La Liga: Greater controls needed for clubs like PSG & City

La Liga president Javier Tebas has called for greater controls within football to check the power of clubs like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, after declaring the European Super League to be “dead”.

Manchester City were among six English clubs which signed up to the breakaway league on Sunday, while PSG rejected the opportunity to be involved, before it quickly fell through under global pressure from fans and politicians.

Tebas appeared to suggest that many of the teams who signed up for the breakaway league may have been motivated by their struggles to match the financial clout of City, who are owned by United Arab Emirates deputy prime minister, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and PSG, who are owned by Qatar Sports Investments.

“State-owned clubs like Man City and PSG – these clubs need to face some controls,” Tebas said during a virtual news conference on Thursday. “They haven’t done anything outrageous so far, but we will see.”

Javier Tebas, the president of the Spanish La Liga
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Tebas says he isn’t planning on punishing the La Liga members of the breakaway Super League

All six English clubs which signed up promptly withdrew and were swiftly joined by Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid, but fellow Spanish members Real Madrid and Barcelona have maintained their support for the competition. German clubs, including deposed Champions League holders Bayern Munich, never agreed to join.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has insisted the project is not finished and could be presented again in a different format, while his Barcelona counterpart Joan Laporta says “it is absolutely necessary”, but Tebas, a long-time opponent of the Super League, said it was effectively doomed.

“The Super League is dead without the English and German teams, let’s be realistic, it’s dead,” Tebas said.

“They cannot create the project they want to create. After 20 years of threatening a Super League, finally this threat came true and in 48 hours it has disappeared.”










4:59

Details of how the proposed European Super League collapsed from Kaveh Solhekol and Bryan Swanson

Perez said the Super League was urgently needed to prevent top clubs from going bankrupt after their revenues were badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic and clubs being unable to sell match tickets or merchandise.

But Tebas said the situation was not as extreme as Perez suggested it was, saying the clubs who have been hurt financially merely needed to control their spending on wages and transfer fees.

“This isn’t a problem of revenue, these clubs need to reduce their expenses. We don’t need to keep increasing earnings so that players can have seven Ferraris instead of six,” he said.

“This is a problem of distribution. My position is very clear, we don’t need to increase revenues, we just need to manage expenses. We are not ruined financially and we don’t have to take any exceptional measures.”

Florentino Perez
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Real Madrid Florentino Perez is refusing to give up on the Super League project

Tebas said that he is not currently planning any punishment for the three Spanish clubs.

“We are not talking about sanctions,” he said. “Everyone wants to cut people’s heads off.

“We will have to wait and see what happens in the end, but if they defend their position, we will have to consider our options.

“These clubs have been sanctioned by their own fans. Almost everyone in football has said they’re against this, and that is like a reputational sanction.”

Barcelona president Laporta, making his first public comments on the project, told Catalan state television on Thursday: “The biggest clubs create the most financial resources and we must have our say in deciding how the earnings are shared.”

Joan Laporta celebrates his election victory
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Barcelona president Joan Laporta insists big clubs should have more say over how profits from European competition are shared

Barcelona’s participation was conditioned by Laporta’s pledge to let the club’s members vote on the proposal.

“We are keeping a prudent stance,” Laporta said. “It is a necessity, but our club members will have the final word.”

Meanwhile, Atletico sent a letter to the club’s supporters on Wednesday in which they apologised “for the confusion that has been generated in recent days”.

The letter attempted to explain the club’s initial decision to be part of the Super League.

“We couldn’t allow ourselves not to be in that group of clubs that are the main content generators in the world of football,” the letter said.

“However, the conditions and circumstances under which our incorporation into this group was to take place have not been met and, consequently, today we have decided not to finally consolidate our support for the project.”

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Messi stars as Barcelona win Copa del Rey

Lionel Messi scored twice as Athletic Bilbao lost their second Copa del Rey final in a month with Barcelona cruising to a 4-0 win in Seville.

Real Sociedad beat their local rivals 1-0 in the rescheduled 2020 Copa del Rey final on April 3 to get their hands on a major trophy for the first time since 1987.

On that occasion, Sociedad captain Mikel Oyarzabal netted the winner by sending keeper Unai Simon the wrong way from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute after strike partner Portu was felled in the area by Athletic defender Inigo Martinez.

And further heartache came on Saturday as Ronald Koeman collected his first piece of silverware since taking charge at the Nou Camp last summer.

Lionel Messi looks to find a route past Athletic Bilbao on Saturday
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Messi scored twice against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday

Antoine Griezmann put a dominant Barca ahead on the hour when he turned in a cross from Frenkie de Jong, who then doubled the Catalans’ lead three minutes later.

Messi received some rough tackles from Athletic but got his revenge with a spectacular goal in the 68th minute, tearing his way through Athletic’s defence down the right wing and combining with De Jong before dancing around another defender to slot into the net.

Sergio Busquets fights for the ball against Athletic Bilbao's Inigo Martinez
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Sergio Busquets fights for the ball against Athletic Bilbao’s Inigo Martinez

Barca’s captain struck again four minutes later when he met a low cross from Jordi Alba and fired into the bottom corner, his shot proving too powerful for Athletic keeper Simon.

There was a strong sense of deja vu for Athletic, who have now lost four Copa del Rey finals to Barca since 2009, with Messi scoring each time.

The Basques have lost their last six appearances in the final and only two weeks ago were beaten 1-0 by Real Sociedad in the 2020 rescheduled showpiece, which was also played at an empty La Cartuja stadium in Seville.

Barcelona overwhelmed Athletic Bilbao in the second half in Sevilla
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Barcelona overwhelmed Athletic Bilbao in the second half in Sevilla

Barca were hurting from last week’s 2-1 loss to Real Madrid but took the initiative with 79 per cent of possession in the first half and almost went ahead when De Jong struck the post early in the game, with Messi later smashing a shot just wide.

Athletic had beaten Barca 2-1 after extra time in January’s Spanish Super Cup final but showed little ambition here and had only one attempt in the first half, when defender Inigo Martinez prodded just wide of the near post following a free kick.

Athletic keeper Simon pulled off three impressive saves in quick succession early in the first half, using his left leg to thwart Griezmann and then Sergio Busquets from point-blank range while also keeping out a driven shot from Pedri. Griezmann finally got the better of Simon to break the deadlock and once Barca were ahead they showed no mercy.

Musiala goals send Bayern closer to title

Jamal Musiala is congratulated after scoring for Bayern Munich
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Jamal Musiala is congratulated after scoring for Bayern Munich

Teenager Jamal Musiala scored twice in the first half to steer Bayern Munich to a nervous 3-2 victory at third-placed VfL Wolfsburg on Saturday to move seven points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with five matches left to play.

Three days after their Champions League quarter-final elimination by Paris Saint-Germain, the Bavarians made almost certain of their first silverware of the season after RB Leipzig stumbled to a goalless draw against Hoffenheim on Friday.

Musiala put the visitors in front after 15 minutes when he weaved his way through three defenders in the box and fired in.

The 18-year-old Germany international then added another with a looping header in the 37th to make it 3-1 and become the youngest player in Bundesliga history to have scored six league goals. He came close to a hat-trick a little later but his effort was cleared on the line.

Bayern Munich responded well to their Champions League exit
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Bayern Munich responded well to their Champions League exit

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting had doubled Bayern’s lead in the 24th, but Wolfsburg’s top striker Wout Weghorst cut the deficit in the 35th with his 19th goal of the campaign.

The Wolves pulled another goal back in the 54th with Maximilian Philipp but missed several chances to level through Weghorst and a Jerome Roussillon shot in the 84th minute that flew just wide of keeper Manuel Neuer’s post.

Bayern, on track for a record-extending ninth straight league crown, are on 68 points, with RB Leipzig in second place on 61.

Wolfsburg held on to third spot on 54 points despite their defeat after Eintracht Frankfurt‘s 4-0 loss to Borussia Monchengladbach that left them a point behind the Wolves in fourth.

Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen‘s Leon Bailey scored twice and set up another goal as his team eased past Cologne 3-0 on Saturday to keep alive their slim hopes of a top-four finish with five matches remaining in the Bundesliga.

Last-placed Schalke 04 slumped to a 4-0 loss at Freiburg that all but sealed their relegation. The Royal Blues are 13 points behind the relegation play-off spot occupied by Hertha Berlin with five games left.

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Laporta convinced Messi will stay at Barcelona

Barcelona president Joan Laporta is confident Lionel Messi will stay at the club next season after delivering a vintage performance in their Copa del Rey final win over Athletic Bilbao.

The Argentine scored a sensational individual goal midway through the second half of Saturday’s showdown in Seville after strikes from Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong had put the Catalans in charge.

He then adorned an outstanding display by netting again before lifting the trophy for the seventh time in his career but first since becoming club captain in 2018.

Barca’s all-time top scorer and most decorated player has only two months left on his contract and tried to leave last year after falling out with then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

But Laporta, who presided over Messi’s rise to stardom in his first stint as Barca chief and was elected for a second time last month, said he felt the captain would stay at the club where he has spent his career since joining aged 13.

“Leo is the best player in the world and has a very strong bond with the club. I’m convinced he wants to stay and we’ll do everything in our hands to make sure he does,” Laporta said.

“Today he could see he is backed up by a great team who are capable of playing beautiful football.”

Messi gave no hints about his future after the game but commended his side for overcoming a terrible start to their season to go and win the Copa and re-join a thrilling three-way race for La Liga title alongside leaders Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.

“We struggled to get going in the first half of the season and lost a lot of points by being naive but then we got a lot stronger, started playing really well and got ourselves back into the fight,” Messi said.

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman also paid tribute to Messi after the game: “Leo has spent years demonstrating that he is the best player in the world and he was very effective today.”

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Barca top Forbes rich list; Man Utd drop to fourth

Barcelona top the Forbes list of the world’s 20 most valuable football clubs for the first time.

Despite considerable financial debt of more than £1bn, Barca have knocked Real Madrid off their perch to second place.

The Catalans are valued at £3.46bn ($4.76bn), only narrowly ahead of Real’s valuation of £3.45bn ($4.75bn).

Manchester United remain the most valuable Premier League club at £3.06bn ($4.2bn) – but have dropped from third to fourth in the world, behind Bayern Munich at £3.07bn ($4.215bn).

Liverpool (£2.98bn), Manchester City (£2.91bn), Chelsea (£2.33bn) and Arsenal (£2.04bn) follow on before Paris Saint-Germain (£1.82bn) and Tottenham (£1.67bn) – meaning six Premier League clubs still feature in the top 10.

Marcus Rashford at Old Trafford
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Manchester United remain the most valuable British football club

Forbes’ release says Liverpool have seen an 88 percent rise in their value over the past two years, as they have clinched the Premier League and Champions League titles.

PSG’s move into the top 10 sees Juventus drop out from 2020’s valuations into 11th place.

Everton (£479m), West Ham (£369m) and Leicester (£331m) are also in the top 20 – the Foxes creeping in for the first time at number 19, above Eredivisie champions Ajax.

Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Roma are the other clubs to feature in the top 20.

Let’

Real edge Clasico thriller to reclaim top spot

Real Madrid moved top of La Liga with a 2-1 victory over eternal rivals Barcelona in a thrilling Clasico at a rain-soaked Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano.

Karim Benzema’s audacious near-post flick and Toni Kroos’ deflected free-kick left Real in control at the break, and Zinedine Zidane’s side should have had more to show for their superiority on the counter, with Federico Valverde rattling the post.

Lionel Messi was denied by the post at the end of the first half as his Clasico goal drought extended to seven matches, but, in monsoon-like conditions, Barca halved the deficit when Oscar Mingueza converted Jordi Alba’s cross after Antoine Griezmann’s clever dummy.

Madrid lost Casemiro to two yellow cards in the space of a minute as Barcelona piled on the pressure in search of a late equaliser but their comeback fell agonisingly short, with substitute Ilaix Moriba’s thunderous effort cannoning off the bar in the final minute of stoppage time.

The defeat brings Barcelona’s 19-game unbeaten run to an end and hands the initiative in the La Liga title race to champions Real Madrid, who are level on points with Atletico Madrid but replace them at the summit by virtue of their superior head-to-head record.

Player ratings

Real Madrid: Courtois (8), Vazquez (7), Militao (8), Nacho (8), Mendy (6), Casemiro (5), Modric (7), Kroos (8), Valverde (6), Vinicius Jr (6), Benzema (8).

Subs: Asensio (5), Marcelo (6), Odriozola (6), Isco (5), Mariano (5).

Barcelona: Ter Stegen (6), Dest (5), Araujo (6), Mingueza (7), Lenglet (6), Alba (7), Busquets (6), De Jong (7), Pedri (6), Dembele (5), Messi (6).

Subs: Griezmann (7), Braithwaite (5), Trincao (5), Sergi Roberto (6), Moriba (6).

Man of the Match: Toni Kroos.

Real seize initiative in La Liga title race

Before the match, all eyes were on Messi as he matched the injured Sergio Ramos’ record with his 45th Clasico appearance, though it remains to be seen if either or both men have now made their last.

The 33-year-old was soon involved in some encouraging moves as Barca dominated the early exchanges, but they did not manage to test Thibaut Courtois before Benzema struck with 13 minutes gone.

Karim Benzema celebrates scoring for Real Madrid vs Barcelona
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Karim Benzema celebrates scoring for Real Madrid vs Barcelona

Lucas Vazquez sent in a low cross from the right and Benzema got in front of Ronald Araujo to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen at his near post with a backheeled finish.

Barca responded brightly, but Messi’s cross was too high for Ousmane Dembele and again Courtois’ goal was not seriously threatened before the second goal came.

Team news

  • Federico Valverde replaced Marco Asensio in Real Madrid’s only change from the Champions League victory over Liverpool.
  • Ronald Araujo replaced Antoine Griezmann in Barcelona’s only change from the dramatic late win over Valladolid.

Vinicius Junior, instrumental in the midweek win over Liverpool, was brought down on the edge of the area to present Kroos with the opportunity from the set-piece.

The Germany international struck his free-kick well enough but it would go in with the help of a deflection off Sergino Dest, with Alba unable to adjust on the line as he could only help the ball into the net.

Barca were reeling and moments later Valverde turned Vinicius’ cross on to the post before Vazquez shot straight at Ter Stegen on the follow-up.

After Dembele’s claims for a penalty were waved away, it was Messi’s turn to strike a post as his corner beat Courtois, but Barca would go in 2-0 down at the break.

Toni Kroos celebrates scoring for Real Madrid vs Barcelona
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Toni Kroos celebrates scoring Real Madrid’s second goal

Griezmann replaced Dest at the break, with Mingueza moving to right back, and the move would pay off as Griezmann added attacking impetus and then, on the hour, the former found the net.

As torrential rain lashed down, it was a goal to match the conditions with the full-back failing to make a clean connection after both Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong missed Alba’s cross, though he did enough to bundle it home.

Oscar Mingueza celebrates scoring for Barcelona vs Real Madrid
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Oscar Mingueza celebrates scoring for Barcelona vs Real Madrid

Madrid responded to the setback by striking the post through Vinicius as the game opened up. Barca had another penalty shout with nine minutes left when substitute Martin Braithwaite went down while challenging Ferland Mendy for the ball but despite their furious protests, nothing was given.

There was one more late twist when Casemiro was sent off in the last minute, earning a second booking for fouling Messi, but it did nothing to change the result as Barca’s frustration was summed up by a stoppage-time effort from Ilaix which struck the crossbar.

Analysis: La Liga and Real set for thrilling finale

Real Madrid started the night third in La Liga, behind Barcelona, but they now lead the proceedings after moving top of the table on goal difference ahead of Atletico Madrid, who face Real Betis on Sunday.

It means just one point separates the top three in the title fight as the season heads for a thrilling conclusion.

Madrid have won 15 of their last 20 games in all competitions and are building momentum at a crucial stage of the season both domestically and in Europe.

The victory means Real have won three in a row against Barcelona for the first time since 1978 and caps a stunning week for Zidane’s side after their Champions League quarter-final victory against Liverpool.

What’s next?

Real now go to Anfield to face Liverpool in their Champions League quarter-final second leg on Wednesday at 8pm, leading 3-1 from the first leg, before going to Getafe in la Liga on Sunday at 8pm.

Barcelona face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday at 8.30pm.

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Euro: Ibrahimovic red after two assists | Mbappe scores again

Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up two first-half goals but was sent off for dissent as his AC Milan side earned a 3-1 win at Parma in Serie A on Saturday.

Milan eased into a comfortable two-goal lead at the break thanks to goals from Ante Rebic in the eighth minute – a strike that was brilliantly set up by Ibrahimovic – and a fine Franck Kessie finish on the stroke of half-time.

The visitors’ task became much more difficult just before the hour mark, however, as out of the blue, Ibrahimovic was given a straight red card for something he said to the referee, much to the Swede’s bemusement.

What Ibrahimovic said to receive his eighth dismissal in Europe’s top-five leagues is unclear, as he did not even appear to be close to the referee when he brandished the red card, but it changed the complexion of the game.

Riccardo Gagliolo got Parma back into the match six minutes later, but Rafael Leao added a late third for second-placed Milan as Stefano Pioli’s team closed the gap to Inter Milan to eight points, with the league leaders facing Cagliari on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Andrea Belotti’s penalty was the difference as Torino won 1-0 at Udinese while Spezia scored two goals in the dying minutes to complete a comeback and beat bottom side Crotone 3-2.

Bundesliga: Bayern held, Dortmund win late on

Bayern Munich celebrate after Jamal Musiala's goal
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Bayern Munich celebrate after Jamal Musiala’s goal

Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich stumbled to a 1-1 draw at home against Union Berlin after conceding an 86th-minute equaliser through Marcus Ingvartsen to see their lead at the top cut to five points with six games left.

Teenager Jamal Musiala had put a second-string Bayern team ahead in the 68th minute, picking up a Thomas Muller pass and weaving past three players in the box before firing home.

The Bavarians, missing nine players through injury or illness including top striker Robert Lewandowski and winger Serge Gnabry, dominated possession but let their guard down four minutes from full-time, allowing Ingvartsen to bundle in a cut-back.

Borussia Dortmund teenager Ansgar Knauff fired in an 80th-minute winner for his first professional goal to give his team a 3-2 victory at Stuttgart and maintain their slim hopes of a top-four finish.

Germany youth international Knauff, in his third league appearance, picked up the ball on the edge of the box and audaciously threaded his shot past two defenders and the goalkeeper to secure the win that lifted Dortmund to 46 points in fifth place.

Erling Haaland congratulates Ansgar Knauff on his winning goal
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Erling Haaland congratulates Ansgar Knauff on his winning goal

Goals from Jude Bellingham and Marco Reus in the 47th and 52nd minutes gave Dortmund, who host Manchester City in their Champions League quarter-final second leg next week, a 2-1 lead after the hosts had gone in front thanks to Sasa Kalajdzic’s looping first-half header.

Daniel Didavi then fired in a 78th-minute equaliser for Stuttgart but their joy lasted only two minutes when the 19-year-old Knauff snatched the winner.

Bayern are now on 65 points, five ahead of second-placed RB Leipzig, who beat Werder Bremen 4-1 away. Eintracht Frankfurt tightened their hold on fourth place with a 4-3 home win over third-placed Wolfsburg.

Hertha Berlin could only draw 2-2 with Borussia Monchengladbach, despite playing most of the game with a player advantage after goalkeeper Yann Sommers early sending off for the visitors.

Ligue 1: Mbappe scores again in PSG win

Kylian Mbappe scored and assisted for PSG on Saturday
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Kylian Mbappe scored and assisted for PSG on Saturday

Kylian Mbappe completed a remarkable week as he scored one and set up another to inspire Paris Saint-Germain to a 4-1 win at Racing Strasbourg as the French champions reduced Lille’s Ligue 1 lead to three points on Saturday.

The France striker, who scored twice in PSG’s 3-2 win at Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals earlier this week, opened the scoring with Pablo Sarabia, Moise Kean and Leandro Paredes also on the scoresheet to put the capital side on 66 points from 32 games.

PSG, who host Bayern in the return leg at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, lead third-placed Monaco by four points before the principality team host bottom club Dijon on Sunday. Lille beat Metz 2-0 away on Friday.

In Saturday’s other Ligue 1 fixture, Gaetan Laborde scored a 92nd-minute equaliser as Montpellier drew 3-3 with Marseille.

La Liga: Real beat Barca in ‘Clasico’ to go top

Karim Benzema celebrates scoring for Real Madrid vs Barcelona
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Karim Benzema celebrates scoring for Real Madrid against Barcelona

Real Madrid beat rivals Barcelona 2-1 at home in an entertaining, rain-soaked ‘Clasico’ on Saturday to go top of La Liga.

Karim Benzema put the champions in charge at a soggy Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium with a delightful backheel in the 14th minute while a deflected Toni Kroos free-kick doubled their lead in the 28th.

Barca hit back on the hour mark through Oscar Mingueza and the defender almost found the equaliser later on, while the Catalans had a huge penalty appeal waved away when Martin Braithwaite fell following a challenge by Ferland Mendy.

Real midfielder Casemiro was sent off in stoppage time for picking up two yellow cards in the space of a minute while Barca substitute Ilaix Moriba hit the crossbar in the fourth minute of added time.

The hosts survived the nail-biting finish to complete a sensational week after beating Liverpool 3-1 in a Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday.

Zinedine Zidane’s side joined Atletico Madrid on 66 points and moved top of the table, although Atletico can reclaim first place when they visit Real Betis on Sunday. Barca dropped to third on 65 points.

Elsewhere in La Liga on Saturday, Cadiz overcame Getafe 1-0, Eibar lost by the same scoreline to Levante and Athletic Bilbao were held to a goalless draw by Alaves.

Let’

Real vs Barca: Stage set for biggest Clasico in years

Atletico Madrid have seen their lead at the top of La Liga eaten away by Real Madrid and Barcelona, and Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero believes this weekend’s Clasico will go a long way to deciding the Spanish title race.

While Manchester City are cantering to a third Premier League title in four years, Bayern Munich are in pole position for a ninth successive Bundesliga win and Inter Milan are edging closer to a first Serie A crown since 2010… Hay Liga!

Atletico’s loss away to Sevilla last weekend has blown the Spanish title race wide open. For the first time in more than three months, Barcelona depend on their own results to be crowned La Liga champions. They travel to the Spanish capital unbeaten in 19 league games; win their remaining nine fixtures and they will finish top for the first time in two years.

Real Madrid are playing with belief and real momentum.

At the back end of January, they fell seven points behind Atletico – who had two games in hand – following a 2-1 home defeat to Levante. But in the past two months, Diego Simeone has seen his side’s advantage whittled down to just a solitary point to Barcelona in second.

Real are only two points further back in third, but with two teams above them still to play each other, Zinedine Zidane’s men will be confident of making up the ground in the final two months of the campaign.

“Both teams arrive in the best moment of a bad moment,” Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero tells Sky Sports. “It’s been a weird season for both clubs.

“This is not the Barcelona of three or four years ago and nor is it the same Real Madrid. It’s been a strange season where Atletico raced into a lead in La Liga, Real suffered in the group stages of the Champions League and Barcelona were knocked out by PSG.

“Neither are as good as they used to be with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at their best, but they’re both in the best moment of their season. Both arrive having just played huge games for differing reasons.

“In the case of Barcelona, it was the manner of their win over Real Valladolid in the last minute. A month ago, the feeling was that Liverpool would certainly knock Real out of the Champions League but they demonstrated once again how they perform when it comes to this stage in the competition.”

How to follow Real Madrid vs Barcelona

Follow Real Madrid vs Barcelona with our dedicated live blog across Sky Sports’ digital platforms on Saturday from 6.30pm; Kick off 8pm.

Zidane: My team has been underrated

Real Madrid defeated Barcelona 3-1 at the Camp Nou in October
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Real Madrid defeated Barcelona 3-1 at the Camp Nou in October

The pandemic has built greater steel to this Real side that makes them favourites heading into Saturday’s encounter, despite the added complication of a trip to Anfield next week.

Speaking after the quarter-final first-leg win against Liverpool, Zidane said: “This is the good thing about this team – they always want more and more. These are players with a lot of experience, players who have won a lot, but they still want to win more. And this shows you the spirit that these players have.”

Having had his tactical acumen previously questioned given Real’s wealth of options, making a success of his second stint by adding a fourth Champions League title to a domestic title defence would bring clarity to his place among the game’s great managers.

“My team has been underrated but I believe in them and know what they can do,” Zidane added.

Lionel Messi is entering the final four months of his Barcelona contract
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Karim Benzema is only too aware of the threat posed by Lionel Messi

“Whenever there are still signs of life, we never give up. We’re going to keep on fighting for everything, we’ve had some very difficult moments this season, we’re much better now but we still haven’t achieved anything.”

Madrid forward Karim Benzema has warned that they need to keep Lionel Messi, who has scored 12 goals in his last 10 league appearances, out of the game if they are to get the three points.

“It’ll be a tough game against a side who like to dominate the ball,” Benzema said.

“They’ve got a great goalkeeper and of course Messi, the player who does everything for Barcelona. We need to be wary of him because he’s so, so dangerous. Just like in the first meeting this season we’ll go out on the pitch looking for the win, it’s a final for us.”

Will Hazard return to play vital role?

Eden Hazard

Real have been beset by injuries this season while Zidane is also juggling an aging squad in need of rebirth. As has been the case for much of the campaign, the fitness of Eden Hazard has been a major bone of contention. The Belgian has faced five separate setbacks and made only 11 starts in all competitions.

A hamstring injury, a fracture to his right distal fibula, and a period out with Covid have all contributed to previous absences but his latest problem has been a hip complaint which has kept him out since March 13. Thankfully for Real, Zidane has come up with a plan without him.

Speaking ahead of the Liverpool tie, the Frenchman said: “Eden has to be calm. We never risk a player returning if he’s not ready. We’ll do things little by little and we’ll see when he’ll play again. That’s how it is at the moment. If the player is in good shape then I’ll want to play him but right now we’re going to take things slowly and see what happens.”

It is not a new conundrum for Zidane, who has been able to provide Hazard with 20 La Liga starts since signing for the club for £89m in June 2019. The 30-year-old has spent more time on the treatment table than on the pitch, only showing mere glimpses of his undoubted talent. It has fallen on others to fill the enormous void left behind by Ronaldo.

Montero says: “When I spoke with Zidane after the Elche game three weeks ago, he told me he hadn’t rushed Eden’s return from injury but I feel that was the case. He wasn’t physically prepared, but he is back training properly and has been with the group for the past four or five days. He’s been working with a Belgian fitness coach in Madrid so let’s see.

“Clearly he’s a good player, so if he comes back strong he could make a big difference for the final two months. He can offer a lot in the remaining games. The second leg against Liverpool may come too soon, but if they were to progress he would then be ready to have an impact in the Champions League as well.

“My feeling is they won’t rush him for El Clasico. With the European Championships this summer as well, they will do things correctly this time.”

Vazquez in good form but at crossroads

Lucas Vazquez featured at right-back in the win over Liverpool
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Lucas Vazquez featured at right-back in the win over Liverpool

As far as the three title protagonists are concerned, Barcelona have the Copa del Rey final against Athletic on April 17 but Real remain the only side in Europe.

Madrid were missing three of their first-choice back four against the Premier League champions in midweek, but Zidane’s courage to start Vinicius Junior in attack as part of an offensive 4-3-3 line-up was rewarded.

Lucas Vazquez was deployed at right-back while Ferland Mendy kept the more experienced Marcelo on the bench. Uncertainty remains over the future of Vazquez at Madrid, but his versatility could prove decisive in the final stretch of the season given Dani Carvajal’s prolonged absence through injury.

“It’s not Vazquez’s natural position but he’s playing there right now as Carvajal is injured, while Alvaro Odriozola has also been out and Zidane doesn’t really count on him,” says Montero.

“But the Vazquez contract situation is quite tricky. It is due to expire this summer and like Sergio Ramos, he has not signed a renewal. He’s free to sign with any club, and Real are currently not willing to offer a new deal on the player’s terms.

“In January, he was offered a new two-year contract with the option of a third season on the same salary with the 10 per cent decrease that had been put in place as a result of the pandemic, but he rejected it. I think he believes there’s a Premier League, Italian or German team that will come in for him. He’s a good player to have at a big club as you can’t have 25 superstars – Nacho is another example.”

Koeman winning over critics… but silverware now needed

The pressure is on Ronald Koeman to get a result at the Bernabeu
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The pressure is on Ronald Koeman to get a result at the Bernabeu

Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said his side have what it takes to win their nine remaining games and sweep to the La Liga title after snatching a last-gasp 1-0 win over Real Valladolid on Monday.

The Catalans were far from their best but a volley from Ousmane Dembele in stoppage time meant they grabbed a sixth straight league win. Whoever wins at Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano training pitch on Saturday will go top of the table before Atletico visit Real Betis the next day.

“It’s a huge game for Koeman, and one that could decide if he is there next season,” says Montero. “If Barcelona win on Saturday, lift the Copa del Rey and they end up winning La Liga, Joan Laporta will be forced to stick with him for at least one more year.

“Xavi Hernandez will be the next coach, but there’s always the possibility that he decides to stay in Qatar for another year. The feeling in Barcelona over the past few weeks, not only since Laporta returned, is that Koeman has made good decisions and the dressing room now trusts him.

“He has established himself much more than he did two or three months ago, and right now the future looks a lot brighter. Lionel Messi has come out and said publicly that he feels Koeman is a good coach, and that he likes him. Results have helped him win over the confidence of his players.

Pedri is emerging as the next big hope for Spanish football at Barcelona
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Pedri is emerging as the next big hope for Spanish football at Barcelona

“A player who has embodied the positive reaction is Pedri. He is the next Spanish superstar who is already playing under Luis Enrique for the national team. Oscar Mingueza has come into the side while Dembele has been in good form for a period of time now.

“Koeman has moved around his pieces and has turned what wasn’t a very good Barcelona into a competitive outfit that is fighting on two fronts. It was always impossible to compete with PSG as they’re currently on another level but the belief is growing in Koeman.

“Before Laporta arrived, he may not have thought that he would be the coach moving forward but the feeling now in Barcelona is that he will stay if he secures a domestic double.”

How will both sides line up?

Both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane will be missing from Real Madrid's defence against Liverpool
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Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane might be missing from Real Madrid’s defence

The immediate challenge for Koeman will be to nullify a Real Madrid front line that will be bristling with confidence after their victory over Liverpool, without their central defensive rock Gerard Pique. The experienced centre-back is struggling to overcome a knee injury and his chances of being passed fit are extremely remote.

Pique’s absence could pave the way for Frenkie De Jong to operate as ‘libero’, splitting the two centre-backs Mingueza and Clement Lenglet while allowing the wing-backs Jordi Alaba and Sergino Dest to roam forward.

“The game against Valladolid was the fourth in a row that Koeman used the same team, with Dembele, Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann up front,” Montero says.

Oscar Mingueza is in line to feature at centre-back in Gerard Pique's absence
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Oscar Mingueza is in line to feature at centre-back in Gerard Pique’s absence

“The Spanish papers reflected the view that Zidane tactically won his battle with Jurgen Klopp, and the manager recognised afterwards that Raphael Varane’s positive Covid test didn’t alter his line-up plans. Only Zidane knows if this was the case, but the second leg against Liverpool next Wednesday will be in his thinking ahead of the Clasico.

“In my opinion, he needs to change things up. Zidane needs to look to block the midfield for the first 60 minutes and that might mean Federico Valverde starting to provide some more legs. Then he may look to Isco or Rodrygo depending on the state of the game.”

Verdict: Winners will go on to lift Spanish title

Ousmane Dembele scored as Barcelona moved closer to Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga
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Ousmane Dembele has come into form at just the right time for Barcelona

Montero continues: “What can’t be overlooked is that Real only really have this game with Barcelona as the final major obstacle among their league fixtures. Barca have to play Atletico Madrid so if I were Zidane, I would see the possibility of that ending in a draw. That would suit Real, as if they were all to finish level on points, Real have the better head-to-head.”

“For Real, I believe a draw is a good result but I believe if Barcelona win, they will go on to win La Liga.

“Atletico Madrid have lost their way and they have a problem right now. They’ve had a huge season and were superb in September and October, but now they’re losing a lot of points. Luis Suarez is out for three weeks with an injury and the team aren’t performing as well as they were.

“The team that wins El Clasico will win La Liga. A draw would then depend on what happens when Atletico face Barca at the Camp Nou [on May 9].”

Follow Real Madrid vs Barcelona with our dedicated live blog across Sky Sports’ digital platforms on Saturday from 6.30pm; Kick-off 8pm.

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Barca strike late to stay in title hunt

Ousmane Dembele scored an injury-time winner as Barcelona left it late to sink 10-man Real Valladolid 1-0 at the Nou Camp.

Dembele volleyed home at the far post to seal his side’s sixth straight La Liga win and move within one point of leaders Atletico Madrid.

It was harsh on the struggling visitors, who looked set to hold out for a point despite the 79th-minute dismissal of Oscar Plano.

Valladolid went into the game on the back of just one win in their past 11 and without a number of regulars due to injury and a coronavirus outbreak.

But they had the better of the first half-hour with Kenan Kodro crashing a header back off the bar and Roque Mesa also coming close from long-range.

Barcelona celebrate Dembele's late winner
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Barcelona celebrate Dembele’s late winner

Dembele and Pedri had chances for below-par Barca before half-time, but Lionel Messi’s men continued to struggle after the break.

Lucas Olaza had another fine chance for the visitors just before the hour mark when he raced down the left before cutting in and striking an effort into the side-netting.

A strong penalty shout for handball against Jordi Alba was denied as the home side rode their luck and stepped up their search for a winner.

It duly arrived as the game ticked over into injury time as Ronald Araujo flicked on a cross from Frenkie De Jong and Dembele pounced to snatch the points.

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Haaland representatives visit Barca, Madrid for talks

Erling Haaland’s representatives have visited Barcelona and Madrid for talks.

Agent Mino Raiola and Alf Inge, the father of Borussia Dortmund striker Haaland, initially landed in Barcelona ahead of a meeting with Joan Laporta, who was elected as Barca president last month.

Raiola and Alf Inge Haaland then flew to Spain’s capital for further talks with Real Madrid.

The talks increase speculation over Haaland’s future, although it is unclear how Barcelona would finance a deal with the club wrestling with huge debt, caused largely by the coronavirus pandemic.

Haaland, 20, is under contract at Dortmund until 2024 but has a reported €75m (£66m) release clause, which comes into effect in the summer of 2022.

Getty - Mino Raiola
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Mino Raiola, pictured, and the striker’s father, Alf Inge Haaland were picked up at Barcelona airport by members of Joan Laporta’s team

A host of top clubs have been linked with a move for the Norwegian, including Manchester City.

Haaland has become one of Europe’s biggest names after scoring 48 goals in his first 48 games for the Bundesliga side, after joining from Red Bull Salzburg for just £17m at the end of 2019.

Could Barcelona afford Haaland deal?

Erling Haaland celebrates scoring for Borussia Dortmund vs Sevilla
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Barcelona have made first contact with Haaland’s representatives

Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero:

“Mino Raiola and Haaland’s father Alf-Inge arrived at 9.30am in the morning at El Prat Airport in Barcelona and he was picked up by Joan Laporta’s chauffeur and he took them in the car to the Camp Nou. They were there in a meeting for two hours with Laporta. The club has recognised this meeting as a first contact and as an approach.

“It’s a good question [whether Barcelona can afford Haaland], because we have to remember that in the next two months until June, they have to pay €730m owing to a huge debt they have of more than €1bn.

“They presented an audit a few days ago which recognised they would have losses of €350m for this season. Next season, they will remain in red figures for certain. Counting on keeping Lionel Messi while signing one huge player like Kylian Mbappe or Haaland, they could have green numbers but not until the 2022/23 season.”

A game of transfer roulette…



Thierry Henry on MNF




9:23

Thierry Henry and Jamie Carragher debate whether Kylian Mbappé or Erling Haaland would be the best replacement for Sergio Aguero at Manchester City.

Analysis from Sky Sports News’ Dharmesh Sheth:

“The games have begun.

“A few months before the transfer window opens and we are talking about Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, and dare I say it, sorry Tottenham fans, but we are talking about Harry Kane as well.

“Let’s rewind back to January 2020, Borussia Dortmund paid RB Salzburg £20m for Erling Haaland and the strategy and the intention of Dortmund when they bought him was to keep him at the club until the summer of 2022 at the very least.

“Why the summer of 2022? That’s when Haaland’s release clause kicks in and his release clause is believed to be around £70m, but there are some reports suggesting it could be closer to £100m, potentially.

“I know Dortmund thought Haaland was good, but I don’t know whether they thought he was going to be this good. He’s a goal a game goal machine. As a result, nearly every big club in Europe wants Erling Haaland to play for them. He is the most sought-after striker alongside Mbappe and potentially Kane as well.

“What it all means is this summer, Borussia Dortmund can ask for what they want for Haaland and the number that’s being banded around at the moment is around 150m euros. That’s around £130m.

“However, the feeling that I am getting from Germany and our colleagues at Sky in Germany is that Haaland staying for one more year, until the summer of 2022, is seen to be more valuable to Borussia Dortmund than a potential increase in the transfer fee because there could be a huge discrepancy between what they could get this summer and what they can get next summer.”

‘Haaland transfer could be impacted by Sancho move’



Dortmund's Erling Haaland, 2nd left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Angel Fernandez)




4:35

Dharmesh Sheth reports the latest surrounding the future of Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, and says an exit for Jadon Sancho could see the Norwegian stay in Germany for another season.

Sheth added: “Add to that, there is another issue. His name is Jadon Sancho. The smart money in Germany is that Sancho will be the one who departs Dortmund this summer.

“From a Borussia Dortmund perspective, I think it is unthinkable, but you cannot rule it out, that Haaland and Sancho would leave in the same transfer window.

“Now, this all represents a bit of a conundrum for Dortmund because if they decide to keep Haaland this summer, yes, they have him another season but they also lose out on Tens of millions of pounds in a transfer fee because they’ll be forced to sell him for £70m, which is his release clause next summer. Whereas they can get what they want for him now.

“If they decide to keep Sancho this summer then this time next year, he will be entering the final year of his contract. So, the £108m they were quoting to Manchester United last summer, they simply won’t be able to ask for that figure for him next time.

“Another factor, Dortmund are four points off the top four in Germany. Champions League qualification is huge for them and they don’t qualify for the competition next season, what will Haaland be thinking? What will Sancho be thinking? What will Dortmund be thinking?

“Will they need to cash in? Will Haaland and Sancho say to themselves, we need to agitate for a move because we want to be playing Champions League football?”

Who wants Haaland?



Erling Haaland scored his 19th goal of the Bundesliga season against Bayern Munich on Saturday




1:56

Pep Guardiola believes Erling Haaland is one of the best strikers in the world as he hailed the talent within the Borussia Dortmund squad, after drawing the German side in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Sheth said: “I see this as a bit of a transfer roulette at the moment. Who wants to sign Erling Haaland? Who doesn’t? Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and Bayern Munich, they are all in for him. They’d all be interested in signing him.

“The next question is who can afford him? The number of clubs goes down. Then, the roulette comes into play this summer. Is a club willing to go into the market and pay upwards of £130m to blow everyone else out of the water because if they don’t, summer of 2022 they know there is a release clause and then you are going to have seven or eight of the biggest clubs in Europe all vying for the signature of Erling Haaland.

“The games have begun and I think we are going to be talking about Haaland for the next two or three months, throughout this transfer window and right up until Deadline Day, but one thing to bear in mind here is Borussia Dortmund are very stubborn.

“Remember what they did with Jadon Sancho. They wanted £108m by a certain date and if it doesn’t happen, he’s not getting sold, and they stood by their word. What they’ve said here is that it is our intention to keep Haaland until eh summer of 2022, but money talks. 150m euros could be the money that talks.”

Could Haaland head to England?

On the Pitch to Post podcast, Jasper Taylor was joined by Sky Sports News’ Dharmesh Sheth and skysports.com’s Gerard Brand to discuss the options, and likelihood of Haaland leaving in the coming months.



Erling Haaland scored his 19th goal of the Bundesliga season against Bayern Munich on Saturday




0:53

Former Manchester City midfielder Nigel de Jong believes Haaland will be on the club’s list of targets to replace Sergio Aguero

The Raiola factor

Dharmesh Sheth on the Pitch to Post podcast:

“Man City would be an interesting move. The reports earlier this month were that the frosty relationship between Raiola and Pep Guardiola would not prevent a deal going through. The relationship was soured back in 2010 when Raiola took issue to the way Guardiola was dealing with one of his clients, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while at Barcelona.

“Raiola described Guardiola as a ‘coward’, ‘a dog’ and a ‘zero person’ but those hostilities apparently won’t stop a deal being done.

“But we talk about Manchester City and Raiola, but we must remember Manchester United have Paul Pogba in their squad, another Raiola client. Raiola has already spoken out about Pogba in the past wanting to leave, as we know. I don’t think what he previously said would have gone down too well with Manchester United.”

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on your provider



Norway and Dortmund forward Erling Haaland is a transfer target for Europe's top clubs.




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Haaland will be a better long-term investment for Manchester City than Harry Kane, according to former Tottenham and Norway goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt

Where does he fit in?

Gerard Brand on the Pitch to Post podcast:

“Where does he fit in? The answer to that is simple: he fits in anywhere. We talk a lot about potential and wonderkids – and there is plenty of potential bought and sold every summer for £50m, £60m, that’s what you pay for potential these days – but I think this is a player who comes along every five or six years, and you do everything to sign him.

“It’s hard to say who would be in pole position for this. Yes, Manchester City are running away with the league and often without a proper striker – and Pep actually said earlier this month that City are not a team with a 20-goal striker, because the goals come from everywhere. But I can’t see Pep carrying on that way, and I think he will want a forward.



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Haaland showed why he is considered by many as one of the world’s best finishers at present, with this impressive strike in Norway training. Pictures: fotballandslaget

“He also slots in nicely down the road at Manchester United because they have played with a similar centre forward in Edinson Cavani this season and seen a benefit at times. Of course, he will not be there for the long term.

“On first glance at Chelsea, you would think, ‘Where does he fit in?’ among all that attacking quality, but Timo Werner could actually operate more as a second striker or from the left, plus you would expect Giroud to leave and I am not sure Tammy Abraham can keep Erling Haaland out of a side.

“Then there’s Liverpool. They have not been shy in spending in the past – they spent a combined £150m on a defender and goalkeeper in Van Dijk and Alisson – and I am not sure we realise just how big a name Jurgen Klopp still is in Dortmund, and how that might have an impact.”

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