European soccer news: Maidstone United’s FA Cup magic, Barca lose and Xavi announces exit, more

It was another fun day across European soccer, with talking points galore in the English FA Cup, Spain’s LaLiga and the German Bundesliga among others. The highlights: Maidstone United shrugged off their minnows status to shock Ipswich Town 2-1 in the FA Cup fourth round, Barcelona came back from 2-0 down vs. Villarreal only to lose 5-3, and Harry Kane scored as Bayern Munich held on to defeat Augsburg 3-2.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid continued their status as comeback kings to retake top spot in LaLiga, Chelsea thumped Brighton in the Women’s Super League with Lauren James scoring twice, and a pitch invader stopped play in England’s League One.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Here is what you missed on another roller-coaster Saturday in European football.

The FA Cup is the world’s oldest national cup competition and despite the best efforts of richer, stronger entities, it has managed to remain exhilarating for one devastatingly simple reason: anyone can play anyone in any round. For pub teams or semi-pro sides that have grafted through several qualifying rounds to reach the business end of the competition, there’s the potential to host a Premier League giant or, better yet, get a chance to play at an Anfield or Old Trafford.

And so it came to pass at Portman Road early on Saturday, as non-league Maidstone United — the lowest-ranked team left in the competition, exactly 98 places below their opponents — arrived to play high-flying Championship side Ipswich Town in the fourth round of the FA Cup … and beat them 2-1.

Destination: Dreamland.

It wasn’t just an enthralling end-to-end game that quickened the pulse far more than Spurs-Man City and Chelsea-Aston Villa had on Friday, either; it bore all the plot points of a Hollywood film in which Elijah Wood or Benedict Cumberbatch lead a ragtag bunch to victory. Maidstone had two shots in the entire game — to Ipswich’s 38 — and converted both the the cool, calm manner of a team many leagues above where they sit.

After a first half largely spent digging deep and clearing a barrage of action in their own penalty area, an elegant, Premier League-worthy counter-attack in the final seconds of the first half gave them a lead. An Ipswich corner was cleverly worked out quickly to the right flank, where Liam Sole had the vision to play Lamar Reynolds clean through on goal. With just the keeper to beat, he held his nerve to float the ball over his head and gently into the net. 1-0 Maidstone.

Normal order was briefly restored when Jeremy Sarmiento raced onto Jack Taylor’s through-ball and fired beyond Lucas Covolan, but it wouldn’t remain tied for long as Maidstone conjured up their finishing move. Just 10 minutes later, another counter caught Ipswich flat-footed and Sam Corne held his nerve brilliantly to finish low at the near post.

From there, Ipswich threw everything at their non-league visitors — did I mention they had 38 shots to Maidstone’s 2? — but couldn’t find a way through, prompting delirium at full-time. George Elokobi (himself a former Premier League player) was a delight on the touchline as the architect of Maidstone’s success, which sees them become the first team outside England’s top five divisions to reach the FA Cup fifth round since Blyth Spartans managed it in 1978.

For all the rampant cynicism around the game’s hyper-capitalist mindset, Saturday’s scenes at Portman Road were a glorious reminder of just why we love this game so, so much. — James Tyler

Barcelona’s miserable run continued as they surrendered a 3-2 lead, having fought back from two goals down themselves, to lose 5-3 at home to Villarreal in an astonishing game at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday night. After an enthralling 90 minutes, Alexander Sorloth and José Luis Morales struck in the 99th and 102nd minutes respectively to seal the points for the away team and leave their host’s title defence in tatters.

Adding to the club’s woes, Xavi announced after the match that he would not continue as Barcelona manager beyond this season.

This remarkable match summed up many motifs of Barça’s season so far. They have struggle dto get going in games and here was no different, going 2-0 down after goals from Gerard Moreno and Ilias Akhomach, who left Barça for Villarreal last summer, either side of half time. However, when they take the handbrake off, this Barça team can still be fun to watch. Ilkay Gündogan’s clean strike got them back in the game and with the crowd smelling a comeback, they turned things around in just 11 minutes as Pedri and an Eric Bailly own goal gave them the lead.

Perhaps their mistake was coming back too soon, though, because there was still plenty of time for Villarreal to mount a comeback of their own. Goncalo Guedes equalised in the 84th minute to set up an enthralling final 20 — yes, 20! — minutes. Barça had a penalty given for handball on the pitch overturned after the VAR suggested the referee take a look at the monitor, creating an incredible image as Xavi angrily roared “Disgrace” in front of the television cameras.

And then, Barça imploded. Some comical defending and individual mistakes — the real story of their season — allowed Sorloth to win the game in the ninth minute of stoppage time. There was still time for Morales to sweep home a fifth, too, and compound Barça’s misery at their temporary home in Montjuic while Camp Nou is being redeveloped. Whistles followed from the crowd as Villarreal, who play in yellow, walked off the pitch victorious to a curious choice of song from the PA: Coldplay’s “Yellow.”

“Barça have a big handicap in that they have to play here and not at home,” Marcelino, the Villarreal coach, said after the game, yet that is no excuse for some worrying statistics.

Barça conceded 46 goals in 53 games (all competitions) last season, yet they’ve already conceded that amount in 32 matches in the current campaign. What’s more, they have leaked four or more goals three times in January, a run that’s seen them exit the Spanish Supercopa and the Copa del Rey while also falling 10 points behind league leaders Real Madrid. It’s hard to imagine they will be good enough to save their season via the Champions League at this stage, with Napoli waiting for them in the last 16 next month.

As for the Villarreal loss, it was a defeat for the history books: Saturday marked the first time they have conceded five goals at home in LaLiga since 1963, when they lost 5-1 to Madrid. — Sam Marsden

Bayern Munich’s squad seems to be getting thinner every week, which isn’t ideal as they attempt to catch up to league leaders Bayer Leverkusen. The 33-time German champions had to digest several items of bad news ahead of their weekend trip to FC Augsburg, as Dayot Upamecano, Joshua Kimmich and Konrad Laimer all suffered injuries that will see them sidelined for some time. With a threadbare core remaining, manager Thomas Tuchel was forced to find a few creative solutions, in particular using left-footed Raphaël Guerreiro as a right-back in his 4-2-3-1 formation.

Guerreiro had never played that particular position since his arrival in Germany in 2016, yet he did a commendable job in an unfamiliar role as Bayern ran out 3-2 winners. Combined with Leverkusen’s 0-0 home draw with Borussia Monchengladbach, Bayern are now just two points back in second place.

Someone else who did a commendable job as well was 19-year-old midfielder Aleksandar Pavlović, with the youngster scoring the go-ahead goal after a Guerreiro corner kick wasn’t cleared by Augsburg’s Phillip Tietz. Pavlović’s maiden goal might have laid the groundwork for Bayern’s win, but any joy was immediately overshadowed by another injury setback as Kingsley Coman hurt his left foot in the lead-up to the goal. Tuchel had to take him off immediately, increasing concerns that his squad isn’t deep enough to finish the 2023-24 campaign in winning fashion.

Throughout the game, the fearless hosts (mired in 13th place) attempted to make Bayern’s life difficult with constant pressure, but as time progressed the defending champions became increasingly confident and used their long spells of possession to maintain control of the tempo and territory. Only the final minutes of stoppage time became somewhat stressful after Augsburg skipper Ermedin Demirović was fouled by Thomas Müller inside the penalty area, which allowed Demirović to score from the spot and make it 3-2.

While Bayern secured three points, they may quickly turn their attention to the remaining days of the January transfer market: right-back Sacha Boey from Galatasaray is expected to sign a contract over the weekend as one of a few potential signings could follow until the window closes. — Constantin Eckner

Having made a name as something of a bogey team for the Blues, Brighton again put in a good showing when they hosted the WSL champions on Saturday evening, keeping the visitors at bay for the first half. With the two teams deadlocked 0-0 at the break, the focus shifted to Chelsea’s bench — namely the player they brought in for a record amount on Friday, Mayra Ramírez.

Ultimately, it was the starting XI Blues boss Emma Hayes had put out that made the difference when the two teams returned for the second half, with Chelsea running out 3-0 winners after a trio of goals in the 15 minutes after the break.

A game that could have been described as “flat” from a Chelsea point of view sparked into life when Lauren James superbly volleyed Niamh Charles’ cross into the top-left corner. The second half was barely two minutes old and Chelsea doubled their lead five minutes later when Fran Kirby sent a second into the back of Sophie Baggaley’s net.

The Seagulls attempted to respond, but the ball refused to cooperate and any hopes of a route back into the tie were dashed when James slotted a second beyond Baggaley, bringing her tally for the season to 12.

Ramírez did indeed make her debut for the Blues shortly after the hour in something of a show of strength from Hayes as the coach shuffled her side, attempting to save legs ahead of another midweek Champions League fixture. The Colombian’s cameo ended up being something of a footnote on another night when James stole the show for the champions. — Lawson

Real Madrid also had to come from behind to win on Saturday, but they had no such problems holding on to their lead once going 2-1 ahead against Las Palmas. The win means Carlo Ancelotti’s side are now unbeaten in 15 games in LaLiga and look increasingly like Champions-elect as last season’s champions Barça continue to crumble. Girona, two points back, remain their biggest rival with 17 matchdays remaining.

With Jude Bellingham suspended — another loss on top of long-term absentees Thibaut Courtois, Éder Militão and David Alaba — there was some concern for Madrid when they fell behind in the second half at the Gran Canaria Stadium.

Javi Muñoz gave Las Palmas, one of the surprise packages in LaLiga this season, the lead. However, this is a Madrid side that does not panic. Speaking afterwards, Ancelotti said the “attitude and motivation” of the players on their bench is the key to their comeback ability. Vinícius Júnior drew them level in the 65th minute, setting the stage for substitute Aurélien Tchouaméni to head home the winner from a corner with just over five minutes to play.

This was the 10th time Madrid have come from behind to win a game this season and the second time in a week after last Sunday’s 3-2 win over Almería. They have turned a losing position into a winning one six times in LaLiga, three times in the Champions League and once in the Spanish Supercopa. — Marsden

There were no notable goals or moments for U.S. stars on the continent on Saturday, though several players turned in productive shifts to help their respective sides.

Cameron Carter-Vickers played the full 90 minutes as Celtic defeated Ross County 1-0 to remain top in the Scottish Premiership, Christian Pulisic (90 minutes) and Yunus Musah (second-half substitute) contributed as Milan drew 2-2 with Bologna, and Weston McKennie went the distance for Juventus in their 1-1 draw with Empoli. (Tim Weah came on around the hour mark for the Bianconeri, picking up a yellow card.)

In Germany, Joe Scally (90 minutes) and Jordan Pefok (subbed off after 79 minutes) battled gamely as Borussia Monchengladbach held on for an impressive 0-0 draw at Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen. — Tyler

We’ll end with the FA Cup, and the scrappy fun at Goodison Park between Everton and Luton Town. The Hatters have had precious little to cheer about this season since being promoted to the Premier League, with just 12 points from their first 20 games in their first campaign back in the top flight since 1991. Yet Saturday brought them a 2-1 win over fellow relegation battlers Everton to vault them into the fifth round, and it was rather dramatic.

For those keeping score at home, that’s a gritty close-range goal in the 96th minute after some defensive pandemonium in the Everton box.

The other edge to this sword, however, is that Everton can now focus all their efforts on avoiding the drop while Luton’s calendar remains a little bit busier for now. — Tyler

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