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.
Loan duo book Barca’s place in Champions League knockouts
MADRID, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) — FC Barcelona came from behind to ensure their place in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League with a 2-1 win at home to FC Porto.
Portuguese loan duo Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo scored Barca’s goals after Pepe Aquino had put Porto ahead.
While Barca can relax for their last group game. Porto have to avoid defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk to ensure they make the knockout stages.
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez restored Ronald Araujo, Raphinha and Jules Kounde to his starting 11, while Inaki Pena continued in goal as Marc-Andre ter Stegen continues to struggle with a back issue.
Raphinha was Barca’s main threat in the opening minutes, forcing a decent save from Diogo Costa in the Porto goal, before setting up Pedri, whose cross was collected by the keeper.
Neither side was in control of the game, with Porto also creating chances and Alan Varela had the ball in the Barca net in the 26th minute, only for his effort to be ruled out for offside.
Two minutes later Varela drew a flying save from Pena with a powerful shot from outside the area, and Pena had to react quickly to save from the same player just two minutes later, only for Pepe Aquino to latch onto the loose ball and score with an angled shot.
Porto’s lead lasted just 90 seconds before Joao Cancelo made it 1-1 after beating two defenders and scoring with a shot across the face of goal.
Costa nearly gifted Barca another goal when he passed straight to Pedri on the edge of the area, but the midfielder’s shot was deflected wide, before Varela again forced Pena into action with a stinging drive.
Barca started the second half positively with Joao Felix rattling the bar from 25 meters, before putting his side ahead as he side-footed home Cancelo’s low cross.
Raphinha almost added a third with an overhead kick, but Francisco Conceicao had a great chance to level in the 93rd minute only to shoot straight at Pena.
Elsewhere, Atletico Madrid ensured their place in the last 16 with a 3-1 win away to Feyenoord thanks to a comical own goal from Lutsharel Geertruida and a spectacular volley from Mario Hermoso.
Mats Wieffer gave the Dutch side hope with a header 15 minutes from time, but Santiago Gimenez headed into his own goal to make it 3-1 for the Spanish side.
Barca coach Xavi: I have full backing of the club despite recent poor displays
MADRID, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) — FC Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez insisted on Monday that he has the support of the club despite a recent run of poor performances and results.
Xavi spoke to the press ahead of Tuesday’s must-win Champions League tie at home to Porto, which follows Barca’s disappointing 1-1 draw away to Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
The Rayo match followed a narrow win at home to Alaves, and a Champions League defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk, which makes Tuesday’s game so important.
Although Barca tops its group, with nine points from four games, the same as Porto, a defeat would leave the team with work to do in its last group match to avoid missing out on the knockout stage for a third consecutive year.
A third failure to reach the last 16 of the Champions League and the subsequent hit to Barca’s fragile economy, would put Xavi under the spotlight, but the former player insisted he maintains the support of club president, Joan Laporta and director of sport, Deco.
“I feel supported in every sense of the word by the club,” he responded when asked if he felt under pressure.
“I don’t feel as if I am on my own. I talk to the president every day and there is full confidence between us, and there is total confidence and friendship with Deco,” insisted Xavi.
Xavi also said he had “the support of my assistants, who are also my friends and my brother is among them. I also have the players behind me and I think things are going to work out.”
Aston Villa spoil Spurs’ homage to Venables, Man United pile pain on Everton
LONDON, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) — Tottenham were unable to offer a victory to the memory of former coach Terry Venables, who passed away earlier on Sunday, as they were beaten 2-1 at home to Aston Villa.
Villa produced a good comeback after falling behind to claim a win that allows them to leapfrog Tottenham into fourth place in the table.
Giovani Lo Celso deservedly put Spurs ahead midway through the first half with a first-time shot after a corner, but after Ollie Watkins saw a goal ruled out for offside, Villa drew level in the seventh minute of first-half injury-time though Pau Torres’ back-post header.
Watkins then won the game for Villa with a clinical finish in the 61st minute.
A bad week for Everton got worse, after a 10-point deduction for breaching financial fair play rules was followed by a painful 3-0 defeat at home to Manchester United.
Alejandro Garnacho opened the scoring in the third minute with a candidate for goal of the season. The Argentinian smashed home a spectacular overhead kick from the edge of the area following a Marcus Rashford cross, to leave Everton stunned.
The home fans protested loudly against the 10-point punishment imposed on their club and Everton ended the first half strongly, but the game was beyond them after Rashford scored from the penalty spot after Ashley Young fouled Anthony Martial.
Martial added a third goal with 15 minutes left to play.
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