It has been a busy week in the world of football despite the absence of UEFA competitions, as domestic cups and continental clashes from elsewhere have more than made up for it.
🇪🇸 Spain: Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona
The first legs of the Copa del Rey semi-finals were held this week, featuring an interesting tie that would throw up a surprise finalist between Osasuna and Athletic Club, as well as the small matter of El Clásico.
Both sides went into this fixture having dropped points in La Liga over the weekend, but their title race did not matter on the night and form often goes out of the window when such intense rivals collide.
The home side were more imposing, but Barcelona came up with a very uncharacteristic one-goal win thanks to Éder Militão’s own goal in a match where they could not fashion so much as a single attempt on target.
This was an excellent result for the visitors, but the tie definitely remains open heading into the second leg. That is over a month away, though, by when the two will have already faced off again in the league.
🏆 Recopa Sudamericana: Flamengo 1-0 Independiente del Valle (1-1 on aggregate; 4-5 on penalties)
The second leg of the Recopa Sudamericana — the South American equivalent to the UEFA Super Cup — was played this week. Ecuadorian side Independiente visited Brazil with a one-goal lead over Copa Libertadores holders Flamengo, seeking their first-ever Recopa title.
A clever tactical switch to a 5-4-1 shape out of possession saw the visitors look to dig deep and hold on to their lead, which is precisely what they did for 95 minutes.
Deep into stoppage time, Giorgan De Arrascaeta found himself on the end of a ball across the face of goal and poked it home, taking the game to extra time.
There were no goals in this period, so the match was to be decided on penalties. De Arrascaeta was the first taker, and his effort was saved! Everyone else converted, so Independiente del Valle collected the third international trophy in their history.
🇮🇹 Italy: Cremonese 2-1 Roma
After returning to Serie A for the first time since the turn of the century, Cremonese have had a tough old time in the top flight.
After 23 matches they were rock bottom without as much as a single victory, equalling the longest-ever winless streak in the league’s history (thanks to a seven-match winless run at the end of their last stay in the league in 1996).
They looked all set to create an unwanted record this Tuesday against European challengers Roma, but they might have drawn some hope from the fact that they managed to beat this opposition in the cup earlier this year. It would take something special to repeat the trick, but that is exactly what Cremonese came up with.
An incredible volley from the edge of the box to the top corner from Frank Tsadjout put Cremonese in front early on, but the fear was that they would throw away the lead as they have already done five times in the league this season.
That is what happened after 71 minutes when Leandro Spinazzola got in behind and coolly slotted the ball home, but there was another twist to come.
With about 10 minutes of normal time left, David Okereke entered the penalty area and jinked past the keeper, but was clipped before he could get to the ball. Daniel Ciofani stepped up to take a crucial penalty, and he made no mistake from the spot to effectively win the game for his side.
Despite taking so long to register their first win of the season, Cremonese have jumped off the foot of the table. They are eight points from safety with 14 matches left, so they cannot be called dead and buried yet.
🇳🇱 Netherlands: FC Utrecht 1-4 Spakenburg
Regular readers of the column will know just how much we love our Cupsets here, and we’ve got a huge one from the Netherlands this week.
We have covered SV Spakenburg’s cup exploits earlier, but no one could have seen this forthcoming at the time. After their shock win over Groningen, the amateur outfit beat fellow third-tier side Katwijk on penalties in the Round of 16, setting up a quarter-final against continental football contenders FC Utrecht.
This match was being played at the Stadion Galgenwaard, so the odds were stacked as firmly as possible against the visitors, who were making a relatively short trip to their provincial capital. There could be no expectations of them, but they would go on to do something incredible.
Wimilio Vink drew first blood 12 minutes in, and Luuk Admiraal doubled the lead close to the hour-mark. Anastasios Douvikas quickly pulled one back to seemingly set the hosts on course for a comeback, but a quick response from Maties Artien and a further buffer added by Floris van der Linden sealed a historic result.
🏴 England: Southampton 1-2 Grimsby Town
There was a pretty big Cupset in England’s FA Cup too, where Premier League relegation-battlers Southampton slumped to a new low.
Rubén Sellés tasted defeat for the first time as the club’s head coach against Leeds United on the weekend, but they would have been expected to get back to winning ways against League Two outfit Grimsby Town.
Two penalties from Gavan Holohan — one each either side of the half-time break — put the visitors in a strong position, but Duje Ćaleta-Car’s header in the 65th minute must have brought about some serious nerves. They held on, recording a famous win that takes them to the FA Cup quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
No one could have really seen this coming, but their social media admin turned out to be quite optimistic right from the get-go.
👀 What To Watch Next:
There’s lots more football to look ahead to this weekend, so here are a few big matches to watch.
🇩🇪 Germany: Borussia Dortmund vs RB Leipzig (Friday, 19:30 UTC)
The next major checkpoint in Bundesliga’s title race sees Borussia Dortmund take on RB Leipzig, with four points separating the two sides.
🇫🇷 France: Lens vs Lille (Sunday, 16:00 UTC)
The ever-intense Derby du Nord is Ligue 1’s headline act this weekend. Six points and two places separate the northern rivals who are fourth and sixth respectively, so this will also be a key match in the race for Europe.
🏴 England: Liverpool vs Manchester United (Sunday, 16:30 UTC)
Fresh after their recent cup successes, Manchester United must turn their attention back to the league this weekend. They will be visiting old foes Liverpool, who need a galvanising result.
🇮🇹 Italy: Roma vs Juventus (Sunday, 19:45 UTC)
Roma will face the recovering Juventus this weekend, with the Old Lady starting just six points away from sixth place despite their 15-point deduction.
Stats courtesy Transfermarkt and FotMob.
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