Category archive: Soccer
Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 3-1 to move into a tie (on points) atop the league standings, although Madrid does have a game in hand. Barcelona is now undefeated (6-0-1) in seven straight league meetings with Madrid, including three in a row at the Bernabeu. Here are five more notes on Saturday's Clasico -- which marked an end to Real's run of 10 straight victories in La Liga.
• Karim Benzema's strike 23 seconds into the match was the fastest goal in Clasico history. It was the third opening-minute goal scored in the series and the first since one by Barcelona's Francisco Jose Carrasco in 1988.
• In his 600th match for Barcelona (already the most in club history), Xavi Hernandez gave his team the lead in the 53rd minute with a deflected goal, his fifth of the season. Unsurprisingly, Xavi also attempted the most passes in the match with 112. He completed 95 of them (84.8 percent), including a game-best 51 in the attacking half of the field. Teammate Dani Alves was second in both categories, completing 63 of 79 passes (79.7 percent).
• Barcelona completed 575 of 677 passes overall (84.9 percent), while Real Madrid attempted only 413 passes, completing 308 (74.6 percent). Marcelo led Real Madrid by attempting 57 passes, but six players on Barcelona attempted more.
• Following the early score, Real Madrid proceeded to lose a league match after holding the lead for the first time in 72 games, since the last day of the 2008-09 season -- when Gonzalo Higuain scored in the 11th minute before Osasuna came back to win 2-1. Madrid's win streak of 15 matches in all competitions was also snapped, equaling the club's record run set in 1960-61.
• Jose Mourinho has now lost eight games against Barcelona, his most managerial defeats against any opponent, three more than his five losses to Liverpool. Conversely, Pep Guardiola has defeated Madrid eight times, tied for his most wins against any club; he also has eight against Athletic Bilbao.
The top two teams in ESPN's Soccer Power Index meet Saturday (4 p.m. ET on ESPN Deportes and ESPN3) in what will be 2011's seventh Clásico between Real Madrid and Barcelona, the most ever in a single year. In the past seven seasons, the winner of the winter league matchup has proceeded to win La Liga. Here are five notes on 2011's final edition -- and the 2011-12 season's first meeting -- of El Clásico.
• La Liga leader Real Madrid has won 15 consecutive matches in all competitions, equaling a 41-year-old club record. Madrid has not dropped points in over two and a half months, since drawing 0-0 versus Racing Santander on Sept. 21. In league play, Los Blancos have won 88 percent of their possible points and have scored a league-high 49 goals, an average of 3.5 per match. But Madrid has not defeated Barcelona in league play since a 4-1 win May 7, 2008.
• Barcelona enters Saturday's match (at the Bernabeu) having surrendered a league-low seven goals in 15 matches this season; however, all seven goals have come on the road. Since Pep Guardiola took over as Barcelona head coach in 2008, his team has faced Real Madrid 11 times with seven victories, three draws, and only one loss, which was in extra time of the 2011 Copa del Rey final. Over the 11 matches, Barcelona has outscored Real Madrid by 16 goals.
• Key for Barcelona will be talisman Lionel Messi, who has enjoyed a great goal-scoring run against Real Madrid in his career. Six of the past nine goals Barcelona has scored against Real Madrid have been by Messi. The Argentine has scored on each of his past five trips to the Bernabeu, tallying a total of seven goals. Messi is favored to win the Ballon d'Or for a third consecutive year, and his 17 goals in 15 matches are tied for top scorer in La Liga, though only one has come away from home.
• Tied for the league lead with Messi is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 17 goals in 14 matches as he attempts to win his second consecutive Pichichi award for top scorer in Spain. Ronaldo and Messi have put on a scoring exhibition this season, with each tallying more goals than 12 of the 18 other teams in La Liga. Ronaldo, however, has only netted three goals in 12 career matches against Barcelona, including a single goal at home.
• This match is more than just Ronaldo versus Messi, though. Including Gonzalo Higuaín (12 goals) and Karim Benzema (7), Real Madrid has three of the top seven goal scorers in La Liga and is on pace to break its single-season club scoring record. Barcelona is equally dominant on the passing leaderboard, with six of the top ten in completed passes, including league leader Xavi, who has over 300 more than teammate Dani Alves in second place.
Antonio Rusiñol is a production researcher who primarily works on ESPN's Spanish-language domestic and international networks. Follow him on Twitter @Rusinol7_ESPN.
Italy's Serie A begins play Friday, with reigning league champion AC Milan in action against Lazio (2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN3). ESPN'S Soccer Power Index (SPI) does not project there to be much of a race for the title this year, but it does think the race for the league's third Champions League spot will be very tight. With SPI's help, here's a look at the city rivals each vying for their 19th crown, as well as the race to avoid the drop to Serie B.
• SPI projects AC Milan as the favorite to repeat with a 52.7 percent chance to win the league. Milan has not won back-to-back league crowns since winning three in a row from 1991-92 to 1993-94. Milan enters the 2011-12 season tied with city rivals Inter Milan with 18 Serie A titles won, second-most all-time behind Juventus' 27.
• Inter Milan is the only other team in Serie A with at least a 10 percent chance of winning the title (according to SPI's projections), checking in at 16.7 percent. Inter Milan failed to win the league crown last year for the first time since 2004-05, breaking a streak of five consecutive seasons as champion. Inter has signed Uruguayan star Diego Forlan to fill the offensive void left by the departure of Samuel Eto'o, who led the club with 21 goals last season and recently completed a transfer to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.
• Napoli is third favorite to win Serie A this season at 8 percent. Napoli finished third in 2010-11 with 70 points, its best position in the table since winning the league in 1989-90. Napoli features striker Edinson Cavani, who was second in Serie A with 26 goals in 2010-11.
• SPI projects Udinese (7.5 percent) to finish fourth and Lazio (6.6 percent) fifth. With Italy receiving only three spots in the Champions League starting in 2012-13, the race for third has serious economic implications. Teams that qualified for the UEFA Champions League Group Stage in 2010-11 earned a base payment of $10.4 million while clubs that went to the Europa League Group Stage received only a base payment of $1.4 million.
• The relegation battle should feature at least one, and maybe only one, of the league's newly promoted sides (Atalanta, Siena and Novara), and Atalanta starts with a six-point deduction due to its alleged role in match-fixing. The last time more than one newly promoted side was relegated was when Napoli and Vicenza in 2000-01.
Germany (via math), Spain (via stats) and the Netherlands (via domination) moved closer to the final tournament last weekend as 2012 Euro qualification was back in full swing. There are many more key matches Tuesday.
As we mentioned in last Friday's post, Euro qualifying is a bit complicated, but the easiest thing to remember is all group winners automatically qualify for the final tournament. This is the only way to guarantee a spot in next summer's championship. This should be the goal of all contending squads entering the tournament.
Group A was mathematically decided Friday when Germany defeated Austria 6-2 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Turkey has a great chance to finish second in the group -- 96 percent to be exact, according to ESPN's Soccer Power Index (SPI). It is very unlikely to finish as the best second-place finisher, however, so Turkey is almost assured of entering into a two-legged playoff for one spot in the final tournament later this year.
Here are some notes on other qualifying groups.
• Russia had a great weekend as it defeated Macedonia and saw its two closest competitors draw to each other. That puts Russia at about a 4-in-5 favorite to win Group B. Ireland remains second favorite to win the group (14 percent) and the favorite to claim second place (66 percent). Russia hosts Ireland Tuesday and it can make a giant leap toward wrapping up its group.
• Italy moved inches closer to clinching its group after beating the Faroe Islands Friday. It wins 99.8 percent of Group C simulations. The race for second may appear closer than it really is. Serbia is by far the strongest squad and is also the only one of the four teams within two points of second still to play group minnows Faroe Islands. Serbia is an 88.3 percent favorite to finish second.
• Croatia also won but saw its chances of winning the group fall as Greece upset Israel on the road. That loss essentially eliminated Israel from first or second place and basically guarantees Croatia and Greece of a 1-2 finish. The order, however, will likely be decided Oct. 7, when Croatia travels to Greece in a rematch of their 0-0 draw last year.
• Portugal defeated Cyprus to slightly increase its lead in Group H; this group is still the most wide open. Portugal (58 percent), Norway (29 percent) and Denmark (13 percent) still have opportunities at the automatic qualification spot. Denmark hosts Norway Tuesday in arguably the biggest match of the group so far.
• Group I is not mathematically decided, but after the Czech Republic's loss draw to Scotland, Spain now wins Group H in all 10,000 simulations. La Furia Roja can make it official at home Tuesday if it defeats last-place Lichtenstein.
AC Milan and Inter Milan renew acquaintances on Saturday (2:40 p.m. ET, ESPN3.com) with the top of the table on the line. Here are five things to remember heading into the weekend:
•When Leonardo took over as Inter Milan's coach on December 24, the club was in seventh place, 13 points behind leaders AC Milan. Since then, the Nerazzurri are 12-2-1, earning 37 of a possible 45 points while AC Milan has gone 7-1-5 in that same stretch, earning only 26 of a possible 39 points. Leonardo was with AC Milan in 2009-10, spending one season with the club before leaving via mutual agreement.
•Milan will be without leading scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will be serving the second match of a two-match suspension after receiving a red card against Bari on March 13. The rest could be good for Milan's top striker as has suffered from a poor run of play lately, scoring only once in his last nine league matches after picking up 13 in his first 20 matches.
•Inter Milan holds a slight edge between the clubs in Serie A matches with a 64-59-52 record all time. Inter Milan also has the edge in goals scored with 255 goals while AC Milan has 236 goals. There isn't much "home field" advantage for either club as Milan is 31-32-24 as the nominal home club while Inter is 32-28-28.
•This meeting marks only the third time since 2000 that these two clubs have met in the 30th round or later. Milan has won all three of these matches, the most recent coming on April 5, 2008 when Milan won 2-1.
•SPI gives Inter Milan the slight edge in this derby clash, with the Nerazzurri winning 38.3 in simulated matches. Here's how SPI sees this match breaking down.
For more SPI-related information about this match, including how SPI projects this match will affect the Serie A table, head over to ESPN Insider and check out Why Inter will beat AC Milan .