* With a game in hand, Real Madrid maintained their one point lead over Barcelona with a 4-1 home win over David Moyes’ Real Sociedad. Barça twice fell behind to Villareal at the Camp Nou but ran out 3-2 winners. Atletico Madrid are three points behind them following a 3-1 win at Eibar.
Next weekend Atletico host real in the Madrid derby and a home win could really make the title a three-horse race. Barça visit Athletico Bilbao.
*Real could end up with a transfer ban similar to Barcelona’s after FIFA probed the arrival of two 12 year-old Venezuelans in Madrid. Rules forbid signing under-18s from outside of Europe unless their parents have already emigrated for other reasons. Real deny any wrongdoing but a further 49 transfers are under the spotlight.
Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid could be renamed the Abu Dhabi Bernabeu.
*The Santiago Bernabeu stadium could be renamed the ‘Abu Dhabi Bernabeu’ according to AS newspaper. Real President Florentino Perez let slip last November that a corporate name change was in the offing based on the deal the club had signed with Spanish oil company IPIC, whose mother firm is from the Arab state.
It would be a sad day if the Bernabeu’s hallowed name is tainted in this way because with the exception of Real Mallorca’s Iberostar, Spanish football has so far declined to go down the English road of soulless and transient titles like The Emirates, Etihad or Ricoh Arena. In the NFL it is par for the course however, with 25 of its 31 grounds named after sponsors.
Barcelona are set to ditch Qatar Airways as their shirt sponsor in 2016. Dominoqq Terpercaya Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said he was looking elsewhere to replace the €30 million a year deal, citing “social issues”, presumably the Gulf state’s kafala system of forced labour and an expected death toll of up to 4,000 migrant workers before the 2022 World Cup finals.
*World player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo was banned for two matches for his red mist kick and attempted punch last weekend against Cordoba. He will return for the Madrid derby with Atletico next weekend.
Gareth Bale dismissed British press rumours that he could be on his way to Man United.
*Gareth Bale dismissed British press rumours that he could be on his way to Manchester United but the some Real fans and Spanish papers are on his back for his apparent greediness on the pitch. With no Ronaldo, Bale had been expected to play a bigger role against Real Sociedad, and although he forged a goal for Karim Benzema, the Welshman failed to hit the target himself, snatching one chance from James Rodriguez, much to the Colombian’s chagrin.
Cadena Ser radio station’s interview with Bale got no more than a C+ for homework. Presenter Jose Ramon de la Morena asked him if Welshmen could play for England or if he had read any Ken Follett novels. No and no.
*Spain earned more in transfer fees last year than any other football nation. Its clubs garnered €588 million in transfer fees. England on the other hand was the biggest spender, shelling out over a billion Euros in 2014.
* The game of the week was one of high drama as Barcelona won 3-2 at Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey.
Fernando Torres netted in the first minute to cancel out Barça’s first leg lead but a Neymar brace, an own goal by Atletico’s Miranda and a red card for Gabi in the tunnel at half-time effectively killed the contest after 45 minutes.
Mario Suarez was also given his marching orders in the second half, leaving Atletico to see out the tie with nine men in front of a sell-out crowd of 53,800 in Madrid.
Ten players were booked including Arda Turan, who only saw yellow for launching one of his boots at a linesman.
* Next up in the Copa Barça play Villareal, while the other semi-final will see Espanyol play Athletic Bilbao, setting up the prospect of an all-Barcelona final.
* Angel Maria Villar, the Spanish Football Federation president who famously said “All the fish are sold” before Spain & Portugal’s 2018 World Cup bid was beaten by Russia’s, is in dispute with Miguel Cardenal, the country’s sports minister. Cardenal is demanding FEF accounts are laid open for auditing, while Villar is reporting the government to FIFA for interference.
* Pep Guardiola is “a shit of a man but a great coach” according to Mino Raiola, agent of former Barça striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a footballer not known for keeping his counsel.
* The week’s transfer rumours included Real losing Sergio Ramos to Chelsea and Chicharito to Lazio but the Madrid giants are in the hunt for Porto’s 17 year-old prodigy Raul Neves.
Chelsea are hoping to buy Raphael Varane from Real in the summer while Arsenal are said to be keen to take Luis Suarez off Barca’s hands after an indifferent first half of a season. The UK press are still saying Tottenham’s Harry Kane is on Real’s radar, but the Spanish press has yet to echo that.
* Spain’s siesta culture, where business shuts down for three hours from 2-5pm and people stay up late, could be responsible for La Liga clubs’ strong performances in the Champions League, according to a study by Birmingham University.
The gap between the body’s daily peak and trough is as much as 26% in terms of performance, claims the study. Given that CL games kick off in the evening, Spanish-based players, who are more used to staying up late, could have the edge over those used to 3pm kick-offs.
La Liga start times vary, but typically begin at 6pm or 8pm, but several start at 9 or even 10 o’clock at night.