Most of the headlines around the soccer universe today have been taken up by the Premier League, with 14 of the division’s clubs back in action on Saturday. But it wasn’t just England that saw the return of first-division football this weekend — over in Spain, La Liga kicked off the season with Real Sociedad hosting Getafe. The Erreala secured a 2-0 victory thanks to goals on either side of the break, thanks to goals from Carlos Vela and new boy Haris Seferović. That should give Real Sociedad a boost before their upcoming Champions League qualifying match, with the first leg taking place on Tuesday against Lyon.
Next up was a match between two sides that finished in the lower midtable last season, so you wouldn’t necessarily think you were about to see a thrilling match. But the game between Real Valladolid and Athletic Bilbao was fast paced and fun. Markel Susaeta kicked off the scoring for Athletic in the 28th minute, but Valladolid found an equalizer just three minutes later thanks to Patrick Ebert. Shortly after the restart, Athletic regained the lead through a goal by Iker Muniain, which seemed to break the hosts’ spirits. The match ended as a 2-1 victory for Athletic Bilbao.
The final match of La Liga’s Saturday saw Valencia play host to Málaga. With the sides taking 4th and 5th respectively last season, taking all three points was never going to be an easy task. But it was an important one for the new coach of los che, Miroslav Djukic, a former Valencia player. Fortunately for Djukic, Ricardo Costa broke through the Valencia defense in the 64th minute, and despite a flurry of activity from the visitors, the scoreline stood at 1-0.
La Liga action continues on Sunday with a host of great matches. First up is Barcelona hosting Levante, followed by Real Madrid vs. Real Bestis and Osasuna vs. Granada. The weekend wraps up with Atlético Madrid paying a visit to Sevilla.
Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.
Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.
[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]
However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.
Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.
They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.
The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.
Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.
[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]
Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.
The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.
[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]
Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.
Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0
Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.
[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]
Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw
Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.
Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.
[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]
Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.
Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.
Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.