Like us to subscribe
In the 92nd minute, 10 man Valencia have engineered a winner off of a short corner kick to snag three points in stoppage time once again. Just before the winter break, Valencia stole three points in a similar fashion against Real Sociedad. Thanks to those two matches, Valencia now sit in fourth place by themselves, three points of their nearest competitors.
The goal was questionable, with both Ricardo Costa, the man who made the assist, and Juan Mata, the man who scored appearing to be offsides. The Espanyol players and coaching staff protested passionately after the game was over, but obviously, the referee had little time for them.
There were three very massive decisions in this game, with Carlos Idriss Kameni taking down Aritz Aduriz in the box, Aduriz "slapping" Javi Chica, and Valencia appearing offsides on the winner. Unfortunately, the referee appeared to get all three decisions wrong.
Valencia are down to 10 men with 30 minutes to go thanks to the referee showing a straight red card to Aritz Aduriz for...absolutely nothing. Aduriz slapped Espanyol's Javi Chica on the arm and Chica went down like he'd been shot, clutching his arm as if it was broken. Aduriz was sent off for unsporting conduct, and Valencia are down to ten. A couple of sites are listing the red card as for "fighting," which is obviously downright absurd.
This is the second big decision in the game that the referee has gotten absolutely 100% wrong. Thankfully, the last one he got wrong ended up having no effect on the game thanks to a corner kick goal by the man who has been sent off, Aduriz. At least that decision was on a play that was happening very quickly, making the referee's decision difficult. In this case, the ref has simply bottled it.
Both teams have made positive changes in an attempt to win the match. Jesus Datolo has been subbed on for Javier Moreno Marquez while Ever Banega has replaced Mehmet Topal.
After a first half that saw Valencia outplay Espanyol and score the opener, the visitors have pulled level in first half stoppage time through a terrible own goal from Valencia defender Ricardo Costa. Jose Maria Callejon created the opportunity, but it was going nowhere without Costa's touch.
Callejon ran down the right flank with the ball and cut in on his left foot, sending what could have been either a cross or a shot into the box with his left foot. It was a harmless ball that his keeper would have dealt with very easily. Costa attempted to direct the ball out of play for a corner with his head, but instead he directed the ball directly into the back of his own net. Espanyol went into halftime level, but they didn't necessarily deserve it.
Though they're tied at the moment, Valencia have to be happy that they have been a sufficiently creative side with Mehmet Topal and Hegwiges Maduro in the midfield. Both Ever Banega and Tino Costa are absent from the starting lineup, but Banega is available off the bench if Unai Emery determines that his side needs a bit of a creative spark.
Valencia have the lead after 29 minutes thanks to a great directional header off of a corner kick by striker Aritz Aduriz. Espanyol have held their own thus far, but Espanyol have been the aggressors, with Aduriz's goal being the third shot on target for the hosts.
Joaquin was the man who delivered the corner, and it was a great right footed out-swinger from the winger. Aduriz made a diagonal run from the center of the box to the far post to get on to the ball and directed a fantastic snapped header across the face of goal, hitting the far post and bouncing in. It was perfectly directed, leaving Carlos Idriss Kameni completely helpless.
Interestingly enough, just before the corner kick, Valencia had a shout for a penalty kick and a straight red card on Kameni. Aduriz ran onto a through ball in the box, entering into a 50-50 challenge with Kameni. As Aduriz tried to round Kameni, the Espanyol keeper went down and appeared to make contact with the Valencia striker, but the ball was elsewhere and Aduriz was unlikely to reach it into a good position to shoot. Additionally, Aduriz appeared to embellish contact. Because Kameni didn't deny a clear goal scoring opportunity, he shouldn't have been sent off, but since he made contact, he probably should have been shown a yellow card and Valencia should have been granted a penalty. Since it wasn't a red card offence and Valencia scored on the ensuing corner, everyone should be happy that the referee didn't seriously affect the game either way.
With fourth place on the line, it appears that both Valencia and Espanyol would prefer to be safe rather than sorry, and both teams will line up in matching 4-2-3-1 setups with some of their more defensive options preferred. Valencia could possibly be doing this out of necessity rather than strategy, though, as both Roberto Soldado and Tino Costa are unavailable due to injury. Still, the preference of both Hedwiges Maduro and Mehmet Topal in the midfield to Ever Banega suggests that defense is the biggest priority for Unai Emery and Los Che. Espanyol's lineup looks like a completely first choice setup, but Sergio Garcia and Jesus Datolo have started matches before and both are more attacking players than the men selected in their places.
Valencia lineup (4-2-3-1): Guaita ; Stankevicius, Costa, Mathieu, Miguel ; Maduro, Topal ; Mata, Pablo, Joaquin ; Aduriz
Espanyol lineup (4-2-3-1): Kameni ; Amat, Didac, Forlin, Torres ; Marquez, Baena ; Verdu, Callejon, Garcia ; Osvaldo
With both teams fielding great lineups and sitting level on 28 points a piece, this should be a great matchup. It's already kicked off from the Mestalla, which unfortunately has not yet been re-developed into high end condominiums. Thanks, recession! Enjoy the match.
They weren't as dominant as they should have been on the scoreboard, but at this point, any win has to feel great for a struggling Sevilla side. They certainly needed three points in the standings more than they needed to win with style points, and Gregorio Manzano's boys are likely to be satisfied with their performance in a 1-0 win over Osasuna.
Their lone goal came in the 35th minute, and it was well deserved as they had been the aggressors early, creating a flurry of decent chances in the opening 10 minutes, especially, and forcing Osasuna keeper Ricardo into a couple of saves. Their goal came on a set piece, with Jesus Navas delivering a great cross into Frederic Kanoute, who finished off the chance to put the hosts ahead for good.
Navas has appeared sparingly this season due to injuries, and Sevilla have missed him dearly, as the table might indicate. His pace and skill made the difference for the hosts today and they will be a different side going forward if he is able to remain healthy.
This loss is a bit of a setback for Osasuna, who find themselves in the middle of a relegation race. Still, they probably believe that there are at least three teams in La Liga that they are superior to and that they should be able to stay up. Personally, I feel like it could come down to the final day for them. Sevilla are moving in the opposite direction of Osasuna after this win, moving up to the top half and occupying ninth place in the table for the time being.
It was by no means a vintage display from Barcelona, but Guardiolas team just about did enough to wrap up an important three points, putting themselves five points infront of Real Madrid at the top of the table ahead of Madrids away match at Getafe tomorrow night. They proved there is life after Messi, as Pedro sealed the win with a clinical double, as Levante could only manage a late consolation effort from substitute Stuani.
The first half was a dogged affair as Barca struggled to get into their stride, thanks in large part to an industrious display from Levantes defence and midfield. And if Perez Lasa had brought his glasses with him, Levante might well have gone in at the break a goal to the good. Juanlu was blatantly tripped by Eric Abidal as the striker controlled in the area, but the ref waved play on. It was indicative of a nervy opening 45 minutes for Barcelonas defence.
Barcelona flew out of the blocks after half-time, and were one up after 46 minutes when Dani Alves laid the ball back to Pedro, who made no mistake from 10 yards out. The same two players were at it again ten minutes later, as Alves sent a measured cutback to Pedro who curled in first-time from the edge of the box. Much had been made of the absence of Barcas first-choice centre-back pairing, Pique and Puyol, but Sergio Busquets performed admirably alongside Abidal in the second half to ensure Levante were limited to half chances.
With the inventive Thiago then replacing Mascherano, Barcelona began to play with their customary swagger, but just as the errors began to creep into their game, Levante pulled themselves back in it with a wonderful volley from sub Stuani. Levante threw bodies forward in search of an unlikely equaliser, but Barcelona held on to record a vital win in their fight for La Liga. All eyes on Real Madrid who desparately need to record a win tomorrow night if they are to keep in touching distance of Barca.
Sevilla have been in freefall lately, but Gregorio Manzano should be confident that he can right the ship after the winter break with the talent that he has at his disposal. The break came at just the right time for Sevilla, who will hopefully be feeling confident and refreshed after a bit of a layoff following a big dip in form. Going into the break, Osasuna posted two straight draws. Another one would help quite a bit in their campaign to avoid the drop. The teams are going with 4-4-2 setups that should match each other, with Sevilla's Luis Fabiano being the most notable omission from their lineup.
Sevilla lineup (4-4-2): Palop ; Navarro, Escuede, Alexis, Dabo ; Capel, Romaric, Zokora, Navas ; Negredo, Kanoute
Osasuna lineup (4-4-2): Ricardo ; Oier, Sergio, Flaño, Nelson ; Damia, Puñal, Vadocz, Juanfran ; Aranda, Soriano
It is also conceivable that Osasuna's lineup could take the shape of a 4-5-1 variation, almost like a Christmas tree setup with Soriano dropping into the midfield, but 4-4-2 seems more likely. We've kicked off from Seville, the game can be seen in the United States on ESPN Deportes.
While the striker was surprisingly left on the bench for this match, Stuani has come on and put Levante right back in it. And what a strike it was. Fellow substitute Valdo lifted the ball into the box and inbetween the two Barcelona centre-backs, where Stauni was waiting to meet the ball with a glorious first-time volley that flew past Victor Valdes and into the opposite corner of the net. While it was a goal out of the blue from Levante, it came after Barcelona had visibly lifted their foot off the gas, with a few misplaced passes creeping into their play.
Luis Garcia must take credit for the goal, with both of his substitutes combining to put Levante within one goal of a superb draw at the Camp Nou, although perhaps he will regret leaving it until the 70th minute before mixing things up. Real Madrid fans will be watching the final ten minutes of this tie willing the away team on, while Barcelona will hope that they can find a quick third in order to prevent a nervous final few minutes.
Pedro gets his name on the scoresheet for the second time, linking up with Dani Alves once more to put Barcelona out of sight. Bojan worked the ball out to the right, with Alves resisting the temptation to whip a ball across, instead opting for a cut-back to Pedro who lashed in an unstoppable first-time shot from just inside the area. A stunning goal that will surely put Barcelona en route to all three points. What are the odds for Pedro to go on and claim a second-half hattrick?
Thiago has already looked useful in the last ten minutes, spraying the ball around the park effectively, while the goals seem to have lifted a huge weight off the Barcelona players shoulders. Levante may well point to that penalty that never was, but the Luis Garcia Plazas men look a beaten team as we enter the final half hour of the match. Levante need a goal quickly if they are going to have any chance of getting anything out of the match, but the counters that put Barca under pressure in the first half have long since dried up.
Barcelona have come racing out of the blocks in this second half, and have taken the lead through Pedro. Xavi flighted the ball across the area, and with the Levante defender misjudging the ball, Dani Alves controlled the ball on his chest before feinting his way past two defenders. Just when it looked like the chance would go begging the Brazilian laid the ball back for Pedro who made space for himself by shifting the ball onto his right foot, before rifling a shot past Manolo Reina in the Levante goal.
So all that hard work in the first half goes to waste for Levante, who will now need to abandon their defensive formation in search for an equaliser. The extra space will be greatly receieved by Barca and this early goal in the second half could well be the catalyst for one or two more from the home side. Pep Guardiola immediately made a tactical switch after the goal, replacing Javier Mascherano for the more attack-minded youngster Thiago, as Barca look to kill the match off. The deadlock has been broken.
Barcelona began to come out of their shells for the last ten minutes of the first half, but a mixture of last-ditch defending from Levante and solid goalkeeping from Reina has kept the match scoreless. Pep Guardiola will surely be demanding a far more inventive second half from his side, and he will be looking for greater contributions from the likes of Bojan, Pedro and David Villa who have all struggled to impose themselves on the match. The only player who has looked capable of breaking the deadlock is Andres Iniesta, who has been at his creative best, almost opening the scoring with an exquisite curler and looking dangerous every time he gets on the ball.
Credit must go to Levante though as they have kept Barcelona at bay for most of the first 45 minutes and have even created a couple of chances of their own as they look dangerous on the break. They could even have been awarded a penalty when Juanlu was clipped by Abidal in the box on 20 minutes, but their protests were waved away by Perez Lasa. Barcas unorthodox back four have looked extremely uncertain when put under any pressure, so the away side will surely look to come forward a little more as we enter the second half.
There are a few groans eminating from the Camp Nou crowd as we draw closer to half-time. Shaky in defence and lacking in ideas upfront, Barcelona will have to conjure up something special to break down a well-organised Levante defence. Indeed it could well have been worse for Barca had referee Perez Lasa spotted a foul by Eric Abidal on Juanlu on 22 minutes. While the challenge looked innocuous enough at first, replays show there was a definite foul committed by the Frenchman.
Bojan and Dani Alves have both gone close to opening the scoring with scrappy efforts inside the box, but that’s as good as it’s got for the home side as Levante continue to hold Barcelonas stars at bay. Even without Messi, Guardiolas side can count on the likes of Xavi, Pedro, David Villa and Iniesta, so in theory they really should have too much for Levante. But credit to the side from Valencia, with the back four defending doggedly, ably protected by defensive midfielder Pallardó. This could be a long night for the Catalans.
It’s business as usual as far as possession is concerned, with Barcelona having enjoyed 77% of possession after 15 minutes of play at the Camp Nou. As yet, Barcas makeshift defence is yet to be truly tested, although a dreadful clearance from Victor Valdes almost let in Rafa Jordá, but the Levante striker was flagged offside. Levante coach Luis Garcia Plaza will be hoping his side test Sergio Busquets and Eric Abidal a little more as the match wears on.
Barcelona, missing their spearhead Lionel Messi in attack, are probing with intent but have yet to create a clearcut opportunity. Their best chance so far came from an Andres Iniesta curling effort from just outside the area that Levante goalkeeper Manolo Reina did well to tip over. David Villa has also had a couple of half-chances, flashing a shot wide and curling a free-kick just over. Levante are struggling to see much of the ball, but they look more than capable of creating danger when they do string three of four passes together.
Lionel Messi is unavailable for Barcelona tonight, as are their regular central defenders, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. Their lineup looks a little bit makeshift, but this is still Barcelona and their lineup still has plenty of quality. Sergio Busquets has been moved to the center of defense in favor of a start for Gabriel Milito. Despite the oddities, it's still the classic Barcelona shape and style. There might be no Lionel Messi to rip Levante limb from limb, but Barcelona will still be heavy favorites. However, it's worth noting that Levante did hold Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw early in the season. What are the chances of lightning striking twice?
Barcelona lineup (4-3-3): Valdes ; Maxwell, Abidal, Busquets, Alves ; Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta ; Pedro, Bojan, Villa
Levante lineup (4-5-1): Manuel ; Nano, Colomer, Del Horno, Cerrajeria ; Larrea, Torres, Pallardo, Juanlu, Nadal ; Jorda
The match has already kicked off and can be seen on ESPN3.com in the United States.
Athletic Bilbao were the better team throughout their match tonight at La Catedral, San Mames, but due to some terrible defensive errors and poor finishing, an inferior Deportivo La Coruña side have taken an invaluable three points on the road. Adrian was the man of the hour, scoring both of Depor's goals.
The first goal came off of a penalty that I thought was legitimate at first, but upon replay was soft. Still, Ustaritz of Athletic hacked rather wildly at Adrian, while he missed him completely, making the referee's decision difficult. Adrian, who created the penalty kick, also stepped up to convert it and give his team a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute.
Mikel San Jose complicated Bilbao's cause in the 34th, getting himself sent off for a last man challenge. Again, the referee was forced into a very difficult decision and he very well could have shown just a yellow, but San Jose shouldn't have complained after making a silly foul on a Depor player in a very advanced position.
Depor let Bilbao back in the match at the stroke of halftime, though, when Juan Rodriguez got himself sent off for a second yellow card offense. It was a silly way for Rodriguez to handicap his team, since he picked up the card for unsportsmanlike conduct away from the ball.
That set up an Athletic onslaught on goal to start the second half. Their defense fell asleep, though, and Adrian would add his second goal in the 52nd minute off of a fantastic long ball by goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia that caught the Bilbao defense completely off guard.
Athletic would pull one back through Llorente in the 86th minute, but it was too little, too late. The game finished 2-1 to Depor, and Athletic have dropped further behind in the race for European places. Despite being the better side all game, they beat themselves and will come away from this fixture with nothing to show for their efforts.
Athletic Bilbao have finally gotten their goal against Deportivo La Coruña, but it might be too little too late. The goal was tallied by Bilbao's deadliest striker, the subject of a world of transfer speculation, and the man who has challenged the goal most tonight, Fernando Llorente. The goal came in the 86th minute, making the score 2-1 to Depor.
Andoni Iraola picked up the assist, sending a great floating cross towards the center of the box from the right flank. Llorente was completely unmarked and had a very easy tap-in header for the finish. It's incredible that it took Bilbao 86 minutes to find the back of the net, as they've assaulted the Depor goal repeatedly for the entire game. To this point, they've created 17 shots, many of them either poor efforts that should have been goal chances or great saves by Daniel Aranzubia.
As expected, Athletic Bilbao looked like the better side out of halftime, challenging the Depor goal. What was not expected, though, is how Deportivo La Coruña's goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia would flip the script.
His long ball to Adrian was superb, and the Depor attacking midfield player picked it up and finished past Gorka Iraizoz. It was at least the third instance of very questionable defending by Bilbao. The most incredible thing about the goal, other than Aranzubia's great long ball, was the fact that it looked like Bilbao were going to score only seconds earlier. Fernando Llorente barely missed the goal with a header off of a David Lopez cross just seconds before Depor added a second.
Athletic Bilbao have continued to press, but the goal is yet to come. It would be shocking to see them held scoreless, but Depor look like they're defending well enough to preserve some valuable away points. Not to mention the fact that Bilbao's finishing has been wasteful at best.
In the second minute of first half stoppage time, Deportivo La Coruña's Juan Rodriguez has been sent off after picking up a second yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct (15 yard penalty...) off the ball, getting himself sent off in one of the most stupid ways possible. His team will now be hard pressed to hang on to all three points at San Mames.
Between the Athletic Bilbao red card and halftime, Bilbao were actually the better side, putting together some of their best attacks of the half. Gaizka Toquero, Carlos Gurpegui, and Fernando Llorente all missed great chances. If they were the better side playing with 10 against 11, they should be favored to get an equalizer pretty early on in the second half unless Depor seriously flip the script.
After 34 minutes, Athletic Bilbao are not in a situation they would have anticipated at the start of this match. Defender Mikel San Jose has been shown a straight red card for taking down an attacking player as the last man. The referee's decision was questionable, since Ustaritz was in a position where he could have conceivably caught up to the attacker, but San Jose's challenge was dumb nonetheless and he really shouldn't have too many complaints.
The referee won't be the most popular man in San Mames today, but San Jose and Ustaritz have forced him into difficult decisions with incredibly poor decision making of their own. Whether or not the 22nd minute penalty and 34th minute red card were harsh, they still hacked at attacking players in goal scoring positions. They've been done in much more by their own stupidity than bad decisions by the officials.
It will be interesting to see if Depor adjust their strategy significantly against ten men or if they just find it easier to execute the same strategy of camping 10 men behind the ball.
After 22 minutes of Athletic Bilbao being the better side, Deportivo La Coruña have taken the lead thanks to a penalty conceded on a counter-attack. Adrian Lopez was the man who drew the foul, and he was also the man who converted the penalty.
The spot kick was given after a poor challenge from Ustaritz, barging into the back of Lopez in the box. He was shown a yellow card for the foul, and for some reason, the Athletic players felt it was appropriate to strongly protest the foul and card, despite the call being painfully obvious. Lopez stepped up and curled the ball into the side netting to his left with a brilliant penalty take.
Despite being the much better side, Athletic have gifted Depor a lead and will now have to chase the game against a side that will now camp 10 men behind the ball. Breaking down a team who is parking the bus, so to speak, will be significantly more difficult than usual without Javi Martinez in the side. It's also worth noting that Ustaritz, the man who conceded the penalty, might not be in the team if Fernando Amorebieta had started the match,
Athletic Bilbao had some fitness issues going into the winter break and not all of their players were able to fully recover during the lay-off. As a result, their lineup has an interesting look to it with a couple of glaring holes. Midfielder Javi Martinez, a staple in their lineup, is not in the 18 man side. Regular starting central defender, Fernando Amorebieta, starts the game on the bench. For Deportivo La Coruña, they are notably missing Andres Guardado, whose injury troubles continue.
Athletic Bilbao lineup (4-4-2 diamond): Iraizoz ; Ustaritz, San Jose, Castillo, Iraola ; Grupegui, Orbaiz, Lopez, Muniain ; Llorente, Toquero
Deportivo La Coruña lineup (4-5-1): Aranzubia ; Oliva, Lopo, Colotto, Pablo ; Laure, Dominguez, Perez, Rodriguez, Adrian ; Nouioui
Athletic's lineup could appear as a 4-3-3, but my best guess is that Iker Muniain will be playing just behind the two strikers, not exactly as a forward player himself. If they do go 4-3-3, Muniain and Toquero would be the more wide players on either side of Llorente with Orbaiz and Lopez in front of Gurpegui. Depor's lineup is pretty straight forward and their main challenge will be defending well without leaving Lassad Nouioui isolated up top with no support.
The game has already kicked off in the Basque Country and we'll have running updates throughout the match.
After a short winter break, La Liga returns with a bang this Sunday and Monday with a full slate of action, including a big six-pointer (I hate that term) between Valencia and Espanyol for fourth place. The visitors were taken apart at the hands of the Blaugranes in the Barcelona derby, but their previous results indicate that they have the ability to challenge Valencia this evening. Los Che were gifted a lucky three points in their last match against Real Sociedad and look like they're vulnerable to having their top four place taken away.
The first match of the day features eighth placed Athletic Bilbao, a side that is just three points off of the all-important fourth position. Rumors have been swirling that their star striker Fernando Llorente could be sold soon, but as long as he is at the club and healthy, Athletic are serious contenders for Europe. Today, playing at home, they will be fairly heavy favorites to defeat a mediocre Deportivo La Coruña side. That game kicks off at 10 am ET.
Barcelona take the field at noon ET, hosting relegation battlers Levante at the Camp Nou. Despite their general lack of depth and quality, Levante did hold Real Madrid to a 0-0 early this season, so it's not impossible that they could challenge the current La Liga leaders. It does seem unlikely, though, and Barcelona very well could turn on the style.
Despite changing managers and hiring Gregorio Manzano, a man with a great history of success in La Liga, Sevilla have been reeling lately and have fallen all the way down to 11th place. Still, they're only eight points from fourth and six points from Europe. Against Osasuna, they should be heavy favorites, but Sevilla have recently shown an ability to lose to absolutely anyone.
And then, of course, the night cap has a battle for forth between Valencia and Espanyol. We'll have coverage of all four of those games starting at 10 am ET, keep it right hurr.
Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.
Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.
We'll email you a reset link.
If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.
You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.
We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.
You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.
We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.
Choose an available username to complete sign up.