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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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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Brothers who starred in LaLiga

Having one LaLiga star talent in a family isn’t so common; two (or more) is downright remarkable. Here’s a look at some of the brothers who’ve starred in LaLiga over the years.  

Frank and Ronald De Boer 

The De Boer twins had an extraordinary career. Both Frank and Ronald were part of the iconic Ajax team of the mid-1990s, winning the Champions League in 1995 before moving together to Barcelona, under their former coach Louis van Gaal, in 1999. They won LaLiga Santander that season but their time together in LaLiga lasted just one year. Ronald moved to Rangers after just a season, while Frank remained a mainstay at the Camp Nou until 2003.  

Thiago and Rafinha Alcântara  

Thiago and Rafinha have a famous father in Mazinho, who won the World Cup with Brazil in 1994. He too played in Spain during his career and both of his sons spent much of their childhood in Spain, each passing through the world-famous La Masia academy on their way to reaching the Barça first team. Both have since moved away from Catalonia, though, with older brother Thiago enjoying success at Liverpool and younger brother Rafinha moving from RC Celta to PSG last summer. 

Fernando and Manolo Hierro 

Fernando Hierro is one of the most talented and decorated Spanish players in history, having captained both Real Madrid and Spain throughout his exceptional career. Not many football fans will know, however, that his two older brothers also played in the top tier of Spanish football, though of course without his level of success. Antonio Hierro managed a handful of appearances for Málaga, while Manolo Hierro forged a good career for himself in LaLiga Santander playing for Málaga CF, Real Valladolid, Real Betis and CD Tenerife. Both Fernando and Manolo mostly played at centre-back during their careers and even played in defence together at Valladolid during the 1987/88 season.  

Diego and Gabriel Milito 

Argentine brothers Diego and Gabriel Milito’s footballing relationship was an interesting one from the very start; they came through at rival sides Racing Club de Avellaneda and Independiente, respectively, and made a name for themselves in the late 1990s as two of the most promising young players in Argentine football. In Spain they reunited at Real Zaragoza between 2005 and 2007, both proving to be among the best players in their position in LaLiga (Diego was a centre-forward; Gabriel and centre-back). They later went up against each other again as Gabriel moved to Barcelona in the summer of 2007, while Diego stayed on in Zaragoza for another year before moving to Serie A.   

Lucas and Theo Hernández 

Lucas and Theo Hernández are the sons of former Atlético Madrid player Jean-François Hernandez and both players came through the Atleti academy, emerging as two of the best defenders to come through the ranks in recent years. In 2017, though, Theo shocked Spanish football with a move across the capital to Real Madrid before he’d ever played a competitive fixture for Atleti’s senior side. Nowadays, he is one of the best Serie A stars playing for AC Milan. Lucas, meanwhile, established himself as one of European football’s best full-backs at Atleti, winning the Europa League in 2018 before moving to Bayern Munich in 2019.  

Diego and Hugo Maradona 

Most football fans know about Diego Maradona’s up and down spells in LaLiga, first with Barcelona and later with Sevilla. Yet his younger brother Hugo also spent time in Spain, playing for Rayo Vallecano between 1988 and 1990 while brother Diego was at Napoli. Hugo helped Rayo Vallecano earn promotion to LaLiga Santander in the 1988/89 season, scoring six goals along the way, before the team from Vallecas were relegated back down the very next season.  

Xabi and Mikel Alonso 

Mikel and Xabi Alonso were born to play football and they were born to play for Real Sociedad, the same club their father Periko Alonso played for and coached. Both midfielders, they came through the youth ranks at the same time despite the 18-month age gap between the two; younger brother Xabi was already on the pitch when Mikel made his debut for La Real against Real Valladolid in 2000/01. Mikel’s career never took off in the same way as Xabi’s did, with the younger brother going on to win domestic and European trophies with Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, as well as the World Cup and European Championships with Spain.  

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Europe League: The miracle behind Villarreal CF’s European dream

Editorial column by Marcos Senna a Villarreal CF player between 2002 and 2013 and won Euro 2008 with Spain. Now he works as director of institutional relations at Villarreal CF, a role he has held since 2016, and he is also a LaLiga Ambassador.  

It was April 25th 2006. It was 15 years ago. The events of that night remain clear in my mind. It was the night that we were just two minutes and 12 yards away from defeating a legendary Arsenal side and reaching the final of the Champions League. That was the difference between success and an uncomfortable hangover that lasts for life. Fortunately, football has afforded Villarreal CF the possibility of reaching a new European final. Or, better put, Villarreal CF have earned this opportunity. This is the result of a well-established and sustainable project. That’s the only way to understand how a club from a city of just 50,000 residents has reached its fifth European semi-final of the past 16 seasons. In contrast to teams from big cities like Rome, Manchester, London, Paris or Madrid, the entire population of the city of Vila-Real would fit inside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, and there would still be 10,000 seats left over! The club’s budget of 117 million euros is smaller than those of all the other ‘superclub’ European semi-finalists. It’s David surrounded by Goliaths.  

I remember when I arrived in Vila-Real for the first time in 2002, having come from the giant urban setting of São Paulo. At the time, the club had only been in Spain’s top division for three seasons, making what we achieved during the 11 years I was there all the more incredible. For context, the first time Villarreal CF won promotion to LaLiga Santander level was in 1998 and Gianluigi Buffon was already an international player with Italy. It wasn’t that long ago, but the club has evolved so much that it’s as if 100 years have passed.  

Fernando Roig, the club’s president, was a visionary and always had things clear in his mind. That’s how Villarreal CF have become an example of intelligent, responsible and honest management in football. All of the club’s players, including the youth team players, have been surrounded by the best possible professionals to assist with their development. For example, there are pioneering programmes in nutrition and psychology. The financial limitations have been countered with a firm backing of the academy, as seen through the club’s two sporting centres and the residency that was recently opened. They also make up ground through excellent recruitment work. Over the years, quality international players have worn the club’s shirt, such as Forlán, Riquelme, Cazorla, Pires, Reina, Bruno Soriano, Capdevila, Godín, Marchena, Rossi, Soldado and Rodri. Then, looking at the current squad, they have Pau Torres, Chukwueze, Bacca, Gerard Moreno, Albiol, Alcácer, Parejo… All of this is part of a project and footballing ethos that doesn’t falter. Even when the club went down to LaLiga SmartBank in 2012, they bounced straight back up. That’s why there is so much satisfaction with the current achievements. It has been built one training session at a time over the past few years. This is a model club that you can be proud of.  

Even though top players like Cazorla, Bruno Soriano or Ekambi departed last year, Villarreal CF are still fighting to reach the Europa League final. They haven’t lost a single match so far in this season’s tournament. At the same time, they’re still battling in LaLiga Santander in the competitive race for fifth place. There’s a need to recognise the efforts of Unai Emery, a winning coach, and of the entire squad. I’m sure that this semi-final tie will be very special for all of them. Against Arsenal, they have an invaluable opportunity to break through the wall and reach a European final for the first time. I think our time has come. It’s time to fight for a title and, I hope, to win one.  

In Spain, there is talk of this being a semi-final of revenge because the opposition is Arsenal, the team of 15 years ago. However, this tie actually goes beyond that. It’s an example of how, with good management, the ‘European dream’ is achievable for any modest club that knows how to embrace the beauty and richness of the football we all know and love, even if the club isn’t one of the continent’s most historic or powerful. And remember, David did defeat Goliath…  

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Spanish clubs unanimously and forcefully reject the Super League format

MADRID, April 22, 2021 — LaLiga met yesterday with the 39 clubs not invited to be part of the European Super League to discuss the recent proposal for this format. 

The present clubs at the meeting unanimously and strongly rejected the plans for this competition. All clubs firmly believe in sporting merit as the sole criteria to qualify to international club competitions through domestic leagues.  

Today football fans across Europe can dream that their club, no matter the size, may excel, climb to the top and compete at the pinnacle of European football. This European tradition of football for all is paramount and should not be threatened or changed.  

Global resistance over the past few days has proven that a closed, elitist league is unviable and unwanted. The reaction proves just how much the open ecosystem and football community means to people. 

LaLiga and the clubs gathered today want to thank everyone involved for the support they have shown this week on this significant issue. 

LaLiga will continue to work with stakeholders including fan groups, government, UEFA, the RFEF, AFE and European Leagues to protect the best interests of the game and calls on those clubs still involved in the proposed competition to cease their involvement immediately.   

Signed by: Athletic Club, CA Osasuna, Cádiz CF, Deportivo Alavés, Elche CF, Getafe CF, Granada CF, Levante UD, RC Celta, Real Betis, Real Sociedad, Real Valladolid CF, SD Eibar, SD Huesca, Sevilla FC, Valencia CF, Villarreal CF; AD Alcorcón, Albacete BP, CD Castellón, CD Leganés, CD Lugo, CD Mirandés, CD Tenerife, CE Sabadell, CF Fuenlabrada, FC Cartagena, Girona FC, Málaga CF, Rayo Vallecano, RCD Espanyol de Barcelona, RCD Mallorca, Real Oviedo, Real Sporting, Real Zaragoza, SD Ponferradina, UD Almería, UD Las Palmas, UD Logroñés. 

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Eight top-flight fixtures on one Super Sunday!

Just eight rounds of the LaLiga Santander season remain and it could hardly be tighter at the top of the table, with Atlético Madrid on 67 points, Real Madrid on 66, FC Barcelona on 65 and Sevilla FC on 61. The drama will continue this weekend, with Matchday 33 having been brought forward and with eight fixtures taking place on a very intense Sunday April 18th. Not all LaLiga Santander teams will play this weekend, due to Saturday night’s Copa del Rey final between Athletic Club and FC Barcelona, but Spanish football fans are in for a treat on this action-packed Sunday.  

There are four different time slots of matches on Sunday and, in the first at 14:00 CEST, CA Osasuna will take on Elche CF at the same time as Real Sociedad meet Sevilla FC. While CA Osasuna have moved towards mid-table safety, Elche CF have slipped back into the relegation zone and need every point they can muster. Then, in Real Sociedad vs Sevilla FC, this is a battle between the team currently fifth and the team currently fourth. If La Real have any hope of making the Andalusian side sweat over their Champions League status then they need to collect all three points.  

At 16:15 CEST there are two more matches and they have immense implications for the title race and the relegation battle. Leaders Atlético Madrid will welcome bottom-placed SD Eibar to the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, where they have drawn twice and lost once from three visits. Atleti have been struggling with injuries of late and have just one victory from their past four league matches, so need a positive result against the Basque side.  

Just one point above SD Eibar are Deportivo Alavés, who this weekend’s host 16th placed SD Huesca, a team only three points away. It really is tight at the bottom and that makes this a crucial six-pointer, one that Deportivo Alavés will hope their new coach Javi Calleja can win.  

Both matches in Sunday’s 18:30 CEST time slot take place in Andalusia, as Real Betis host Valencia CF for a fixture that has been a lot of fun in recent years. Not only have there been last-minute winners and great goals, but there have been 27 total goals over their past nine meetings for an average of three per game.  

Meanwhile, Cádiz CF take on RC Celta Vigo at home and will be looking for revenge for the 4-0 thrashing they suffered when they visited Galicia earlier in the season. Now, it’s Celta Vigo’s turn to make the trip to the other side of the country and they do so after finishing on the losing side in a 4-3 Monday night thriller against Sevilla FC.  

The last two of the eight Sunday fixtures are being held at 21:00 CEST and Getafe CF vs Real Madrid really stands out given its importance in the title race. Real Madrid are in great form as they’ve won their past four in LaLiga Santander, including last weekend’s ElClásico. Now they make the short trip to Getafe CF, but they’ll do so with some fatigue after their midweek trip to Anfield and they’ll do so with several players out due to suspension and injury. It won’t be easy against the Azulones, who have already taken points off Atlético Madrid and off FC Barcelona at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez in 2020/21.  

Also at 21:00 CEST, there is a derby match in the Valencian Community between Levante UD and Villarreal CF. This should be a very interesting watch between two teams who know each other well and two teams who play attacking football. Villarreal CF got the better of their regional neighbours earlier this season in LaLiga Santander, but Levante UD gained revenge by knocking the Yellow Submarine out of the Copa del Rey. It’ll be fascinating to see who wins the battle this time around.  

The other two fixtures of Matchday 33 are Athletic Club vs Real Valladolid and FC Barcelona vs Granada CF, but these will take place later in the season due to the two home teams’ participation in the Copa del Rey final. With eight fixtures in the same day, though, there will still be more than enough drama and excitement in Spain’s top division this weekend.  

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LaLiga rising star Ronald Araujo

Barcelona’s new young centre-back Ronald Araujo did not even start out thinking he would be a defender – but the tall and confident Uruguayan has settled superbly well into the blaugrana back line this season. 

Araujo’s great physical presence, impressive reading of the game, power in the air and speed across the ground have brought back memories of former Barça captain Carles Puyol. In fact, Araujo has said that growing up as a kid in Uruguay, Puyol was one of his heroes. 

Born in the northern Uruguayan city of Rivera, Araujo moved to the country’s capital of Montevideo as a teenager to further his chances of a professional career, first playing for Club Atletico Rentistas, then in 2017 joining top flight club Boston River.  

In summer 2019 he came to the Catalan capital, initially to play for the Barca’s youth team in Spain’s third tier. By then Araujo was already captain of Uruguay’s under-20 side, and his fellow countryman Luis Suarez was on hand to help him settle into life in his new city. 

Until 17 years old he had played as a forward for his youth teams, something he also shares with Puyol, who was a winger growing up. Araujo’s nose for goal was shown as he scored six times in his 42 games for Barcelona B, while also getting introduced to the defensive systems and patterns of play used by all teams within the La Masia structure. 

Unfortunate to be shown a red card just minutes into his LaLiga Santander debut against Sevilla in October 2019, Araujo’s first start in the competition came after last year’s COVID-19 lockdown, when coach Quique Setien started him in a 4-0 victory at RCD Mallorca in mid-July.  

3-02 Granada CF-FC Barcelona correspondiente al partido de ida de los cuartos de final de la Copa de SM El Rey disputado en el Estadio Nuevo los Carmenes. En la imagen

Injuries to senior centre-backs Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti opened up further opportunities as the 2020-21 campaign has progressed, and Araujo has improved rapidly to become a firm fan favourite already. His physical gifts and anticipation mean he is very rarely dribbled past. In interviews with the local press, he has joked that since he faces Barça captain Lionel Messi every day in training, opposition forwards are not such a big test! His past as a striker was recalled when he scored his first LaLiga Santander goal with an acrobatic strike against Valencia last December, which was voted ahead of some special Messi efforts as Barça’s official goal of the month.  

A quiet character and devout Christian, Araujo is a fan of traditional ‘cumbia’ music and plays the keyboards and organ. He has been eager to soak up all the learning experiences he can this season and spends some of his free time watching videos prepared by Koeman and his staff which show areas of his game to improve. A particular objective has been to improve his passing out from the back – such an important element for any blaugrana defender whether they play a 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 tactical shape. 

An unfortunate ankle injury picked up in February put a temporary brake on Araujo’s progress, but he has since returned to fitness and strong form and was picked by Koeman to start his first career LaLiga ElClasico in this month’s dramatic visit to Real Madrid. 

It is still early yet to say whether Araujo can emulate his hero Puyol by winning six LaLiga titles, or even his coach Koeman’s tally of four. However, the Uruguayan has already established himself as a key member of Barça’s defence, and undoubtedly as one of the most promising LaLiga rising stars of the moment. 

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Levante and Villarreal: two clubs with youth traditions

When discussing the nurturing of footballing talent, it’s worth taking a look at Valencian football. The region in the east of Spain is one where people live and breathe football and have done for as long as can be remembered, and while Valencia may be the most well-known side from the region, Levante UD and Villarreal CF are two clubs with a long-standing tradition and, crucially, a thriving youth development porgramme.  

As the two prepare to face off in a local LaLiga Santander derby this Sunday at 9pm CET, let’s take a look at just how successful they’ve been in developing the stars of tomorrow.  

Villarreal CF’s indisputable backing of youth 

Villarreal boast one of the best youth academies in Spanish and European football, bringing through the likes of Santi Cazorla and Bruno Soriano. Soriano recently hung up his boots, leaving homegrown centre-back Pau Torres, one of the most in-demand defenders in the world, to pick up the baton for the Villarreal academy graduates.  

Right now, there are eight homegrown players in the Villarreal first team in addition to Torres. They have promising players like Yeremi Pino, Fer Niño, Samuel Chukwueze as well as already-established ones such as Alfonso Pedraza, Manu Trigueros and Moi Gómez. Add in Gerard Moreno, the top Spanish scorer in LaLiga Santander this season and a veteran of the club’s youth team set-up, and you’ve got an undeniable recipe for success. In the past, the likes of Héctor Font, César Arzo and Xisco Nadal were given opportunities there too, which goes to show that a good youth development plan can be the base for one of the most solid projects in LaLiga Santander.  

The sporting complex at Villarreal (opened in 2002, but constantly evolving) is at the heart of all the Yellow Submarine’s activities and is a reference for the world of football. The facilities extend across 80,000 square metres, and boast nine football pitches, sporting equipment for all needs, a residency for around one hundred youth teamers and club offices. What this means is that all areas of the club are together in the same space, supporting each other constantly. There’s even a space for a travel agency at the complex. There’s also a second sporting complex, called the Ciudad Deportivo Pamesa, that is used by CD Roda, a relevant local club that has a collaboration agreement with Villarreal. By backing youth football so thoroughly and decisively, Villarreal have recently enjoyed successes such as winning the juvenil level Copa de Campeones (2015) and the juvenil level Copa del Rey (2019).  

Levante UD envy nobody 

They also know what they’re doing at Levante. The Granotas are yet another Valencian Community club to have backed youth coaching and to have made this a fundamental pillar of their project. They have a success story in the form of José Luis Morales, the current captain and top scorer of the first team. Others are coming through, though, such as goalkeeper Dani Cárdenas, who earned nationwide praise this season for his excellent performance against Atlético de Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. This season, Georgian youth graduate Giorgi Kochorashvili has also made his debut, doing so in December against Real Betis and even playing all 90 minutes of a senior Copa del Rey match at Portugalete. 

Perhaps, though, the clearest link between the Levante first team and their academy is seen through their coach Paco López. He was promoted to his current role after previously coaching the B team and he has now cemented his status as a club icon with the Granotas’ senior side by making them one of the toughest teams in all of LaLiga Santander.  

There are various Levante academy graduates, meanwhile, who have gone on to star at other clubs in LaLiga Santander such as the now-retired Juanfran García, Sergio Ballesteros and current Villarreal midfielder Vicente Iborra.  

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Iago Aspas “Born To Score”

A native of Moaña, a small town just cross the bay from RC Celta’s home city of Vigo, Aspas is perennially one of LaLiga Santander’s most prolific goal scorers and has this season participated in 22 of his team’s goals.   

Iago Aspas has, as always, been a fixture in the team coached by Eduardo Coudet this season. He has started 26 games, picking up 2,277 minutes, and hasn’t disappointed. He has scored 12 goals and has participated in another ten with assists.  

Of his 12 goals to date, he’s scored braces on two occasions. The first of them, on matchday two against Valencia CF at ABANCA Balaídos, handed his side the three points. The second brace came just this month in a dramatic 4-3 loss to Sevilla FC, his heroics coming up just short in the search for the win. Aspas is actually the player with most all-time braces for the club in LaLiga Santander, with 23.  

Aspas has also provided two assists in a single game twice this season, on Matchday 13 vs Cadiz CF and then again against D. Alaves on Matchday 29. Coincidentally, he also scored in both games. Talk about an all-round contribution! 

Not just a goal scorer, Aspas lays chances on a plate for his teammates. He takes players on, he recovers possession, and is daring. The top scorer and top assist provider for Celta this season, he’s also the team’s top dribbler, with 53 take-ons and the player with the most shots on goal. And, on top of that, he’s almost ever-present. Just three players have played more minutes than him this season.   

Playing for Celta was Iago’s childhood dream, growing up in the heart of the Ria de Vigo, the bay which surround the city on Spain’s north-western coast. He made his Celta debut in the 2007/08 season, coming off the bench to score twice and instantly endearing himself to the fans. Fast forward over a decade, and he’s an institution at the club.   

He has character, and he fights for what he wants. He has won 122 LaLiga matches and has regained 94 possessions. In addition, he combines well with teammates, making 967 passes with an impressive 75% success rate. 

Aspas is known as the ‘Magician of Moaña.’ He’s the boy who dreamed of wearing the Celta shirt and who made it. With eight matchdays of the season left, don’t rule out more Aspas-inspired fireworks in Vigo! 

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The greatest duel for goals in ElClasico: Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi

With 18 and 23 goals respectively, Benzema and Messi will be vying to see who’ll be crowned top dog in this critical showdown 

It’s time for one of the most eagerly anticipated moments of the season, the match to end all matches, the event that the whole world stops to watch. It’s not just a game between two historic rivals, but also between two teams replete with individual talent and great goalscoring prowess. 

If we had to single out two players whose skills and knack of converting chances have stood out in this campaign, these would be Leo Messi and Karim Benzema. 

FC Barcelona striker Lionel Messi isn’t just leading the scoring charts for his club, he’s also top of the table in the league, notching up 23 goals in LaLiga Santander in 2,303 minutes. The Rosario-born legend’s position in the team is undisputed, having featured in 27 games so far and started all but two of them. 

As for Real Madrid, they boast Karim Benzema, who is Los Blancos’ leading marksman and who sits in fourth place in the race for the Pichichi accolade, with 18 strikes to his name. He has played a total of 2,203 minutes and has become an essential part of Zinedine Zidane’s masterplan, starting all 25 games he has featured in this campaign. 

These are two exceptional individuals who leave their mark every time they take to the field, who relentlessly find the back of the net and who are simply undroppable for their clubs. 

Yet what they offer as footballers differs substantially from one another, with the Frenchman and Argentine possessing contrasting skill sets, dribbling techniques and shooting abilities. Let’s analyse these two footballing kings in greater depth. 

Firstly looking at Messi, we can see that, in terms of combining with his teammates and building up play, that the Blaugrana hitman averages 71.6 passes per game with an accuracy of 82%. In addition to scoring 34% of his team’s goals, he has provided eight assists this season, which sees him tied in second place with Celta de Vigo’s Iago Aspas and Atletico de Madrid’s Marcos Llorente in the league rankings. 

If we take into account finishing off moves, the Argentine forward averages 5.7 shots for every 94 minutes of football played, of which 3 are on target. As for his 23 strikes in 2020-21, 17 have come from open play while six have come from set pieces, with Messi achieving a conversion rate of 17%. Although most of these shots are taken from outside of the box, he’s not adverse to striking closer to the goal, with almost 24% of his attempts coming from inside the area. 

While Karim Benzema makes a comparatively small number of passes per game – an average of 38 – the Frenchman’s success rate of these contributions is a high 83%. He has set up six goals so far this campaign, which places him alongside Real Betis’s Sergio Canales and Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal as the sixth-highest assist provider in LaLiga Santander. 

Despite being a highly mobile player who is constantly seeking out space between the opposition’s defence and midfield, 40.9% of his shots have come from within the 18-yard box. While Benzema will sometimes try his luck from further out, he usually saves his efforts for closer to the goal. 18.3% of the 33-year-old’s shots have found the net and of his 18 goals scored this season, 16 have come from open play and only two from set pieces. 

As for defensive duties, Benzema and Messi have remarkably similar statistics when it comes to winning back the ball, with the latter having regained possession for his side 53 times, only once more than the Frenchman. 

Everybody is set to enjoy a wonderful clash of goalscoring experts; two stars who will rampage across the pitch and undoubtedly give the opposition goalkeepers a very hard time in what promises to be an unmissable encounter. These two individuals are at one with the art of goalscoring and having already achieved a place in football’s history books they are still smashing records with no signs of letting up.  

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