Espanyol win Europa League group with a game to spare
Playing in European competition for the first time in over a decade, the Catalan side are enjoying totally contrasting forunes in the league and on the continent
Espanyol have confirmed they will be playing in the knockout stages of the Europa League, topping their group with a game to spare after earning a 2-2 draw away to Ferencváros.
Their league form, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired, as the team remain in relegation danger after their dreadful 2-4 loss at home to ten-man Osasuna. The pericos even took the lead with a penalty in the first half, but found themselves already trailing just four minutes after the restart with some calamitous defending. Jonathan Calleri bagged his first league goal for the club to as a late concession.
Manager Pablo Machín had no issue with hiding his feelings in the post-match comments, with scathing reviews of his players’ performances. “We need real men, not pipsqueeks,” the former Girona manager said. “We cannot give the image that we’re vulnerable. We can’t present goals to other teams on a plate. You can’t compete like this.”
Their misfortunes in league competition is in stark contrast to how much Espanyol are loving life in the Europa League. A credible 2-2 draw away to Hungarian side Ferencváros was enough to secure their spot in European football post-Christmas in their first season playing at the European stage in over a decade.
Elsewhere, FC Barcelona remain top of La Liga after earning a hard-fought 0-1 win against title-hopefuls Atletico Madrid. The game’s only goal was Leo Messi’s first goal in Atleti’s relatively new Wanda Metropolitano stadium, and came from a characteristic lightning-quick burst of speed and a perfectly executed one-two pass with Luis Suárez.
The game also saw the Catalans’ big summer signing, Antoine Griezmann, face his old side for the first time. The home crowd ferociously jeered and whistled the Frenchman whenever he got sight of the ball, and revelled in their former hero spurning a big chance for Barça in the second half after Luis Suárez’s chipped pass found him unmarked in the box.
The victory capped off the perfect week for Ernesto Valverde’s troops, as a 3-1 midweek win over Dortmund in the Champions League secured their passage to the first knockout round.
Barça women's team extend league lead
In the women’s football, the blaugrana extended their lead at the top of the table to four points, following a 0-4 hammering of Valencia coupled with Atletico Madrid’s 2-2 draw against the struggling Real Betis. The league’s top goalscorer and Barça summer signing, Jennifer Hermoso, added to her goal tally for the season by opening the scoring, and now sits on 12 league goals for the season so far.
Meanwhile, Espanyol got their second point of the season with a 0-0 draw at home to Sporting Huelva. The result was enough to break a four-game losing run, but much improvement will be needed if the Catalans are to avoid relegation, as Salvador Jaspe’s side still soot rooted to the foot of the table.
In basketball Barcelona’s hot streak goes on, with a comfortable win over Iberostar Tenerife (103-71) putting them on level footing with Real Madrid at the top of the table, both on 9-2 records. Joventut de Badalona edged Bilbao Basket (97-86) to go 7-4, while Manresa overcame UCAM Murcia by a single point (93-92) in a hugely significant match for the relegation picture, and are now on a 3-8 record at the bottom of the standings along with Real Betis and Estudiantes.