Preview: Fourth Clasico of season highlight as La Liga goes into international break
MADRID, March 16 (Xinhua) — El Clasico between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid will again take pride of place in La Liga this weekend, although the last round of matches before the international break is vital at both ends of the league’s table.
Barca and Real Madrid have already faced each other three times this season, with Real Madrid winning 3-1 in their first La Liga meeting. Barca beat Madrid by the same score in the Spanish Supercup and won 1-0 in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium at the start of March in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semifinal.
That game saw Xavi Hernandez’s side produce an untypically ultra-defensive display without several key players through injury.
Robert Lewandowski and Pedri will be back on Sunday, giving Xavi more options than a fortnight ago, although Ousmane Dembele is still sidelined with his muscle problem.
Real Madrid travel to Barcelona after qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Champions League with an intense display over Liverpool, but they also travel nine points behind their rivals, knowing that anything other than a win would leave Barca with one hand on the league title.
There is no hiding the fact that the game is played under the cloud of the ongoing ‘Negreira case’, which has seen criminal investigations opened into the club over payments made to the former vice-president of Spain’s referees technical committee. With Real Madrid announcing it has also joined the case against Barcelona and a lot at stake on the pitch, it is not going to be an easy match to officiate.
The weekend kicks off with Valladolid at home to Athletic Club Bilbao, who need to end a run of a draw and three defeats from their last four games.
Rayo Vallecano also look to be running out of steam after five games without a win and they entertain a solid Girona in what should be an open match.
Joselu is the threat for Espanyol in their battle to avoid relegation with a home match against an improving Celta Vigo, who have Iago Aspas and Gabri Veiga as their players to watch.
Valencia have dragged themselves out of the bottom three under new coach Ruben Baraja, but they have a difficult trip to play Atletico Madrid. Atletico are benefiting from not playing midweek football, and have six wins and two draws from their last eight league matches, with Antoine Griezmann playing some of the best football of his life.
Sunday sees Betis, Real Sociedad, Sevilla and Villarreal all in action after their European commitments on Thursday.
Betis are at home to Mallorca in what should be a tight game against a rival that has only conceded 26 goals all season.
Fourth-placed Real Sociedad entertain bottom side Elche, which should give the Basque side a chance to improve their recent record of just seven points from seven games, while Sevilla have a tense visit to Getafe.
Getafe are third from bottom, but after a run of just one defeat from five games, they are just two points behind Sevilla, with strikers Enes Unal and Borja Mayoral in good form.
Barca go 12 clear in Spain, Betis and Real Sociedad bounce back with wins
MADRID, March 19 (Xinhua) — FC Barcelona go into the international break with a 12-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of La Liga after a dramatic 2-1 win over their eternal rivals in the Camp Nou Stadium.
Franck Kessie’s 92nd-minute goal gave Barca the win at the end of a thrilling game which either team could have won.
Thibaut Courtois had already made good saves from Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha in the first five minutes, but it was Real Madrid who opened the scoring in the ninth minute.
Vinicius Jr found space on the left and his cross deflected off Ronald Araujo just enough to wrong-foot Marc-Andre ter Stegen and cross the goal-line.
Real Madrid looked relatively comfortable defending deep, but Sergi Roberto leveled with the last kick of the first half, following an attack in which Raphinha kicked clean air and Lewandowski saw a shot blocked, with the ball falling kindly for the midfielder.
Barca looked to kill the game off in the second half, but as the game progressed, Real Madrid created more chances on the break, with Rodrygo and Karim Benzema going close, before Marco Asensio had a goal ruled out 10 minutes from time for a tight offside.
With the game wide open, Kessie won it for Barca as he side-footed home to finish a move that also involved Lewandowski and Alejandro Balde.
Atletico Madrid made it 23 points from 27 with a 3-0 win at home struggling Valencia, and are only four points behind Real Madrid.
Antoine Griezmann’s first-half effort and second-half goals from Yannick Carasco and Thomas Lemar sealed a comfortable win, although Samuel Lino hit the post for Valencia late on.
A first-half goal from Borja Iglesias helped Real Betis forget their midweek UEFA Europa League exit as they beat Mallorca 1-0. Mallorca defended well but created little in attack and rarely looked like getting back on level terms.
Second-half goals from Takefusa Kubo and Ander Barrenetxea gave Real Sociedad a 2-0 win at home to bottom side Elche.
Although Elche held on in the first half, Kubo’s finish after a David Silva pass put Real Sociedad ahead two minutes after the break, and Barrenetxea ensured three points in the last minute after a counter-attack.
Villarreal won 3-0 away to Osasuna, who also look to be losing steam. Samuel Chukwueze put Villarreal ahead after 14 minutes, and two late goals from Jose Luis Morales gave an added sheen to the scoreline.
Munir El Haddadi and Enes Unal scored second-half goals that saw Getafe beat Sevilla 2-0 in a key battle to avoid relegation. The result lifts Getafe to 13th and leaves Sevilla two points above the drop, and also sees Valencia fall into the bottom three.
Rayo Vallecano and Girona shared four goals in an entertaining match on Saturday, which will be remembered for the way Isi and Oscar Trejo combined to miss a penalty, when Trejo tried to pass to his companion, rather than for the excellent goals they had scored earlier in the game.
Viktor Tsyhankov netted twice for Girona after Isi and Trejo had each scored excellent individual efforts.
Celta Vigo won 3-1 away to Espanyol, with Gabri Veiga, Iago Aspas and Carles Perez all scoring before Jose Gragera’s late consolation goal for Espanyol, who are again deep in trouble.
Gonzalo Melero scored a 96th-minute penalty to save a point for Almeria in their relegation battle with Cadiz, who looked to be set for a win after Roger Marti’s close-range opener in the 49th minute.
Athletic Bilbao won comfortably 3-1 away to Valladolid on Friday night thanks to goals from Inigo Martinez, Gorka Guruzeta and Mikel Vesga’s penalty.
Analysis: Bayern far from amused to meet Guardiola’s Man City, goal-monster Haaland
BERLIN, March 17 (Xinhua) — Bavarian icon Thomas Muller might be one of the world’s best joke-tellers. After most of the 33-year-old’s jokes, a loud laugh can be heard.
Ahead of the last-eight round of the UEFA Champions League, things might be slightly different after the German striker flippantly guessed: “No team will shout hurray when having to face Bayern Munich.”
It seems more than a bold guess that neither Muller nor his teammates at Bayern Munich are overwhelmingly amused on having to meet their former coach Pep Guardiola and the Spaniard’s current team Manchester City.
After the Bavarians eliminated Paris St. Germain in the previous round, the next hard nut to crack is waiting.
Guardiola failed to win the Champions League with the Bavarians, but three times ended up in the semifinals.
While Bayern earned respectful comments for beating Paris and their superstars Kylian Mbappe and 2022 World Cup champion Lionel Messi, the job of City wasn’t much worse when crushing RB Leipzig 7-0 with Erling Haaland serving as an insatiable goal-monster.
The breathtaking five goals of the Norwegian might now turn into a warning shot for Bayern and their coach Julian Nagelsmann.
A nail-biting duel seems guaranteed when both sides cross swords first in Manchester followed by the second leg on Munich’s home soil.
“Long time went by since Pep left Bayern. Now we face him and his team for the first time. I am happy we have the second game at home,” Muller stated far from joking.
Hasan Salihamidzic called City “the most challenging opponent you could get.”
The Bayern sporting director added he is all right with the draw. “I like to play the best as our players are always entirely concentrated when meeting the best,” Salihamidzic said.
The official said Bayern’s defenders did a good job against Paris’ stars and he is optimistic they will repeat the performance against the former Dortmund attacker.
Nagelsmann spoke about a challenging draw. “But I like to win titles without the accusation of having pure drawing luck. To win the title this way has a much greater value.”
Inter Milan move into Champions League quarters
LISBON, March 14 (Xinhua) — Inter Milan moved into the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals for the first time since 2010-11, as they held Porto to a goalless draw on Tuesday to eliminate the Portuguese side 1-0 on aggregate.
Inter were looking for a resounding response after a poor run of domestic performance and entered the Estadio do Dragao with a slender first-leg lead thanks to Romelu Lukaku’s late winner.
Porto dominated the game but Inter goalkeeper Andre Onana kept the Portuguese side at bay.
The Nerazzurri survived a scare deep into stoppage time, as Denzel Dumfries made a desperate goal-line clearance while Onana fingertipped Mehdi Taremi’s header onto the upright before Marko Grujic hit the post.
The home side were reduced to 10 men as winger Pepe received his second yellow card, and Porto failed to turn the game around.
Inter followed AC Milan to become the second Serie A side to reach the Champions League quarters, with Napoli expected to follow them as they host Eintracht Frankfurt on Wednesday with a 2-0 first-leg lead.
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