Xavi Hernandez said Barcelona felt like they had been “robbed in their own home” after the Camp Nou was packed with Eintracht Frankfurt supporters in their Europa League defeat by the German side on Thursday.
More than 20,000 Frankfurt fans managed to get tickets for the second leg, with a sea of white shirts in the stands creating a hostile atmosphere for the Barca players.
Frankfurt took the lead in the fourth minute on their way to a 3-0 lead and while Barcelona pulled two goals back in injury-time they were unable to avoid losing 4-3 on aggregate.
“It’s not an excuse but the atmosphere affected us. We were not comfortable,” said Xavi in a press conference on Sunday. “I had a bad feeling from as soon as we got on the bus at the hotel and we did not feel at home.
“Then we gave a penalty away in the first minute,” Xavi added. “It was a nightmare night in every sense, on and off the pitch. It started badly and ended badly. You feel robbed in your own home.”
Barcelona officially allocated 5,000 tickets to Frankfurt supporters but more than 30,000 tickets were bought via unofficial channels.
The club’s president Joan Laporta said he was “ashamed” by the number of Frankfurt fans inside the ground and has insisted tickets will be non-transferable in future.
One Barca fan group, La Grada d’Animacio, has said they will boycott the team’s La Liga game on Monday at home to Cadiz in protest.
“It was a mistake by the club, for sure,” said Xavi. “When the club finds out what caused what happened on Thursday, they will explain it to us.”
The loss to Frankfurt was Barcelona’s first under Xavi since December and came after a last-gasp 3-2 victory over struggling Levante in La Liga.
Barca sit second in the table, 12 points behind Real Madrid with a game in hand. They are only three points ahead of Real Betis in fifth, although Betis have played two games more.
“The level has dropped, that’s clear,” Xavi said.
Asked if his team can still challenge Madrid for the title, Xavi said: “If we don’t win the eight games we have left, no. The first objective is to qualify for the Champions League next season. If after that we can challenge for La Liga, perfect.”
Pedri will miss the game against Cadiz after injuring his hamstring against Frankfurt.
“He was in his best form of the season, it’s a setback for him and the team,” Xavi said.
Favourites Barcelona were dumped out of the Europa League by Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals on Thursday, while West Ham United and Rangers joined RB Leipzig in qualifying for the last four.
Serbian international Filip Kostic scored twice either side of a Rafael Santos Borre strike at the Camp Nou for Frankfurt, who survived a late fightback to win 3-2 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate.
Sergio Busquets scored a late consolation before Memphis Depay’s even later penalty for Barcelona but Eintracht held on, to the delight of the estimated 30,000 German supporters who travelled for the game.
They go through to their second Europa League semi-final in four seasons, having lost on penalties to Chelsea at the same stage in 2019.
“I am speechless. Nobody expected this, if you are honest. Everyone expected us to suffer,” said Frankfurt goalkeeper Kevin Trapp.
Barcelona’s recent revival under Xavi Hernandez has been remarkable but this defeat means they have won just once at home all season in Europe, and their campaign is now set to end without silverware.
“It’s a hammer blow for us. They deserved to go through,” admitted Xavi.
After conceding three penalties in their weekend win over Levante, Barca fell behind to another spot-kick inside four minutes against Eintracht, as Kostic converted after a foul by Eric Garcia to the delight of the enormous away support.
The visitors scored again in the 36th minute as Colombian forward Borre fired high into the net from range, and Kostic’s low finish into the far corner made it 3-0 midway through the second half.
Busquets had a late goal disallowed for offside before he found the net with a fantastic strike from 20 metres in the first minute of injury time.
The game carried on into an 11th added minute when Depay netted a penalty after Evan Ndicka was sent off, receiving a second caution for a foul on Luuk de Jong.
West Ham outclass Lyon
Yet Eintracht maintained their record of not having lost to Spanish opposition since the 1960 European Cup final against Real Madrid, and they will face West Ham in the semi-finals.
The English side are through to their first European semi-final since losing the 1976 Cup Winners’ Cup final to Anderlecht after they outclassed Lyon in France, winning 3-0 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate.
The Hammers took the lead in the 38th minute of the return when Craig Dawson headed in a Pablo Fornals corner.
Captain Declan Rice slotted in their second just before the break, his sidefoot effort from the edge of the area beating Lyon goalkeeper Julian Pollersbeck with the aid of a deflection.
The outcome was put beyond doubt when West Ham scored again three minutes after the restart as Fornals sent Jarrod Bowen away to make it 3-0.
“The journey in two years, we were talking about relegation, and now we’re talking about getting to the semi-final of a European tournament. It’s fabulous, and we’re all going to look forward to it,” said West Ham manager David Moyes.
Rangers through in extra time
There was drama in Glasgow as Rangers were taken to extra time by Braga before winning 3-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate as the Portuguese side finished the game with nine men.
James Tavernier gave Rangers a second-minute lead to level the tie on aggregate, and they had another goal disallowed and then hit the woodwork before winning a penalty just before the interval.
Vitor Tormena was sent off for a foul on Kemar Roofe, and Tavernier netted from the spot.
David Carmo’s 83rd-minute header took the tie to extra time, but Roofe’s 101st-minute finish put Rangers back in front on aggregate and Braga then had Iuri Medeiros dismissed.
Rangers will now face Leipzig in their first European semi-final since reaching the 2008 UEFA Cup final.
French international Christopher Nkunku scored both goals as Leipzig beat Atalanta 2-0 in Italy to win their last-eight tie 3-1 on aggregate.
Nkunku opened the scoring in the 18th minute in Bergamo and then added a late penalty, his 30th goal of the season in all competitions.
“A gift from heaven,” was how Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez described the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the striker, discarded by Arsenal, has certainly delivered.
It is hard to think of a more significant January acquisition than Aubameyang, given his impact on Barca’s immediate and long-term future.
By the end of the season, Aubameyang’s goals could be the biggest factor in Barcelona finishing in La Liga’s top four, an achievement that could prove transformative.
He has scored nine goals in 12 games so far, including a hat-trick against Valencia and two against Real Madrid.
Missing out on the Champions League next season would have derailed Barcelona’s financial recovery and destabilised the entire project under Xavi, who looks an astute appointment now but was unproven when he took his first major coaching job in November.
Barcelona’s fortunes have turned around so dramatically that they now have two chances to qualify for the Champions League.
They could finish in the top four in La Liga, where they are second after overhauling Sevilla on Sunday, or they could win the Europa League where they are clear favourites.
They face Frankfurt on Thursday in the first leg of the quarter-finals, with the winner to face Lyon or West Ham in the last four.
The 32-year-old Aubameyang’s departure from Arsenal mid-season continues to cause debate in England, with some questioning Mikel Arteta’s decision to let the striker leave for free, particularly given the team’s struggles to score goals.
Many say the wisdom of that move will depend entirely on whether Arsenal finish in the Premier League’s top four and qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the 2016-17 season.
“I think (the problem) was just with him and after he made this decision, I can’t tell you much, he wasn’t happy and that’s it. I was not very happy, I was very calm and that’s it,” Aubameyang said in February of Arteta.
Perhaps more to the point is that in January, Arsenal and Barcelona had very different priorities.
While Arteta was nurturing and protecting a young Arsenal team for the future, Barcelona wanted to patch together a short-term squad capable of averting impending financial disaster.
Aubameyang’s disciplinary problems, age and lack of fitness meant he no longer fitted in with Arteta’s long-term vision.
– ‘A privilege to have him’ – But his goals, talent and ego made him the perfect fit for a Barcelona side desperately in need of a quick fix.
“Auba has been a gift from heaven,” said Xavi.
“He is a player who is positive, has taken very well to the dressing room, he adapts very well to the needs of the team, he scores. It is a privilege to have him and he will contribute a lot to us.”
Barcelona’s veteran defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets agreed. “He’s working really well,” said the 33-year-old.
“He came needing more minutes but he’s getting them. I hope he keeps contributing like this because he’s a great guy. Getting him on a free transfer is a gift.”
Barcelona president Joan Laporta confirmed that Aubameyang’s contract runs until 2025 but has a break clause at the end of next season, in 2023.
He will be almost 34 by then and it seems entirely plausible that Barcelona, who still have enormous debts to erase and a hefty wage bill to trim, will move Aubameyang on.
It might well be that after an impressive first stage, Aubameyang’s own hunger and drive begin to fade. Barcelona could face the same problems Arsenal did.
Whatever the outcome it will still be hard to argue the deal for Aubameyang to join Barca was not a roaring success.
If Aubameyang does nothing else, his role in vindicating Xavi and securing qualification for the Champions League this season will have been immense, and for that Barca should always be grateful.
Xavi Hernandez said Barcelona’s 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid could be transformative for the club after their Clasico demolition at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday.
Barcelona blew Madrid away as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice either side of goals from Ronald Araujo and Ferran Torres.
The match was billed as a test of Barca’s progress under Xavi and they passed with flying colours, a humiliation of their fiercest rivals suggesting they are primed to challenge again for La Liga next season.
“It can change the dynamics of the present and the future,” said Xavi. “We had lots of chances and we were much better than Madrid, far superior. We deserved to score so many goals.”
Asked if Barcelona are back, Xavi said: “It can be. This is the right path.”
And while the result might have little bearing on the title race this term, a defeat of this magnitude, at home, and against Barcelona, will cause serious reverberations at Real Madrid.
It will go down with other historic Clasico thrashings, like when Barca won 6-2 at Real Madrid in 2009 under Pep Guardiola or 5-0 at home two years later.
Questions will be asked about Carlo Ancelotti’s future, with Madrid outplayed tactically and technically by Xavi’s Barca, who were faster, slicker and, perhaps most worryingly, could easily have won by more.
“We played badly and I planned the game badly,” said Ancelotti. “I am sorry for the defeat and I am sad. But we have to keep it in perspective.”
Madrid were admittedly without the injured Karim Benzema and Ferland Mendy while there could have been a degree of complacency, given they kicked off nine points clear at the top of the table after Sevilla were held to a goalless draw by Real Sociedad.
But none of that will excuse a loss as dramatic as this one, the only relief now that a resurgent Barcelona are still 12 points behind, albeit with a game in hand.
Aubameyang’s double means he now has nine goals in 11 games for Barcelona and the Gabon striker is looking like a superb January signing.
Pedri was outstanding again too — but this was a night for the bigger picture, as Barcelona’s revival made its biggest statement so far.
When Barca were beaten by Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup in January, the Catalans were criticised for celebrating the manner of their narrow defeat.
“We are getting closer,” said Gerard Pique.
After five consecutive losses to Madrid, a win of any kind was the next step for Barca but a hammering like this could be transformative, delivering a huge boost to confidence, vindication of Xavi’s project, and optimism for next season all in one fell swoop.
‘We Are Back’
Shortly after the final whistle here, Pique tweeted: “We are back.”
Eder Militao clattered Pedri in the opening minute and that was about as close as Real Madrid got to him all game.
Soon, the chances started coming for Barca as Ferran Torres pulled back for Aubameyang but he scuffed straight at Thibaut Courtois, who then had to palm wide a curling effort from Ousmane Dembele.
Barca’s dominance was growing and in the 29th minute, they scored, Dembele racing round the outside of Nacho Fernandez and crossing for Aubameyang to head in.
Vinicius Junior might have changed the game if he had converted after being sent through but a heavy touch allowed Marc-Andre ter Stegen to save.
Instead, Barcelona doubled their lead when Ronald Araujo headed in from a corner before half-time and after it, the humiliation began.
David Alaba and Militao both committed themselves to sliding tackles and both missed, Aubameyang executing a superb flicked pass to Torres, who made no mistake.
Worse was to come, as Pique’s ball over the top allowed Aubameyang to scoop in a brilliant finish for a fourth in the 51st minute. Madrid thought they were spared by the offside flag but VAR intervened and the goal stood.
Aubameyang, Torres, and Dembele could all have furthered the embarrassment for Madrid, the latter poking wide after skipping in behind and holding off Militao.
By then, Aubameyang had gone off, the victory already complete and the stadium quickly emptying.
A Clasico that was supposed to mean very little, in the end, meant an awful lot as Barcelona gave a resounding answer to questions about their revival and instead left Real Madrid shrouded in doubt.
Most believed there was no result on Sunday that could derail Madrid’s march to the La Liga title but even that feels less certain now. A defeat like this, 4-0 at home, and against Barcelona, was perhaps the only kind that might prompt a collapse.
In that regard, Madrid will be relieved, not only that Barca are still points 12 points adrift, albeit with a game in hand still to play, but that a two-week international break gives them some breathing space, time to stabilise and recover.
It will allow Karim Benzema time to recover too, with the Frenchman’s absence undoubtedly a factor in Madrid’s spinelessness against Barcelona, who took advantage to devastating effect.
Barca’s place in the top four is surely now secure, which will be celebrated by the club’s accountants as much as anyone else.
For all the excitement and enthusiasm generated by Xavi’s team on the pitch, the harsh reality is the club’s financial ills will take longer to cure. Only last week La Liga set Barcelona’s spending limit at -144 million euros.
They will certainly believe second place is now a realistic target, particularly given Sevilla’s stuttering form.
They might even look at Madrid’s remaining fixtures to come against Sevilla at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano and wonder if the comeback could yet be on.
“If there is the slightest option to take advantage, we will go for it,” said Sergio Busquets.
More likely, though, is the consequences of this result for both clubs will be longer-term and wider-reaching.
As Barcelona celebrated at the full-time whistle, saluting their fans up in the highest corner of the Santiago Bernabeu, one or two of the younger players began to jump and dance. Before others could join, a huddle was formed and when the players emerged, it was noticeable the celebrations were more restrained.
As Xavi said after the match, it had been a statement victory, one that will go down with even the most dramatic Clasico hammerings, but the table alone shows there is more work to do.
“We have not won a trophy here,” said Xavi. “We must keep working with humility.”
Yet Gerard Pique, never one to hide his opinions on social media, could not resist. “We are back,” he tweeted, while inside the changing rooms the players were ecstatic, among them Ousmane Dembele, who did not look like a player about to leave for free in the summer.
A victory and a performance like this will make current players eager to stay and potential targets want to come.
The problem for Barcelona is, for all the attractiveness of Xavi’s project, they will be restricted again to the kind of opportunistic deals that they struck in January with such success.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with eight goals in 11 games, has been a revelation.
But to keep pulling off similar deals will be difficult. Barcelona might well be contenders again in La Liga next season but the gap to Europe’s most rich and powerful will take longer to close.
Perspective was the keyword afterwards for Carlo Ancelotti too, who reeled off Real Madrid’s achievements so far this season like a coach who knew he was suddenly under scrutiny.
It is a testament to the depth of the rivalry between Spain’s two biggest clubs that for some, a whole season’s work can be undone in 90 minutes.
“I am very sorry for the defeat, I am very sad but I keep it in perspective, which is that we have a nine-point lead in the league and we’re in the quarter-finals of the Champions League,” Ancelotti said.
The two legs against Chelsea certainly assume greater significance now and it remains to be seen how much confidence is affected for the first game at Stamford Bridge, which is Real Madrid’s second match back after the break.
They will need Benzema fit and firing, with the Clasico underlining the failure of the club to sign suitable cover for the 34-year-old, and of Ancelotti to integrate his possible replacements. The plan to field Luka Modric upfront backfired completely.
Any doubts Real Madrid president Florentino Perez had about Ancelotti’s future longer-term will come into sharper focus, particularly if he thinks one of the world’s most impressive coaches like Mauricio Pochettino, Erik Ten-Haag, or even Thomas Tuchel could be lured in the summer.
Perez has opted for more conservative appointments in recent years, to oversee smooth transitions and to accommodate an iconic group of ageing players, but what the Clasico showed was Xavi’s Barca are a threat that cannot be ignored now. Madrid might also have to be bolder to confront it.
The match was billed as a test of Barca’s progress under Xavi Hernandez and they passed with flying colours, a humiliation of their fiercest rivals suggesting they are primed to challenge again for La Liga next season.
Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez said on Saturday “the doors are open” to Lionel Messi.
Xavi was speaking in a press conference ahead of the Clasico on Sunday when Barca face La Liga leaders Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Messi has endured a disappointing season at Paris Saint-Germain although Barca’s dire financial situation would make re-signing the Argentinian difficult.
La Liga’s latest spending restrictions published last week set Barcelona’s limit at -144 million euros ($159 million). It means the club will have to make considerable savings to sign anyone in the next transfer window.
Messi was let go last year because Barca could not afford to renew his contract, bringing an emotional end to the striker’s historic career at Camp Nou.
Asked if he would open the door to Messi coming back, Xavi said: “He is the best player in history and the history of the club, he’s earned the right to have the doors open to him.
“As long as I am coach the doors are open to him if he wants to come any day. He is the best in history and as a club we owe him a great tribute, he deserves it, but he has a contract with PSG, so there is little more I can tell you.
“If he wants to come any day, to see training, talk to the coach, the doors are open because he is the best player in the history of the club.”
Without Messi, Barcelona struggled for much of the season but Xavi, who was appointed in November, has overseen a significant upturn in form.
Real Without Injured Benzema
Barca sit third, on course to qualify for next season’s Champions League, and will be hopeful of landing a statement victory against Real Madrid, who will be without their star striker Karim Benzema.
Benzema is out with a calf injury and will not be risked, allowing the Frenchman the international break to recover for the run-in and Champions League quarter-finals against Chelsea.
“Tomorrow he can’t play because he hasn’t trained,” said Carlo Ancelotti on Saturday. “He still feels a little discomfort, it’s a small injury, but it won’t let him train and obviously he won’t play either.”
“The fact that he doesn’t play tomorrow doesn’t worry me because it means we will have two weeks to get him ready for the end of the season when he will be very important as always,” Ancelotti added.
Xavi said Benzema’s absence would be a “significant blow” for Real Madrid while confirming that Gerard Pique will be available for Barca.
“He’s fine, he has some minor discomfort, but he’s fine,” said Xavi.
Despite winning their last four consecutive league games, Barcelona are 15 points behind Real Madrid in the table, albeit with a game in hand.
They could overhaul stumbling Sevilla to finish second but a late title charge appears almost impossible.
“We cannot rule Barcelona out, they will fight until the last game,” said Ancelotti.
“Winning the league is unlikely,” said Xavi. “I think will be difficult.”
But there is an opportunity for Barcelona to show they are ready to challenge for the title again under Xavi next season.
“We have grown as a team since I arrived but it doesn’t mean anything, it’s a Clasico and we have to show our personality,” Xavi said.
“It is a chance to show we are in a good moment because we have had good results but tomorrow is another litmus test, to prove that against another big team, we can play and impose our game.”
Xavi added: “Otherwise I know the media and they will say the improvement has not been seen in the most important game of the season.”
Last season, Barcelona clinched an historic treble by winning the league, Champions League and Copa de la Reina.
After already winning the Spanish Super Cup as well this term, they could yet go one better and do the quadruple.
Barca are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, in which they will play Real Madrid again, this time over two legs, and the quarter-finals of the cup, with a game against Real Sociedad to come next week.
The home leg against Real Madrid in the Champions League will be held at the 99,000-capacity Camp Nou.
Real Madrid only officially launched their women’s team in 2020 and while they are quickly improving, they have work to do to close the gap to Barcelona. Madrid are fifth in the table, 29 points behind the newly-crowned champions.
Alexia Putellas, the Spaniard who won the women’s Ballon d’Or in November, scored twice two minutes towards the end of the first half at the Johan Cruyff Stadium.
Patri Guijarro and Jenni Hermoso were then both on the scoresheet in the second half, either side of a Babett Peter own-goal as Barcelona clinched the title in style.
Barcelona cruised into the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday after comfortably seeing off Napoli 4-2 to go through 5-3 on aggregate in a serious show of force.
The Catalan giants were on top almost from the off in Naples thanks to Jordi Alba expertly finishing a lightning counter-attack from a Napoli corner, and Frenkie de Jong’s superb long-range effort effectively ended the tie with three quarters of the match to play.
Xavi’s thrilling side could have had more before Lorenzo Insigne briefly gave the hosts hope from the penalty spot midway through the first half, and Gerard Pique made absolutely sure there would be no Napoli comeback on the stroke of half-time.
A sobering night for Napoli, who are chasing a first Serie A title in three decades, was capped just before the hour mark by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, impressive upfront for a dynamic Barca team that looks like it can go all the way in the competition.
“We dominated for 90 minutes and that’s the first time we’ve done that since I became coach,” Xavi told reporters.
“It’s a win over a team which I repeat is a Champions League-level team, one which does not concede many goals and is fighting for the league title.”
Matteo Politano pulled one back in the dying minutes but it was a stroll for Barca into Friday’s draw for the last 16, whose matches will be played on March 10 and 17.
“We made life difficult for ourselves with that awful start… You need to press Barcelona together as a team otherwise you will be in trouble as they will just pass it around you,” Politano told Sky Sport Italia.
Napoli fans applaud Barca
The night began with plenty of enthusiasm at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona as the two teams lined up with a banner which read “Stop War” in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which garnered loud applause.
However, Napoli immediately handed the initiative to Barca, a dreadful short corner cleared to Adana Traore who raced up the field and fed Alba, who calmly slotted home the opener.
That error, and the blisteringly quick manner in which it was punished, rattled the home side and when De Jong curled in an exquisite second the match and tie was all-but done and dusted.
Sergio Dest and Aubameyang then had shots whistle by Alex Meret’s goal as the home fans began to voice their displeasure at their team’s timid efforts.
Napoli were given a lifeline by Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who came charging out to beat Victor Osimhen to the ball but took out the Nigerian and after a VAR check ended up giving away a penalty.
Insigne slotted home the 23rd-minute spot-kick but Barca continued their dominance and the home fans let out a sigh of relief when Aubameyang somehow headed wide from point-blank range.
Any illusion of Napoli getting through was ended on the stroke of half-time, when they failed to clear a corner and Pique scuffed a left-footed shot past Meret.
Barca’s dominance was such that when Aubameyang ended a long spell of possession, and away fan ‘oles’, with a classy finish the Napoli supporters applauded.
The away section garnered more appreciation from their hosts when they started chanting anti-Juventus songs, but the rest of the match was played out in an eerie silence.
The home fans started streaming for the exits with over 10 minutes left as Barca contented themselves by stroking the ball around, and Politano’s nicely-taken consolation goal drew little more than a polite ripple from a long-since beaten crowd.
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang marked his first La Liga start for Barcelona with a hat-trick on Sunday as the Catalans thrashed Valencia 4-1 to climb back into La Liga’s top four.
Aubameyang scored twice in the first half either side of a Frenkie de Jong tap-in as a free-flowing Barca hit Valencia with three goals in 15 minutes before the interval.
And while Valencia briefly raised hopes of a comeback when Carlos Soler headed home Bryan Gil’s cross, a long-range Pedri strike flew in off Aubameyang’s back to complete an impressive victory.
In his post-match interviews, Aubameyang believed the fourth goal was Pedri’s but Barcelona later confirmed the referee had attributed it to Aubameyang, giving the Gabonese striker his hat-trick.
It is the 32-year-old’s first treble since August, when he put three past West Brom for Arsenal, and the first time anyone has hit a hat-trick for Barca since Lionel Messi scored four against Eibar in February 2020.
“It’s a luxury to have a player like him arriving for free,” said Sergio Busquets.
“When he arrived he hadn’t played many minutes but he’s getting them now and I hope he helps us like he has today because he’s a great player.”
Aubameyang had made two substitute appearances in La Liga before starting against Napoli in the Europa League on Thursday, but this was his first league start for Barcelona since having his contract terminated by Arsenal last month.
The third goal might have been Pedri’s in all but name but Aubameyang was at his pin-point best for the first, as he raced clear and unleashed an emphatic finish.
Xavi singled out Pedri for special praise. “There’s nobody in the world with his talent and he’s only 19,” Xavi said.
Barcelona’s quick-fire treble began with a simple chip over the top from Jordi Alba but Aubameyang still had work to do, the striker taming the ball on its third bounce before firing it high into the net under pressure from Omar Alderete.
The second was more intricate, a superb team goal going through Busquets and Alba before Ousmane Dembele generously sidefooted across for De Jong to finish.
Dembele was key to the third too, as his through ball released Gavi, who crossed to the back post where Aubameyang tapped in a third.
Valencia thought they had a goal back before half-time through Soler’s acrobatic finish but replays showed the ball had rolled out for what should have been a throw-in during the build-up.
Soler, though, scored shortly after the restart, heading in Gil’s whipped cross from the left to revive Valencia, who pushed for a second, with Soler going close with a long-range drive.
But Pedri killed their momentum with his wonder-strike from distance, the youngster curling a stunning shot from 40 yards off Aubameyang’s back and into the top corner, even if goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili might have done better.
Sevilla had earlier stumbled again at Espanyol, another slip meaning they have now won only once in their last five league games.
Rafa Mir put Sevilla in front at Cornella but Sergi Darder equalised for Espanyol early in the second half.
Sevilla’s pursuit of a winner was made harder by Jules Kounde being sent off with 14 minutes left, although Youssef En-Nesyri had a golden opportunity in injury-time, only to see his finish saved.
Anthony Martial, who joined Sevilla on loan from Manchester United in January, went off injured in the first half and could now miss next weekend’s crunch derby at home to third-placed Real Betis.
Another action-packed week is rolling by and sports fans will look back to relish the beautiful and at other times, sad memories of the past seven days.
Like previous editions, First 11, captures some of these moments, helping you make sense of the ever-busy sporting world!
Olympic Gold Medallist Turns Taxi Driver
Former Nigerian defender, Kingsley Obiekwu, made headlines during the week after news broke that he had become a taxi driver. Obiekwu was part of the U-23 side that won Africa’s first football gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Social media was on meltdown as the news made it to the internet. Many lamented the current state of the former defender.
In the wake of the discovery, Super Eagles skipper, Ahmed Musa, reportedly donated N2m to the ex-player who now lives in Enugu State. The Olympic gold medallist said he opened up on his condition so he could get help. Aside from Kanu Nwankwo, Obiekwu said he has had limited interactions with his former teammates. According to him, he picked up the driving job to augment his football management duties.
FG Settles Athletes
Earlier in the week, the Federal Government paid the medical bills of two athletes injured during the Olympic Games last year. Enoch Adegoke and Usheoritse Itsekiri suffered hamstring injuries while competing at the Games. The Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development confirmed the payment of two million, one hundred and seventy thousand naira each to the athletes.
But there was also bad news for the country’s athletics as the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) slammed a 10-year ban on 2008 long jump silver medallist, Blessing Okagbare.
“The Disciplinary Tribunal has banned Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare for a total of 10 years,” the AIU said.
The 33-year-old was earlier expelled from the 2020 Olympics. The dismissal was just before the women’s 100m semi-finals after she tested positive for human growth hormone at an out-of-competition test in Slovakia on July 19.
D’Tigress Seals World Cup Qualification
But the female basketball team gave Nigerians more reasons to cheer after they sealed their qualification for the 2022 World Cup. The D’Tigress defeated Mali in their final qualification game on Sunday to hoist the country’s flag at the championship billed for September in Australia.
The Nigerian side had bounced back from defeat to China in their first game before stunning France to keep their qualification hopes alive in Belgrade, Serbia.
A ‘Non-Negotiable’ Deal
The Super Eagles are also aiming to replicate the D’Tigress feat when they take on Ghana in a 2022 World Cup play-off next month.
During a meeting with UK-based players, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, maintained that qualification for the tournament is sacrosanct. The football chief, who visited the players alongside the coaching crew, assured that the NFF will support the team in their quest for a ticket to Qatar later in the year. The players also expressed optimism that the three-time African champions will make it to the competition.
Mbappe Steals Show
Moving away from Nigeria, the UEFA Champions League returned midweek as Paris Saint-Germain (PSG)’s game with Real Madrid headlined the latest round of matches. Youngster, Kyrian Mbappe, stole the show in Paris, outshining Lionel Messi as the French team defeated the former European champions. Mbappe grabbed a late winner in the last 16 tie as the clash ended one nil in PSG’s favour.
Barcelona’s Struggle Continue
After Mbappe’s masterclass, attention turned to the Europa League where Barcelona and Napoli battled for supremacy. The Catalan’s poor run, however, continued as they struggled to hold the Italian side to a 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp. Thursday’s draw will be a major concern for Xavi who is rebuilding the team following the departure of Messi.
Manchester United’s Captaincy Row
Former winners of the competition, Manchester United, are in the news over a captaincy row between Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire. Multiple reports had suggested that the duo is at loggerheads over the team’s leadership. Interim coach, Ralf Rangnick, is, however, not ready to stripe the England international of the armband despite calls for that. The player himself dismissed reports of a dressing room row at the Old Trafford.
On Wednesday, Italian authorities issued an international arrest warrant for former Brazillian player, Robinho. The move followed the confirmation of the former AC Milan player’s conviction for rape. The Italian Ministry of Justice has also asked Interpol to enact the warrant.
A Milan court had in 2017 found Robinho and five other Brazilians guilty of gang-raping a lady after plying her with alcohol in a discotheque. The conviction was confirmed by an appeals court in 2020 and validated by Italy’s Supreme Court in January. Brazil, however, does not extradite its nationals, meaning the former Manchester City star faces arrest when he leaves his country.
Djokovic Eyes Comeback
Serbian star, Novak Djokovic, is eager to return to the court and is eyeing a comeback in Dubai. The World number one was at the centre of a vaccine row which pushed him out from defending his Australian Open crown.
Djokovic, who was deported from Australia over his vaccination status and toured the Serbian pavilion at Dubai Expo, said he missed the game.
“I am excited to go back and play on Monday,” he said, referring to the Dubai ATP tournament during brief remarks to the media. “I miss tennis after all that has happened.”
West Ham Drop Zouma
In England, West Ham coach, David Moyes, said Kurt Zouma was dropped for the 2-2 draw with Everton due to illness. The defender was listed in the squad for the clash despite criticisms over a viral video showing him abusing his cat. West Ham had earlier fined the player for the act, days after the former Chelsea player apologised for the incident.