Spain roundup: Chaos with Barcelona, and hitting pause on the Seville Derby

Leave a comment

That Barcelona couldn’t summon a sense of urgency for its trip to Granada was the big surprise, moreso than the actual result. Even to the best teams, games like Saturday’s 1-0 loss happen. It’s rare, and it’s always noteworthy, but Barcelona’s not immune to upsets. One or two times per year, David finds his mark.

What’s truly noteworthy about the loss is its place in the bigger story. After being eliminated from Champions League mid-week against Atlético Madrid, players noted how difficult it’s been to concentrate on soccer, given the turmoil around the club. The transfer ban, change in presidents, and diminishing results are starting to weigh on the team, a stress that may have contributed to Saturday’s result. Even though every match between now and season’s end should be considered a must-win, Barcelona couldn’t summon enough to get the result.

Losing for the fifth time this year, Barça’s already accumulated as many league losses as they’ve had the last two years combined. With one more defeat (say, on the season’s final day, to Atlético), Barcelona will have  more losses than at any time since Pep Guardiola was hired in before the 2008-09 season. If the team’s inability to make Champions League’s semifinals wasn’t warning enough, a potential finish outside the top two for the second time in 11 years should remove all doubts. Barcelona’s in trouble.

Not that Saturday’s display wasn’t enough. Down after a Yacine Brahimi goal in the 16th minute, Barcelona still exerted their typical dominance, controlling 81 percent of the possession while accumulating 29 shots. Still, a team with the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Pedro, Cesc Fábregas, Andres Iniesta, and Alexis Sánchez should break through, and while one of two slips per year can be expected, Barcelona’s slipping more than they have since Frank Rijkaard was in control.

At the end of that tenure, Barcelona tore down the house and got back to its roots. Guardiola came in and saw the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco out the door.

As Barça’s struggles continue and uncertainty engulfs the team, the temptation to hit the rest button may become too much to ignore.

Divergent paths meet a final time in Seville

With Sevilla making a final push to track down Athletic for the league’s final Champions League spot, the Rojiblancos 2-0 win over rival Betis was expected. At the bottom of the standings, Betis has long been destined for the second tier, with Sunday’s result leaving them 10 points from safety. Unless the clubs meet in Copa del Rey, this will be the last Seville Derby for foreseeable future.

Before Betis was last relegated at the end of the 2008-09 season, the Seville Derby was like most major inner-city rivalries: a slightly acrimonious one. During the Verdiblancos two years in the second division, however, the teams discovered a certain mutual dependence, one that bred respect. While it’s not quite the symbiosis we associate with Celtic and Rangers in Scotland, theirs is a very important relationship, particularly in the financially precarious world of Spanish soccer.

When Pepe Mel brought Betis back to the first division, a struggling Sevilla was able to enjoy a renewed, more civil derby, something that adds another layer of pathos to this year’s decline. Destined for another drop, Betis will also put a temporary pause on one of the best rivalries in the Spanish game, a halt that will hurt both clubs.


  • Osasuna 0, Valladolid 0 – Two teams looking to scrape together points played out a scoreless draw, one that allows each to finish the weekend above the drop. Combining for two shots on goal, the two sides completed a very Serie A-esque affair, undoubtedly to the chagrin of Getafe and Almeria.
  • Celta Vigo 2, Real Sociedad 2 – Sociedad’s wane from the battle for fourth continues after a 10-man Celta found a late equalizer from Santi Mina, leaving La Real winless in three. Eight points back of fourth place Athletic, Sociedad is now in the league’s last Europa League spot.
  • Villarreal 1, Levante 0 – A Jérémy Perbet’s goal five minutes into second half stoppage time lifts the Yellow Submarine into sixth place, with a Europa League spot looking a near certainty in Villarreal’s return to the first division.
  • Real Madrid 4, Almeria 0 – Goals from Ángel Di María, Gareth Bale, Isco and Álvaro Morata more than made up for the continued absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, with the Merengues staying within three points of rival Atlético at the top of the league.
  • Valencia 2, Elche 1 – Goals from Pablo Piatta and Daniel Parejo bookended Coro’s 28th minute equalizer, and while Antonio Barragán was sent off late in stoppage time, Los Che still ended their three-game winless run.
  • Getafe 0, Atlético Madrid 2Diego Costa was carried off after colliding with the left upright on Atleti’s game-sealing goal, with the win leaving Diego Simeons’s team three points clear at the top.
  • Espanyol 2, Rayo Vallecano 2 – Diego Colotto’s 88th minute equalizer salvaged a point for the home team, but another valuable result for Paco Jémez’s team has los Vallecanos six points clear of the drop.


Granada 1, Barcelona 0
Real Betis 0, Sevilla 2


Athletic vs. Malaga


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 33 26 4 3 72 22 50 14-3-0 12-1-3 82
Real Madrid 33 25 4 4 94 32 62 14-0-2 11-4-2 79
Barcelona 33 25 3 5 92 27 65 15-0-1 10-3-4 78
Athletic 32 17 8 7 55 35 20 11-3-2 6-5-5 59
Sevilla 33 16 8 9 61 47 14 9-3-4 7-5-5 56
Villarreal 33 15 7 11 52 38 14 8-6-3 7-1-8 52
Real Sociedad 33 14 9 10 56 50 6 10-3-3 4-6-7 51
Valencia 33 12 8 13 46 46 0 9-3-5 3-5-8 44
Espanyol 33 11 8 14 37 42 -5 7-4-6 4-4-8 41
Levante 33 10 10 13 30 41 -11 5-5-6 5-5-7 40
Málaga 32 10 8 14 35 40 -5 6-2-8 4-6-6 38
Celta Vigo 33 10 7 16 36 49 -13 4-7-6 6-0-10 37
Granada 33 11 4 18 30 46 -16 7-1-9 4-3-9 37
Rayo Vallecano 33 11 4 18 39 70 -31 7-0-9 4-4-9 37
Elche 33 8 11 14 27 44 -17 6-6-5 2-5-9 35
Osasuna 33 9 7 17 28 53 -25 5-4-7 4-3-10 34
Valladolid 33 6 14 13 32 50 -18 5-8-3 1-6-10 32
Getafe 33 8 7 18 29 51 -22 4-6-7 4-1-11 31
Almería 33 8 6 19 34 64 -30 5-5-6 3-1-13 30
Betis 33 5 7 21 28 66 -38 4-3-10 1-4-11 22

Jose Mourinho wants Diego Costa to process game situations “faster”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho isn’t worried about Diego Costa‘s lack of goals this season, but he does know the problem.

Costa scored the winner against Norwich last time out, but has just three goals on the year and has looked frustrated often in recent matches. And the boss believes there’s still work to be done with Costa, particularly off the ball.

“Everything is OK, no problem, no problem,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference before Chelsea visits Spurs on Sunday. “But he’s not reading the game properly in these actions. That was my opinion. As a striker he must read. You have to play not only when you have the ball but when others have the ball. You have to anticipate things and read the game faster. Everything is an accumulation [of confidence]. You’re not on fire again just because you’ve scored a winning goal against Norwich. It’s all a process.”

Mourinho exploded at Costa in the waning moments of Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, with the manager focused on improving the Spaniard’s effort level.

“In the game I told him, from a distance, that I was not happy with the movement he did,” Mourinho said. “He told me a few nice words from where he was. And nothing happened.”

Despite the manager’s frustrations, Costa could be the only option on Sunday. Radamel Falcao is injured and Loic Remy’s wife is scheduled to give birth soon, leaving Chelsea’s main man as maybe the only man.

The match against Spurs is a huge one for the Blues. Chelsea seems to have recovered slightly from its early-season tumble down the table, but their only two wins since the 2-0 victory over Arsenal in mid-September have been against Aston Villa and Norwich, and a marquee win would see them firmly announce an intention to return to last season’s form. The competition will be stiff, as Spurs’ high press could frustrate Costa, potentially sending him into another mood. But it could also give him opportunities should the hosts slip on Sunday.

Premier League preview: Manchester City vs. Southampton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Manchester City has lost both its home matches against top-10 sides this season
  • Southampton is six matches away unbeaten – club record is seven
  • Southampton has lost five straight at the Etihad across all competitions

Depending on results, Manchester City could be on top of the league come the end of the weekend if they can pick up three points when they welcome Southampton to the Etihad on Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Unfortunately, they’ll face the Saints very banged up, something which has caused the home side plenty of issues recently. Goalkeeper Joe Hart suffered a hamstring injury midweek and will miss out, as will defenders Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Eliaquim Mangala.

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

Manuel Pellegrini‘s squad struggled mightily at times without Sergio Aguero up front during his four-match injury absence. Aguero is back and scored last week in the 4-1 loss to Liverpool, but now the back line is giving the Chilean boss headaches. They broke again midweek, a 1-0 loss to Juventus in Champions League play leaving City fans scratching their heads.

Southampton saw its six-match unbeaten run come to a surprising end against Stoke City last weekend, and that puts them in an awkward spot, stuck in a clogged portion of the Premier League table where the gap between sixth and 11th is just two points. With a difficult London list of Spurs, Arsenal, and West Ham on the docket surrounding the December holidays, stolen points here at the Etihad would go a long way later on.

The Saints are also shorthanded, with Graziano Pelle suspended for yellow card accumulation after picking up his fifth of the season against Stoke. With Jay Rodriguez still sidelined, that leaves Shane Long to lead the Southampton attack.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini on injury problems: “All the clubs have the same problems here in England and in other European leagues, because the players have to play so many games in the year and they have to go to their national squads with long flights.”

Southampton midfielder Steven Davis on Manchester City: “The demand from their fans is to win every game and they’re coming off the back of a couple of bad results. They will be looking to put it right. It should be an entertaining game but we’ll need to be at our best to get something. I’m confident we can go there and do that.”


Because of Manchester City’s defensive issues, summer signing Nicolas Otamendi will be forced back into the starting lineup after finding himself on the bench for the Liverpool loss. Since Otamendi looked off the pace in his first two Premier League matches (both of which City lost), he has acclimated quite well – the club has conceded just three goals in the Argentinian’s five matches following those two defeats.

With the striker issues for Southampton, City will use the return of David Silva to run Southampton down. Silva is known for playing his part in early goals, and the first 15 minutes will be key in this match. Manchester City will get one early, and they will return to their winning ways on a 2-0 victory.

Words fly as Mathieu Valbuena opens up about blackmail scandal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - SEPTEMBER 04: France's midfielder Matthieu Valbuena celebrating France goal during the Friendly match between Portugal and France on September 04, 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena has spoken out for the first time about the sex tape scandal that has rocked the French national team.

If what he says proves to be true, Karim Benzema could be in a whole heap of trouble.

Valbuena told his story to French newspaper Le Monde, where he explained how things began in May of 2015 with a phone call from Djibril Cisse that suggested someone had a tape of the 31-year-old Valbuena. A few days later a blocked number called Valbuena asking to meet in Dubai about the video. The Frenchman got the police involved, and then Benzema approached him during national team training.

“He [Benzema] spoke to me about a video. Immediately, I thought back to what the police chief had told me on Sunday [that someone would approach him about the video].  Then he asked me to meet a friend that he presented to be very reliable, very serious, someone that he had complete confidence in, to arrange all of that. So, anyway, I am not an idiot!

I was sceptical to say the least. Even if, it was true, at the start I said to him: “Thank you for warning me”, I was doubtful that if he wants me to meet someone, it is not for nothing. The way in which he conveyed things, it was certainly to provoke me to see someone, indirectly, it means to pay this person to destroy the video.”

Valbuena said Benzema never actually asked him to pay for the video to be destroyed, but that it was heavily implied. “I played his game, I told him, me I would like very much to pay for my freedom, but we all know that if you pay, it is endless, there will always be copies etc. He told me: ‘Don’t worry, I have total confidence in my friend, there will be no more duplicates, they will be destroyed.’ He insisted a lot for me to meet his friend.”

The Frenchman later would implicate Samir Nasri as someone who, according to Valbuena, had offered to approach him instead of Benzema. “[Nasri] is someone who is no longer part of the French national team. My relationship has always been difficult with Nasri. Now, nothing surprises me.”

Both have responded. Benzema’s lawyer gave an interview to French radio station RMC saying that there was contact between the two about the tape, but that the conversation saw Benzema encourage Valbuena not to pay for anything. Nasri also spoke to RMC, completely denying any involvement in the case by saying, “It is not my problem, not my situation.”

Benzema has been charged with conspiracy to blackmail for his role as an intermediary, but the investigation is still in the preliminary stages.

Premier League preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester United

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Watford at The King Power Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment
  • Leicester sits atop the Premier League table with 28 points
  •  Manchester United has conceded just once in their last 7 league games
  • Leicester’s Premier League games have produced 48 goals, the most in the league

Yes, this is #1 vs #2. No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

And yet somehow, that magnificent lede has been buried thanks to one Jamie Vardy.

The 28-year-old can break Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record of 10 straight games with a goal as Leicester City hosts Van Nistelrooy’s former team Manchester United at King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

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

The Foxes are firmly atop the Premier League table, but many question whether they can hang onto that, and even others remain skeptical whether they can truly challenge for a top four spot this season. Saturday’s game will be a true test of their ability to remain in the hunt for the long haul, as the Red Devils are just a point off the top and, while it hasn’t been pretty at times this year, van Gaal’s men have done enough to pick up results in key situations.

On the other end, Manchester United has conceded just one goal in its last five league matches, and has not allowed a goal from open play since the Arsenal drubbing in early October. Can Vardy find space in the tight Red Devils’ back line?

Both teams are relatively healthy coming into this matchup. Leicester is only missing long-term absentee Matty Jones, while Manchester United is a little more banged up with Ander Herrera, Phil Jones, and Michael Carrick likely out alongside Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal on Leicester City’s chances at title“Normally these kind of clubs can compete for long time, then at the end it becomes more difficult. But in England because of the quality of the teams, because every team has the money to buy players – and they have bought players – the difference in the Premier League between the clubs is not so high.”

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri on the Foxes’ aim“The league is very strange and open but our goal is 40 points. Our goal at the moment is this but let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal. Like everybody else I am also curious in these days to watch my team, and to see how we respond in these big matches.”


Manchester United’s results have been there, and they’ve created a ton of chances. On the flip side, Leicester’s improved defensive organization is solid enough to hold off the Red Devils. This one ends 1-1, and there is no change at the top. Vardy gets the Foxes’ goal, because who doesn’t like fun things?