Eurozone: Pepe's injury forces Real to spend again

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The Independent Online

Real Madrid will try to sign a central defender in the January transfer window after their defensive linchpin Pepe was carried off in the 3-2 win over Valencia on Saturday and told he will not play again this season.

"We will not rule out making a move when the transfer window opens but there is not another Pepe out there," said the Real sporting director, Jorge Valdano. "We will do what we can to compensate."

The Portugal international injured knee ligaments when he fell badly after challenging David Villa and is now in a race to be fit for next summer's World Cup finals. Villa got the goal he craved – his first at the Mestalla against Real – but although it means he remains La Liga's top scorer with 12 for the season it was not enough to earn Valencia a point.

They fell behind to Gonzalo Higuain's 53rd-minute header and, although Villa responded by scoring from his first chance of the game on the hour, Higuain scored again four minutes later. The usually impeccable Iker Casillas had been left stranded coming for a ball he had no chance of getting when Villa scored and he was embarrassed again on 79 minutes when he fumbled a Joaquin shot as Valencia equalised for a second time.

Pepe's replacement Ezequiel Garay then rose to head in a Xabi Alonso free-kick with seven minutes to go and this time there was no Valencia comeback. Alonso said afterwards: "It was possibly our best game of the season so far. We controlled things in the second half and we were well organised throughout. The worst thing that happened is the injury to Pepe. We are becoming more solid as a team and the better we defend the better we attack."

Barcelona remain five points clear at the top, having played a game more, after a controversial 1-0 win over Espanyol in the Catalan derby. After the slightest of touches from the Espanyol defender Raul Baena, Xavi Hernandez went to ground and the referee Iturralde Gonzalez pointed to the spot, Zlatan Ibrahimovic tucking away the penalty in the 39th minute. Barça then played out an ill-tempered, stop-start second half to win their sixth successive match.

Gonzalez later sent off Baena in the tunnel after the defender, who was substituted at half-time, continued his protests, confronting the referee outside his dressing room and telling him: "You'll see you were wrong when you watch the replay."

Jermaine Pennant has only been in Spain for three months but already he will be playing for a new manager at Zaragoza after Marcelino was sacked following a home defeat to Athletic Bilbao.



Everybody is talking about... Bayern Munich

The Bavarian club's recovery continued at the weekend with a 5-1 away hammering of Bochum. Having knocked Juventus out of the Champions League to secure their own passage into the last 16 of the competition, Louis van Gaal's side won in style with goals from Mario Gomez, a Mergim Mavraj own goal, Danijel Pranjic and two from Ivica Olic. Meanwhile, Juventus fell to a 3-1 defeat away to Bari in Serie A although it could easily have been different for Ciro Ferrara's side had Diego not missed a penalty with the score at 2-1.

Player of the week... Iker Muniain

The "Bilbao Rooney" struck again at the weekend, coming on as a second-half substitute and creating both goals for Athletic in their 2-1 win over Zaragoza – the first of which came within two minutes of his introduction. Muniain (left) is already the club's youngest-ever player and youngest-ever scorer. Not 17 until next Saturday, he is terrorising defences like no teenager has done since Rooney burst on to the scene in 2002. "He is a footballer with eight gears and in-built satellite navigation system," said coach Joaquin Caparros.

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