Arsenal and Manchester United are still set to take the field, but there was an early round of Europa League matches that saw nearly half the Round of 16 field set.
Wolverhampton Wanderers knew it had room to breathe, and they made use of that, advancing cooly to the Round of 16 despite a 3-2 loss at Espanyol that saw them advance 6-3 on aggregate. The 4-0 first-leg win set Wolves up nicely, and they held firm behind equalizers from red-hot winger Adama Traore and Matthew Doherty.
Jonathan Calleri picked up a hat-trick for the hosts, including the winner in the 91st minute, but it wasn’t nearly enough to see the Spanish side truly challenge the massive deficit.
Elsewhere, Justin Kluivert gave Roma a spot in the Round of 16 with his 29th minute goal that saw the Italian side through via a 2-1 aggregate win over KAA Gent. The 20-year-old got a sumptuous through ball from Henrikh Mkhitaryan who laid it on a platter for Kluivert’s calm finish. The goal answered Jonathan David’s opener four minutes prior and set Roma up for a 1-1 draw that followed their 1-0 home win in the first leg.
USMNT veteran John Brooks started and played the whole 90 minutes as Wolfsburg rode a 3-0 second leg win to a 5-1 aggregate victory over Norwegian side Malmo. 21-year-old Croatian youth international Josip Brekalo was the lone goalscorer in the second leg, finding the net just minutes before halftime to seal advancement to the next round. Yannick Gerhardt and Joao Victor added second-half cherries on top with his 65th minute to put Wolfsburg into the next stage.
Bayer Leverkusen passed a tough test with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Champions League dropouts FC Porto. After a 2-1 home win in the first leg, the German side got an early 10th minute goal from Argentine international Lucas Alario, initially flagged for offside but corrected by VAR. Porto was awful, managing just one shot through the entire first half and conceding twice more after halftime to Kai Havertz and Kerem Demirbay. Mali international Moussa Marega got 65th minute goal for Porto but it was little more than a consolation.
The other Portuguese club in the competition, Sporting CP, suffered an equally disappointing result as they coughed up a 3-1 first-leg lead and to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey, falling 4-1 in extra time to complete a 5-4 aggregate defeat. After the hosts brought the aggregate back level, it seemed Luciano Vietto had saved Sporting’s lives, but Edin Visca scored in the 92nd minute to send the match to extra time on a 4-4 aggregate draw. Visca then played hero as he blasted a wonderful penalty in the 119th minute to win the matchup.
Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel scored the opener just after the half-hour mark via a corner, nutmegging the goalkeeper with a header on the doorstep. Danijel Aleksic bagged Basaksehir’s second just before halftime with an absolutely incredible free-kick from miles away to put the hosts 2-0 up and level the aggregate at 3-3, with Basaksehir holding the away goal advantage from the first leg. Sporting CP was saved, however, by Vietto who scored with 22 minutes remaining
Dutch side AZ Alkmaar slumped out of the competition to LASK, losing 2-0 in Austria which sealed a 3-1 aggregate defeat. 21-year-old Austrian youth international Marko Raguz hit for a quickfire double just before halftime, including one from the penalty spot, to send LASK through to the Round of 16.
Full Europa League results(bolded team advances)
Espanyol 3-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
FC Porto 1-3 Bayer Leverkusen
KAA Gent 1-1 AS Roma
Malmo FF 0-3 Wolfsburg LASK 2-0 AZ Alkmaar Istanbul Basaksehir 4-1 Sporting CP (AET) FC Basel 1-0 Apoel Nicosia
It took 86 minutes to find the opener at the Wanda Metropolitana, but Barcelona came through to move back in front of the La Liga title race, and who else but Lionel Messi was the man of the hour.
The Barcelona legend worked a beautiful one-two with Luis Suarez at the top of the box and slotted it into the bottom-left corner to see Barcelona through with a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid. It wasn’t exactly pretty for the visitors as Gerard Pique struggled at the back on numerous occasions, but they pulled out the clean sheet. It helped that Atleti managed to put just two of its 17 shots on target, with Alvaro Morata only managing to test the keeper once in his six efforts.
Messi’s winner marked his ninth goal of the season and gave Barcelona its eighth win in their last nine league games to go top of the La Liga table, level with Real Madrid on 31 points but ahead on slim goal differential.
Elsewhere, Diego Carlos’s first goal of the season gave Sevilla a 1-0 win over Leganes to keep hold of third position in the La Liga table. Leganes had a few good chances late, but Guido Carrillo and Youssef En-Nesyri couldn’t find the back of the net, and Leganes has just a pair of one-goal losses against two top-three sides to show for their efforts the last two weeks.
Athletic Bilbao topped Granada 2-0 with goals at the end of each half by Raul Garcia and Yuri Berchiche respectively. The first came from the spot after a foul by Rui Silva only given after a VAR check. Athletic then doubled the lead in the 83rd minute through Berchiche’s first strike of the campaign, seeing them through to fifth in the table, level on points with fourth-placed Real Sociedad.
Osasuna somehow held off Espanyol for a wild 4-2 win despite falling a man down with over a half-hour to play. Marc Roca put Espanyol in the lead from the penalty spot 20 minutes in, but Ruben Garcia and Ezequiel Avila struck three minutes apart moments after the second-half restart to put Osasuna up. In the 52nd minute the game changed as Facundo Roncaglia absorbed his second yellow card, sent to an early shower. Despite that, Osasuna stayed strong, scoring a pair of man-down goals in the final minutes of the game to go up 4-1 with finishing touches by Jon Moncayola and RobertoTorres, leaving Espanyol to just a late consolation by Jonathan Calleri.
Finally, Getafe pasted Levante, putting up nine shots on target to Levante’s two en route to a comprehensive 4-0 victory, moving the hosts up to seventh in the table on 24 points.
Zinedine Zidane returned to Real Madrid, and it was like he never left.
The Frenchman made sweeping changes in his first starting lineup, bringing Keylor Navas, Gareth Bale, Isco, and Marcelo all back into the 11 as Madrid stormed to a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo at the Bernabeu.
All four players had seen diminished playing time under Santiago Solari, blamed by fans and media for the team struggles, but Zidane gave them a reprieve, and it bore immediate fruit. Isco scored the opener in the 62nd minute to put Madrid up for good, and Bale put the game away 15 minutes later. The defense, meanwhile, held Celta Vigo to just one shot on target as they fall for the fifth time in their last six matches.
The win pulled third-placed Madrid within two points of cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid in second, an important result that preceded a shocking 2-0 loss by Atletico as they fell on the road at Athletic Bilbao. The game was scoreless – right in Atletico’s wheelhouse – until the 73rd minute when an awkward Atleti turnover in their own defensive third led to an Inaki Williams tap-in to break the deadlock. Kenan Kodro finished it off in the 85th minute and Atleti is now looking over its shoulder at Real Madrid just two back.
Meanwhile, a few places back, Alaves pulled within one point of a Champions League place as they topped Huesca 3-1 behind a brace from Jonathan Calleri. His opener in the 11th minute was cancelled out minutes later by Ezequiel Avila to make it 1-1, and the scoreline stayed there until the 80th minute. Substitute striker John Guidetti put Alaves up with 10 to go, and then Calleri bagged his brace six minutes later to put the game away.
Finally, Girona jumped Leganes in the table with a 2-0 win thanks to a double by Portu, continuing the club’s rise up the table. They had fallen as far as 16th, but a five-game stretch with three wins and a draw has brought them back up to 13th and within two points of a top-half spot.
MADRID (AP) Under pressure from its closest challenger, Barcelona stumbled again.
Barcelona couldn’t manage more than 1-1 against relegation-wary Las Palmas on Thursday, allowing Atletico Madrid to move within five points of the Spanish league lead ahead of their match this weekend.
Barcelona, which has drawn three of its last five league matches, will host Atletico on Sunday needing to halt an eight-match winning streak by Diego Simeone’s team.
Barcelona was 11 points in front of Atletico just five rounds ago, but could end the weekend only two points in front of the Madrid club.
“It would be an important match no matter what, with the first-place team playing against the second-place team,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “Maybe now it’s a bit more important with the lead at five points.”
Atletico was boosted by a 4-0 win over Leganes on Wednesday, when Antoine Griezmann scored all four goals.
Lionel Messi put Barcelona ahead on Thursday with a powerful free kick shot into the top corner in the 20th minute, but the hosts equalized through a penalty kick converted by Jonathan Calleri early in the second half after a controversial handball by Barcelona defender Lucas Digne.
At first it wasn’t clear why the penalty was called. A corner kick ricocheted off a post and the ball brushed Digne’s arm. Some Barcelona players initially thought the referee called a foul by Sergio Roberto on Matias Aguirregaray when the ball first arrived into the area.
Valverde said he and his players still didn’t know what the call was.
“They equalized after an invisible penalty,” he said.
Barcelona also complained about a non-call of handball by Las Palmas goalkeeper Leandro Chichizola outside the area just before halftime.
It was the fifth free-kick goal by Messi, who is the league leading scorer with 23, three more than teammate Luis Suarez. The Argentine playmaker has four goals in his last three matches. The Gran Canaria Stadium was one of the few venues where Messi was yet to score in La Liga.
Las Palmas stayed 18th in the 20-team standings, inside the relegation zone. The team from the Canary Islands has won only one of its last six matches.
Real Betis missed a chance to get near the Europa League qualification spots after being held by Real Sociedad to 0-0 at home.
The result dropped Betis to ninth place, four points behind Eibar, the first team securing a spot in Europe’s second-tier competition.
Sociedad stayed in 14th place.
Real Betis had won three of its last four matches.
ALAVES WINS LATE
Victor Laguardia scored a 90th-minute winner as Alaves handed 10-man Levante its fourth straight loss.
Levante, sitting just outside the relegation zone, played a man down from the 29th. Defender Chema was sent off for a foul that gave the hosts a penalty kick which was missed by midfielder Manu Garcia.
Alaves forward Munir El Haddadi was red-carded for a second booking in the 77th.
Alaves, in 14th place, has won four of its last five matches.
Levante hasn’t won its last 10 matches in all competitions.
There was a minute of silence before matches to honor former Barcelona and Sporting Gijon striker Enrique Castro “Quini,” who died of a heart attack on Tuesday. He was 68.