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.

Gabriel Jesus confident he’ll return for Man City this season

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Gabriel Jesus bursted onto the Manchester City scene upon arrival, but an injury back in February has left the talented Brazilian sidelined ever since.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty ]

The lively attacker suffered a broken metatarsal last month against Bournemouth, which required surgery, but the 19-year-old remains confident that he’ll be able to feature again this season for the Citizens.

“I don’t know, I have no return prediction,” Jesus told SporTV. “But I hope I can still play some games this season.”

Initial thoughts were that Jesus would miss around three months, all but ending his first Premier League season. Now, Jesus is hoping that he’ll be able to pick up where he left off prior to the devastating injury.

“It’s good,” Jesus said on his road to recovery. “Thank God, the effort, not just mine, but from all the physiotherapists in Manchester, doctors and everyone. It was not easy for me.

“It’s my first injury. Not muscle injury, but it’s the first time something happens that leaves me out of games. So it was not easy.

“But I saw that, of course, no one wants this to happen, but it could be worse. So we operated soon, I decided to operate and give it time.”

In just his first four matches with Pep Guardiola‘s side, the young Brazilian netted three goals and even dethroned Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup.

CONCACAF chief Montagliani seeks World Cup entry for all co-hosts

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A joint-bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is looking more and more possible, and CONCACAF chief Victor Montagliani believes that if that does happen then all co-hosts should be granted a spot in the tournament.

[ MORE: Making sense of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras ]

With FIFA president Gianni Infantino looking to finalize World Cup expansion plans from 32 to 48 teams over the coming weeks, it seems as though Montagliani’s hopes could become a reality for CONCACAF and other regions planning on creating multi-nation bids.

“I don’t think we should be dictating how a confederation allocates their slots from a hosting standpoint. That’s up to them,” Montagliani said.

FIFA will conduct its next meeting on Thursday when Infantino and all six confederation presidents meet in Zurich, Switzerland to decide on World Cup expansion, which Infantino has been adamant about since taking the reigns of soccer’s governing body.

2026 could play an important role for the United States, as it is seen as a critical piece in a joint-bid with Mexico and Canada to host the World Cup.

Additionally, Montagliani has hopes of making a combined Copa America with North and South America a permanent fixture after recently holding discussions with South America’s FIFA vice president Alejandro Dominguez.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Friday night’s massive USMNT victory ]

However, one area that would be left uncertain is the future of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is currently held every two years.

“If that is the case and we get that done, then we have to have a serious look — is it really tenable to have a Gold Cup?” said Montagliani, whose FIFA stakeholders panel faces tough talks on adding and subtracting dates when clubs must release players on international dates.

“Do we really need it [the Gold Cup]?” he suggested. “Is it just clogging the calendar for the players?”

Lukaku coy on Everton future, says “decision has already been made”

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Romelu Lukaku has made it no secret that he hopes to play Champions League football, and reality may be setting in that the opportunity to do so won’t come at Everton.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break during Ireland match ]

While the Belgium international hasn’t dealt his hand in regards to his future at Goodison Park, it seems as though the Toffees could be losing out on keeping their star striker.

[ MORE: UEFA qualifying roundup — Wales in trouble, Buffon hits 1000 ]

Last month, agent Mino Raiola claimed that Lukaku’s deal with the English side was 99.9 percent complete, however, the 23-year-old has still yet to ink a new contract.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s UEFA World Cup qualifier against Greece, Lukaku says that his future plans are already made up.

“The decision has already been made so I can’t talk about that,” Lukaku said of his future at Everton.

The former Anderlecht standout has had nothing but success since joining Everton, first on loan and then making a permanent transfer from Chelsea in 2014. Over the combined stints, Lukaku has bagged 83 goals in all competitions for the Toffees, but the young attacker says there’s nothing wrong with having “ambition.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. You have to embrace it and where you are as a footballer,” Lukaku said. “I’ve made a long way until now but the road is still long and I know I have to improve and get better. I want to help Everton as much as I can, as well as the national team. I think a lot of stuff can be achieved.

“Sometimes people will mistake things that I say but it’s just ambition that I have; I want to win titles and trophies and I don’t think people should take that as arrogance — people should embrace it.

“This is what footballers need to achieve if they want to become the best, and I think young kids need to learn that too.”

Making sense out of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras

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In the lead up to Friday night’s clash at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. Men’s National Team was faced with a must-win scenario. What came next though was a bit more shocking than most U.S. Soccer supporters could have possibly imagined.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

An emphatic 6-0 scoreline was how it finished in San Jose, California as the USMNT took down Honduras to lift itself out of the cellar of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it’s how Bruce Arena’s side picked up the result that was so impressive.

After an extended layoff that began in the final months of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Clint Dempsey has returned to both club and country with a vengeance following Friday’s performance. The artist formerly known as “Deuce” recorded a hat-trick in a span of 22 minutes to solidify an already convincing American lead, leaving Dempsey just two goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT scoring record (57).

Dempsey wasn’t the only bright spot though, as Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore and most notably, Christian Pulisic, turned in stellar performances that really left Honduras with no chance to find its rhythm in the match.

The 18-year-old Pulisic continues to be the talk of the town when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so given his club situation. There’s never been a U.S. talent succeeding at a club as big as Borussia Dortmund at such a young age, and Pulisic’s effort against Los Catrachos proved further that the young attacker could be the playmaker the Yanks have been looking for since Donovan’s retirement.

Meanwhile, another player that turned in a great performance was Jozy Altidore, and probably not for the reasons you’d normally think. The Toronto FC striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, however, it was Altidore’s hold-up play and vision that helped the U.S. dominate Honduras.

Altidore has long been a staple of the American attack, and an important one at that with his 37 international goals, which ranks third all-time for the U.S.. If the 27-year-old is able to replicate more performances like Friday night though, that makes the Stars and Stripes significantly more dangerous because of Altidore’s duel-threat ability.

The lone area the U.S. will look to clean up heading into Tuesday’s important qualifying match against Panama will be some of the team’s defensive letdowns. Jorge Villafana turned in a strong performance in his WCQ debut at left back, while veteran Omar Gonzalez had several moments of weakness in the heart of the American backline.

The Pachuca defender was caught out of position on several occasions and gave the ball away at times as well, but fortunately for the U.S., Honduras was unable to capitalize on those errors.

Overall though, the U.S. did exactly what it needed… and then some. The three points was all Arena’s group could have hoped for from the start after lackluster performances against Mexico and Costa Rica back in November, but adding six goals could certainly help down the road as well if goal differential becomes a key factor in the Hexagonal.

It’s difficult to say the U.S. is back because that’s a relative phrase that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The USMNT put in a stellar performance, albeit without key players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin defensively, while Bobby Wood and Jermaine Jones are two others that didn’t feature.

[ MORE: Three takeaways from USMNT’s emphatic win on Friday night ]

Only time will tell when it comes to how this team gels over an extended period of time, but it was certainly a dream start for the Americans as Arena Part Deux continues.

Up next, Panama.