Feb 21, 2009

Soccer Source Saturday Summary: Barca Falls

You knew it would happen eventually. There were hints of this in last week's 2-2 draw with Real Betis. Signs, perhaps, that Barcelona were mortal after all. That an unbeaten streak stretching back to August might not last forever. Today, it ended. Barca were beaten by cross-town rival Espanyol Barcelona 2-1 on a brace by Ivan de la Pena. It was Barca's first loss in a domestic game since opening day Aug. 31. That's 22 Liga games and seven Copa del Rey matches. An impressive run. But now it's over.

Still, that it ended in such auspicious circumstances is a bit surprising. The Periquitos are struggling at the lower regions of the Liga table and remain anchored in a relegation slot despite today's victory. And the game was held at Camp Nou, Barca's fortress. But Espanyol had played Barca tough in the team's three previous meetings this season (two in the Copa del Rey). While this tends to happen in derbies, Barca also usually finds a way to win. But not today. Were Pep Guardiola's men perhaps "looking ahead" to Tuesday's Champions League tie with Olympique Lyon? Possible. But the Catalonian side may now have a fight on their hands in La Liga as well. Second-placed Real Madrid have been surging (nine straight victories) and today beat up on Real Betis by 6-1 (the same Real Betis that Barcelona fought so hard to draw a week ago). The difference between the two clubs is now seven points.

In Germany, the Juergen Klinsmann watch is back in effect after Bayern Munich dropped their second straight game. The Bavarian club today lost at home to Cologne, a team from the middle of the Bundesliga table. They did so at home, by 2-1, and drop to fourth in the standings with the loss--perhaps more if fifth-placed Bayer Leverkusen win tomorrow's game with Hamburg. Bayern are floundering at possibly the worst time. They visit Sporting Lisbon, who today defeated archrival Benfica in the Lisbon derby. A few weeks ago we thought this one was Bayern's to lose. Now? Who knows.

Sometimes we hate to be right. Not often, because we usually like to gloat and say things like "I don't want to say I told you so...ah, who am I kidding? I love saying it. Told ya so! There. That felt great." That and we frankly aren't right all that often either. But we told you earlier in the week that the tides might have turned in Aston Villa's season. And today, Martin O'Neill's side lost at home to Chelsea in a battle for third place in the Premiership. The Birmingham club still have a six point lead over Arsenal and fifth place, but those six points can go pretty quickly, especially to the club that signed that Arshavin fellow (even though they weren't able to get beyond a scoreless draw with Sunderland today). We hate being right here (well "hate" is a pretty strong word but you catch our drift) because Aston Villa is exactly what the Premiership needs right now: a "non big four" club with a smaller (by comparison at least) budget, a proud history, passionate fan base and iconic head coach (or manager as they're called over there). And owners who aren't Yanks. Oh wait, Villa's are. Forget it then. We may still see Villa in the Champions League next year. But don't count on it. And you can pretty much write off any title aspirations they might have been harboring.

Elsewhere in the Premiership, Blackburn made things interesting but ultimately lost to Man. United, who now lead the league by eight points pending tomorrow's game between Liverpool and Manchester City. Nothing new there, really. Red Devils keep finding ways to win. Their fans' biggest concern right now might be complacency ahead of Tuesday's clash with Inter Milan.

Speaking of Inter, the nerrazurri booked a late victory of their own today, beating Bologna 2-1 in a Serie A encounter. Second-place Juventus managed to match them. Inter's lead remains nine points.

In France, Olympique Lyon won their warm-up match for Tuesday's battle with Barca, which will take place at the Stade Gerland. L'OL beat Nancy 2-0 to expand their Ligue Un lead to six points thanks to second-place Paris Saint Germain dropping points at Grenoble. Yes, they play soccer in Grenoble, apparently.

Photo taken from Diarios de Football without permission.

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