Offshore drilling, Spain: Real Madrid 2, at Barcelona 1

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Man of the Match: A number of Real Madrid players could have earned this honor for efforts protecting goal, but the 73rd minute match winner from Cristiano Ronaldo guaranteed he’d get this recognition, playing a part in both goals, On the second, his contribution was obvious: Ronaldo making a great run to beat Javier Mascherano to a perfectly weighted ball from Mesut Özil before leaving Victor Valdés in no man’s land for an easy finish. What will be forgotten on the first goal, however, was Ronaldo’s speed forced Sergio Busquets to take him down along the left flank. Busquets was booked, the set piece was played out by Barça for a corner, and the ensuing kick got El Real the opener.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • As was the case on Wednesday, it took a highly cohesive team effort to beat Barcelona; however, there were four players who stood out:
    • Fabio Coentrão was amazing preventing crosses in from Dani Alves’s flank. I don’t know if it redeems the mistake he made in Munich, but oh does it make it seem like a one off. He’ll be many’s man of the match.
    • Alvaro Arbeloa also convinced at the opposite fullback position, winning a number of goal kicks.
    • Xabi Alonso was a pest sticking his leg out to abduct would be through balls.
    • And Sami Khedira was crucial tactically. With Cristian Tello starting wide left for Barca and Pepe still playing very narrow at the right center back position, the channel between them became a Amazon-sized river. Khedira was exceptional tracking runners into the space and covering for Pepe when the big defender followed Barça attackers into midfield.
  • And like Wednesday, Barcelona dominated possession (72-28), but unlike Chelsea, Real Madrid was not content to sit back and wait out their ball-hogging opponents. Real had more shots on goal (six to three) and forced seven corners to Barcelona’s four.
  • Proponents of Victor Valdés will deny it, but Iker Casillas likely prevents the winning goal. With Özil 35 yards from goal along the right flank, there was only one thing he was going to do: Play a ball into the right of the area for Ronaldo. In the sixth minute of the match, we saw Casillas successfully get off his line quickly to make a save at the edge of the area when Pepe gave the ball away in midfield. Valdés was not as quick reading this play and, pulling up rather than lay out to stop Ronaldo’s shot, allowed the winning goal.
  • I’m starting to suspect the rumors of an attitude adjustment happening with Gerard Piqué are true. Down a goal in this one, Piqué was seen warming up, but when it came time to use his last sub, Pep Guardiola chose to send on Cesc Fabregas for Cristian Tello, even though Real Madrid was going to bunker. A number of corner kicks forced at the end never threatened a Real side that only had to worry about Carles Puyol, and without another target on the field, Barcelona gave Real no disincentive to chopping them down every time they got 10 yards into the attacking half.
  • Woulda, coulda, shoulda; whatever, today should be about Real Madrid. If Barcelona wasn’t their best, give credit to Real Madrid, who now sit seven points clear in Spain with four matches to play. They’ve set a record for goals in a season (109) and could end the campaign with 100 points. This race is over, and whereas it previously looked like Real was going to carry the indignity of winning league without having taken points from Barcelona, instead they have their first win at the Nou Camp since 2007.
  • Suffice to say, this is the biggest win of José Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid. The Copa del Rey win over Barça won silverware, but it didn’t seal a league, and it wasn’t at Camp Nou. Plus, the way Real won vindicates the Special One against skeptics who insisted Real Madrid needed to change their approach. Mourinho has made incremental improvements over the last two years to where a result like today’s is more than a one-off, fanciful possibility. I would still content Barcelona’s more likely to win the next game they play (whenever that is), but Real Madrid winning these matches can no longer be considered surprising or an upset. That wasn’t the case a year-and-a-half ago, and it certainly wasn’t the case when Mourinho was brought in from Inter Milan.
  • For Barcelona, it’s the first time they’ve lost two in a row since May 2009 – two league matches conceded after they’d already locked up the title (and were resting ahead of their Champions League final in Rome). The last time there were two clearly meaningful matches Barcelona lost consecutively was February 2007, when Frank Rijkaard’s Barça side lost at the Mestalla to Valencia ahead of a 2-1, home loss in Champions League to Liverpool.
  • As it concerns mid-week, Real Madrid played the same team that lost in Munich. You’d think there’d be no changes for Wednesday’s match at the Bernabeu. José’s best XI will just have to find the energy. Barcelona made only two changes, but it wasn’t until they brought on Alexis (who had struggled so much at Stamford Bridge) that they were able to break down Real Madrid’s defense. Guardiola may elect to keep Alexis in his Champions League starting XI, but coming off consecutive losses, mentality will be a bigger issue than selection.

WATCH LIVE: Brighton hosts Newcastle United

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Newcastle United looks to continue its rich vein of form when it visits some old friends at Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Brighton manager Chris Hughton has led both clubs to Premier League promotion during his managerial career.

He’ll keep ex-Newcastle keeper Tim Krul on the bench in favor of Australian backstop Mathew Ryan.

As for Newcastle, the Magpies are unchanged from last week’s win over Stoke City.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Suttner; Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, March; Gross; Hemed. Subs: Krul, Rosenior, Huenemeier, Schelotto, Izquierdo, Murphy, Brown.

Newcastle United: Elliot; Mbemba, Clark, Lascelles, Yedlin; Ritchie, Hayden, Merino, Atsu; Perez, JoseluSubs: Darlow, Gamez, Manquillo, Diame, Murphy, Shelvey, Gayle.

Steven Gerrard didn’t want any part of Coutinho in training

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Steven Gerrard has issued some fairly hilarious comments regarding former Liverpool teammate Philippe Coutinho.

The Premier League legend admits there were days in training that the sight of the Brazilian wizard on the other side of the pitch made him lash out.

[ MORE: Palace fans must be patient ]

It seems Gerrard wanted nothing to do with marking Coutinho in small-sided games, and the idea of “Stevie G” spouting off in frustration when Brendan Rodgers posted Coutinho across from him is a wonderful mental picture.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He’s impossible to defend against,” Gerrard told BT Sport after Saturday’s game.

“I mean when I used to train against him, I’d hate it if I was on the opposite five-a-side team. I wouldn’t go near him. And sometimes I’d say to him: ‘Keep away from me! He can embarrass you [as a defender]. He can stand you up, he can both ways, he’s got such a low centre of gravity. He’s sharp, he’s quick and he’s two or three steps ahead of defenders. He’s so, so clever.”

Again, the vision of Gerrard throwing his hands up with a “Nope, not having this today” is amazing. Even if exaggerated, we love it. We picture that old meme with the office worked tossing papers through the air.

Patience with Hodgson required by Palace

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Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is 0-2 in his new gig and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t exactly within touching distance.

The latest defeat is a 5-0 blowout at Manchester City, and the immediate road ahead is sobering: at Manchester United and home to Chelsea. Following a trip to Newcastle, who is in form, the Eagles have matches vs. West Ham, at Spurs, and versus Everton.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Palace is 0-6 overall and the first team in the history of the Premier League to go goalless through its first six matches.

Palace fired Frank De Boer after four league matches and a summer in which the club failed to add much to its squad.

And Hodgson is feeling his way through the dark. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this is the timing of Palace’s change.

From the BBC:

“I am learning about the team all the time and they are learning,” said Hodgson.

“Our focus has to be in May. By the latter part of the season the players must know what we are looking for. They should feel stronger by then.”

To be shooting for May has to be overwhelming for the Selhurst Park faithful but may indicate their most reasonable promise of life in the Premier League.

Palace fans cannot afford to get caught up in how Sam Allardyce saved them a year ago, because his turnaround coincided with the Eagles’ purchases of Luka MilivojevicMamadou Sakho, and Patrick Van Aanholt. An influx of talent does not save a season alone, but we’re fairly sure Alan Pardew would’ve relished the chance to work with two new backs and a stabilizing center midfielder.

Remember that Allardyce then retired, which says something given his willingness to bask in any light in which he can claim a modicum of credit.

So Hodgson, known for his relentless training methods, needs to be given his time. Palace will likely have at-most one point after the next two PL matches, and they may have not scored yet. History can be daunting, but supporters need to exhale and realize the road ahead is long.

Kenya loses hosting rights to 2018 African Nations Championship

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) Kenya has been stripped of the right to host the 2018 African Nations Championship.

The Confederation of Africa Football cited “accumulated delays” in Kenya’s preparations for the tournament, which is the continental championship for players playing in their home leagues.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

CAF made the decision to take the tournament away from Kenya at an executive committee meeting in Accra, Ghana, on Saturday and opened the bidding process for a new host on Sunday. CAF says applications must be received by next Sunday and the new host will be announced in just over two weeks.

The African Nations Championship is scheduled to be played from Jan. 12-Feb. 4.

Kenya’s preparations for the 16-team tournament were already troubled before August when its presidential elections were nullified and a re-vote was ordered. That re-vote is scheduled for next month, and the political instability has meant preparations for the soccer tournament have been undermined.

CAF also says it is opening a tender process to recruit an audit firm to examine Cameroon’s preparations for the 2019 African Cup of Nations, Africa’s top soccer event.

Like Kenya, Cameroon’s readiness to host the Cup of Nations has been under scrutiny. CAF says it needs to examine the state of Cameroon’s “infrastructure to host the tournament,” with the 2019 Cup of Nations the first to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams.