Messi stars Barca win; Real Madrid has it easy

Updated 19 November 2012
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Messi stars Barca win; Real Madrid has it easy

BARCELONA: Lionel Messi netted his eighth brace of the season and created a third goal to steer Barcelona to a 3-1 win over a feisty Real Zaragoza on Saturday night as the Spanish league leaders kept alive their club-record start.
Unbeaten Barcelona’s 11th victory in 12 rounds maintained its eight-point lead over Real Madrid after the defending champions thrashed Athletic Bilbao 5-1 ahead of their critical Champions League trip to Manchester City.
Messi started the scoring at Camp Nou Stadium in the 16th. After Zaragoza leveled through Paco Montanes in the 24th, Messi assisted Alex Song four minutes later to re-establish Barcelona’s advantage for good before adding a third goal in the 60th.
The Argentina forward’s ninth multi-goal game in league play took his competition-best tally to 17 goals, five more than Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Leo marks the difference because he’s a special player,” said Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta, who hit the woodwork 10 minutes from time.
Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova recovered Carles Puyol for his defense with the center back seeing his first action since dislocating his elbow on Oct. 2, while Song started as its holding midfielder in place of suspended Sergio Busquets.
After missing a clear chance early, Messi got the hosts going by slotting a left-footed shot just inside the post to finish off a move he started by playing Jordi Alba wide before sliding forward to receive the left back’s return pass.
Zaragoza, which had won three of its previous four games, pushed forward in search of the equalizer that came from Montanes when he fired in a loose ball after a corner kick.
The visitors’ elation lasted four minutes before Song scored his first goal for Barcelona since joining from Arsenal this offseason, slicing Messi’s back pass through a crowded box to find the net.
Behind again, Zaragoza still succeeded in winning its share of possession and strung together attacks that tested Barcelona’s defense before Messi decided the contest when he curled an unstoppable long-range strike off the lower part of the upright.
Bilbao entered Santiago Bernabeu Stadium with the third-worst defense in the league, having allowed 21 goals, and only a strong performance by goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz saved it from a historic rout.








Madrid jumped in front in the 16th when defender Jon Aurtenetxe scored an own goal when trying to stop Karim Benzema from shooting after the France striker latched onto Luka Modric’s long pass from deep in his own half.
Sergio Ramos headed in Madrid’s second goal at the half-hour mark off when Bilbao left him unmarked to meet Mesut Oezil’s free kick.
Benzema, just back from injury, struck two minutes later, spinning inside the area and swerving a superb shot around Iraizoz before Bilbao midfielder Ibai Gomez pulled one back three minutes from halftime.
Benzema crossed for the wide-open Oezil to tap home in the 56th with Bilbao caught totally off-balance.
Substitute Sami Khedira also came back from injury in fine form for Madrid with a goal in the 72nd.
“We showed our desire to win and a serious attitude from minute one,” said Ramos. “We now have a game in Manchester where we will play with practically our season on the line. As a football player, those are the kind of games you live for.” Earlier, Roberto Soldado’s 90th-minute penalty gave Valencia a 2-1 win over Espanyol, which finished with nine men and slid into last place.
Malaga was held to 0-0 at struggling Osasuna as the Costa del Sol side’s winless streak reached four matches.
Valencia hosts Bayern Munich and Barcelona visits Spartak Moscow on Tuesday in the Champions League, while Malaga visits Zenit St. Petersburg and Madrid heads to northern England the next day.


What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

Updated 19 April 2018
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What now for Saudi Arabia’s big four teams?

  • Al-Hilal won their 15th top-flight title this season.
  • Big summer for Saudi Arabia football with the Green Falcons at the World Cup.

Now the Saudi Professional League season is over for another year Arab News can look back at their title tilts and what the big four clubs have to do over the coming months ahead of the next season.

 



AL-HILAL

Finished: Champions

Coaching situation: Ramon Diaz was in charge for much of the season, but was fired in February after setbacks in the Champions League.
Assistant Juan Brown did Okay in the final stretch, but a top-class coach could get more out of this team.

Squad priorities: A reliable goalscorer to support Omar Khribin and with veteran defender Osama Hawsawi leaving for pastures new, a replacement center-back with leadership qualities. Welcoming back the major stars — Carlos Eduardo, Khribin, Nawaf Al-Abed and Salem Al -Dawsari — will be a major boost.

Aim next season: Win the AFC Champions League

 



AL-AHLI

Finished: Second

Coaching situation: Sergiy Rebrov is out of contract at the end of June. His future is likely to depend on how the team fares against Al-Sadd in the second round of the AFC Champions League in May.

Squad priorities: There is not much wrong. The Jeddah giants were the highest scorers in the league last season and had the second best defense. Keeping star midfielder Leonardo fit will help as will a little cover in the center of defense. Star striker Omar Al-Somah fell out with the coach in a public way in the penultimate game of the season. It may be that one of them has to go. The Syrian has been player of the year for three years and has a longer contract than Rebrov.

Aim next season: Win the league. Maintain good performances in Asia.


 
AL-NASSR

Finished: Third

Coaching situation: Krunoslav Jurcic arrived in January and the former Croatian national team boss produced an upswing in results. May just be a temporary appointment and it needs to be sorted quickly.

Squad priorities: Looks good with the Saudi Arabia national team keeper, a strong center-back pairing of Omar Hawsawi and Bruno Uvini and the full-back position seemingly sorted with the January signing of Saad Suhail. They probably need a defensive midfielder and have to keep Junior Kabananga. The DR Congo striker has shown enough in his few weeks at the club to suggest that he could be a real star next season, especially with Leonardo pulling the strings behind him.

Aim next season: A genuine title challenge and getting through the play-offs into  the 2019 AFC Champions League.

 


AL-ITTIHAD

Finished: Ninth

Coaching situation: A bottom half finish is unacceptable for a team with Al-Itithad’s stature and history. Chilean coach Jose Luis Sierra may find that winning domestic cups is no substitute for challenging for the title.

Squad priorities: There is too much reliance on players such as Carlos Villanueva, a creative spark in the team, and Fahad Al-Ansari, the midfield engine, who are the wrong side of 30. The possible return of star winger Fahad Al-Muwallad will help, but an introduction of energy is needed.

Aim next season: Top three and, if the team wins the King’s Cup, a good showing in the 2019 AFC Champions League.