second division, the Liga Adelante

The Blue & Whites are located in a former coal-mining town of around 70,000 people on the edge of Galicia in north-west Spain, part of the Way of St James pilgrimage route which is gaining renown among tourists.

Founded in 1922, 'Ponfe' have never tasted the big time of La Primera and came into the game four points from the play-offs with five games left. The goal is of course a place in the top six and the end of season showdown.

With the nearest town of any size an hour and a half's drive away, Ponferradina have a captive market of fans and a nice centrally-located stadium opened in the year 2000. This potential attracted manager manager Manolo Diaz, who coached Real Madrid reserves when Jose Mourinho was in charge at the Bernabeu. 

Ponferradina 0:1 Llagostera

Mourinho's assistant team from back then have some pedigree: Pepe Mel went on to coach in England with West Brom and now his Real Betis side lead the second division, while Aitor Karanka has got Middlesbrough into the Championship playoffs in his first season at the Riverside.

Visiting the 8,000 capacity El Toralin amid the colourful hills today was Llagostera, a club from a Catalan coastal town around a tenth the size of Ponferrada, 56 miles (90 km) from Barcelona.

Llagostera were one place and two points behind their hosts before kick-off, meaning this match was close to a six-pointer with the season's sand fast running out.

The day felt hot, officially 25 degrees Centigrade but certainly the year's warmest match day so far. The players grabbed water breaks in the shade when they could. I was high in the roof in the press box, squeezed into a tight plastic cabin designed for radio broadcasts, vaguely reminiscent of those at Crystal Palace's Selhurst Park.

I am sure they keep the chill mountain winds out for most of the season, but on a glorious day like today I would have enjoyed a gentle breeze to cool me.

Ponferradina v Llagostera

The Spanish second flight, one of only two professional leagues in the country, has average crowds of 8,000, one thousand more than England's League One, though less than half that of the Championship's 17,857.

The quality of football is closer to the Championship however, but that said, you won't see many Leo Messis or silky skills as much as fierce competition, quick, long clearances, fast channels balls and hopeful crosses: Like England's old Second Division, this is a scrappers' league with escape the pressing priority.

Added to that, the clubs' crowds and TV incomes are way below their English equivalents and a country mile behind most of La Primera's, let alone the golden duo of Real and Barça.

As regards the atmosphere, the heat probably sapped a lot of organised enthusiasm today, like it does back home. There was a home end, the 'Frente Norte' with around 200 hardcore fans, happily on their feet and chanting, while a distant drum beat out a rhythm.

I could not see any away supporters. Spain's vast distances and the smallness of the visiting team probably did for that. From an English perspective it seemed odd to see more travelling journalists than fans.

Llagostera midfielder Tito, who should be marshalling the midfield with a name like that, got the action going in the sixth minute when he thumped a shot goalward, tipped over by Ponferrada's Spanish U21 keeper Kepa, another aptly named.

Ponfe's star is their Brazilian-born forward Yuri de Souza, their top scorer this season with 15 and voted the best player from the Americas in the Liga Adelante last season. He was the only non-Spaniard on the pitch today, another sign of the gulf between England and Spain's second flights.

A Yuri breakaway was easily saved in the 20th minute before a near-post effort was mauled by the Llagostera goalie Rene a few moments later. The 32 year-old then closed the first half with a couple of near misses to get everyone eager for the restart.

Firstly a textbook falling bicycle kick in the 46th saw Llagostera goalie Rene save and fall with the ball agonisingly hugging the line. Then Yuri tumbled over in the box but the referee waved the appeals away, much to the Brazilian's chagrin.

In the last action of the first half a raiding Acoran tried to round the last man and went to ground. It never looked a penalty but the home crowd sensed an excuse for some manufactured rage and howled wildly at the match officials as they trooped off the field with their police escort, as is the custom in Spain.

On the hour mark, Diaz made his move and brought on Pablo Infante, a bald bank manager no less but blessed with attacking fervour and good close control.

Five minutes later Yuri was withdrawn, shaking his head as he trudged off. Another day...

Spanish 2nd Division

Maybe the heat was playing tricks on me but for a split-second I thought there were more than 22 players on the pitch, until I swifly realised the reflections from the press cabins were creating a trompe l'oeil reminiscent of the ghost armies in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Ponfe probably wished they had some phantoms on their side as for all their attacking intent they did not look like finding the net alone.

If the stalemate needed a kick it got in the 74th when Llagostera's Aimar not so much impeded as mugged Acoran as he would not let go until he handed him his wallet. A red card was the only outcome. Game on.

From the resulting free kick Pablo chipped an exquisite ball over the wall but Andy guided his shot wide from what looked like a golden chance to score.

Ponferradina looked more assured now with the subs on. Pablo was making dangerous incursions from the left and Tete, a pint-sized raider with fast feet, motored down the middle.

But as the minutes wore on the Spanish afternoon heat took its sapping effect and a well-fought 0-0 scoreline looked imminent.

Some fans headed for the exit kicking their heels and cursing their team's lack of luck once more.

Then out of nowhere, a sting in the tail. As the clock crept to 94 minutes, Llagostera substitute Alberto Perea danced through a tiring Ponferrada backline and fired a killer winner into the far corner.

Ponfe kicked off and the referee blew for full time. A sucker punch indeed which nobody in the ground had expected. Football, the ever-unpredictable game of surprises.

The Catalan commentator on my left went into full crazy Latino gooaaall mode. A woman a few rows in front turned and shouted abuse at him before a man whose hair was almost white climbed a few steps before thumping the plastic partition with some equally fruity epithets. Now I understand why they cage the hacks in.

Diaz should have been feeling the pressure as his team look odds-on to miss the play-offs and leave the dream of the first division and the likes of Barcelona for another year.

But the congenial Madrid-born manager was instead philosophical at his side falling to a last-gasp winner.

"We have all seen a lot of football and we know that these things happen," mused Diaz. 

"I have to congratulate the players, They are some of the best we have had here," he said. "We created the chances. It is rare that we don't score. I don't know what happened this game."

Spanish 2nd Division

Inevitably a journalist asked him about his future, a stock theme of press conferences this stage of the season wherever you are.

As expected, Diaz replied he felt comfortable and wished to continue but that he accepts the club must have the final say. No surprise there.

It was an enjoyable afternoon all in all, despite the shock of a late defeat for the home side. A warm summer's day, the flowers in bloom and the colourful hills around could not make it otherwise. Ponfe will miss the playoffs? There is always next season.

As Ponferradina striker Ruben Sobrino, another Real Madrid product, said in his post-match interview,

"Who knows, everything is possible in football."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, May 11, 2015

Real trip up in the home straight


Real Madrid draw hands Barça a four-point lead, while Messi weaves his magic wand to curse Guardiola's return.

Things got a whole lot clearer in the race for La Liga: After Barcelona maintained their momentum with a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad, Real Madrid could only draw 2-2 at home to Valencia.

The gap at the top is thus now four points with two games to play and Barcelona have not lost for 19 matches or conceded a goal in eight. In other words, barring an incredible miracle, the title will be heading to Catalonia.


REAL MADR.  86 +73


17/05/15       Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, Espanyol v Real Madrid
23/05/15       Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna, Real Madrid v Getafe

The Manzanares is not an easy place to come away with three points from of course but even if Atletico win that one and Real beat Espanyol, the blaugrana would enter their final game with a one-point advantage.

A draw at home to relegation-fighting Deportivo therefore and a win for Real would send the title to Madrid.

But Deportivo are sitting third from bottom and have not won for fifteen games. The idea that they could draw or win at on-fire Barcelona when the blaugrana have all to play for appears fanciful.

Real had hopes that David Moyes' Real Sociedad could take points off Barça having beaten them at the Anoeta Donastia earlier in the season.

Indeed, the Basque side held out for 50 minutes before Neymar gave the home side the lead when Mikel Gonzalez inadvertently back-headed a Messi cross into his path.

Pedro added a second with a bicycle kick in the 84th after work from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The triangulated attack Barça have used to effect this season once more bore fruit, creating space and confusion in an opposition defence forced to twist and turn.

The clinching goal had a familiar ring to it as Barça chalked up another win in a seemingly inexorable march to the finish.

Real meanwhile, perhaps wilting from the fact they were starting second again and playing catch-up, entered the dressing-rooms two goals down at the break thanks to Alcacer and Javi Fuego. A well-organised Valencia found Real's weak spot to be diagonal balls whipped in to just outside the six-yard box and found the net twice from them.

Cristiano Ronaldo's lacklustre penalty in first-half injury time capped the first half disaster. His run-up lacked confidence, his body language made the kick predictable and it was blocked comfortably by Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves. To cap it all he mis-kicked what had been a fortunate rebound.

Watching the title evaporate before their eyes, Carlo Ancelotti's men came out fighting in the second half but Valencia's massed ranks were not giving them any space and a comeback looked unlikely.

Pepe headed a simple goal back in the 56th minute but it took until the 84th minute for an equaliser. While Ronaldo was failing to shine and Gareth Bale looked shackled by the system once more, Isco shone to score an individual golazo with a delightful turn and curling shot past the diving Alves.

Bale to be fair had won the penalty Ronaldo missed and supplied Isco with the pass to score. He also drew a fingertip save from Alves, who also saved twice from Chicharito and once from Sergio Ramos.

Iker Casillas was getting stick from the home fans and the camera caught him abusing them back. All in all a far from successful night despite the two-goal fightback.

Valencia too were in a battle with Sevilla for the last Champions League spot and were not merely playing for pride. 2-2 seemed about right.

Sevilla worked wonders in Europe on Thursday but could only draw 1-1 with Celta Vigo on Sunday, meaning they stay fifth, three points behind Valencia and headed for the Europa League again.

Atletico Madrid drew 2-2 at lowly Levante with Fernando Torres rescuing a point ten minutes from time, his third goal of the season. A a point was useful to both sides. Diego Simeone's men are four points clear of Valencia in the race for third and a passage to the Champions League group stages, while Levante moved five above the drop zone.

With Sevilla's draw at Celta on Sunday night, Atletico are now guaranteed Champions League football next season.

Villareal qualified for next season's Europa League by beating Elche 1-0. The Yellow Submarine were La Liga runners-up in 2008 and Champions League semi-finalists two years earlier.

Down at the bottom, Granada beat already relegated Cordoba 2-0 in the Andalusian derby to give them a glimmer of hope of survival.

Deportivo La Coruna meanwhile, claimed what might prove to have been a valuable point away to Athletic Bilbao by Alberto Lopo's 94th minute leveller.


14. Getafe                 36
15. Levante               36
16. Almeria                32
17. Eibar                   31
18. Dep. La Coruna  31
19. Granada              31
20. Cordoba              20

It is possible that three Andalucian sides could go down if Almeria swap places with Deportivo.

As it stands, Spain's regions are represented thus in La Primera:

ANDALUCIA - 5 - Almeria, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Sevilla
BASQUE COUNTRY - 3 - Athletic Bilbao, Eibar, Real Sociedad
CATALONIA - 2 - Barcelona, Espanyol
GALICIA - 2 - Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruna
MADRID - 4 - Atletico Madrid, Getafe, Rayo Vallecano, Real Madrid
VALENCIA - 4 - Elche, Levante, Valencia, Villareal

Aragon, Asturias, Cantabria, Castille La Mancha, Castille & Leon, Extremadura and Murcia have no representation in the top flight.

Real Betis from Andalucia and Girona from Catalonia look set to ascend to the first division next season. The other place is currently between Las Palmas (Mallorca), Real Valladolid (Castille & Leon), Real Zaragoza (Aragon) and Sporting Gijon (Asturias).

PICHICHI race (goals):

1. Cristiano Ronaldo 42
2. Lionel Messi 40
3. Antoine Griezmann 22
    Neymar 22
5. Carlos Bacca 20

*Football in Spain could sensationally come to a standstill this weekend however as the Spanish Football Federation (FFE) have weighed in against the government forcing a redistributive TV contract on La Liga clubs and called a halt to proceedings.

The Spanish League was meeting on Monday morning to discuss its course of action, with the players' union also complaining the new collective bargaining agreement does not help second division clubs enough.

The directive demands a fairer share of TV money for clubs outside the big two, who up until now have taken the lion's share.

The FFE's intervention seems curious given the grotesque gap between Barcelona, Real Madrid and the others, but they obviously have sympathies for them.

Plus with the egregious Angel Maria "all the fish are sold" Villar in charge, any madness is possible.

We should know by Thursday if the strike will go ahead or not, but it is hard to see the league stopping for long with little time between now and end of the season commitments such as the Champions League and Copa del Rey conclusions.

*The big two were in Champions League action as well of course and their respective results only underlined Barça are having the better of this season.

Real kicked off on Tuesday in Turin, where they lost 2-1 to Juventus but scored a vital away goal.
Alvaro Morata grabbed a poacher's goal in the eighth minute when he tapped in at the far post after Iker Casillas saved from a classic Carlos Tevez drive.

The Spanish international did not celebrate scoring against his old team, but gestured to the visiting fans who had been taunting him.

Juve's marking went astray in the 27th minute however as an unchallenged Cristiano Ronaldo headed in a vital leveller. Juve were back in front ten minutes after the break when Tevez charged down the field on a breakaway only to be hacked down by Daniel Carvajal.

The former Man City and Man Utd man hit the penalty down the middle to dig the knife in, but Ronaldo's goal means a 1-0 win at the Bernabeu will be enough. Yet Juve's attacking intent and traditionally mean Italian defence means it is by no means guaranteed.

Karim Benzema missed out for Real, for whom the returning Gareth Bale once more did his invisible man impression.

Barcelona's 3-0 win over Bayern Munich was a mirror of the scoreline two seasons ago when Jupp Heynckes men won at the Camp Nou.

That game, part of a 7-0 aggregate thrashing of Tito Vilanova's side, appeared to signal the end of tiki-taka and Catalan Euro dominance.

In the event, with much of the same personnel, Barça have successfully reinvented their playing style and returned to the top again.

Luis Enrique may not have the suave sophistication of former teammate Pep Guardiola and the press were on his back earlier this season, but the Asturian could end up with a clean sweep of league, cup and European Cup in his first season in charge despite a transfer ban, which surely puts him on a par with Pep.

The prodigal son's relished return to the Camp Nou seemed to be headed for a 0-0 finish. Bayern's wide spacing - they began with a 3-3-2-2 shape, led to a very open game but the Germans denied Barça any goals and looked headed for a point.

Suarez fluffed a one-on-one in the 12th minute and Robert Lewandowksi five minutes later but neither side looked likely to score until Leo Messi cast some magic spells thirteen minutes from time.

The warning signs had been there when Messi and Neymar combined on the edge of the box in the 56th and the Argentinian fired into Manuel Neuer's arms.

In the 77th Dani Alves found the Argentinian again in that danger area around the D. A quick sidestep of a defender and a rifled shot inside the post finally billowed the net.

With the pressure released, Messi then scored a fabulous second, putting Jerome Boateng on his back before chipping the advancing Neuer delicately. Neymar's breakaway third seems to have clinched the tie, a three-goal shower from nowhere, which left Guardiola grimacing.

Bayern finished up with more possession than Barça but without their clinical strikes. Barça had seven shots on target to none, a clear illustation of the gap between the two teams.

Ominously, before the match, Guardiola had said of Messi, "He is too good. There is no way to stop him." Quite.

Spain met Italy again in the Europa League on Thursday but Iberia emerged triumphant as Sevilla won decisively 3-0 in their semi-final first leg.

Aleix Vidal scored a brace and Kevin Gameiro added a third to send the Andalucians to Florence confident of yet another Europa League final.

* With Real losing in Europe this week and effectively blowing their title chances, talk of replacing Carlo Ancelotti has surfaced once again.

Should Real president Florentino Perez choose to give the Italian the heave-ho, the Spanish bookies have installed the following in order as favourites to replace him:

1. Zinedine Zidane
2. Juergen Klopp
3. Jogi Low
4. Fernando Hierro
5. Arsene Wenger

* Spain remained tenth in FIFA's World Rankings for May. La Roja play Costa Rica on the 11th of June in a friendly in Madrid before travelling to Belarus for a European qualifier on the 14th.

*In this week's transfer rumours, Pep Guardiola was claimed to have inked a deal to join Manchester City this summer, but the club quickly denied it.

AC Milan were also claimed to be recruiting the Bayern boss.

Manchester City could pip Arsenal to Karim Benzema with a £40 million carrot for Real Madrid, but Arsenal, Liverpool and Man Utd are also interested.

Chelsea are said to have opened talks with Atletico over Diego Godin and Koke moving to London in the summer.

Blues full-back Cesar Azpilicueta has denied he wishes to return to Spain, with the big two reputed suitors.

Barcelona could recruit German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan from Borussia Dortmund in time for next January's transfer window.

England's Daily Mail is convinced Luis Enrique will leave Barcelona in the summer, as pigs fly past their windows.

Sevilla's ride in the Europa League has not gone unnoticed in Italy, where Milan could make coach Unai Emery an offer.

Atletico Madrid are hoping to pip Liverpool to Villareal's Argentine striker Luciano Vietto.

Chelsea were also linked with a £40 million deal for Atletico's Spanish international midfielder Koke.

Deportivo goalie Fabricio Agosto is attracting the attentions of Aston Villa and Everton.

Real Madrid assistant coach, Englishman Paul Clement could be offered the manager's job at QPR.

Chelsea and Liverpool were once more said to be on the trail of Barcelona's Pedro.

Liverpool are following Real Sociedad defender Inigo Martinez and Barcelona right-back Martin Montoya.

Atletico's Toby Alderweireld, on loan at Southampton, could be heading to Tottenham.

Man Utd could offer Angel Di Maria back to Real Madrid in the summer, taking Gareth Bale in the opposite direction.

THIS WEEK'S BIG GAMES - kick-off times GMT

Bayern Munich (0) v (3) Barcelona 7.45 pm

Real Madrid (1) v (2) Juventus 7.45 pm

Fiorentina (0) v (3) Sevilla 8.05 pm

Sun 17th May 2015 LA LIGA all 6 pm
Deportivo La Coruna v Levante
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona
Real Sociedad v Granada
Getafe v Eibar
Espanyol v Real Madrid
Valencia v Celta Vigo
Sevilla v Almeria

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, May 9, 2015

George's Premiership Predictions May 9 2015

George's Premiership Predictions May 9 2015

Chelsea have clinched the league title as expected after beating Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge last weekend.

All the remains to play for are the other 3 Champions League spots and relegation to the Championship.

George's Premiership Predictions May 9 2015

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Everton 1 v Sunderland 0
Aston Villa 2 v West Ham 0
Hull 1 v Burnley 1
Leicester 1 v Southampton 1
Newcastle 0 v West Brom 2
Stoke 2 v Tottenham 1
Crystal Palace 2 v Man Utd 2

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Man City 2 v QPR 1
Chelsea 1 v Liverpool 0

Monday, 11th May 2015

Arsenal 3 v Swansea 0

Barcelona 9/5 favourites to win the Champions League this season with Spanish rivals Real Madrid at 9/4 – it’s 11/8 they meet at the final in Berlin.

2014/15 Champions League Outright

Barcelona 9/5 Real Madrid 9/4
Bayern Munich 5/2 Juventus 8/1
To Qualify

Juventus 21/10 Real Madrid 4/11
Barcelona 4/6 Bayern Munich 5/4

Real Madrid & Barcelona 11/8 Bayern Munich & Real Madrid 2/1
Barcelona & Juventus 15/4 Bayern Munich & Juventus 6/1

Soccer - Sturridge sidelined until September

Daniel Sturridge is set to miss the start of next season after Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers confirmed that the striker is unlikely to play again until September following hip surgery. "It's a period of time out, but we're hopeful the problems and issues he's had have been resolved with the operation," said Rodgers. "We're anticipating it's going to be around September before he can actually start training and then it's about getting his fitness up." The 25-year-old scored 24 goals last term but his career has been dogged by a series of injuries. He missed virtually all of pre-season in 2013 after suffering ankle ligament damage on England duty and last summer he was sent home early from the Reds’ tour of America due to a hamstring strain. He has scored four goals in eight league starts for Liverpool this season. Liverpool can be backed at 13/5 to beat Chelsea on Sunday, with the draw available at 5/2.

Soccer - Koeman keen for Rodriguez to stay

Southampton head coach Ronald Koeman hopes Jay Rodriguez will pen a new and improved contract with the club this summer. The former Burnley star has not played for more than a year because of a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament and only has a season left on his contract at St Mary's. "He was talking to the club," said Koeman. "He's a good player and I think he will be an important player for next season. "If he stays, I think that is a good signal to the club, to everybody." Southampton face a Leicester City side this weekend that have won five of their last six game to move out of the relegation zone. The Foxes are 6/4 to beat Southampton while a draw can be backed at 23/10.

Last time's predictions


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Fifa World Rankings May 2015

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings May 2015

Fifa's World Rankings for May 2015 2014 were published on Thursday at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

2014 world cup champions Germany remain at the top of the Fifa rankings followed by Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, the Netherlands, Portugal, Uruguay, Switzerland and Spain.

England are in 14th place.

Algeria are the top African team and are in 20th place.

1 Germany
2 Argentina
3 Belgium
4 Colombia
5 Brazil
6 The Netherlands
7 Portugal
8 Uruguay
9 Switzerland
10 Spain
11 France
12 Romania
13 Italy
14 England
15 Costa Rica
16 Chile
17 Croatia
18 Czech Republic
19 Slovakia
20 Algeria

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Monday, May 4, 2015

Barça blitz on the eve of Guardiola's return


Barcelona have the finish line in sight, the end of the TV duopoly, prodigal Pep returns and Bilbao honour Matt Le Tissier

Barcelona have the finish line in sight

Barcelona scored 14 goals in two games this week to inch closer to the La Liga title.

With three games to play, the blaugrana maintain their two-point advantage over Real Madrid and are not only refusing to slip up but winning with wild abandon.

First they blitzed poor Getafe 6-0 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday before trouncing Cordoba 8-0 away on Saturday, condemning the Andalucians to the drop in the process.

Luis Enrique's side now have to play Real Sociedad and Deportivo La Coruna at home and in between Atletico Madrid away to confirm their championship.

Carlo Ancelotti's men have Valencia and Getafe at home and Espanyol away, meaning Real will probably depend on their city rivals Atletico to do them a favour and take points off Barça at the Manzanares.

A draw will probably not be enough for Real however, as Barcelona's scoring fest this week has taken their goal difference to +86 compared to Real's +73.

So assuming the freefalling Deportivo succumb inside the Camp Nou, and Atletico can only draw with Barça, Real's hopes lie with David Moyes' Real Sociedad, who beat the blaugrana at home earlier this season, taking points from them away from home as well.

But right now it looks like the title is headed to Catalonia. Real's 'March madness', when they lost to Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona and drew with Villareal, as well as losing in Europe to Schalke, has cost them dearly.

The Getafe mauling was another embarrassing Primera mismatch as the league-leaders entered the changing-rooms at half-time five goals up. They took their foot off the accelerator in the second half and only added one more, but it was another veritable goleada as they say here.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez grabbed braces, with Neymar and Xavi adding single strikes. The Argentine opened the goal-fest in the ninth minute with a Panenka penalty after Suarez had gone to ground following a 40-pass move.

The Uruguayan's first was a snapshot volley from a Messi chip. Neymar soon doubled their lead before Xavi scored the most beautiful goal of the evening, a curling effort into the top corner fromt he edge of the box. Three goals in six minutes and Barça were on fire.

Suarez then scored a near photocopy to complete a devastating 45 minutes, bagging his 13th goal in 25 games this season, a respectable haul given his sluggish start.

Messi made it six shortly after the restart with another far-post curler before the gods took pity on Getafe and dammed the flood.

6-0 was a bit harsh on their forward Fredy Hinestroza, who had an effort scooped off the line in the first half and hit the post in the second.

Restoring their five-point lead gives the Catalans a psychological boost once more, as Real must play catch-up.

Luis Enrique's team look odds-on for the title in this form, but once more the top flight's credibility is called into question. Getafe's average crowd is barely one tenth of Barça's and the blaugrana have scored more than four goals ten times this season already.

*Real stayed in touch by beating Almeria 3-0 at the Bernabeu. The highlight of a routine victory was a stunning volley in the D from James Rodriguez a minute before the break.

Chicharito failed to maintain his purple scoring patch but provided the assist for Alvaro Arbeloa's clincher in the 84th minute. In between, Mauro Dos Santos added an own goal.

*Valencia leapfrogged Sevilla into the fourth and last Champions League spot by beating Granada 4-0 at the Mestalla on Monday.

*On the same night as the blue and maroon goalfest in Catalonia, the Basque derby between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad ended 1-1 at the San Mames.

But other derbies have brought out some unpleasant elements. The league has reported three cross-city clashes to the Professional Competition Committee for insulting chants: Espanyol v Barcelona, Sevilla v Real Betis and Atletico Madrid v Rayo Vallecano.

* Saturday saw Barça again score a hatful and Real having to play catch-up. The blaugrana travelled to bottom club Cordoba and won 8-0, another ridiculously easy win.

That said, the intense heat of over 30 Celsius / 86 Fahrenheit and low humidity were hard to adapt to and the visitors fluffed several chances before finally scoring through Ivan Rakitic three minutes before half-time.

Luis Suarez ended up with a hat-trick, Messi and Neymar with two apiece and Gerard Pique the other scorer.

* The top two both played in Andalucia on Saturday, meaning their team buses briefly crossed paths at Seville airport.

Real's clash with Sevilla was much more interesting, as they won a hard-fought contest 3-2 in the end to stay in touch with Barcelona.

Gareth Bale was back and active, but Real's goals came from a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick.

Two goals in two minutes seemed to put Los Merengues in the driving seat but Sevilla, who contest the Europe League semi-final this week, fought back hard and levelled through a Carlos Bacca penalty and after Ronaldo had grabbed his third, Vicente Iborra.

The home side had the better of the closing stages and could easily have levelled the scores. Real survived a number of scares and trudged off at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan relieved their Andalucian trial was over.

* Deportivo La Coruna look headed for the Liga Adelante after crashing 4-0 at near rivals Elche. They gained a point at home to Villareal on Saturday but they need other results to go their way to avoid the drop.

Cordoba are La Liga history but fellow Andalucians Granada might still pull off a great escape after winning 2-1 at Getafe on Saturday. Abel Resino's men are now three points from the teams outside the relegation zone.

16. Eibar 31 pts
17. Almeria 31 pts
18. Dep. La Coruna 30 pts
19. Granada 28 pts
20. Cordoba 20 pts

* Valencia stayed ahead of Sevilla in the race for the fourth Champions League spot after beating Eibar 3-1 at the Mestalla, while Sevilla lost at home to Real.

Nuno Espirito Santo's team have a three-point lead over their rivals but must travel to the Bernabeu next weekend, meaning the two could finish level on points after the next three matches. Valencia's goal difference is plus 37, somewhat more than Sevilla's 24.

*Barcelona were 5-0 up at half-time but they tend to perform better after the break. If half-time scores were taken into account alone, they would be third in La Liga behind Real and Atletico.

*Keeping the ball is not everything: Ninth place Celta de Vigo enjoy more of the ball on average than Real Madrid - 55.6% v 55.5%.

* Diego Simeone celebrated his 200th game as Atletico coach with a 1-0 win at Villareal Going into that match he had won 146, drawn 40 and lost 33, a 63% win rate.

*PICHICHI race (goals)

42 - Cristiano Ronaldo
40 - Lionel Messi
22 - Antoine Griezmann
21 - Neymar
20 - Carlos Bacca

* On Thursday the Madrid government announced that from 2016 TV rights money will be distributed more evenly to clubs, ending the individual negotiations which hand Barcelona and Real Madrid the lion's share of the loot.

The absurdity of the Spanish system is evident when relegated Cardiff City earned more than La Liga champions Atletico Madrid last season.

Under the new rules, all La Liga clubs are guaranteed a minimum €8 million more per season for the next six years, with Liga Adelante (second flight) sides netting €4.5 million more. The big two will still remain the highest earners but the ratio of their TV rights compared to those of the poorest teams will reduce from seven to one to three and a half to one.

For too long La Primera has been such a top-heavy league that Barca and Real's weekly hammerings of poor teams have damaged the league's credibility.

But perhaps we should not overdo the champagne, or perhaps the Cava, at this announcement. The Premier League is far from a level playing field, with realistically only Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and possibly Arsenal title contenders.

On that basis, La Liga could become a three or four horse race with Atletico Madrid and Valencia becoming richer and the big two signing one or two fewer stars a season. It's not utopia, but it's a start.
*Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are in FIFA's line of fire after investigations on signing underage overseas players, with fines or transfer bans apparently imminent. Barcelona are already banned until next winter but it looks like the same prohibition will hit the other big two clubs.

Fear of an imminent ban for an infringement of FIFA's Article 19 explains Real shelling out recently for Martin Odegaard, Danilo and Lucas Silva, though Atletico only recruited old boy Fernando Torres.

Angel Maria Villar, the Spanish football president of the famous last words before the 2018/2022 World Cup votes ("All the fish are sold") apparently begged FIFA President Sepp Blatter to forego the sanction, but to no avail.
*With James Rodriguez playing, Real have won 80% of their matches, without him 60%.
*Real Betis, in pole position under Pepe Mel for promotion to the Primera, this week commemorated the 80th anniversary of their first and only league title in 1935.

* Chelsea target Jose Luis Gaya is said to have penned a five-year contract extension at Valencia.

*Southampton legend Matthew Le Tissier received a standing ovation at the San Mames as Athletic Bilbao, who sign only Basques, handed him a newly-created "One Club Player" trophy in tribute to his loyalty to The Dell.

Le Tiss doubtless felt at home amid the red and white stripes at the San Mames.
* While Real Madrid tour Australia and China, Barcelona will summer in the USA, playing friendlies with Chelsea, Fiorentina, LA Galaxy and Manchester United.

*Atletico have loaned Uruguayan winger Cristian Rodriguez to Gremio in Brazil.

*Thoughts now turn to Europe and the Spanish trio in semi-final action this week.

Real Madrid hope to welcome back Karim Benzema for their trip to Juventus on Tuesday night, though Chicharito's recent form will give Carlo Ancelotti pause for thought.

Juve, who boast a pair of Spanish strikers Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Morata, are on a high having just clinched the Serie A title at a canter. Massimiliano Allegri's side could even end up with a full house this season as they are in the final of the Coppa Italia too.

Barcelona v Bayern Munich on Wednesday is hotly anticipated too for the return of Pep Guardiola to the Camp Nou in enemy colours.

The new German champions are a little war-torn, having lost Arjen Robben for the season and with Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski doubtful. Bayern lost 2-0 at Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday but no one will underestimate their danger on Wednesday.

Even so, all eyes will be on Barça's former leader, trying to read any future intentions from his words and faces. Barcelona play a trident of talent now (Messi, Neymar & Suarez) instead of tiki-taka, but if anyone knows how to dismantle them it must be Guardiola.

Finally Sevilla, this season's unsung hero, host Fiorentina in the Europa League semi-final first leg on Thursday. This is another clash too close to call, as both teams sit fifth in their respective leagues.

PSG midfielder Marco Verratti is said to be on his way to Real Madrid in the summer. The Italian is believed to be No.1 on Real's shopping list, before David De Gea and Bayern Munich's versatile Austrian David Alaba.

Barcelona are still interested in prising Ander Herrera away from Old Trafford and may pitch in with a £25 million carrot for Manchester United.
"I have sent him away already" was Louis Van Gaal's curt response to whether he might bring Chicharito back to the Red Devils.

Murmurs about the Mexican have been ubiquitous after his surprise four goals in five games, but Real have kept schtum following Hernandez's purple patch, conscious that he has a €20 million price tag.
The deadline for deciding has apparently been pushed back until the 7th of June.

Liverpool are said to be planning a £22 millon swoop for Denys Cheryshev of Villareal. The Russian midfielder is on loan from Real Madrid.
Chelsea are contemplating swapping PFA Player of the Season Eden Hazard for Gareth Bale, it has been claimed in England as well as acquiring Atletico's French forward Antoine Griezmann, who has been one of the stars of this season in Spain.

Once again the British press spoke of a £100m megabucks move from Man Utd for Gareth Bale, or a swap deal involving David De Gea, on whom they have slapped a £45 million price tag.

The Daily Mail went overboard in its fantasy football, claiming Bayern Munich are willing to spend €135 million to secure the Welshman's signature.

The British press has been running Bale-back-to-Britain rumours for weeks but their Spanish equivalents have declined to indulge in such speculation. There is no expectation here that Real's record signing will leave the Bernabeu so soon.

Arsenal meanwhile could sign Real's Iker Casillas. The veteran goalie was said to be "very clear" in wanting a Premier League move, with Ashburton Grove top of his wish-list, yet later in the week insisted he wanted to stay at the Bernabeu.

The Gunners are still eyeing a £24 million deal for Barcelona's Pedro but face competition from Chelsea, and Arsene Wenger's team are still being linked with a £32 million swoop for Real's Isco.

North London rivals Tottenham as well as Newcastle are looking to sign Almeria goalkeeper Julian Cuesta this summer.

The 24 year old has only been picked 15 times by the Andalucian side this season but is highly rated for his aerial play, which should stand him in good stead for the Premier League. Everton, Man Utd and West Ham already use Spanish goalkeepers.

Sevilla's strong season has not gone unnoticed in Italy, where Milan are apparently preparing an offer for Carlos Bacca and manager Unai Emery too.

Real Sociedad boss David Moyes scotched rumours linking him with West Ham United. The Scot dismissed the talk as pure invention and said he remained committed to his Spanish enterprise. The Sunday Mirror in England remains convinced he will pitch up at Upton Park however.

Rayo Vallecano manager Paco Jemez is said to be on Newcastle's wish-list for next season.

THIS WEEK'S BIG GAMES; kick-off times GMT

Juventus v Real Madrid 7.45 pm

Barcelona v Bayern Munich 7.45 pm

Thursday 7th May EUROPA LEAGUE SF
Sevilla v Fiorentina 8.05 pm

Sat 9th May LA LIGA
Granada v Cordoba 3 pm
Barcelona v Real Sociedad 5 pm
Real Madrid v Valencia 7 pm
Athletic Bilbao v Deportivo La Coruna 9 pm

Sun 10th May LA LIGA
Levante v Atletico Madrid 11 am
Almeria v Malaga 6 pm
Celta Vigo v Sevilla 8 pm

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile