Malaga's midfielder Santiago Cazorla (L)

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

Leave a comment

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.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

Leave a comment
  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.