A few picks for today, Saturday May 5:
FA Cup Final: Liverpool vs Chelsea (12:15pmET, FSC & Fox Deportes): Two teams that have been underwhelming in the league but surprisingly successful in cup competitions. Liverpool has already won the League Cup, while this is the 1st of two cup finals Chelsea will be competing for this month.
As outlined in this Telegraph column, these two clubs developed a heated rivalry over the past decade, playing in each other a remarkable 39 number times in the aughts:
One club was a product of its time, the other traversing a long road of redemption towards former glories.
Chelsea had Abramovich’s millions and the charismatic and calculating Jose Mourinho. Liverpool the tactical nous and organisational skills of Rafael Benitez that had been missing under the admittedly exciting stewardships of Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans.
Liverpool had capital-h History. Chelsea were rich upstarts. The pair were never likely to get along.
Their rivalry was ignited by ignited by Luis Garcia’s phantom goal at Anfield in 2005 [pictured above] which sealed qualification for the Champions League final. Jose Mourinho is still whingeing about it.
La Liga, Atlético Madrid vs Málaga (3pmET, ESPN3.com): Málaga sits in the crucial 4th place in the league, which would lead to Champions League qualification. That is one of primary goals of the ambitious–although so far somewhat rocky—Qatari-funded Málaga project. They’ve spent a fair amount of petro-euros on transfer fees over the past couple years–most prominently the €19m they spent last summer to lure Spanish international midfielder Santi Cazorla away from Villareal–“the crowning moment in Málaga’s transformation” Sid Lowe wrote at the time. Other Málaga players who’ve caught our eye: Venezuelan striker Jose Rondón, attack-minded Portuguese fullback Eliseu, and two young attacking players in Argentine Diego Buonanotte and Spaniard Francisco Román Alarcón, aka Isco. The former is a 24-year-old who starred for River Plate as a teenager, before he barely survived in a horrific car crash 3 years ago–see FiveInMidfield’s account. Isco, who just celebrated his 20th birthday a couple weeks ago, was born in Benalmádena, just outside Málaga, but came up through Valencia’s youth system. He made just four La Liga appearances for Valencia last season before Málaga paid €6m last summer.
Atlético–who will be travelling to Bucharest this coming week to take on Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final on Wednesday–still have an outside chance of catching up with Málaga. Los Colchoneros (“The Mattress Makers“) sit in 6th place, 5 points behind Málaga (with Levante in between in 5th place). The player to watch on Atlético is without a doubt Colombian striker Falcao, who has ably replaced Kun Aguero. One of Atlético’s challenges this summer will be to keep richer clubs from luring him away after just a year in Madrid. Falcao also starred for River Plate–he played for the Argentine giants from 2001-2009, including under current Atlético Madrid manager’s Diego Simeone‘s stint as manager there in 2008.
La Liga, Barcelona vs Espanyol (3pmET, ESPN3.com): The Derbi barceloní, and Pep Guardiola’s last match at the Camp Nou. Espanyol held Barcelona to a draw on their ground in January, after which Sid Lowe wrote:
Created as a conscious rejection of Barcelona – not, as is often assumed, of Barça’s Catalanism but of their foreignness, founded by Hans Gamper, who was Swiss, and full of British ex-pats – Espanyol’s identity has shifted over the past century. So, even, has their name. From the consciously Spanish club they became, rejecting the growing identification of Barcelona with Catalanism, to their recent reinvention, staking their own claim to being Catalan, there has been a constant: they don’t like Barça. Just as Barcelona’s narrative evokes their status as a kind of resistance to the state, so now does Espanyol’s – only this time the “state” is the Catalan one. Barcelona is more than a club; so too, as the banner at Cornellá pointedly put it on Sunday night, “is Catalunya”.
We took a look at Espanyol’s youthful talent in a previous what-to-watch feature, here.