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

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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.

Elsewhere

  • 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.

Others

Granada 1, Barcelona 0
Real Betis 0, Sevilla 2

Monday

Athletic vs. Malaga

Standings

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

Report: Newcastle in takeover talks with UAE billionaire

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Reports out of Northeast England say Newcastle United supporters who want owner Mike Ashley out at all costs have new hope.

United Arab Emirates billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan is said to be in talks with Ashley about a takeover of the St. James’ Park-based club, though there’s a lot of work to do for a deal to be complete.

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One report goes as far as to say Ashley has agreed to accept $444 million for the Premier League club.

Sheikh Khaled, 61, was educated at American colleges Boston University and Michigan State. He’s the cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and was turned down with a $2.5 billion bid for Liverpool last season.

From The Chronicle:

NUFC have confirmed some talks with Sheikh Khaled. But say there is still “some way” to go on a deal. Newcastle United refusing to make any further comment at this time.

Takeover talks are nothing new at Newcastle, and there does seem to be some heat to these reports, but Ashley and his crew have spun these stories of interest in the past. And with Magpies supporters waiting for news on Rafa Benitez‘s new deal, some will be way of a smoke screen for an inability to reach an agreement with the celebrated Newcastle manager.

Wondolowski scores 149th, 150th goals; Earthquakes win

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TORONTO (AP) Chris Wondolowski scored his 149th and 150th MLS goals in the San Jose Earthquakes’ 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday night.

The MLS career goals leader scored both from close range.

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Wondolowski got a yard’s separation from Drew Moor and deftly redirected in Cristian Espinoza’s cross in the 37th minute to tie it at 1. The go-ahead goal in the 81st minute was a virtual replay, with Espinoza finding Wondolowski in space.

The San Jose striker has six goals in two games. He scored all four goals in a 4-1 victory over Chicago last weekend to surpass Landon Donovan’s league record of 145 goals and up his career total to 148.

Richie Laryea opened the scoring for Toronto (5-6-2) in the 28th minute

San Jose (5-6-2) won for the first time in six road games this season.

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”