Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman on Friday escaped with the minimum two-match ban as punishment for his red card the previous evening when Barcelona drew 0-0 at Cadiz.
The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) disciplinary opted to hand the Dutchman the shortest permitted suspension after his sending off in the final minute for arguing with officials as 10-man Barcelona limped to a goalless draw.
Referee Carlos del Cerro Grande wrote in his report that Koeman was sent off for “protesting to the fourth official in an ostentatious manner, with his arms raised, shouting and leaving the technical area, complaining: ‘hey, the referee has to whistle, the referee has to whistle, dammit, he has to whistle’ even though he had already been warned by the fourth official to stop protesting at the referee’s decisions”.
Koeman wanted play stopped because there were two balls on the pitch.
“In this country you get sent off for nothing,” Koeman told the press conference after the match, explaining that “it was for telling the fourth official that there was a second ball on the pitch, that he had to stop the game.”
La Liga can take another step towards normality next season after the Spanish government confirmed on Thursday it has lifted its ban on fans attending stadiums.
The exact capacity allowed in each stadium will be determined by regional authorities, with some restrictions still possible, especially in the north of Spain.
But the government giving permission for supporters to return is an important first step as La Liga clubs begin to recover financially from the Covid-19 pandemic.
La Liga president Javier Tebas said earlier this week he expects stadiums to be at least 70 per cent full at the start of the season in August.
“We can return let’s say to normality in terms of fans being allowed into stadiums,” Spanish health minister, Carolina Darias, said on Thursday, with the announcement applying both to La Liga and Spain’s ACB basketball league.
“It will have to be, as it was before, the regional authorities who determine the capacity,” Darias added.
Fans were allowed to return for the last two rounds of La Liga last season but in only five regions and with a limit of 30 per cent capacity and 5,000 people.
Spain is hosting four Euro 2020 matches in Seville at La Cartuja stadium, where a capacity of 30 per cent has been allowed.
Bilbao was Spain’s original host city but local authorities were unable to commit to supporters attending Athletic Bilbao’s San Mames.
The UK government announced on Tuesday the tournament’s semi-final and final will be able to be played in front of more than 60,000 fans at Wembley, which means the stadium will be at 75 per cent capacity.
Atletico Madrid won La Liga for the second time in eight years on Sunday as a 2-1 victory over Real Valladolid crowned them Spanish champions.
Here, AFP looks at five matches that secured Atletico the title.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Barcelona, November 21
Yannick Carrasco scored the winner as Atletico registered their first La Liga win over Barcelona in more than a decade and stretched their unbeaten run to 24 matches.
It would be this result that eventually gave Atletico a better head-to-head record over Barca, who were left 10th in the table and without the injured Gerard Pique for three months.
Elche 0-1 Atletico Madrid, May 1
Atletico were inches away from surrendering victory and their lead at the top of the table to Real Madrid as Elche’s Fidel Chaves missed a dramatic 91st-minute penalty.
Fidel’s shot struck the post as Atletico held on for a 1-0 win that kept them two points ahead of Real Madrid and also in front of Barcelona going into a crunch meeting at Camp Nou.
Barcelona 0-0 Atletico Madrid, May 8
Barcelona had the chance to shift the dynamic of the title race on their home turf but Atletico dominated the first half and Barca never did quite enough in the second.
The stalemate ended up being an even better result for Atletico after Real Madrid were held by Sevilla a day later, Atleti’s two-point lead preserved at the end of what many had circled as a pivotal weekend.
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Osasuna, May 16
With nine minutes left, Atletico trailed Osasuna 1-0 at the Wanda Metropolitano and Real Madrid were going top of La Liga, the title in their hands, with a win against Athletic Bilbao.
But Atletico pulled off an incredible turnaround, Renan Lodi equalising in the 82nd minute and Suarez scoring the winner in the 88th, with hundreds of fans celebrating outside in the stadium car park.
Victory kept Atleti top and left them one more win away.
Real Valladolid 1-2 Atletico Madrid, May 22
Atletico knew victory would win them the title regardless of how Real Madrid fared against Villarreal but they did it the hard way, coming from behind after Valladolid took a shock lead through Oscar Plano.
But Angel Correa equalised and then Suarez scored the winner, a nervy title race decided by a nail-biting victory.
Spain’s La Liga is investigating whether a party organised by Barcelona players at their captain Lionel Messi’s home broke Covid-19 protocol.
“We’re looking into it,” La Liga sources told AFP on Tuesday.
Monday’s meal brought together Barca players, some accompanied by their partners, at the Argentinian star’s house, despite social distancing rules in the Catalonian capital outlawing groups of more than six to meet in private.
The party may constitute “a possible breach of Covid-19 protocols”, the source suggested.
The purpose of the get-together according to local media was to give the team a morale boost ahead of the season run-in, with Messi’s double in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Valencia leaving them two points adrift of Atletico Madrid with four games to play, and to celebrate last month’s Copa del Rey triumph.
Images carried in various media showed players like Sergi Roberto and the teenager Pedri leaving Messi’s house. In a video chants of ‘champions, champions’ could be heard.
“The public health agency will study this case and decide whether to take it any further,” Pere Aragones, vice-president of the regional Catalan government, said on Tuesday.
He added: “We call on everyone to respect the (social distancing) measures and urge those in the public gaze to be extra attentive as they can lead by way of example.”
La Liga are investigating allegations Valencia’s Mouctar Diakhaby was racially abused by Juan Cala of Cadiz during their game on the weekend, the league’s president Javier Tebas confirmed on Monday.
“We are already carrying out an internal investigation with the videos and images of the game we have to clarify what happened,” Tebas told Movistar.
“The accounts are contradictory but looking at the behaviour of the Valencia player you can see that something happened.”
Valencia’s players walked off during the first half of Sunday’s game in protest but later resumed, with the club claiming they were told they would be punished if they refused to return.
“Valencia has to do what the referee determines,” said Tebas. “Obviously the referee did not hear anything because if he had I have no doubt that he would have suspended the game. What Valencia did was follow the instructions of the referee.”
Diakhaby had been involved in a heated exchange with Cala before the Frenchman left the field and the fixture was stopped.
Referee David Medie wrote in his match report Diakhaby told him that Cala called him a “negro de mierda”, meaning a “sh**ty black”.
Medie wrote the insult had “not been picked up by any of the refereeing team”.
Cadiz coach Alvaro Cervera said after the game that Cala insisted he had not racially insulted Diakhaby.
“We returned to the changing room, we talked,” Cervera said. “Cala said that at no time did he insult the player. I believe in my player.”
Cadiz have announced Cala will also hold a press conference on Tuesday to give his version of events.
Valencia released a video on Monday afternoon of first team players and staff standing behind Diakhaby on the club’s training pitch.
Everyone pictured is making a stop signal with their hand while there is also footage of Diakhaby speaking to coach Javi Gracia and being hugged by team-mates.
“Today, tomorrow, always, stop racism,” the post read. “We’ll fight until the end to clarify what happened, defend our player and eradicate racism!”
Valencia initially indicated it had been Diakhaby’s request for the players to keep playing but the club released another statement on Sunday night saying the players had been “forced” to continue, under threat of punishment.
“In the changing rooms we were told if we didn’t return, we would be sanctioned,” said Gracia after the match.
“In that moment, we spoke with Diakha, about how he was, and he told us that he wouldn’t play but he understood perfectly we had to continue playing to avoid a possible sanction, so we returned.”
Valencia defender Jose Gaya told Movistar: “He (Diakhaby) told us he was insulted in a racist way. We went back out to play because they told us they could penalise us with three points and something more. He asked us to go back, he’s gutted, it was a very ugly insult.”
The club’s president Anil Murthy said on Monday it should not have been left to the players to halt the game.
“We are saddened that, following the incident, there was no reaction to stop the game, and that it was our players who were the ones to leave the field of play,” Murthy said. “There cannot be a lack of action in light of these types of situations.”
Diakhaby argued with Cala in the 29th minute following a tussle between the pair in Valencia’s penalty area. Diakhaby suddenly sprinted towards Cala, who was standing close to the halfway line.
Several players rushed over to separate them, with Valencia’s Gabriel Paulista among those shouting at the referee. Diakhaby was visibly distressed and his reaction earned him a yellow card.
After being escorted away, Diakhaby spoke individually with the referee before walking off, his team-mates following behind. The Cadiz players waited a few minutes before also leaving the pitch.
Around 15 minutes later, both teams returned and a further five minutes afterwards, the game restarted, this time without Diakhaby, who was replaced by Hugo Guillamon and watched the second half sitting in the stands.
Cala was substituted at half-time, having earlier scored the opening goal for Cadiz, who went on to win the match 2-1.
Marca’s front page on Monday carried a black background behind a photo of Diakhaby sitting in the stands, with the headline ‘You are not alone’.
Karim Benzema saved Real Madrid for the second week running on Saturday, his two goals dragging his team to a 2-1 win over struggling Elche in La Liga.
After Benzema’s late equaliser salvaged a draw against Atletico Madrid last weekend, the Frenchman came up trumps again, a brilliant shot flying in off the post in the 91st minute to snatch a crucial home victory at Valdebebas.
Real Madrid move five points behind Atletico in La Liga although Diego Simeone’s team can restore their advantage to eight by beating Getafe later on Saturday.
Barcelona, who are six points back, face bottom club Huesca on Monday.
Benzema recovered from injury just in time to play Atletico and his three goals since have earned his team four points in seven days, while also denying Atletico a crucial win.
After heading in the equaliser against Elche, Benzema delivered a special winner, catching the ball in the air with a superb shot that found the far corner.
“It was a beautiful goal and it won us three points, so I’m happier than ever,” he said.
Sergio Ramos returned from a knee injury to make his first appearance since January, although the defender came off shortly after an hour, meaning his availability for Tuesday’s Champions League game at home to Atalanta is perhaps not guaranteed.
Eden Hazard, who has also been out since January, came off the bench in the second half and could play in midweek, when Madrid will start with a 1-0 advantage from the first leg.
Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were rested, perhaps with that game in mind, but both were needed by Zidane before the end.
And a change in system to three at the back was not an obvious success as Zidane’s team struggled to break down an Elche side that sit 17th.
“Against teams that sit back, it’s always difficult,” said Zidane. “We had to find a solution and in the end we found a gap.”
Madrid were the better team in the first half but there was hardly a chance to show for it, the only real opening falling to Benzema at the back post as Fede Valverde released Vinicius Junior down the right but his cross bounced awkwardly for Benzema, who shot wide.
Both sides wanted penalties early in the second half, with Elche’s Ivan Marcone fortunate to be awarded a free-kick when he looked more culpable in a tangle with Ramos.
Then Ramos escaped punishment for a challenge on Guido Carrillo.
Shortly after, Elche took the lead. Ramos shielded his eyes as if struggling with the sun and the corner found Dani Calvo, who climbed above Raphael Varane to head in off the crossbar.
Ramos, Isco and Fede Valverde made way for Modric, Kroos and Rodrygo, and 10 minutes later Madrid were level. Modric collected a short corner and swung a cross into the back post, where Benzema nodded in.
There were 17 minutes left to find a winner but it came in injury-time. Benzema scooped the ball up to Rodrygo on the edge of the area. He cushioned it back to the striker, who caught the ball in the air with a brilliant shot that flew in off the far post.
Spain’s heaviest snowfall in decades has forced Atletico Madrid’s game against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday to be postponed, LaLiga announced.
“With the exceptional situation due to the storm over a large part of the peninsular which has forced the Madrid-Barajas airport to close for the day, and the impossibility of providing a pitch in ideal conditions LaLiga, after discussions with the two clubs, has postponed the game”, the federation said.
The fixture was scheduled for 1515 GMT at the Spanish league leaders’ Wanda Metropolitano stadium.
A new date for the encounter will be published in the coming days, LaLiga’s statement added.
Athletic were unable to land in Madrid because of the extreme weather brought by Storm Filomena on Friday and had to return to Bilbao early in the evening.
The blizzards have caused chaos in Spain, with the capital’s airport closed, hundreds of motorists stranded, and more snow forecast Saturday.
Diego Simeone’s Atletico lead the table by two points from city rivals Real with two games in hand.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane hailed Karim Benzema as the best centre-forward in French history after his match-winning double against Athletic Bilbao put them joint top of La Liga on Tuesday.
Bilbao’s Ander Capa had cancelled out Toni Kroos’s thumping strike before Benzema, 32, struck twice late on, heading home a cross with 16 minutes remaining and finishing clinically in stoppage time from Luka Modric’s pass.
Afterwards Zidane had no hesitation in declaring Benzema as France’s best ever centre-forward, putting him at the top of a list that includes Thierry Henry, Kylian Mbappe, Jean-Pierre Papin and Just Fontaine.
“For me, he’s the best — it’s very clear,” said Zidane, the French midfield legend who won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with Les Bleus.
“He’s proved it — he’s played at Real Madrid for a very long time, he has more than 500 appearances, all his goals… his record, all he’s accomplished here speaks for itself,” Zidane added.
Benzema arrived at Real Madrid from Lyon in 2009, but was long overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo until the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s move to Juventus in 2018.
On Saturday, Benzema’s 529th match for Real, he broke Roberto Carlos’s record for the most appearances by a non-Spanish player. Benzema is also their top scorer this season.
“He’s a more mature player these days,” said Zidane. “But he’s always shown that he’s not a pure nine, he doesn’t only think about scoring.
“That’s why I like him so much, I love him, he’s not only thinking about goals. He gets involved in the game, if he needs to pass to a teammate he’ll do it.”
Third-placed Madrid gained their fourth straight win in all competitions and are equal on 26 points with Real Sociedad, who face troubled Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Wednesday, and city rivals Atletico Madrid.
Barca are nine points back but play one of their two games in hand in the hope of giving some momentum to what has been a miserable season so far.
Dembele suffered a string of serious injuries to his right hamstring last season and appeared in only nine games for Barcelona. This season he has already played 12 times and scored four goals, including one in a Champions League victory at Ferencvaros on Wednesday.
He came on at half-time in Cadiz, with Barcelona already a goal down in a match they eventually lost 2-1.
He joins a growing injury list at the Camp Nou.
Teenage phenomenon Ansu Fati, Sergi Roberto and defender Gerard Pique all suffered serious injuries in November and will be out until next year. Defender Samuel Umtiti is another long-term casualty.
Manager Ronald Koeman has been rotating other players who are carrying knocks, including goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and defender Clement Lenglet. Both returned to the team on Saturday and made costly errors.
The loss in Cadiz dropped Barcelona to eighth, 12 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid. Both clubs have played 10 games.
“A gap of 12 points to a team as strong as Atletico Madrid is a lot,” said Koeman on Saturday.
“There are still games to be played, but if we don’t improve our attitude and our consistency away from home, we can’t have a say.”
Ter Stegen made his first error after eight minutes, staying on his line at a corner and then flapping at a soft close-range header from Alvaro Gimenez.
With the scores level after 64 minutes, Lenglet, in his won penalty area, failed to control the ball from a Barcelona throw-in. Ter Stegen charged out but whiffed on his attempted clearance, knocking the ball against Alvaro Negredo who rolled it into an empty net.
“We conceded goals that I can’t think of other teams I’ve coached letting in,” said Koeman.
“We have to improve. When you don’t have the ball, you have to go into battle with your opponent. I’m very disappointed.
“The attitude was not good tonight, not only from the defenders.”
Barcelona have won just four games in La Liga but have been imperious in the Champions League, winning all five games.
“They are different competitions,” said Koeman. “Defeat is difficult to explain. We were coming off good games.”