Shipped from abroad, Spain: Where we’re not supposed to care about the other 18 clubs

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Remarkably, Spain’s season will continue enough though there are no more Clasicos, the title race is all but decided, and the final four match days of the season will give us more glimpses of Real Madrid and Barcelona prospects than we wanted. Where the world has shown no particular interest in Spain beyond its top two teams, don’t expect to hear much about the Primera until next season.

In the anonymity of neglect, the fight for the last Champions League spots will play out. Valencia, on the back of two wins in their last three, have reclaimed third place from Málaga ahead of the teams’ meeting this Sunday . Three points behind Los Che, Málaga need to not only win, they need to reverse the 2-0 loss they suffered earlier this year at the Mestalla (Spain’s first tiebreaker is head-to-head results).

It may not even matter. After hosting Valencia, Málaga are on the road to face Barcelona then Atlético. Only three points ahead of a fading fifth-place Levante, Málaga may need to keep one eye on a pack that sees Athletic Bilbao and Atlético only four back.

That’s why Monday’s draw at Osasuna was so disappointing. Down 1-0 after Nino’s early second half goal, Málaga got an equalizer from the best player not on the big two – Santi Cazorla – but couldn’t find a winner. With only two points over their last three games, Málaga’s given the pole position to Valencia, who close the season with Osasuna, Villarreal, and Real Sociedad.

Málaga have always plotted a patient course on their road to becoming a power, but having come this close to Champions League qualification, being forced to settle for Europa could lead to a bitter summer.

Elsewhere in Spain

All results
Mallorca 1-0 Real Zaragoza
Sporting Gijón 2-1 Rayo Vallecano
Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid
Sevilla 1-1 Levante
Granada 1-0 Getafe
Real Sociedad 1-1 Villarreal
Racing Santander 0-1 Athletic Bilbao
Atlético Madrid 3-1 Espanyol
Valencia 4-0 Real Betis
Osasuna 1-1 Málaga

Races

Champions League: Real Madrid (88 points/34 games played), Barcelona (81/34), Valencia (55/34), Málaga (52/34)

Europa League: Levante (49/34), Athletic Bilbao (48/34), Atlético Madrid (48/34)

Stuff that stuck out:

  • It’s not just the press and fans outside of Spain that are dwelling on Real Madrid and Barcelona. Monday’s coverage was dominated with the aftermath of Saturday’s result. Add in the sprinkling of foresight toward mid-week Champions League matches and there’s little room for anything besides Cazorla’s equalizer.
  • Probably deserving more attention is Giuseppe Rossi, who is projected to miss 10 more months recovering from more procedures on his injured knee. According to Dr. richard Steadman, the Italian international actually needs two operations, with recovery times of four and six months. Rossi had originally hoped to be back early next season, but having gone under the knife on Saturday, the Villarreal star will now have to target February 2013.
  • Athletic Club continued to pull their way to the edge of Champions League qualification, but it wasn’t pretty. While they nearly passed Racing into submission, they needed a strong day from Gorka Iraizoz in goal to get three from a side destined to drop.
  • For much of 2012, Radamel Falcao has had to carry Diego Simeone’s club back into La Liga relevance. On Sunday, however, the hero was Arda Turan. The Turkish winger came with high expectations from Galatasaray in the summer, but until Espanyol’s visit, he’d managed only one league goal. The number tripled as Turan found a second half double, his team earning a win that kept them above Spain’s mid-table maelstrom.
  • One team that is no longer opening thinking about Europe is Sevilla, even though sitting on 46 points, they still have a chance. But it’s been a miserable year in Seville, and having seen only one point from their last two matches (after putting themselves in a position to dream of competing for third), the club has returned to one step at a time mode. Sitting ninth, they need only move up two spots to have a chance to make Europa. Unfortunately, that means displacing Athletic or Atlético.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”