La Liga packs up for World Cup and some need a break more than others | La Liga

“I’ll be watching it of course, at home, because I like football,” Carlo Ancelotti said. “My teams will be the teams where my players play: Brazil, Spain, France, Uruguay, Croatia, Germany, lots of teams. I’ll follow the World Cup as a fan, and may the best team win it. Unfortunately, Italy can’t.” There was a smile, a goodbye and with that he was gone. They all were. Just before midnight on a Thursday in early November and the Real Madrid coach was the last man to leave. La Liga was finished, everyone out of here for 50 days. Mentally, some had gone already.

This weekend is the first round of the Copa del Rey, but none of the Super Cup teams will be in it – no Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or Betis – and not many of the World Cup players will be either. If they have got this far injury-free, and not all of them have, few will take one last risk against a team they’ve never heard of; in fact, while no one admits it, the calendar was drawn up this way for this reason, to gain a little room, however tiny. Spain’s squad has just been announced and some footballers have already flown, this final midweek round of games is a watershed no one wanted – even if for some teams stopping is the best thing they could do right now.

For others, it is the worst. For many players, meanwhile, getting here unscathed is all that matters. “We would rather not stop now; everything’s coming off, even when we don’t mean it to,” said Real Mallorca manager Javier Aguirre on Wednesday, and no wonder: one of only three teams to have won their last two games, along with Barcelona and Girona, Mallorca had just racked up a third win in four, and against Atlético Madrid. Vedat Muriqi, a kind of Kosovar Andy Carroll, “a big bastard with a big heart” in his manager’s words, “an ugly beast who plays really well”, had just scored for the fifth game running, leaving the side that survived on the final day last season up in 11th, eight points from relegation.

On the other side, Diego Simeone just wanted it to end. Atlético have not won in five – a draw with Leverkusen, defeat at Cádiz, defeat in Porto, a 1-1 against 10-man Espanyol and now this. Since their European elimination, it has taken them 71 shots to score four, two Álvaro Morata misses in Mallorca a portrait of something for which captain Koke insisted “there is no explanation”. Which was understandable, if not entirely true. Jan Oblak has talked about a team “psychologically not right”, the doubts around their identity have resurfaced and all is not well internally. The CEO, Miguel Ángel Gil Marín, says that part of it is the World Cup itself, an “atypical season affecting the squad” – even if Simeone then disagreed.

Giovanni González of Mallorca skips over a twin challenge in the 1-0 defeat of Atlético Madrid.
Giovanni González of Mallorca skips over a twin challenge in the 1-0 defeat of Atlético Madrid. Photograph: Rafa Babot/Getty Images

That of course is the case for many teams, even if only at some subconscious level. Sevilla’s Papu Gómez admitted that in the final weeks, the World Cup would be on players’ minds, some reluctant to put their foot in. In the Madrid media meanwhile, a new illness has been discovered, one that doesn’t only affect them even if, like the Fifa virus, it’s inevitably presented that way: worldcupitis. Defeated 3-2 at Rayo on Monday, where the last chance fell to Fede Valverde and ended up in someone’s front room, they had drawn the previous game with Girona 1-1, and on Thursday night defeated second-bottom Cádiz 2-1, relieved to see a clear chance for the visitors slip away in the last minute.

That said, they needn’t have reached that point. Toni Kroos – who is not going to Qatar but playing better than ever – scored an outrageous volley to put them 2-0 up and Luka Modric should have made it three but somehow missed a sitter from six yards. “It’s a good job Croatia have already picked their squad,” Ancelotti joked. They have been without Karim Benzema and at the end of this game, Vinícius tweeted: “Another game without an injury, thank God.” That was directed at the treatment from opponents – he is the most fouled player in La Liga – but the significance, the relief, comes from what’s next.

Ask Villarreal’s Gio Lo Celso, a footballer Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni says could play at any club in the world but won’t now play for his country. The good news is that Vinícius, like the rest, will not have to get through another club game without injury now. After an opening 14 weeks which have occasionally felt a little like they weren’t real, like they were in the way of the World Cup – preparation for some, a risk for others – La Liga stops now. Which does at least give everyone a chance to work out where they are and what they need, the last matchday delivering a league table that will last six weeks.

It’s not always good reading. Just one place and one point off the relegation zone, Celta’s second manager, Carlos Carvalhal, started by leaving Iago Aspas on the bench and making the most fun place in Spanish football anything but, though at least he got a 0-0 draw at normally rampant Rayo. “This can’t be; we can’t have four coaches in 14 weeks, bloody hell,” said Pere Milla after Elche were beaten again. Bottom of the table, they have not won a match – already the fifth longest winless start ever. And Villarreal could yet be heading for a third manager, although a 1-0 win over Espanyol might have saved Quique Setién – less than two weeks after taking over. “I’ve never watched a game so nervous,” said his former assistant, and friend, Eder Sarabia.

They were grateful to Espanyol, the team that bring to mind a line from Alfredo Di Stéfano: “I don’t ask the goalkeeper to stop the shots that are going in; it’s enough for me that they don’t put in the shots that are going wide.” Both Benjamin Lecomte and Álvaro Fernández have done that – this time it was the former who accidentally finished off an Alberto Moreno cross.

Quick Guide

La Liga results


Elche 1–2 Girona, Athletic 3–0 Valladolid, Osasuna 1–2 Barcelona, Almería 1–0 Getafe, Sevilla 1–2 Real Sociedad, Espanyol 0–1 Villarreal, Mallorca 1–0 Atlético, Rayo 0-0 Celta, Valencia 3–0 Betis, Real Madrid 2–1 Cádiz

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For Sevilla, it is even worse: down to nine men, the Pizjuan stood to applaud at the end, appreciating that they had even managed to make a game of it against a side who played superbly, but they were beaten again. Those fans have not seen them win at home all season, and Sevilla slipped back into the relegation zone.

Life looks looks better for Valladolid, Almería and Girona, the promoted teams lined up in 12th, 13th and 14th; Osasuna and Rayo, seventh and eighth; and just look at Athletic and Real Sociedad in the Champions League places. Then, above all, there’s Barcelona, who came back from a man down and a goal down to defeat Osasuna, Raphinha lobbing in a lovely late header from an even lovelier Frenkie de Jong pass.

It was perfect for Gerard Piqué, who lived the dream once more. How many times have you fantasised about finally sticking it to the man on your last ever day at work? Well Piqué did. Although he claims he didn’t tell the referee to eff off (literally, “I shit on your prostitute mother”), despite that being what the official reported – which is a pity because they would be very famous last words – he did approach Jesús Gil Manzano at half-time, finger poking, following him down the tunnel and telling him that over the years he had been the ref that “most fucked us over by far”. Sent off, unable to play his last game, Piqué did though spark a reaction and leave Barcelona top, the players dancing round the dressing room.

Takefusa Kubo of Real Sociedad in action in the 2-1 win at Sevilla.
Takefusa Kubo of Real Sociedad in action in the 2-1 win at Sevilla. Photograph: DAX Images/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

Whatever happens next they will be there for a while. Primera won’t be back until 31 December. So now what? “Watch a lot of football,” says Real Sociedad’s Imanol Alguacil. Another first division coach says he’ll be tuning into Real Oviedo’s games in the second division, although he might have been slightly playing to his audience. One thing is true: clubs are in unknown territory and managers didn’t know what impact the World Cup would have until now and or how it will play out from here on.

One coach says they have consulted with basketball and handball clubs, more accustomed to long breaks midseason, but admits the sports are too different for the conclusions and lessons to be beyond tentative. A fitness coach says one of the essential lessons from the pandemic is that you can’t really plan, because you don’t know what’s coming; instead you have to be “chameleonic”.

The players’ union guarantees a 10-day break, which non-World Cup players will get after the weekend’s cup games, sessions restarting around 24 November, and World Cup players will have later, depending on when they arrive. Most clubs are preparing mini-preseasons, then there are friendlies: Betis play Manchester United and Villarreal play Arsenal. Many clubs are travelling abroad, others admit they haven’t organised theirs yet, and the league is promoting tours. The teams that travel won’t look much like those that played this week, even the smaller clubs having at least a couple of players Qatar-bound.

“Right now, no one can complain,” said Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli. “This should have been fixed long ago. Because it’s a huge business everything else is pushed to one side, and the consequences are paid by other people below them. Stopping the competition now to go and play there, is done. Everyone accepted it. Fifa decided it would be played in a place it shouldn’t be played in and on dates it shouldn’t be played on, and all for the ‘silver’.”

Rayo Vallecano stun Real Madrid to end champions’ unbeaten start in La Liga | La Liga

Rayo Vallecano came from behind to upset Real Madrid 3-2 with the La Liga champions failing to reclaim top spot in the standings after two consecutive games without a win.

The hosts opened the scoring five minutes into the game when the midfielder Santi Comesaña finished from inside the box but Real responded quickly and went ahead with two goals in four minutes.

The first came in the 37th minute when the Croatian playmaker Luka Modric converted a penalty after Marco Asensio was fouled inside the box and the second came almost four minutes later with a towering header by Éder Militão.

However, the Rayo forward Álvaro García scored the equaliser just before half-time, scrambling home a loose ball.

Rayo were then given a penalty of their own in the 67th minute after a handball by the defender Dani Carvajal inside the area. Real’s Thibaut Courtois stopped Óscar Trejo’s effort, but the kick had to be retaken because the goalkeeper left his line too early. Trejo did not waste his second chance, scoring what proved to be the winner with a tidy finish to the goalkeeper’s left.

Barcelona remain two points clear at the top of the league following their victory over Almería on Saturday. Real Madrid suffered their first league defeat of the campaign against Rayo Vallecano and Carlo Ancelotti’s team play their final game before the World Cup break at home to Cádiz on Thursday.

Red cards, a rocket and a ruckus: Seville derby ends in glorious chaos | La Liga

“Well, this is a derby,” Real Betis’s Edgar González was saying, but it was hard not to be drawn to the pitch behind him where opponent Nemanja Gudelj was pacing about shaking his head. At the final whistle, the Sevilla defender had covered his face with his hands and just stood doubled over, elbows on knees. Ivan Rakitic approached and they went through it once more, although it was a wonder they could hear anything. Next was Jesús Navas, the pair picking over the moment a vital victory slipped away. Now, waiting near the touchline for his turn to talk, they were going to ask Gudelj to relive it all over again on camera. He bit his lip, smiled and said: “I’m a bit angry with myself. I should have hit it better.”

Better?! The 138th Seville derby had finished 1-1, and Gudelj, son of a footballer and a basketball player, brother of a footballer and a tennis player, had scored the equaliser that earned Sevilla a precious point which pulled them out of the relegation zone. He had done so with an outrageous shot from somewhere over the other side of the Triana Bridge. “Buenisimo,” said the man he beat. It was only his second goal for Sevilla – his first had been an equally absurd effort from the same place that secured victory in Mallorca just three weeks earlier – and it could not have been hit better, the scoreboard behind the net flashing up golazos with impeccable and accidental timing as it tore 32 yards through the air.

Gudelj, though, was not really focused on that any more, but on what had come next. The clock had shown 80.58 when the ball raced past Claudio Bravo and into the net. It had shown 89.11 when he had controlled it on his chest and sent a ludicrous 20-yard volley crashing against the bar, the TV director deciding to turn away and focus on something else as it looped straight up into the sky and almost dropped down over the line. And it had shown 94.52 (of 95.04) when he had hit a first-time effort, bending and flying towards the top of the net from just beyond the penalty spot, only for Bravo to throw up a hand for a superb save.

In less than a quarter of an hour Gudelj could have scored three times as many as in his previous 127 games for the club put together. He could have scored the most ridiculously brilliant hat-trick ever – now there’s a debate for you: Rivaldo, surely? – from a combined distance not far off 90 yards. In a derby. Maybe the most passionate on earth. As a centre-back. A derby that his team desperately needed to win, too. But the closer he got to the goal, the further his shot got from being one and now he was kicking himself. “I needed to hit more to one side, I made it a bit too easy for Bravo,” he said, which was harsh on both of them.

Defeat probably would have been, too. “It would have been a pity to have conceded then,” Bravo said afterwards. This was one of those derbies where no one was satisfied, but actually they sort of all were, exhausted and, like the fan whose traffic light tower gave way on him, barely able to walk any more but basically unscathed. A game, Joan Jordán said, “where so much happened”: “A mad, mad, mad derby” as the headline in Diario de Sevilla had it. One that started with the first foul after 13 seconds and the second after 49, retaliation in early, and ran well beyond 100 minutes, that will keep running all week and beyond. A game marked by four red cards, 10 yellow cards, and a blue tracksuit, Jorge Sampaoli bouncing about on the touchline chewing anxiously on the draw strings of his hoodie. And ultimately decided by one stupid goal and one sensational one. That and a guy in the VAR room back in Las Rozas, 536km away.

Well, him and the anxiety that Manuel Pellegrini had warned them about. “They can’t let themselves get carried away by that,” Betis’s coach had said before, but they did; “the hatchet is never buried in a derby,” he said after. Unless it’s in someone’s leg.

Gonzalo Montiel hacks down Álex Moreno
Gonzalo Montiel hacks down Álex Moreno. Photograph: José Manuel Vidal/EPA

Betis’s fans had hoped to slip in the knife, anyway. They had not had a lead like this over Sevilla for two decades but things were shifting. Holders of the Copa del Rey, having knocked out Sevilla en route in a game that had initially been abandoned after a flag pole hit Jordán – something Betis’s fans reminded them of with a pre-match banner covering an entire end and depicting Jordán, the stick, and Pinocchio – Betis were in a Champions League place at the start of the evening, third within reach. Sevilla, by contrast, were clinging on to the league itself, down in the bottom three. Julen Lopetegui had been sacked, but things had not improved: Sevilla had won once under Sampaoli and just didn’t look very good, like a relegation battle might actually be a reality. No one would have enjoyed that more than their neighbours.

Soon, things looked even worse for Sevilla. Navas was 49 seconds into a record 22nd derby in primera when he sent the ball flying past the goalkeeper’s hand, off the post and into the net. It was his own net and it was that kind of game. He had come on as a first-half sub after Gonzalo Montiel was handed a red card for a wild, flying tackle, studs connecting with Álex Moreno’s knee. At first the referee, Sánchez Martínez, had only given a yellow, but the replays saw that upgraded, Montiel losing his mind and having to be dragged off the pitch by teammates. Betis, who had already had chances for Aitor Ruibal, Moreno and Nabil Fekir, were a goal and a man up.

It didn’t last, the scene repeated twice more. That was 38 minutes in. On 45, Fekir got a yellow that was turned into a red for an arm in the face of Papu Gómez – who, despite being an opponent, seemed to suggest afterwards that he felt the card was excessive punishment, claiming that the game “is contact and it’s losing its essence”. Then Borja Iglesias put his studs down Jordán’s ankle and was handed a yellow card that was also turned into a red on 48 minutes (which was weird, because he had his best chance with a one-on-one on 55 – explained by the 10 minutes of time added at the end of the first half before the clock started against on 45 in the second.) A fourth red was later handed to Betis’s goalkeeper coach Toni Doblas.

Quick Guide

La Liga results


Girona 2-1 Athletic Club, Getafe 0-0 Cádiz, Valladolid 2-1 Elche, Celta Vigo 1-2 Osasuna, Barcelona 2-0 Almería, Atlético Madrid 1-1 Espanyol, Real Sociedad 1-1 Valencia, Villarreal 0-2 Mallorca, Real Betis 1-1 Sevilla

Monday: Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid

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From a goal and a man up, Betis now faced 40 minutes or so a man down, just eight outfield players on the pitch, all plans turned on their head. All post-match judgements too. There could be no analysis without the cards, each side clinging to the bit that suited them and the discourse of disappointment, a little more happy than they would admit. “We deserved to win,” Sampaoli said. “We feel like it’s two points lost,” Pellegrini replied.

“We spent the whole of the second half in their goal,” Sampaoli insisted. But González was immense – he made four vital interceptions – Jordán complained that his Sevilla team had attacked “badly” and Pellegrini said Betis mostly kept them at a distance. Just not quite enough distance to stop Gudelj smashing in a sensational equaliser. “I practice them from there in training and when I hit it, I felt it was going in,” he said. “We all went mad of course, celebrating like a family.”

Nabil Fekir sees red
Nabil Fekir sees red. Photograph: José Manuel Vidal/EPA

A frantic finish was set up but, when he got another chance with the very last attack only to see the ball pushed away, Gudelj slipped to his knees, unable to forget about it. For a moment it looked like he was sobbing. The anger was still there at full time, and asked afterwards if this point was any use to them, Jordán replied with a single word: “No.”

Yet this draw took Sevilla out of the relegation zone, a little light brought back in, one of those moments they could all hang on to, the kind of experience that sometimes forges teams. Up at the top of the north stand, meanwhile, 400 of the 10,000 fans who requested tickets were going wild. Below them, so was sporting director Monchi, beating at his chest and blowing kisses, getting into another confrontation when he finally made way, Sergio Canales among those having a few choice words. Down in the tunnel, the referee’s report said, there was an “altercation”: when he had come out to see what was going on, though, they all scarpered like school kids the moment teacher turns up. “We weren’t able to identify any of them,” he wrote.

“When you celebrate a draw, there’s nothing more to say,” Betis midfielder Guido Rodríguez claimed, but there’s always something to say. “Well, this is a derby,” said González as Gudelj paced about behind him.

European roundup: Union Berlin fail to retake top spot as Leverkusen run riot | European club football

Union Berlin’s punishing schedule finally took its toll on Sunday with a 5-0 defeat after a disastrous second half at Bayer Leverkusen to leave Bayern Munich top of the Bundesliga.

Moussa Diaby scored twice and Adam Hlozek and Mitchel Bakker aalso found the net after former Union midfielder Robert Andrich had opened the scoring.

It was Union’s heaviest defeat of the season having previouslyconceded only nine goals in 12 games.

Union’s third defeat left Bayern two points clear with two rounds remaining before the league’s extended winter break to accommodate the World Cup in Qatar.

Both teams cancelled each other out in a lacklustre first half with few highlights. Then Andrich broke the deadlock right after the break with a low shot after a corner.

The next goal was a gift from goalkeeper Lennart Grill – who is on loan from Leverkusen – when he failed to control a backpass and the ball fell to Diaby, who finished off a post.

The French forward grabbed his second two minutes later, rounding off a counterattack started by Bakker as Union had pushed for a response.

Nadim Amiri crossed for Hlozek to score his first Bundesliga goal with his heel in the 68th, then Hlozek set up Bakker for the fifth in the 76th.

The win was only Leverkusen’s third of the season in the league and lifted them out of the relegation zone.

Danilo Pereira sees his header on its way into the net for PSG’s winner
Danilo Pereira (right) sees his header on its way into the net for PSG’s winner. Photograph: Stéphane Mahé/Reuters

Paris Saint-Germain needed a late goal from defender Danilo Pereira to scrape a 2-1 win at Lorient and restore a five-point lead at the top of Ligue 1.

Pereira headed home Neymar’s corner in the 81st minute as unbeaten PSG maintained their comfortable gap over second-place Lens.

Lionel Messi was rested because of some inflammation in his achilles tendon. The Argentina star, who will look to win the World Cup for the first time this winter, is expected to resume training next week.

Messi was replaced in attack by 20-year-old Hugo Ekitiké, who set up Neymar’s opening goal after nine minutes. Neymar’s 11th league goal moved him level with teammate Kylian Mbappé at the top of the scoring charts.

Fourth-place Lorient equalized in the 53rd through Terem Moffi’s ninth goal of the campaign. Enzo Le Fée sent the Nigeria striker running clear and Moffi fired past goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Moffi hit the crossbar shortly after as Lorient got on top, but then failed to pick up Pereira from Neymar’s corner.

In La Liga, Atlético Madrid’s fans expressed their disapproval after a 1-1 home draw against 10-man Espanyol, a result that extended their winless streak to four matches in all competitions.

João Félix came off the bench to salvage the draw with a 78th-minute equalizer after the visitors had opened the scoring through Sergi Darder in the 62nd. Espanyol played a man down from the 28th after defender Leandro Cabrera was shown a straight red card for a foul on Álvaro Morata.

Atlético pressed until the end but could not find a winner, prompting jeers after the final whistle.

“The reaction from the fans is understandable, no one is happy,” Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak said. “Until we start doing well on the field again, things won’t get better.”

This story will be updated

European roundup: Union Berlin back on top of Bundesliga after late drama | European club football

Union Berlin scored a stoppage-time winner through Danilho Doekhi to snatch a dramatic 2-1 comeback win over visiting Borussia Mönchengladbach to go back to the top of the Bundesliga, one point ahead of Bayern Munich.

Kevin Behrens’s powerful header levelled the score in the 79th minute for Union, avoiding a second consecutive loss for the club, who have surprisingly led the title race for more than a month, before Doekhi’s last-gasp winner.

Gladbach’s Nico Elvedi headed in for the lead in the 33rd minute from a Lars Stindl corner, with the visitors controlling possession in the first half. The hosts pushed forward after the break and earned the equaliser when Behrens beat keeper Tobias Sippel 11 minutes from the end.

Union then put the ball in the net again but Christopher Trimmel’s 87th-minute header was overruled by the VAR before Doekhi got the winner in the eighth minute of injury time with the last move of the game.

In La Liga, Real Madrid were held to a 1-1 draw by Girona at the Bernabéu but the reigning champions maintained their unbeaten streakand hold a one-point lead over Barcelona.

After a goalless first half, Madrid opened the scoring through Vinícius Jr in the 70th minute but their lead was cancelled out by a Cristhian Stuani penalty 10 minutes later.

Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos is shown a red card by the referee in the 1-1 draw with Girona.
Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos is shown a red card by the referee in the 1-1 draw with Girona. Photograph: Jose Breton/AP

Madrid’s afternoon only got worse when midfielder Toni Kroos was sent off in added time after receiving a second yellow card. Girona, who are 16th in the standings, came away with a precious point as their players sank to the ground in relief. Elsewhere in La Liga, sixth-placed Osasuna continued their fine start to the season with a 2-0 home win over Valladolid.

Atalanta regained second place in Serie A with goals from defender Hans Hateboer and Ademola Lookman giving them a 2-0 away win over Empoli on Sunday. The visitors took the lead after 32 minutes when Hateboer reacted instinctively and knocked a loose ball into the net from inside the box.

Empoli had a chance to equalise shortly after, but Tyronne Ebuehi’s shot after 34 minutes was blocked by Rafael Toloi with a well-timed slide. Atalanta were awarded a penalty shortly before the end of the first half when Mattia Destro handled the ball, but keeper Guglielmo Vicario saved Teun Koopmeiners’s kick with his legs.

Atalanta’s Duvan Zapata celebrates with fans after the 2-0 win at Empoli.
Atalanta’s Duvan Zapata celebrates with fans after the 2-0 win at Empoli. Photograph: Jennifer Lorenzini/Reuters

Lookman nevertheless doubled the lead in the 59th minute with a well-placed shot inside the box that went past both defenders and keeper and into the lower left corner. Elsewhere in Serie A, Fiorentina won 2-1 away at Spezia and Cremonese played out a goalless draw with Udinese.

Breel Embolo and Aleksandr Golovin scored in the second half as Monaco beat bottom side Angers 2-0 at home in Ligue 1 to move up one spot to sixth in the standings. Elsewhere in France, Auxerre beat Ajaccio 1-0, Nantes and Clermont Foot drew 1-1, Rennes moved up to third with a 3-0 home win over Montpellier while fourth-placed Lorient were beaten 2-1 at home by Nice. Brest and Reims played out a goalless draw.

European roundup: Oshimen’s stunner seals victory for leaders Napoli at Roma | European club football

Napoli’s seemingly unstoppable winning streak continued when Victor Osimhen’s late strike secured a 1-0 win at Roma in Serie A, giving them 11 straight victories in all competitions.

In front of a raucous crowd at the Stadio Olimpico, both sides were evenly matched in a largely uneventful first half. Napoli thought they had a penalty in the 38th minute when Roma goalkeeper Rui Patrício challenged Tanguy Ndombele but the decision was rescinded after a VAR check.

Napoli were in control by the hour mark and had several chances, with Roma struggling to get the ball out of their own half. Osimhen secured the win for Napoli 10 minutes from time when he half-volleyed in a brilliant rasping shot from an acute angle, after getting the better of his marker Chris Smalling.

Napoli have a three-point lead at the top with 29 after 11 games, three ahead of Milan in second. Roma are fifth with 22 points.

Mattia Zaccagni and Felipe Anderson scored to give Lazio a comfortable 2-0 win at Atalanta, moving up to third as a result. Zaccagni converted in the 10th minute, poking in a Pedro cross.

Anderson made it 2-0 seven minutes after half-time, firing a low shot into the bottom-left corner. The visitors continued to control the game and Atalanta had Luis Muriel sent off in the 90th minute for a second booking.

The Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini said: “It’s a fair defeat. It’s true that Lazio had an extraordinary first half and we were unable to limit their passing, while the early goal put them in the best possible situation. Only after the second goal did we see something positive.

“It’s a loss we deserved and we will learn from this experience. We hoped that Lazio would drop their tempo and we got close after the second goal but it was too late,” Gasperini added. “We had not yet met a team that was so good on a technical level and with a high press; they always got to the ball first, and perhaps we had not yet faced a team of this level.”

In Spain, Ousmane Dembélé scored and provided assists for Sergi Roberto, Robert Lewandowski and Ferran Torres as Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in La Liga.

Barça remain second in the table on 28 points, three behind leaders Real Madrid and five clear of third-placed Atlético Madrid. The hosts scored three times in 10 minutes in the first half, starting with Dembélé’s towering header from close range in the 12th minute.

The France forward then put Roberto through with some brilliant one touch build-up play in the 18th minute, with the Spanish full back’s strike bouncing in off a defender past a helpless Unai Simón.

Ousmane Dembélé scored one goal and set up three in Barcelona’s 4-0 win against Athletic Bilbao.
Ousmane Dembélé (centre) scored one goal and set up three in Barcelona’s 4-0 win against Athletic Bilbao. Photograph: Quique García/EPA

Four minutes later, Dembélé ran down the right channel before crossing to Lewandowski who swivelled and finished with a powerful shot. Barça took their foot off the gas after the break but there was still time for Dembélé to deliver another assist less than 20 minutes before the end, playing the ball in from the left touchline for Torres to score.

Two second-half goals from Antoine Griezmann, one scored directly from a corner kick, gave Atlético Madrid a 2-1 win at Real Betis, extending their unbeaten run to five games. Griezmann opened the scoring in the 54th minute directly from a corner.

Fifteen minutes later, substitute Matheus Cunha passed to Griezmann whose right-footed shot found the bottom right corner. Betis replied with a Nabil Fekir free-kick in the 84th minute but the visitors held firm.

In Germany, relegation-threatened VfL Bochum scored once in either half to stun Union Berlin 2-1, leaving the Bundesliga leaders with only a one-point gap at the top and moving off the bottom of the table.

Union, with the league’s best backline before the game, suffered only their second loss of the season. Philipp Hofmann’s glancing header two minutes before the break put Bochum with the hosts’ high press proving a major problem for Urs Fischer’s team.

Union’s Milos Pantovic whipped a shot just wide on the hour mark but it was Bochum, who had also hit the woodwork early in the second half, who scored again.
This time they struck on the break with Gerrit Holtmann completing the lightning-quick passing move, tapping in from a Christopher Antwi-Adjei assist.
Union remain in top spot on 23 points, one ahead of champions Bayern Munich. Freiburg are third on 21.

Schalke 04, who sacked coach Frank Kramer on Wednesday, dropped to bottom place following their 2-1 defeat at Hertha Berlin courtesy of Wilfried Kanga’s 88th-minute winner.

Real Madrid’s Benzema and Valverde set up deserved win over Barcelona | La Liga

Just when Barcelona thought there was a little life left in this game and in them too, Rodrygo slipped in the knife. Down 2-1 and heading into the last minute chasing an equaliser that had seemed so implausible for so long, Xavi Hernández’s team were caught again, complicit in their own demise as they had been all afternoon. First-half goals from Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde had looked to have ended this early, Madrid easing to victory, until a Ferran Torres strike five minutes from time gave the Catalans a chance only for an Eric García tackle to take it away.

His trip on Rodrygo had to be revised by the VAR but the referee, Sánchez Martínez, pointed to the spot from where the Brazilian brought the clásico to a close. It had finished with a Real Madrid victory, which was no real surprise; the surprise was that it reached the point where that was in doubt. The closing minutes here at least saw a rebellion from a Barcelona team that had long looked defeated. It also saw nerves from home fans who had spent much of this match sitting comfortably.

Madrid never seemed in a hurry but were ahead early. Toni Kroos strode from deep. Not sprinting, exactly, but quick enough – not least because his pursuer was Sergio Busquets. Following from behind, unable to get in front, Barcelona’s captain hung on to Kroos, dragging at him, trying to pull him to the ground before he released Vinícius Júnior. He failed. Vinícius was free, into a huge space behind Sergi Roberto. All the way into the area, he went, clean through, where Marc André ter Stegen was out quick, spreading himself wide, to make the save, the ball running free. Four Barcelona defenders were arriving; Karim Benzema beat them all.

It looked easy, and not for the last time. At that stage, Barcelona weren’t able to get the ball as often as they would like – as often, you suspected, as Madrid would have liked them to get it, either, the plan to draw them in and then run past.

When they started to, it didn’t seem to carry much of a threat either. One long move on 20 minutes offered a portrait. Barcelona kept possession, playing the ball around but doing so a little timidly, with no real intent. Madrid dropped in and waited. They walked even. Barcelona progressed to a point, and then turned round and went back again. Madrid were looking at them go again, standing there as if asking: is that all you’ve got?

Yeah, pretty much, it would seem. A neat move on the right, Pedri finding Raphinha, ended with Robert Lewandowski sliding in at the far post and somehow putting the ball over the bar from a yard. Not long after, a swift pass from the Pole set Roberto away. But mostly the ball was moved slowly and to no real end. Pedri would turn and see no one moving, spaces that should have been occupied, a teammate running into them, simply lying there vacant. There was no cleverness, no incision, no vision. Just vulnerability.

Ferran Torres celebrates after scoring against Real Madrid
Ferran Torres celebrates after pulling a goal back for Barcelona but Real Madrid ended up 3-1 winners Photograph: Bernat Armangué/AP

If Barcelona were closer to Madrid’s goal, that was right where Madrid wanted them. And so the second came. It began with neat footwork from Benzema and continued with a clipped ball forward. García leaped to clear – presumably that was the intention – but only sent it looping on towards his goal. Vinícius was, per the plan, running into the space behind while the rest were running to join him. He rolled it under his studs to Aurélien Tchouaméni, who laid it out to Ferland Mendy. Mendy pulled it back to Fede Valverde, who was on the edge of the area but with no one there to bother him.

From there, he could treat this shot like a penalty, taking his time, choosing his corner and side-footing hard and low past Ter Stegen.

Almost from the kickoff Frenkie de Jong ran all the way through, denied by Andriy Lunin, but if that might have awoken Barcelona, and much as Lewandowski ran and offered himself and asked for the ball, he grew ever more frustrated. Madrid, meanwhile, had grown comfortable, aware that they didn’t really need very much more. They could have done without the linesman’s flag going up when Benzema thought he had made it three, though. Again, it had been quite simple: Vinícius’s diagonal into space leaving the Frenchman free to come inside and bend into the corner.

If there was a flaw from Madrid, perhaps it was that they didn’t move in for more against an opponent, a rival, that is not their equal and could have suffered more damage. Still, they enjoyed the olés as they played the ball around on the hour, and perhaps that might have hurt Barcelona more. Kroos had controlled early on; Luka Modric was gliding now, superior to those around him. As the game went on, the overriding feeling though was of a team that thought it had already won this and just wanted it to come to a close now, with no damage done.

And that may have been the risk. For Barcelona, Ousmane Dembélé kept running, but mostly into trouble. And when Lewandowski just about reached across to head goalwards, all he got were ironic oohs from the Bernabéu as Lunin made a simple catch. Not long after he had a free-kick that might have made a game of this with 20 minutes to go, but struck his shot straight into the wall. He then thought he should have had a penalty when Dani Carvajal bundled him over in the area, but the referee said no.

There was something now, Tchouaméni stepping in to stop the Pole soon after and Ansu Fati striking wide. His introduction, like that of Gavi and Torres, at least brought some reaction, some rebellion. Gavi, in particular. His challenge – and he alone seemed to make them – set Fati away on the left, dashing past Valverde and into the box. His pass evaded Lewandowski but Torres was there for a finish that few expected but ultimately there was a winner that everyone had.

European roundup: Napoli reclaim top spot in Serie A after Atalanta draw | European club football

Napoli snatched back the Serie A lead with a 4-1 win at Cremonese on Sunday, helped by two goals in added time.

Atalanta had briefly taken the league lead after a 2-2 draw at Udinese earlier on Sunday but Napoli put themselves back on top with a two-point cushion after their resounding win in Cremona.

Napoli opened the scoring with a penalty in the 26th minute after Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was clumsily tackled inside the box by Matteo Bianchetti. The striker Matteo Politano had no problem with his shot into the lower left side of the goal.

Cremonese equalised two minutes into the second half when Cyriel Dessers got to a through ball into the box and hammered it in the net.

Giovanni Simeone put Napoli ahead again when he jumped to reach a cross from Mario Rui and headed into the net in the 76th minute. Three minutes into stoppage time, Kvaratskhelia passed to an unmarked Hirving Lozano who scored from close range. Mathías Olivera finished off the match with a headed goal in the 95th minute.

Napoli, after seven wins and two draws in their nine matches, now have 23 points, two ahead of Atalanta.

Earlier in Udine, a late goal by the defender Nehuen Perez helped Udinese to come back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 home draw against Atalanta as the hosts continued their best start to a top-flight campaign in their history.

The Atalanta forward Luis Muriel sent an early warning to the hosts when he struck a shot in the 16th minute which was denied by Udinese goalkeeper Marco Silvestri. The striker Ademola Lookman put the visitors ahead 20 minutes later after he was brilliantly set up by Muriel who sent a precise low pass into the six-yard box which the 24-year-old smashed into the roof of the net.

Barcelona’s Spanish midfielder Pedri celebrates scoring against Celta Vigo
Barcelona’s Spanish midfielder Pedri celebrates scoring against Celta Vigo Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Atalanta doubled their advantage 11 minutes into the second half when they were awarded a penalty for Destiny Udogie’s risky tackle on Muriel. The Colombian calmly pushed the ball in with the tip of his boot for his 50th league goal with Atalanta, and his 12th against Udinese.

Udinese tried to bounce back and the midfielder Tolgay Arslan had a good chance when he received a delightful pass from Udogie but the substitute’s strike went just past the near post.

The hosts eventually halved the lead when Gerard Deulofeu made it 2-1 with a superb free-kick in the 67th minute, after his teammate Isaac Success was fouled by the Atalanta defender Caleb Okoli. Udinese added another goal 11 minutes later through a brilliant header by Perez to draw level.

“We did a lot more than them, Silvestri didn’t make a save,” the Udinese coach Andrea Sottil told DAZN. “I’m very happy with the boys, they played a great match. We deserved the draw, too bad for the last chance.”

Udinese, who finished 12th last season, are unbeaten in their past eight games. Atalanta remain unbeaten this season, winning six and drawing three.

“We have to be happy with this result,” the Atalanta manager, Gian Piero Gasperini, said after his 300th competitive match in charge of the team in all competitions. “There was personality and great technique, we deservedly took the lead. It’s a match that made us grow.”

In the Bundesliga, Union Berlin’s Paul Jaeckel scored a 76th-minute winner to give his team a 1-0 victory at VfB Stuttgart and send them two points clear at the top.

Union Berlin’s Paul Jaeckel celebrates their 1-0 win against VfB Stuttgart
Union Berlin’s Paul Jaeckel enjoys the day after his goal gave them a 1-0 win against VfB Stuttgart Photograph: Andreas Gebert/Reuters

Jaeckel was left with too much space in the box, allowing him to head in off the post and lift surprise leaders Union to 20 points, two ahead of second-placed Freiburg. Stuttgart finished the game with 10 men after Serhou Guirassy was dismissed in the 82nd minute.

For much of the game the hosts, however, had not looked like the only team in the league without a win this season. They had the better chances in the first half, with Guirassy’s glancing header in the 34th minute being their best.

Union remained composed at the back and patient, grabbing their chance through Jaeckel although Stuttgart did hit the post through Kostantinos Mavropanos three minutes later.

Freiburg needed a 78th-minute goal from Kevin Schade to rescue a 2-2 draw at Hertha Berlin earlier on Sunday. The champions, Bayern Munich, are third on 16 following the 2-2 draw on Saturday at fourth-placed Borussia Dortmund.

In La Liga, Barcelona returned to the top with a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo. Pedri scored in the 17th minute and Xavi’s side held on for the next 80 minutes – there were seven minutes of stoppage time – to reclaim top spot from Real Madrid, themselves winners by the only goal of their game on Saturday, against Getafe.

In France, Lille beat Lens by a single goal in the derby du nord on Sunday evening. Jonathan David was the hero for the hosts with his penalty just before half-time. The win moved them up to seventh while Lens remain fourth.

European roundup: Tomori on target to help Milan defeat struggling Juventus | European club football

Milan secured a 2-0 win over rivals Juventus with goals from defender Fikayo Tomori and midfielder Brahim Díaz in a spirited Serie A clash at the San Siro.

The defending champions provisionally moved up two places to third in the standings on 20 points, level with leaders Napoli and second-placed Atalanta who both have a game in hand.

Juventus, who appeared to have turned a corner after beating Bologna 3-0 at home last weekend, following that up with a 3-1 victory against Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League in midweek, remain eighth on 13 points.

Milan made it 1-0 just before the break through Tomori who followed up a shot by Olivier Giroud and rifled the ball into the roof of the net. Díaz doubled Milan’s lead in the 54th minute when he took advantage of Dusan Vlahovic’s mistake and raced towards Juve’s goal, finishing off a solo effort with a brilliant strike.

Edin Dzeko’s 100th and 101st Serie A goals gave injury-ridden Internazionale a 2-1 victory at Sassuolo. The 36-year-old became the third-oldest player to reach the milestone behind Goran Pandev and Sergio Pellissier.

In Spain, Ángel Correa scored twice as Atlético Madrid won 2-1 against Girona to move up to fourth in La Liga. Girona made it difficult for the home side who relied on an inspired performance from Jan Oblak and got lucky when two second-half strikes from the visitors hit the post.

Both Correa’s goals were scored in the early minutes of each half. The Argentina international stroked in a close-range, first-time shot from an Antoine Griezmann cross to open the scoring after five minutes. Three minutes after the break, Correa intercepted a poor pass from goalkeeper Juan Carlos inside the box and buried the ball in the open goal.

Ángel Correa watches his shot go past Juan Carlos for Atlético Madrid’s second goal
Ángel Correa watches his shot go past Juan Carlos for Atlético Madrid’s second goal. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters

Girona reduced the deficit in the 65th minute when Rodrigo Riquelme’s long-range shot deflected off defender José Maria Gimenez, which took it beyond Jan Oblak.

Aleix García smashed a thundering strike off the post in the 77th minute and had a similar strike from the same spot that Oblak acrobatically tipped away. From the resulting corner, Santiago Bueno jumped high to deliver a towering header that smashed against Oblak’s left post. That was as close as Girona came to an equaliser.

Atlético’s win lifted them to 16 points, a point behind third-placed Athletic Bilbao who drew 1-1 at Sevilla, Mikel Vesga equalising for the visitors after Óliver Torres’s early goal. Atlético are three points behind the leaders Barcelona and Real Madrid, who have a game in hand.

In the main game in Germany, Borussia Dortmund scraped a 2-2 draw at home to Bayern Munich. Earlier, Bayer Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby scored once and set up two for Jeremie Frimpong in a 4-0 demolition of visiting Schalke to give Xabi Alonso a winning start as a coach in the Bundesliga.

Diaby thundered in a shot from outside the area in the 38th minute before setting up Frimpong to drill in from a tight angle three minutes later.
The pair combined again eight minutes after the restart with Diaby again the provider and Dutch midfielder Frimpong slotting in from close range. Paulinho completed the rout with a well-timed run in the 90th minute.

This story will be updated

Marcelino: ‘At Valencia we had been told not to try to win the cup’ | Athletic Bilbao

The way he tells it, Marcelino García Toral might be the first manager to be sacked for trying to win a trophy – and succeeding, too. He laughs about it now, but at the time it hurt enough that when the call came from Milan, he turned it down: his exit from Valencia, in September 2019, who he had just led to their first silverware in 11 years, was too recent, too raw.

Turns out it was the right decision: destiny decides, he reckons, and by the time he was ready to return, Athletic Club appeared. “Feeling loved is the best thing that can happen to anyone and I felt that there,” he says. Which is why last week he had a dilemma.

What channel to choose? What game to watch? On one side, playing for Ghana, Iñaki Williams, the Athletic forward who says “I owe ‘Marce’ a lot. He made me grow.” On the other, playing for Spain, Nico Williams, the Athletic forward to whom he handed a debut at 18. Two brothers, now 28 and 20 respectively, making their debuts for different countries.

So? There’s a smile. “Nico,” Marcelino says. Live, at least. “I’m so happy for both because although they chose different national teams they did so with their heads and heart, which makes them the right decisions. They know they have all my support and affection.”

The feeling is mutual. The Williams brothers have been outstanding, scoring in the same game for the first time before the international break and both scoring again as soon as they were reunited in Bilbao after it, Iñaki assisted by Nico and Nico assisted by Iñaki. That took the two new internationals and their team to third.

Although Marcelino is no longer their manager, leaving in June because of presidential elections, there’s a fondness and gratitude that goes beyond platitude, recognition of his role in bringing them to the club. What, then, did he see in Nico?

“It’s not that I saw it,” Marcelino says. “Everyone at [the academy] Lezama could see his development over many years. We thought he could take the next step but the first season he was important for the B team. The second, he joined from the beginning, although then had an injury. Now he’s flying.

“He hasn’t played much in primera still but his progression is clear and the national team called him. With his daring and his quality he took that opportunity.”

Nico has spoken of one‑on‑one teaching that brought him tranquillity, pausa, on the pitch, especially in finishing and the final pass; Iñaki of the pastoral work alongside José Carrascosa, Marcelino’s psychologist.

Athletic Bilbao’s Iñaki Williams (right) celebrates with his brother Nico after scoring against Almería.
Athletic Bilbao’s Iñaki Williams (right) celebrates with his brother Nico after scoring against Almería. Photograph: Luis Tejido/EPA

“With a young player, especially, that’s very important,” the coach says. “Appearing is easy, continuity more difficult. Kids who arrive as outstanding talents are often in a hurry and too often we are as well, which can create negativity if progression doesn’t keep pace. You have to take sure, steady steps, normalise those processes, the ups and downs, or it can damage confidence.

“Without doubt it helps Nico that Iñaki has been through it too, but it’s more than that. Iñaki is a father to him, a true father. He has great values, many, many, many virtues. He has been there to correct Nico. His influence on how Nico is and how he behaves absolutely decisive. He has extraordinary human qualities, an attitude towards his profession that makes him the perfect role model, a mirror for Nico to look into.

“Nico has ideal qualities for modern football, technically and physically – high pace, intensity, quick decision-making – but he will need emotional stability and ambition too, self-esteem and humility. Football demands more than talent and he couldn’t have wished for anyone better than Iñaki to help him understand what path to take.”

The environment helps. Athletic is a unique club, Marcelino says. He starts laughing, a sort of disbelief at how they do it, how a club with their recruitment policy – broadly, only Basques play – can compete in a post-Bosman global game of giant fortunes and foreign investment. “Tremendo, tremendo,” he says. “It’s amazing, just incredible. For a club like Athletic to be top-half deserves so much credit.”

Marcelino admits he can be indecisive when offers arrive, unsure of what awaits, but says: “we thought it might be our only chance to coach Athletic and we’re proud we did. This is a great club socially, organisationally, culturally and that philosophy is non-negotiable, making it different to every other club everywhere in the world.

“That creates this extraordinary environment. San Mamés is something I feel lucky to have experienced. Unity, sacrifice, commitment, solidarity and friendship define the club. I’m so pleased to see them succeed, they made me enjoy my profession.”

At the time, he needed it. Marcelino took over in January 2021, four months after being sacked by Valencia despite bringing stability, taking them into the Champions League for a second successive season and winning the Copa del Rey against Leo Messi’s Barcelona. Which turned out to be a mistake.

There were deeper issues but that, he says, was the detonator. “Everything’s progressing. Fans, players, coaching staff, sporting director, director general, everyone’s built a good team, clearly on an upwards trajectory … then along comes an owner and destroys it in record time. So fast you could call the Guinness Book of Records.”

Crisis came. Pablo Longoria, the sporting director, and Mateu Alemany, the director general, were sacked too. Players would follow. Unusually, they expressed their fury publicly, something telling in how they defended Marcelino, even if he says: “It’s more that they saw something that made so little sense that they couldn’t believe it.

“They destroyed a project where the players were happy and felt we could beat anyone. That week we had Barcelona and I remember Rodrigo saying we were going to win.”

Does the owner, Peter Lim, like football? “I don’t know if he likes football. There were meetings when they said one thing and then I see him face to face, having travelled 30 hours, and it’s the complete opposite.

“A month and a half after being cup winners, having reached the Europa League semi-final and qualified for the Champions League, you say: ‘Bloody hell, I didn’t expect this.’ I don’t understand it either.

“We had been told not to try to win the cup, not to play our best team, and we took different decisions. We did what we thought a club like Valencia should do, what’s natural. A great Valencia has to think about winning. We did what fans wanted, what the club’s history demands. In football, in life, you have to try to win. But it was like: ‘we said this, you did that, here’s the consequences.’

“Winning the cup didn’t damage our European chances either: beating Getafe in the quarters created a confidence and momentum that helped us take the Champions League place.”

Instead of celebrating success, there was a kind of bitterness. “Totally,” Marcelino says. Was that your best managerial moment even if it led to your worst? “Well, it was the trophy. But you judge satisfaction on many things, measure it against expectation.

“I’ve had four promotions, the best position in Recreativo’s history, Racing Santander’s only Uefa campaign, a promotion and European semi with Villarreal, going up with Zaragoza, the Super Cup with Athletic having beaten Madrid and Barcelona.”

So now what? Marcelino is watching games – “but there’s a difference between watching and analysing,” he says – and taking his time, enjoying that time too. Some opportunities have been turned down, Sevilla and Marseille among them. “The right thing will happen at the right place and right time: destiny puts you in X place.” he says, then adds smiling: “And if not, well, then maybe we’ll rethink.”

There is one obvious destination. Like Luis Enrique, Marcelino began playing at Sporting Gijón – he recalls driving Kevin Moran, of Manchester United and Ireland fame, to training most mornings, the one player not to have a share in the winning lottery ticket one Christmas – and he’s the favourite for the Spain job should Enrique depart when his contract expires after the World Cup.

“For any Spanish coach, the national team is the greatest dream there is,” he says. “God willing it can happen one day, whether in a year, two years or 10. But right now I don’t look at it as a possibility. There’s a coach I respect doing very well and the federation president will decide when his contract ends. It’s not in my hands; the moment will come if and when it has to.”

Marcelino could then turn off the television set, go out and manage Nico Williams again, if not Iñaki any more.