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Thanks, Manuel! Sporting Ties Barcelona, 1-1

Sporting de Gijón coach Manuel Preciado's well-publicized feud with Real Madrid's José Mourinho a few months ago didn't stop his Sporting side from claiming a well-earned draw at home against Barcelona on Saturday. Sporting played well during the first half (Barral scored a fantastic goal), and managed to keep their lead until David Villa tied the game in the 79th minute.

This is not a particularly shocking result, as Sporting is known for playing tough, physical, defensive football; at the same time, it's great to see Barça's historic win-streak snapped, and Leo Messi look so ineffective. Sporting provided a good blueprint for other teams looking to take points off Barcelona: crash the defensive passing lanes, crowd the middle of the field, and push quickly on counter-attacks. Of course, this is way easier said than done, but it is still a model that the lower-tier teams could follow.

Provided los blancos beat a feisty Espanyol team on Sunday (no guarantee at all), Real Madrid will sit five points behind Barça in the Liga BBVA. Coming back five points seems much more do-able than seven (remember 2006-2007?), and Mourinho owes this bit of luck to his pal, Manuel Preciado.

In other semi-relevant news, Real Madrid Basketball are set to play in the Copa del Rey final against...Regal FC Barcelona. Read that last sentence again. Madrid and Barça are set to play two finals against each other, in two different sports.

(As a shot aside, los blancos basketball is not a fantastic Miami Heat-like team. They get by on gritty defensive small-ball, and are guided by the ex-NBA bench warmer Sergio Rodriguez. Barcelona is a flashy offensive team, with medium-to-good defense, and have ex-NBA bench warmer (and Spain starter) Juan Carlos Navarro on the wing, and former top-10 NBA pick Ricky Rubio playing the point. Honestly, this doesn't look great for our boys--but anything can happen! Plus, Rubio is looking like a bit of a bust, as his shot seems to have deteriorated this season. The Timberwolves are actively shopping his rights, and as of now they have very few takers.)

In slightly more relevant news, Atleti lost 1-2 to Valencia, and it looks like their coach Quique Sánchez Flores will probably get the boot. This was a tough game for our neighbors, as they went up 1-0 in the first half, only to squander the lead (and the game) to a Valencia side that didn't have their best stuff. Hopefully they'll be able to bounce back from this loss, and save Quique's job--I've always liked his style, and I think he has done some great work for the rojiblancos. 

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