Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde open to January transfers

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Ernesto Valverde

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde is open to the idea of the Catalan side dipping into the transfer market this month, but is not expecting much movement at Camp Nou.

This time twelve months ago, the La Liga champions signed Yerry Mina from Palmeiras and Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool – both of whom cost the club a combined €171.8m.

Barcelona signed four more players in the summer of 2018, and further recruits are possible over the next few weeks.

Asked about his plans this month, Valverde said: “We are always open to improving but we will have to see if any players come in.

“But, in principle, we are happy with what we have and I am focused on the players we have here.”

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Santi Cazorla double stuns Real Madrid and earns Villarreal precious draw

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Santi Cazorla’s first La Liga goals since 2012 stunned Real Madrid and stole struggling Villarreal a 2-2 draw at Estadio de la Ceramica.

The former Arsenal midfielder bagged a brace – including an 82nd-minute equaliser – as Real slumped to an eighth league game without victory in just 17 games this term, leaving them seven points adrift of leaders Barcelona.

Cazorla has relaunched his injury-hit career back in Spain this season, returning to his homeland after six years with the Gunners.

And the 34-year-old found the net in Spanish top-flight action for the first time since scoring for Malaga in a 1-1 draw at Osasuna on April 23, 2012 when he put Villarreal ahead after just four minutes on Thursday night.

Real quickly responded with goals from French duo Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, but they could not hold on as Cazorla notched a rare headed goal at the death to grab a share of the spoils for the Yellow Submarine.

Gareth Bale was withdrawn at half-time in another blow to Real, having appeared to struggle with a possible left calf complaint late in the first half.

Former Spain schemer Cazorla handed Villarreal a flying start, firing in a low drive after Samuel Chukwueze had teed up the chance.

Real calmly set about reversing their fortunes, however, and when Lucas Vazquez whipped in a teasing cross, Benzema buried his header to square up the match just three minutes later.

That was Benzema’s 12th goal of the season in all competitions and he should have doubled his own and Real’s tally three minutes on from that, only to nod his header wide from Marcelo’s centre.

France World Cup-winner Varane made no mistake with a header of his own in the 20th minute, though, powering in from Toni Kroos’ cross for his first club goal in almost two years.

Real held onto that lead until the break, but try as they might after the interval were unable to cement their dominance.

The visitors had several chances to extend their lead without success, leaving them susceptible right until the death.

And Cazorla twice laid on fine balls for his team-mates that left Madrid relieved not to concede an equaliser.

First Victor Ruiz headed high and wide from Cazorla’s cross, then Alvaro Gonzalez followed suit.

But just when Real thought they could tiptoe home with the points, up popped Cazorla late on to nod in the equaliser and snatch a draw.

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Real Betis' thrilling win over Barcelona features in our best La Liga games of 2018

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Real Betis

There have been some nail-biters, some goal-fests and plenty of excitement that one could reminisce at the end of another thrilling year of La Liga action.

Before hoping that 2019 gifts us with more of the same or maybe even better games, we take a look at five of the best games of the season.

SEVILLA 3-5 REAL BETIS

Real Betis' Spanish midfielder Fabian Ruiz (R) scores a goal during the Spanish league football match between Sevilla and Real Betis at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla on January 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / CRISTINA QUICLER        (Photo credit should read CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images)

Real Betis’ Spanish midfielder Fabian Ruiz (R) scores a goal during the Spanish league football match between Sevilla and Real Betis at the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla on January 6, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / CRISTINA QUICLER (Photo credit should read CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP/Getty Images)

There’s nothing better than an eight-goal thriller in which the underdogs prevail despite playing away from home. More so when it is a derby and the away team had not won a league game at that stadium for over a decade.

This was exactly what happened in the Seville Derby in one of the first games of 2018.

Fabian Ruiz opened the scoring in the first minute after his shot from distance got the better of Sergio Rico. The hosts responded with a clever finish from Wissam Ben Yedder.

Zouhair Feddal made it 2-1 in the visitors favour but their joy was short-lived as Simon Kjaer equalised well before half-time.

Riza Durmisi and Sergio Leon scored in quick succession after the hour mark, but Clement Lenglet pulled one back for the hosts immediately.

With all men driving forward in the last moments of the game, Sevilla’s vulnerability on the counter was exploited by Cristian Tello and the game finished 3-5 in favour of Real Betis.

LEVANTE 5-4 BARCELONA

Levante

Levante

Ernesto Valverde was on the verge of creating history by becoming the first manager to go unbeaten in the entire season.

However, a defeat to Levante away from home in the penultimate fixture prevented Valverde from achieving this unique record.

Emmanuel Boateng scored a brace in the first 30 minutes but Barcelona replied through Coutinho before going into the break with a one goal disadvantage.

Enir Bardhi netted Levante’s third in the first minute of the second half and Boateng completed his hat-trick immediately. Bardhi then made it 4-1 in the 56th minute and the hosts were all set to be the first team to inflict a defeat on Barcelona.

However, an attempt at a come-back was initiated, with Coutinho leading the charge from long term. The Brazilian completed his hat-trick after netting twice in five minutes. A Luis Suarez penalty in the 71st minute raised the optimism levels of all the Barcelona fans across the world, but Levante held on to end Barcelona’s invincibility.

BARCELONA 3-4 REAL BETIS

Messi ended up on the losing side despite scoring two.

Messi ended up on the losing side despite scoring two.

This was a very special game for the Cruyffista in Real Betis boss Quique Setien as he watched his team dismantle Barcelona using their philosophy and in their hunting ground.

The former Las Palmas boss employed a Juego de posicion system to slit a hole in Barcelona’s granite-like defence.

Junior Firpo and Joaquin scored in the first half to give the visitors a 2-0 lead going into the break.

Lionel Messi stepped up to score from the spot early in the second half before Giovani Lo Celso made it 3-1 following a howler from Marc Andre Ter Stegen.

Arturo Vidal pulled one back with 11 minutes of normal remaining and the game was surely heading for a nail-biting finish.

Sergio Canales restored the two-goal lead in the 83rd minute, but Messi’s neat finish in injury time proved to be in vain as Betis walked away with all three points that night.

This tremendous performance by the visitors also made a case for why Setien should succeed Valverde as Barcelona boss.

REAL BETIS 3-3 CELTA VIGO

FBL-ESP-LIGA-BETIS-SEVILLA

It’s no surprise that Real Betis feature in this list so frequently. Their high-line of defence and a free-flowing attack promises a goal-fest on either side of the pitch.

In arguably the best game of the season so far, Betis and Celta Vigo played out a 3-3 draw at the Villamarin.

Loren Moron scored in the first half to give the hosts the lead and Firpo doubled their advantage early in the second half. Maxi Gomez led Celta Vigo’s comeback and the elusive Brais Mendez went on to equalise in the 69th minute.

The former handed the visitors the lead late in the second half, only for Sergio Canales to restore parity.

The 3-3 scoreline was a fair representation of the performances by both teams.

BARCELONA 2-2 REAL MADRID

It was the last Clasico that featured two of the best players in the world

It was the last Clasico that featured two of the best players in the world

The list is rounded off with one of the most evenly contested El Clasicos of recent times.

The significance of this game was huge, mainly due to the fact that Los Blancos were touted to be La Liga’s best bet at ending Barcelona’s invincibility. But the visitors were by far the better side for most parts of the game.

Suarez opened the scoring after ten minutes after Sergi Roberto found the Uruguayan with a pin-point cross following a quick counter. The lead lasted for just four minutes though as Cristiano Ronaldo scored from close range to level proceedings.

Roberto was sent off just before half-time for violent conduct against Marcelo, handing the visitors a huge advantage for the second half.

However, it was Barcelona who scored first after the restart, as Messi stamped his name on the score-sheet of yet another Clasico with a fine finish.

Gareth Bale scored a stunner from long range to equalise and the game ended 2-2.

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