Villarreal can’t wait to face Manchester United

The Yellow Submarine will face Manchester United in the Europa League final on May 26th after knocking out Arsenal in London

Fifteen years after falling to Arsenal in the semi-finals of the Champions League, Villarreal CF have turned the tables around and knocked the English side out of European competition to reach the 2020/21 Europa League final, their first ever major final. After defeating the Gunners 2-1 at home in the first leg, the Yellow Submarine drew 0-0 in London to reach the showpiece event against Manchester United in the Polish city of Gdansk on May 26th.  

Villarreal’s achievement is incredible for so many reasons. The city of Vila-real has a population of just 50,000 people, which means that every resident could fit inside Arsenal’s stadium and leave 10,000 seats left over. Sadly, the supporters couldn’t attend this semi-final due to the coronavirus restrictions, but they were cheering on back home and setting off fireworks into the night sky in celebration at what is a historic night for Villarreal and for LaLiga.  

Villarreal’s presence in the Europa League final means that seven of the past ten finals of this competition have had at least one LaLiga Santander team competing for the prize, with the trophy coming back to Spain on all seven occasions.  

After Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atlético de Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, Espanyol, Athletic Club, Alavés, Real Zaragoza and RCD Mallorca, Villarreal have become the 11th LaLiga team to reach a major UEFA final, not counting the summer tournament of the Intertoto Cup, which the club from the Valencian Community twice enjoyed success in.  

The club are fulfilling a long-term dream of club president Fernando Roig. When he took over at the Estadio de la Cerámica in the 1990s, Villarreal had never played a single season in Spain’s top division. To put this into context, their very first campaign at LaLiga Santander level was the same year that their upcoming opponents Manchester United won an international treble in 1998/99. 

However, through a solid project based on developing their world-class academy structure and on recruiting the best up-and-coming talents from around the globe, the Yellow Submarine have risen and have now reached one of the glamour fixtures of the European footballing calendar.  

They have been close before. This victory over Arsenal was their fourth Europa League semi-final, in addition to the Champions League semi-final against the Gunners in 2005/06. Current first-team centre-back and Spain international Pau Torres was in the stands as a nine-year-old boy that night when Juan Román Riquelme saw his penalty saved by Jens Lehmann and will now have the chance to compete for what would be Villarreal’s first major trophy. For Torres, a local kid, this is a dream come true.  

Villarreal have already overcome all the odds to reach this point, playing a bold and winning brand of football that has made all those watching on forget about how small a club this really is by most metrics. But they play like a big team and have a coach who knows what it takes to go all the way, with Unai Emery having won the Europa League with Sevilla on three occasions and also finishing as a runner-up in this competition once more when he was in charge of Arsenal.  

“Dreams are free and I dream of winning a title with Villarreal,” Emery said at his introductory press conference when he was hired as the new coach of the club in the summer of 2020. The Yellow Submarine are now one step away from completing their fairy tale.  

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What you need to know about Zidane

There’s little left to say about ‘Zizou, undoubtedly one of the greatest ever figures in football history. But here are six things you may not know about Zidane, from his remarkable trophy-winning statistics as Real Madrid coach to starring in his own TV documentary, 

1. He averages a trophy every 19 matches as Real Madrid coach 

The 2019-20 LaLiga Santander title is Zinedine Zidane’s 11th as Real Madrid coach in just three and a half seasons, a figure which rounds out, incredibly, at around one trophy every 19 games. Also, he’s the only coach to win Ol’ Big Ears three seasons in a row. Having said that, there’s nothing quite like winning LaLiga for Zidane, as he made clear after wrapping up the title: “The Champions League is the Champions League, but this title makes me happier because LaLiga is what it’s all about.” 

2He is Real Madrid’s first French manager 

Real Madrid have had many French players over the years and they’ve had head coaches from 16 different countries. But ZZ is the first Frenchman to sit in the club’s dugout as coach. He first took over in January 2016, staying on until May 2018 before taking over again in March 2019. Taking into account this season’s LaLiga Santander title, he’s already won 11 trophies as manager. Remarkable. 

3Just one trophy eludes him 

Zidane has won almost everything there is to win in football, from the World Cup and Champions League to the Ballon d’Or and a horde of domestic titles. But the Copa del Rey remains elusive, both as a player and manager. He won the 2014 Copa del Rey as an assistant to Carlo Ancelotti, but to date he is yet to win Spain’s domestic cup competition as a leading man.  

4His sons are following in his footballing footsteps 

Zidane is the father of four boys, all of which have made careers for themselves in the world of football. Midfielder Enzo is the oldest, and goalkeeper Luca is at Rayo Vallecano, while Theo and Elyaz and still underage and part of the youth academy at Los Blancos. 

5The most popular Frenchman of all-time 

In a 2004 poll in leading French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, Zidane was voted as the most popular Frenchman of all time. The poll wasn’t limited to sports stars but took all public figures into account, with Zidane’s footballing exploits seeing him picked ahead of other iconic personalities. ZZ explained at the time that he was proud of how someone from an immigrant background could come top in such a poll, highlighting the importance of racial harmony in modern day France. 

6He starred in his own documentary 

Back in 2006, ZZ was the star of French documentary Zidane, Un Portrait Du 21e Siecle (“Zidane, a 21st century portrait”). This very unique show saw a film crew focus 17 cameras on the Frenchman for the entirety of a Real Madrid match against Villarreal in 2005. But that’s not all he’s done in the world of film; he has also starred in movies such as Goal! II (2007) alongside the likes of Sergio Ramos, David Beckham and Thierry Henry and Asterix at the Olympic Games (2008).  

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What you need to know about Oblak

From tough beginnings in Slovenia to close friends in the NBA, Atleti’s star shot-stopper is a undoubtedly a fascinating character. 

1. He wasn’t an immediate hit after joining Atleti 

He may now be one of the very best goalkeepers in the world and a four-time winner of the Zamora Trophy for LaLiga’s top goalkeeper, but Jan wasn’t a starter from the very beginning at Atlético de Madrid. He started out as a backup to the more experienced Miguel Angel Moya after his €16 million 2014 transfer – a LaLiga record for a goalkeeper at the time – from Benfica. Initially he only played cup matches but cemented his first-team slot after coming on as a substitute for the injured Moya in a Champions League tie against Bayer Leverkusen in March 2015. He’s never looked back.  

2. As a youth player he cycled a marathon a day to get to training 

Jan started out his career at Olimpija Ljubljana, attracting the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs. It wasn’t an easy experience for him, though, as he lived quite some distance away from the club’s training ground. He had to cycle to training each day, with the journey there and back equating to the length of a marathon, more or less (26.2 miles, or 42 kilometres).  

3. His sister is a professional basketball player 

Oblak comes from a sporting family, with his older sister Teja Oblak currently a point guard for the Slovenian national team and ZVVZ USK Praha in the Czech Republic. Teja previously played in Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and her native Slovenia. Oblak’s father, Matjaž, also played football as a goalkeeper at an amateur level. 

4. NBA sensation Luka Dončić is a close friend 

Along with Oblak, NBA phenom Luka Dončić is one of the other leading stars of Slovenian sport. The Dallas Mavericks star and the LaLiga goalkeeper have developed a strong friendship over the years, in particular when they both lived in Madrid (Dončić starred for Real Madrid’s basketball side between 2015 and 2018) and would often meet up to spend time together.  

5. He has his own song at the Wanda Metropolitano 

Atleti fans are among the most creative in LaLiga and have created their own song for Jan, adapting the lyrics to the Gypsy Kings hit DjobiDjoba. “Obli, Oblak, every day I love you more” rings out around the Wanda Metropolitano every matchday.  

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LaLiga’s preview: what a thrilled weekend is coming

LaLiga Santander set for a blockbuster weekend as the top four face off in crucial title deciders

We’re on the cusp of an unforgettable weekend in LaLiga Santander, a matchday with huge implications at the top in particular. Leaders Atlético de Madrid visit third-placed FC Barcelona on Saturday , followed by second-placed Real Madrid hosting fourth-placed Sevilla FC on Sunday. These six-pointers could prove crucial in determining the final standings in European football’s most competitive league.  

The first of the blockbuster matches is Barça vs Atleti at 4.15pm CEST on Saturday afternoon. Diego Simeone’s side famously won the 2013/14 title at the Camp Nou on the final matchday of that season, but the Argentine coach is actually yet to win an individual match there. Until their 1-0 win over the Blaugrana at the Wanda Metropolitano earlier this season, Simeone hadn’t actually beaten Barcelona at all in LaLiga Santander. Now, he’s looking to achieve a double, aware that anything but a victory would take control of the title race out of the capital city side’s hands.  

It’ll be a fun match for so many reasons, with various intriguing individual match-ups. Lionel Messi will be taking on his close friend and long-time teammate Luis Suárez for the first time ever at club level, while Kieran Trippier and Jordi Alba’s battle down their flank could be one for the ages. Marc-André ter Stegen and Jan Oblak, two of Europe’s very best goalkeepers, could have a vital role to play as well.  

No matter what the result is at the Camp Nou on Saturday, Real Madrid vs Sevilla FC at 9pm CEST on Sunday night will be another critical game in the title race. Sevilla’s Monday night loss to Athletic Club means they’re now six points off top spot, but there’s still plenty to play for as the Andalusian side look to keep pace at the top and challenge for a spot in next year’s Spanish Super Cup.  

Julen Lopetegui will have almost his entire squad available as he visits his former club, whereas Zinedine Zidane’s men may feel some tiredness after their midweek Champions League exploits. Sevilla haven’t won away at Los Blancos since 2008, but they’re having one of their best ever seasons and few would be surprised if they pulled of an upset in the Spanish capital.   

Those two heavyweight bouts clearly jump off the Matchday 35 fixture list, but there are several other intriguing matches too. The first couple of matches have major relegation battle implications as second-bottom Elche CF visit Real Sociedad on Friday night, keen to show how much they have improved since losing 3-0 to La Real in their first game of the 2020/21 season. Then, in Saturday’s first fixture, D. Alavés will look for three points against Levante UD as they aim to move further away from the drop zone, given that they’re currently just one point above safety. Third-bottom SD Huesca may view their Saturday evening trip to Cádiz CF as a similarly good opportunity to put points on the board.  

On Saturday night, there’s a big match in Bilbao as Athletic Club host northern rivals CA Osasuna. These two neighbours have played out some entertaining and physical battles over the years, while both clubs have several players in their current squads who previous played for the other side.  

SD Eibar kick off Sunday’s action and will do full of confidence after a big 3-0 win over Alavés last weekend. They remain bottom of the table for now, but have renewed hope that they can pull off a great escape and know that taking three points back from their trip to Getafe CF is a must.  

Real Valladolid are the last of the relegation-threatened teams to play this weekend and could find themselves in the bottom three by they time they kick off against Valencia CF at Mestalla. All eyes will be on the Valencia dugout, where the club’s regular caretaker coach Voro will be in charge once again following the sacking of Javi Gracia. Los Che aren’t entirely safe from the threat of relegation yet, so Voro will look to put that right and quickly.  

Villarreal CF and RC Celta clash in the third of Sunday’s fixtures, with the battle between Spanish forwards Gerard Moreno and Iago Aspas – the top scoring Spanish strikers in LaLiga this season – one to watch. It was a huge 4-0 win to Villarreal when they visited Vigo earlier in the campaign, so Aspas and co. might be out for some revenge.  

Real Madrid vs Sevilla rounds off Sunday’s action in the late time slot, ahead of an Andalusian derby to complete the matchday as Granada CF make the short trip west to Real Betis on Monday night. There is a lot as stake given that Betis come into this weekend in the final European spot, in seventh on 51 points, while Granada are the closest of the challengers in eighth, six points back. That should be fascinating as the two local rivals battle it out for the chance to explore Europe next season.  

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LaLiga’s title race!

With only four matchdays remaining, this weekend throws up two decisive games in the race for the titleFC Barcelona-Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid-Sevilla FCJust six points separate these top four sides. 

Diego Simeone’s Atletico de Madrid have sat atop the LaLiga Santander standings for much of the season but with just a handful of games to go the title race couldn’t be tighter. Incredibly, just six points separate the top four sides: Atleti, reigning champions Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC. The title race looks set to go down to the wire, and the weekend sees the top four clubs face each other: FC Barcelona-Atlético de Madrid at Camp Nou on Saturday, and Real Madrid-Sevilla FC on Sunday at Alfredo Di Stéfano stadium.  

“Neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona will lose another match,” Simeone predicted in early March, but we’ve already seen so many shock results this LaLiga Santander campaign that there are no guarantees. Barcelona had the perfect chance to go top in midweek, only to lose their game in hand at home to a sensational Granada CF side. Real Madrid had narrowed the gap to just one point after winning ElClasico two weekends ago, but then failed to capitalise after being held to goalless draws by both Getafe CF and Real Betis. Meanwhile, Sevilla lost against Athletic Club last Monday (just their second defeat in almost two months), which left slightly more adrift from top spot but still with a chance of winning the title, and also with a very strong chance of beating their historical points record.  

Here’s all you need to know about the final stretch of the title race: who’s involved, where they stand, the games they have left… so you can judge for yourself where you think points, and ultimately the LaLiga title, will be won and lost.  

Atlético de Madrid 

Current position: 1st (76 points) 

Next fixture: FC Barcelona (away) – Saturday 8th May, 4.15pm CEST 

Remaining fixtures: Real Sociedad (home), CA Osasuna (home), Real Valladolid (away) 

The last time Atleti won LaLiga Santander, it went down to the final day as they took the 2013/14 title with a draw away against Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Given how tight this title race promises to be, it could go down to the wire once again. This year, their Matchday 38 fixture is away at Real Valladolid, who could well need points in the relegation battle.  

Simeone’s side have seen their previously big lead slowly narrow at the top, but remain top despite dropping points at Athletic Club – one of the toughest away days in LaLiga – last weekend. Barcelona’s loss to Granada means that Atleti are the only side to hold their destiny in their own hands. Elche CF were on the verge of denting their title hopes last weekend, only to miss a penalty in second half stoppage time. Atleti’s visit to Barcelona this weekend (May 8th) will go a long way towards deciding the title, a true six-pointer at the top. Or even a seven-pointer, since the head-to-head tiebreaker is at stake, which Atleti currently hold after beating the Catalans 1-0 earlier this season at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Real Madrid 

Current position: 2nd (74 points) 

Next fixture: Sevilla FC (home) – Sunday 9th May, 9pm CEST 

Remaining fixtures: Granada CF (away), Athletic Club (away), Villarreal CF (home)  

Real Madrid come into the final four games of the season very much in contention, two points behind leaders and city rivals Atleti. A dramatic 2-1 win over FC Barcelona three weekends ago saw them leapfrog their eternal rivals into second, but two goalless draws, first against Getafe and then at home to Betis, either side of a win over Cadiz in recent weeks have seen the reigning champions stutter in their title defence.  

Zinedine Zidane and his side are only too aware of the importance of finishing the season strong. Los Blancos claimed the 2019/20 championship by winning their final ten matches in a row following the return from the COVID-19 lockdown, mathematically sealing top spot with a round to spare. They face a difficult final few week of this campaign, so Zidane will look to bring back that essential winning mentality if he expects his side to stay in the hunt.  

They face a tough run-in though; three of their final four matches of the season are against teams who qualified for European competition last year. Watch out in particular for their mouthwatering clash on Sunday with Sevilla because, despite being four points behind, the Andalusians are still in with a shout and have been in tremendous form for the last two months. 

FC Barcelona 

Current position: 3rd (74 points) 

Next fixture: Atlético de Madrid (home) – Saturday 8th May, 4.15pm CEST 

Remaining fixtures: Levante UD (away), RC Celta (home), SD Eibar (away) 

Ronald Koeman’s side could have gone top last week with a win in their game in hand against Granada on Thursday night. What could have been a big night in the title race – and a change in league leader – turned out to be even more dramatic than anyone expected. Barça let the lead slip and fell to 2-1 defeat at home to the Andalusians, missing their chance to jump to the top of the standings and allowing Atleti to stay top. Crucially, the defeat means that the title is no longer in their hands. They did follow up with a gutsy 3-2 win away at Valencia, so it’s all still to play for.  

The big game to watch out for? The visit of Atleti to the Camp Nou this Saturday. Having lost the corresponding fixture at the Wanda Metropolitano earlier this season, this head-to-head clash is decisive, for better or for worse!  

Sevilla FC 

Current position: 4th (70 points) 

Next fixture: Real Madrid (away) – Sunday 9th May, 9pm CEST 

Remaining fixtures: Valencia CF (home), Villarreal CF (away), D. Alaves (home) 

Seven victories in their last nine games have given Sevilla a mathematical title shot. Driven by the goals of Youssef En-Nesyri, the creative ability of Ivan Rakitic and Lucas Ocampos, and the tactical nous of Julen Lopetegui, the Andalusians are also now just seven points away from surpassing their historical record for points, set in 2014-2015 (76).  

Having already wrapped up Champions League qualification for next season, Sevilla have made the LaLiga title chase a four-horse race. But they face a difficult run-in which will test their mettle, facing Real Madrid, Valencia and Villarreal – all of which have represented LaLiga in Europe in recent seasons – before a final test away at D. Alaves, who could still be battling for survival on the final day of the season.   

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Real Madrid vs Sevilla: a step towards LaLiga’s title

All eyes will be on the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium on Sunday evening as second placed Real Madrid host fourth placed Sevilla with the LaLiga title race moving into its conclusive phase. 

With leaders Atletico de Madrid visiting third placed Barcelona just 24 hours earlier, and all four teams having just three games left to play afterwards, the weekend’s action will go a long way to deciding who wins the LaLiga Santander title this season. 

Defending champions Madrid know what it takes to come through a tight title race, and Zinedine Zidane’s side have been outstanding through recent months, coming through various injuries, COVID 19 positives and the extra workload of reaching the Champions Leauge semi-finals. Saturday’s comfortable 2-0 victory over CA Osasuna also makes it 10 wins, two draws and just one defeat in their last 13 LaLiga home games for Los Blancos. 

Centre-back Eder Militao was the star of the show against Osasuna, heading his first LaLiga goal, with fellow Brazilian Casemiro wrapping up the scoring late on. Injuries to other defenders including club captain Sergio Ramos have opened up an opportunity for Militao, 23, who has been excellent in recent weeks. Ramos, 35, has recovered from a knee injury however and could play his first LaLiga game since mid-March against his old club Sevilla.  

Also fit again is superstar Belgian forward Eden Hazard, who looked sharp last weekend as he made his first LaLiga start since January. A much more regular contributor for Real Madrid through the season has been Karim Benzema, whose run and pass set up Casemiro’s goal versus Osasuna, meaning he has been involved in an incredible 14 goals (11 scored, 3 assisted) in his 11 LaLiga games.  

Sevilla come into Saturday’s game as the outsiders in the title race, but as the in-form team in LaLiga Santander. After a wobble in early March when they were eliminated from both the Champions League and Copa del Rey, the Andalusians have been on the charge in LaLiga with seven wins in eight games.

Youssef En-Nesyri has been in superb form in attack, and his superbly taken winner at Levante recently took the Morocco international to 17 goals in LaLiga already this season. Young French defender Jules Kounde has been immaculate in defence, Joan Jordan outstanding in midfield, and it is no coincidence that the team’s return to form coincided with Argentine winger Lucas Ocampos coming back from injury. Also outstanding recently has been January signing Papu Gomez, who has settled into a crucial playmaking role in the team. 

Saturday’s game will surely be special for Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui, whose short spell as Real Madrid coach in 2018 did not go as planned. Lopetegui lasted just 10 LaLiga games as coach at the Santiago Bernabeu, winning only four and suffering a painful 3-0 defeat away at Sevilla – where the Basque tactician is now firmly at home. 

Sevilla might be happy that the Santiago Bernabeu is under renovation at the moment, given the Andalusian team have lost each of their last 11 LaLiga visits, including a 2-1 defeat last season. Madrid also came out on top of a tight encounter in 2020-21’s first meeting in early December, which was decided by an own-goal by Sevilla goalkeeper Bono, under pressure from Real Madrid attacker Vinicius Junior.  

Another nervy encounter is quite possible on Sunday evening, given all that is on the line for both teams. Real Madrid have the experience and home advantage, but Sevilla are excited about the chance of a first LaLiga trophy since 1946. Whatever happens could end up being decisive in this most exciting of LaLiga title races. 

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“Score! Hero 2” launches collaboration with LaLiga

The follow up to the global hit “Score! Hero” will feature all 20 teams from LaLiga Santander for the next three years. 

Official kits and team names will improve the user experience as well as promote LaLiga to a huge digital audience. 

Mobile gaming fans around the world will get new exposure to LaLiga clubs thanks to the global launch of “Score! Hero 2”, the sequel to the original and renowned hit “Score! Hero” which now features licensed teams from LaLiga Santander.  

The original Score! Hero has been a feature of the mobile games market for more than five years, achieving over 300 million downloads around the world and with millions still playing the game every day. 

Score! Hero 2 builds on this legacy with a host of enhancements, the pinnacle of which is the introduction of real teams licensed from the best leagues across Europe. 

Through a new three-year licensing agreement with the game’s developers First Touch Games (FTG), all 20 clubs from LaLiga Santander will be included in the new game. The inclusion of official kits and team names will be a cornerstone of the user experience and will provide new opportunities for global fans to discover the clubs of LaLiga. 

Oscar Mayo, LaLiga’s director of business, marketing and international development said: “Tens of millions of fans around the world have already discovered LaLiga through our digital ecosystem, including our official apps, games, OTT platform and content. Partnering with FTG is an exciting way to broaden this visibility through one of the world’s most popular football games, which will be made even more immersive and engaging as a result of having fully licensed teams.” 

Charles Chapman, CEO of FTG, added: “We are thrilled to be partnering with LaLiga for the launch of Score! Hero 2.  LaLiga embodies everything that is special about football, showcasing the highest skill, quality and enjoyment that anyone will see anywhere in the world.  It is these qualities that we aim to bring to Score! Hero, underpinning its success for many years to come.” 

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Barcelona vs Atlético de Madrid: LaLiga’s title battle

A look at the intriguing storylines surrounding this Saturday’s blockbuster clash at the Camp Nou. 

This weekend’s LaLiga Santander action is an absolute can’t miss, with the top four teams in the standings face off against each other. On Saturday at 4.15pm CEST it’s Barcelona vs Atlético Madrid, before fans across the world can enjoy Real Madrid vs Sevilla on Sunday night at 9pm CEST.  

The meeting between Barça and Atleti at the Camp Nou is massive, as just two points separate Diego Simeone’s league leaders from Ronald Koeman’s Blaugrana-wearing challengers. Los Rojiblancos edged out Barcelona for a 1-0 win at the Wanda Metropolitano when these sides met earlier in the season, but a lot has changed since then.  

Barcelona’s form has improved over the second half of the season, whereas Atlético de Madrid’s results haven’t been as impressive. Both teams did earn victories from away trips to the Valencian Community last weekend, though, with Atleti overcoming Elche 1-0 and Barça defeating Valencia 3-2. The Catalan side did so with a three-at-the-back formation, the same kind of system that has brought Atlético so much success this year. When these sides met in November, though, Barcelona were still using a back four.  

There is good news for both of these teams in terms of injuries and suspensions, as there are no players banned for this match and both sides have squads that are almost completely healthy. Barcelona will still be missing the long-term-injured Philippe Coutinho and Ansu Fati, but there aren’t many concerns other than that. For fans, this is great news as it means the very best talents will be able to take to the Camp Nou pitch. 

Five Barcelona vs Atlético storylines to look out for 

Messi vs Suárez 

Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez weren’t just one of football’s greatest ever attacking partnerships during their six years together at Barcelona. They were also very close friends off the pitch. Coronavirus ruled Suárez out of this season’s first meeting between these two sides, but he’ll be able to take on his former club and his friend this time around and, given the competitor he is, he’ll be keen to prove a point. Messi and Suárez have never actually faced each other as opponents in club football, only squaring off at international level. So, this will be a fascinating battle between these two clubs’ top scorers.  

Memories of 2014 

The last time Atlético Madrid won the LaLiga Santander title was in the 2013/14 season, when a headed goal from Diego Godín earned them a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou on the final day. That was enough to win the title, but a loss would have made it Barcelona’s championship. There will still be three rounds remaining after this Saturday’s fixture, but this game will surely bring up memories of that 2014 meeting, given how much is at stake. Even though Simeone won the title at the Camp Nou that day, he has never actually won an individual match there in his managerial career and will look to change that this weekend.  

 Atlético’s Catalan curse 

It’s not just at the Camp Nou that Simeone has struggled to win. The Atleti coach has suffered several difficult visits to Catalonia in general in recent years. Los Rojiblancos haven’t won on any of their past seven visits to the region, drawing twice at Girona in that time, losing once and drawing once at Barcelona, losing once and drawing once at Espanyol and losing earlier this season to third tier side UE Cornellà in the Copa del Rey.  

Griezmann faces his former club in great form 

This is a particularly big fixture for Antoine Griezmann, as he takes on the club he was once the attacking leader of. Since switching Atleti for Barcelona in 2019, the Frenchman has faced Los Colchoneros four times but picked up only one win, alongside two defeats and a draw. He comes into this fixture in excellent form, though, with eight goals scored across his past nine matches, so look to the Frenchman to break the deadlock.  

The head-to-head factor 

Given that Real Madrid and Sevilla are right there in the title race too, only a win will do for these two sides. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that Atleti will be far happier with a draw than Barça. Not only are Simeone’s side ahead in the standings, but it will decide the all-important head-to-head record in their favour. LaLiga rules dictate that teams who finish level on points are separated by their head-to-head meetings rather than overall goal difference, so a draw would leave Atleti with the potential tiebreaker because they won the first match 1-0 back in November.  

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From friend to ‘enemy’: Messi and Suarez meet again

The Uruguayan and the Argentine are set to come face to face this weekend for the first time since Suarez left the Camp Nou for Atleti last summer. They combined for an incredible 478 goals in the six years that they played alongside each other for Barcelona. 

There is no footballer in the world who has assisted Lionel Messi more often than Luis Suárez. The Uruguayan provided 47 assists for the Argentine in the six years that they spent together at FC Barcelona, where they displayed such great chemistry from practically the first time they stepped onto the pitch as teammates. Messi, meanwhile, set up 39 Suárez goals over those years and the pair combined for a total of 478 goals during their time together at the Camp Nou. They lifted 13 trophies together, including four LaLiga Santander titles and one Champions League. 

Given all of that glorious past, it’ll be impossible not to think back to those successes when they go up against each other, this time as opponents, in FC Barcelona vs Atletico de Madrid this weekend. What’s more, the two sides are neck and neck at the top of LaLiga Santander with just four games to go this season, so the encounter at the Camp Nou will undoubtedly be one of the games of the season and huge ramifications in the title race. 

Players of historic quality 

These two players both feature on the podium of the top goalscorers in the history of FC Barcelona. Messi leads the way with over 700 goals, 280 of which he scored during the Suárez era, while Suárez is third on 198. Only fellow legend László Kubala splits them, which shows just how tremendously productive the South American duo have been at the Camp Nou, producing numbers that hadn’t been seen in almost 70 years and outperforming other illustrious names like César Rodríguez. 

Messi and Suárez, a relationship beyond football 

The pair’s relationship goes beyond the field of play. The two strikers were neighbours in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Castelldefels and their children went to the same school. It was normal to see their families enjoying leisure time together, even enjoying seafront walks when Barça weren’t playing. It was Suárez who led Messi to drink mate so frequently, with the No.10 now rarely separated from his flask. Now, Antoine Griezmann is the one sharing mate with Messi, after he made the move from Atlético Madrid to FC Barcelona in 2019, one year before Suárez went the opposite way.  

It was on September 24th 2020 that Suárez’s illustrious FC Barcelona career came to an end, with the Catalan club accepting an offer for a transfer to Atlético de Madrid. There, in the Spanish capital, the No.9 is continuing to show that scoring goals is in his blood. He’ll take on FC Barcelona this weekend just a few goals behind Messi in the LaLiga Santander goal scoring charts; he hasn’t skipped a beat since his summertime move and continues to be one of world football’s most lethal strikers. What’s clear is that these players possess so much talent that they can still perform as superstars as they get older. 

Messi’s search for a new partner at FC Barcelona 

Messi has remained as prolific as always this season but hasn’t found an attacking ally quite like Suárez since the Uruguayan left and he may never develop a partnership like theirs. Looking to the past, not even Dani Alves (with 42 assists) or Andrés Iniesta (37) set up the Argentine more than Suárez did (47).  

Even as Messi plays alongside other forwards this weekend, he’ll be able to have a pitchside chat with the best strike partner he ever had and a player with whom he developed an unbreakable friendship. The pair will have to put those ties on ice, at least for 90 minutes, as they go up against each other as opponents for the first time since reality forced their separation.  

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LaLiga Santander Matchday 34 preview

There is no title race in Europe as competitive as that of LaLiga Santander, with four teams all within touching distance of the top of the table. Defending champions Real Madrid are joined by FC BarcelonaAtlético de Madrid and Sevilla FC in this battle for domestic glory and each candidate has a tough match coming up this weekend before they face off against each other next week. The two capital city sides have their matches on Saturday, before Barça play on Sunday and Sevilla on Monday.  

The very first game of the weekend is the Friday night fixture between RC Celta and Levante UD, a match which takes on added importance given that Celta’s recent good form has put them in with a chance of European qualification. Currently eight points behind the last European qualification spot with five rounds to go, they need the three points and will look to take advantage of Levante’s recent poor form (five defeats in six).  

A Basque derby kicks off Saturday’s action as DAlaves host SD Eibar. This is more than just a derby as both sides are in the bottom five and sweating for their LaLiga Santander survival. Then, at 4.15pm CEST, Elche CF host Atlético de Madrid as the home side target the three points to help with their own survival efforts and as the visitors look to get back on track in their title charge following a defeat last weekend. After several weeks of missing players through injury and suspension, Los Rojiblancos are finally getting healthy and will be full of energy after a midweek with no fixture.  

At 9pm CEST on Saturday night, Real Madrid continue their quest to defend the championship they won last year with a home encounter with CA Osasuna. These two sides played out a goalless draw in the Pamplona snow earlier in the campaign but will now meet on the first day of May at Real Madrid’s Estadio Di Stéfano in Valdebebas – a stadium which has seen its fair share of torrential weather in recent weeks! 

Sunday begins with Real Valladolid vs Real Betis and, once again, it’s a match with so much at stake. Real Valladolid are currently the last team inside the relegation zone, while Los Verdiblancos will be looking to jumpstart their European push again after five consecutive draws. Villarreal CF face Getafe CF next and the Yellow Submarine know they can’t afford to take it easy. Unai Emery’s men are currently in seventh and in the final European spot, but they’ll want to move up the table to turn their Conference League ticket into another Europa League pass.  

Then, the 9pm CEST Saturday night fixture is one of the biggest and best in Spanish football. Valencia CF vs FC Barcelona is a huge duel between two sides who have produced some classics over the years. Their past 15 meetings have thrown up seven Barça wins, three Valencia CF wins and five draws, with 53 goals scored for an average of 3.5 goals per game. Their encounter at Camp Nou earlier this season ended 2-2 and, should Los Che hold Barça again, it would be yet another twist in a thrilling title race. 

The race for the title continues into Monday night, when Sevilla FC look to make it six wins in a row against Athletic Club. Julen Lopetegui’s side have propelled themselves into the race since the March international break with seven wins from their last eight, but will be wary of an Athletic Club side that seriously dented tleti’s title hopes last weekend. No matter what the situation at the top of the table is by kick-off of this Monday night fixture, it’ll be a can’t miss encounter to round off the weekend’s action.  

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