Zidane Says Real ‘Not Looking For Revenge’ Against PSG

Zidane Downplays Reported Madrid's Move For Pogba
Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane. AFP

Zinedine Zidane said that his Real Madrid side are “not looking to get revenge” when they host Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Tuesday after a 3-0 defeat in France earlier in the group stage.

Pressure mounted on Zidane after that loss at the Parc des Princes in September, but the 13-time European champions have since enjoyed an upturn in fortunes and sit behind leaders Barcelona only on goal difference in La Liga.

Real can join PSG in securing a last-16 place with victory at the Santiago Bernabeu, or if Club Brugge fail to win at Galatasaray in the other Group A match.

“We aren’t looking to get revenge after what happened earlier in the group,” Zidane said on Monday.

“But we want to play a good game of course and maintain our form.

“It’s the kind of game where you can confirm you’re on a good run. We want to win because we’re at home and we want to play good football.

“I want to see my side play 90 minutes at their best.”

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Frenchman Zidane was rebuked by PSG sporting director Leonardo earlier this month for comments about a possible move for his compatriot Kylian Mbappe, when he said the Paris forward’s “dream is to play for Real Madrid”.

The 47-year-old made clear again his admiration for Mbappe ahead of Tuesday’s encounter.

“You know that I’ve known Mbappe for a long time and that I’m in love with him as a person because of when he came here on trial a long time ago,” said Zidane.

“Having said that, he’s our opponent and there’s no more to it.”

Real have recovered in the Champions League after also being held to a 2-2 home draw by Brugge in their second game, beating Galatasaray home and away including a 6-0 thrashing in Madrid last time out.

Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is hoping the Spanish giants can show how far they have come since the loss in Paris.

“The first meeting with them helped us learn a lot — it wasn’t a good game but we’ve improved a lot lately,” said the Belgian.

“It’s not revenge, more wanting to get one over on another big team who have aspirations to win the Champions League and we need to show how good we are.”

PSG ready for ‘big challenge’

PSG lead Real, who knocked them out of the tournament in the last 16 two years ago, by five points with two matches remaining and can secure top spot in the group by avoiding defeat.

“They have great qualities and a great mentality, it is a big challenge,” said Paris coach Thomas Tuchel.

“The match will be different from the first leg. The Bernabeu is a very hard venue to play. Madrid are in good form, they score a lot and barely concede.

“But we have a balanced and dangerous team. We are ready for this challenge, I am sure of that. We have to work together and suffer together.”

The French champions are still without injured duo Ander Herrera and Thilo Kehrer, but have Neymar back after the world’s most expensive player returned for his first appearance since October 5 against Lille on Friday.

Spain Votes In Repeat General Election Amid Catalonia Tensions

 

Spain voted Sunday in its fourth general election in as many years amid heightened tensions over the separatist push in Catalonia that has fuelled a surge in support for upstart far-right party Vox.

The repeat polls were called after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to secure support from other parties following an inconclusive election in April which saw his Socialist party win the most votes, but no working majority in parliament.

Opinion polls however suggest this new election will fail to break the deadlock. Neither the left nor the right look likely to win a ruling majority in Spain’s 350-seat parliament.

The Socialists are on track to finish top again, but with slightly fewer seats than the 123 they picked up in April, while the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) may strengthen its parliamentary presence.

But the most striking development could be the rise of the far-right Vox party, which might even jump to third-largest in parliament, according to polling.

Party leaders from across the political spectrum urged Spaniards to head to the polls.

Sanchez told reporters after voting in Madrid that “it is very important that we all participate to strengthen our democracy” and “have the needed stability to be able to form a government”.

The last election produced a near-record 76 percent turnout, which helped Sanchez who had mobilised left-leaning voters to oppose Vox but analysts warn the numbers will likely drop this time, as Spaniards suffer election fatigue.

Voting stations will close at 8:00 pm, with results expected a few hours later.

‘Put order’

The election comes as Spain finds itself increasingly polarised by the Catalan crisis, which has deepened in recent weeks.

Less than a month ago, the Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy jail terms over their role in a failed 2017 independence bid, sparking days of angry street protests in Barcelona and other Catalan cities that sometimes turned violent.

More than 600 people were injured in the protests, which saw demonstrators torching barricades and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police.

During a TV election debate PP leader Pablo Casado called for a “real government that will put order in Catalonia”.

But the toughest line against the Catalan separatists has come from Vox leader Santiago Abascal.

“Drastic solutions are needed,” he said during his final campaign rally on Friday night in Madrid.

He then repeated his pledge to end the Catalan crisis by suspending Catalonia’s regional autonomy, banning separatist parties and arresting its regional president, Quim Torra, who has vowed to continue the secession drive.

The crowd responded by chanting “Torra to the dungeon”.

At the rally, Ana Escobedo said she has voted for the PP in the past but was drawn to Vox because of its hard line on Catalonia as well as illegal immigration.

“I think we need to take a heavy hand,” she said.

‘Remain difficult ‘

Vox won 24 seats in parliament in the last election in April, in the first significant showing by a far-right faction since Spain’s return to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

This time Vox could double that number, polls suggest.

In recent days, Sanchez has repeatedly raised the alarm about Vox’s “aggressive ultra-rightwing” policies, warning the party would drag the country back to the dark days of Franco’s dictatorship.

Spain has been caught in political paralysis since the election of December 2015 when far-left Podemos and business-friendly Ciudadanos entered parliament.

That put an end to decades of dominance of the two main parties, the PP and the Socialists, in the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.

But there is a risk Sunday’s vote will only prolong the agony.

With no single party able to secure the required 176 seats for a majority, the Socialists are likely to opt for a minority government, ING analyst Steven Trypsteen said.

“Voting intentions appear to have changed since the April election. But these changes will not make it easier to form a government, so the political situation is likely to remain difficult after this weekend’s vote,” he added.

How Messi’s Dead-Ball Hat-Trick Put Barca Back On Top

 

Lionel Messi delivered an incredible dead-ball hat-trick on Saturday to steer Barcelona to a 4-1 victory over Celta Vigo and ease the pressure on his coach Ernesto Valverde.

Messi scored with a penalty and then a pair of sumptuous free-kicks either side of half-time after Lucas Olaza had briefly pulled Celta level with a free-kick of his own at Camp Nou. Sergio Busquets drove home to make sure of the win late on.

A 34th treble in La Liga puts Messi equal with Cristiano Ronaldo, while a much-needed win sends Barca above Real Madrid on goal difference and back to the top of the table at the end of a testing week.

“It is impossible not to depend on Messi, he illuminates everything,” said Valverde. “We depend on him like any team would depend on him. He unlocked the game.”

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Madrid had briefly claimed first place after continuing their own goal-surge by hammering Eibar 4-0, a game in which Karim Benzema scored twice and Eden Hazard exploded into life.

But while Madrid appear to be hitting their stride, Barcelona’s momentum had stalled. After losing to Levante and failing to break down Slavia Prague in the Champions League, scrutiny had again turned on Valverde and his future as Barcelona coach.

Barcelona’s disgruntled fans had whistled their team against Slavia in midweek and when Olaza equalised for Celta, that tension and restlessness threatened to return.

Instead, Messi took command, this hat-trick taking his tally to nine goals in seven games, 612 in total for his club.

“Obviously when it’s tight we have the advantage of having the best player in the world and the best free-kick taker in the world,” said Busquets.

Yet his precision from free-kicks is a skill the 32-year-old has worked on and improved in recent years, his conversion rate currently at four goals from his last seven attempts in the league.

The last time a player scored a hat-trick from set-pieces in La Liga was when Messi himself achieved the same feat in 2012 against Espanyol, albeit with two penalties and one free-kick.

There was good news for Barcelona too in the return of Luis Suarez, who came off the bench after recovering from a calf strain.

Messi scored his penalty in the 23rd minute after Joseph Aidoo had blocked Nelson Semedo’s cross with his hand.

It was Messi that conceded the foul for Olaza’s curling free-kick that was well-hit enough to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen, even if the goalkeeper might have been disappointed not to be able to get across.

There was little Celta keeper Ruben Blanco could do about Messi’s efforts, the first in stoppage time before the interval and the second three minutes after the restart.

They were almost carbon copies of each other, bending over the wall and nestling in the top right-hand corner.

Celta, under their new coach Oscar Garcia, never looked like mounting a comeback and Busquets put the result beyond doubt with a low shot five minutes from the finish.

Real’s players might have been watching on their way home from Ipurua, where they went three up inside 29 minutes, Sergio Ramos scoring a penalty between two Benzema strikes, the second also a spot-kick after Ramos delegated to his teammate. Fede Valverde added a fourth in the second half.

Benzema’s double takes him to 157 goals for Real Madrid, above Ferenc Puskas into sixth in the club’s all-time list, but his excellent display was trumped by a creative masterclass from Hazard.

“His first half was very impressive,” said coach Zinedine Zidane. “We are happy and he will be a huge player for Madrid, for sure.”

Hazard’s vintage performance

Benzema latched onto Hazard’s pass in the 17th minute and after Valverde and Luka Modric missed, the ball spilled back to the Frenchman, who found the corner from an acute angle.

Three minutes later it was two, Hazard the creator again, his feet too quick for Pablo De Blasis, who caught his opponent’s right leg. Ramos slid the penalty home.

Hazard sparkled, with a brilliant nutmeg, a ‘rabona’ cross and too many glides past defenders to count.

Ramos passed on the second Madrid penalty, awarded for a foul on Lucas Vazquez, to allow Benzema to make it three before Valverde had added a fourth, cracking in Modric’s pass for his first goal in La Liga.

Barcelona And Real Madrid Clasico Postponed Over Catalonia Protests

Collage show scenes from the violence that erupted after the protest called by the local Republic Defence Committees (CDR) in Barcelona.

 

The Barcelona and Real Madrid Clasico, Spain’s biggest football league match, has been postponed because of Catalonia protests, the Spanish football federation said Friday.

The clubs have until 10:00am (0800 GMT) on Monday to find a new date for the match originally scheduled for October 26, the federation said. If they fail to do so, the federation will choose a new date.

The Spanish football league (LFP) on Wednesday said it had asked the country’s football federation (RFEF) to move the fixture from to Madrid after three days of large-scale demonstrations which have turned increasingly violent.

30 People Arrested During Catalan Protests

People wave Spanish flags and a giant banner reading “Today as yesterday, Catalans and Spaniards” during a demonstration for the unity of Spain marking the Spanish National Day in Barcelona on October 12, 2019. LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Police in Spain said Wednesday they arrested 30 people overnight across Catalonia for their roles in clashes with police during protests over the jailing of nine separatist leader over a failed 2017 independence bid.

Pro-independence groups staged sit-ins outside Spanish government offices in a number of Catalan cities late Tuesday, with around 40,000 people taking part in Barcelona and 9,000 in the separatist stronghold of Girona, according to municipal and regional police.

The protests ended in clashes with police in many cities.

In Barcelona, police charged hundreds of masked demonstrators who threw projectiles at officers and set garbage containers and cardboard boxes on fire.

Catalonia’s regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, said 14 people were arrested in the port of Tarragona, six in Barcelona and ten others in other Catalan cities for disobeying authority and causing a disturbance.

Monday’s ruling unleashed a wave of protests, with Catalan separatists enraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to hand heavy prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to leaders convicted of sedition over the 2017 separatist push.

That culminated in a banned independence referendum and short-lived declaration of independence in October of the same year.

Smugglers Save Police Officers As High Speed Chase Goes Wrong

This handout picture released by the Spanish Guardia Civil on October 4, 2019 shows a police high-speed chase with drug-smugglers, off the coast of Mijas, Malaga, southern Spain.

 

Three Spanish police officers who were thrown into the sea when their boat crashed early Friday during a high-speed chase were pulled to safety by the drug-smugglers they were chasing, police said.

The unexpected rescue happened after a police vessel began pursuing a speedboat “with four people on board that was suspected of transporting drugs” in waters off the southern coast of Spain, a police statement said.

During the chase, the two vessels collided, causing three police officers to fall into the sea as their boat “span out of control”.

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Using a megaphone, a police helicopter that was hovering overhead called on those on board the speedboat to help and they pulled the three agents to safety unharmed.

The gesture did not spare them, however, when police found three tonnes of hashish in the water nearby.

“They were arrested for drug trafficking,” a police statement said, indicating that more than 80 bundles of hash had been recovered from the sea.

Benzema Ensures Madrid Bounce Back With Impressive Win Over Sevilla

Real Madrid’s French coach Zinedine Zidane (R) congratulates Real Madrid’s French forward Karim Benzema for his goal during the Spanish league football match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville on September 22, 2019. CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

 

 

Real Madrid eased the pressure on Zinedine Zidane and delivered a resounding response to their loss to Paris Saint-Germain by winning 1-0 away at high-flying Sevilla in La Liga on Sunday.

Karim Benzema headed in the decisive goal at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan to secure an impressive victory against a Sevilla side that were unbeaten and hoping to return to the top of the table.

Instead, it is Madrid that go level on points with Athletic Bilbao in first place after a controlled and determined performance that was by some distance their best since Zidane’s return as coach in March.

“We have had a quite difficult time but the players reacted,” Zidane said.

His position had come under scrutiny after Madrid’s woeful 3-0 defeat by PSG in the Champions League on Wednesday, a result that continued their bumpy start to the season, following a turbulent summer in the transfer market.

But this win should do wonders for belief and leaves Barcelona as Spain’s chief club in crisis, with Ernesto Valverde under pressure after they were beaten 2-0 by Granada on Saturday. Madrid are now four points clear of the Catalans after five games played.

“I am very happy as people have been questioning us a lot,” said Zidane. “But we don’t think much about that. We played 90 minutes at a very high level in a difficult stadium. We must congratulate all the players.”

Not for the first time this season, Zidane singled out Gareth Bale for praise. “Today hard work was the key,” he said. “The effort made by James, Gareth, all of them.”

Sevilla’s newly-installed coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked by Madrid 11 months ago, 139 days after taking the job that cost him the chance to lead Spain at the World Cup.

He insisted on Saturday there was no desire for revenge but it is hard to imagine victory would not have brought a little extra satisfaction.

Zidane was asked about his own future as well, several times, and while he maintained he still feels the full backing of the club, there was a warning too. If support dwindles, he said, “then it would probably be best to leave”.

Lopetegui booked

But for all the problems — a dreadful pre-season, signings and sales missed, poor performances against Real Valladolid, Villarreal, Levante and PSG — Madrid now sit second, buoyed by a display that may yet prove a springboard for games to come.

A frantic opening half an hour made for an engrossing contest but there were few chances, as Lopetegui earned himself a booking for beckoning Gareth Bale to be shown a yellow card.

Real Madrid probably just shaded the first period and had its two best chances as Eden Hazard was slipped in by Benzema, only to be denied by Tomas Vaclik on the angle, before Dani Carvajal was sent clear by James Rodriguez but this time Vaclik’s right foot blocked the defender’s finish.

There was little in it, as Bale’s excellent cross almost found James at the back post shortly after half-time while Luuk de Jong went close with a header, prompting Carvajal to hack the ball clear at the far post.

Still, Madrid looked more likely and so it proved as Raphael Varane won back possession high up, allowing Bale to thread Carvajal in behind. He dug out a cross, which Benzema met brilliantly, rising high to head home his fifth goal of the season.

Sevilla might have equalised but De Jong headed wide under pressure from Carvajal and then Javier Hernandez did score, in the 87th minute, poking in at the near post, only for the assistant to raise his flag.

Bale could have made it two late on but hit the side-netting from an acute angle. One was enough.

Barcelona Starlet Fati Granted Spanish Citizenship

 

 

Barcelona’s 16-year-old starlet Ansu Fati was granted Spanish citizenship on Friday, a government spokeswoman said, meaning he will be able to represent Spain at international level.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet approved a request made by the justice minister to give the Guinea-Bissau-born forward Spanish citizenship during its weekly meeting, the spokeswoman said.

Fati was just seven years old when he moved in 2009 to Spain from the impoverished west African nation with his family and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy La Masia aged 10.

The player qualified for citizenship because he had completed the required 10 years of residency in Spain.

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In August, Fati became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga and on Tuesday, the club’s youngest player to play in the Champions League.

Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s full debut for Barcelona last weekend as “mind-blowing” after he scored one goal and set up another in a 5-2 win over Valencia.

His first major tournament for Spain could come at the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil, which begins on October 26 and ends on November 17.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said Friday it would be a “setback” for Barca if Fati goes to the tournament, when he could miss seven games for his club.

“We will wait for him to be called up first,” said Valverde. “But it would be a setback because he is a player that is contributing a lot to us at the moment.”

Asked if he would try to persuade Fati to remain with Barcelona, Valverde said: “I don’t think he will ask me for advice about it and I don’t like giving advice very much because in football the things you know are learned by experience. Everyone has to make their own decisions.”

Griezmann Nets Brace As Barca Put Five Past Betis

 

Antoine Griezmann proved Barcelona can win without Lionel Messi and do without Neymar too after he scored twice in a 5-2 demolition of Real Betis on Sunday.

Griezmann tossed confetti into the air as he celebrated his second at Camp Nou, where he was the star performer, if only for a night in the absence of Messi, who is still short of fitness.

A brilliant Barcelona performance delivered a resounding response to the doubts from their defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend, among them a reliance on Messi, the need for Neymar and the future of Ernesto Valverde as coach.

But as Carles Perez, Jordi Alba and Arturo Vidal made it three, four and five, the gloom was forgotten, along with Nabil Fekir’s opener in the 15th minute, that had Betis level at half-time.

Loren Moron slammed a stunning strike into the top corner for Betis late on but by then the game was up as Barca ensured no more ground was lost on Atletico Madrid, who beat Leganes 1-0 earlier on Sunday, or Real Madrid, who were held to a 1-1 draw on Saturday by Real Valladolid.

Barcelona will hope to have Messi back for the trip to Osasuna next weekend but with Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele both out for longer, Griezmann’s statement display was timely.

This was his first goal at Camp Nou in 14 appearances, five of them for Real Sociedad and eight for Atletico, and his overall performance was of someone ready to lead, rather than serve merely as a foil for Messi.

Suarez and Messi were in the crowd, who enjoyed a goal from the 21-year-old Perez, making his first start, and a substitute appearance from Anssumane Fati, who at 16 became the second youngest player ever to play for Barcelona in La Liga.

Sergio Busquets was at fault for Betis’ opener as he gave the ball away, allowing Fekir to drive into the corner.

But Barca looked dangerous and were undeterred, even if Gerard Pique, on his 500th appearance for the club, was lucky to escape only with a yellow card when he fouled Loren as the last man.

Rafinha missed an excellent chance to equalise before Griezmann took over, volleying in on the stretch four minutes before half-time, past the weak hand of Dani Martin.

If Griezmann’s first owed something to the goalkeeper, his second was unstoppable. He collected the ball 25 yards out and used Sidnei as a marker to bend his shot around and into the far corner.

Griezmann ran to the corner where confetti was poured into his hands. He tossed it into the air above his head.

Barca were relentless as Perez drove into the bottom corner and Alba made it four, latching onto a superb Busquets pass inside the full-back.

There was still time for two scintillating strikes, the first from Vidal, who was slid in by Griezmann, and the second by Loren, who was given too much space. It was no more than a consolation.

Barcelona stay behind Atletico, who maintained their perfect start with another 1-0 victory, this time over Leganes as Vitolo came off the bench to score a second-half winner at Butarque.

After beating Getafe last weekend by the same scoreline, Atletico have begun the season in familiar fashion, with efficiency trumping invention despite an ambitious set of summer signings.

Joao Felix, Atletico’s 126 million-euro ($140 million) buy from Benfica and much-hailed replacement for Griezmann, was quiet again but again delivered the match’s most memorable moment.

The 19-year-old’s perfectly-timed pass provided the assist for Vitolo while Felix had been picked out by Kieran Trippier, who was faultless on his second Atletico start.

Seven Dead In Mid-Air Collision In Mallorca

 

Seven people including two children were killed in a mid-air collision between a helicopter and a light aircraft over Spain’s Mallorca island on Sunday, authorities said.

The two aircraft crashed over the central town of Inca at 1:35 pm (1135 GMT), the regional Balearic Islands government said on its Twitter account.

Everyone aboard the two aircraft — two on the plane and five on the helicopter — perished in the crash, a police spokesman said.

A couple and their two children were aboard the helicopter along with the pilot, the spokesman told AFP.

The helicopter was registered in Germany, “which doesn’t necessarily mean the occupants were of this nationality,” he said, stressing that an investigation into the victims’ nationalities was still under way.

Police said the two aircraft crashed into a field.

Mallorca and the other Balearic Islands are popular with both Spanish and foreign tourists, especially in the summer season.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez expressed condolences to the victims’ families, and said in a tweet that he was “following the news from… Mallorca with concern.”

Barcelona And Bayern Confirm Coutinho Loan Move

 

Barcelona have an “agreement in principle” to send Philippe Coutinho on loan to Bayern Munich, both clubs confirmed Friday.

Coutinho was left out of the squad for Barca’s La Liga opener against Athletic Bilbao on Friday, with club director Guillermo Amor confirming the Brazilian is close to joining Bayern.

“We can confirm that there is an agreement in principle for the loan of Coutinho to Bayern and we just have to finalise the deal,” Amor told Movistar, ahead of the game at San Mames.

Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic also confirmed the loan deal later on Friday.

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“I can confirm that we were in Barcelona and have agreed terms with the player and his agent,” Salihamidzic told broadcaster ZDF following Bayern’s own league opener, a 2-2 draw with Hertha Berlin.

“We have a good relationship with Barcelona. We are still missing a few details such as the signature and the medical, but we are happy to have got a player like him.”

Coutinho joined Barcelona from Liverpool in January 2018 for an initial 120 million euros ($133 million), plus another 40 million euros in potential add-ons.

But despite huge excitement around Coutinho’s arrival, he has struggled to find his place at Camp Nou.

Initially tried in midfield, Coutinho was pushed into the front three by Ernesto Valverde last season in a bid to help him rediscover his best form.

Yet the 27-year-old was too often a bystander in games and some suggested his style and positioning clashed with Lionel Messi.

Gerard Pique was asked earlier this month about the possibility of Coutinho leaving. “I want him (Coutinho) to stay,” Pique said. “But at the end of the day it’s what he wants and I want him to be happy.”

At Bayern, the Brazilian will provide welcome reinforcement in attack following the departure of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery at the end of last season.

Coutinho’s departure to Bayern could also have implications for Barcelona’s hopes of re-signing Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.

Barca have already spent around 250 million euros this summer and it had been suggested PSG were keen for Coutinho to be included in any bid.

“There is a lot of talk about Neymar at the moment,” Amor added. “He is in the newspapers every day and I don’t think we should get into it now.

“Anything can happen while the market is still open but for now there is nothing and Neymar is a PSG player.”

Athletic Bilbao Defeat Barcelona 1-0

 

Barcelona made a nightmare start to the defence of their La Liga title on Friday by losing Luis Suarez to injury and then losing 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao, after a sensational late volley from substitute Aritz Aduriz.

Suarez hobbled off in the 37th minute with what looked like a calf injury before Aduriz came on in the 88th, the 38-year-old striker who has announced he will retire at the end of the season.

This was a spectacular start to the finale as Aduriz threw himself into the air and acrobatically volleyed past Marc-Andre ter Stegen to send San Mames wild on La Liga’s opening night.