Shipped from abroad, Spain: Because the Clasico didn’t end the season

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Throughout 2012, Athletic Bilbao has been a bit hot and cold, and not in that annoying Katy Perry way (don’t click on this). Marcelo Bielsa has had to balance Europa League success, a run to the Copa del Rey final, and his squad’s Primera campaign. The last has become a roller coaster.

On Wednesday, Real Madrid, needing a win to claim their first liga in four seasons, got early goals from Gonzalo Higuaín and Mesüt Özil. Long before Cristiano Ronaldo added his 43rd of the year in the second half, los Merengues had wrapped up the match, a fate confirmed when Javi Martínez was dismissed with just over 15 minutes left. With the win Real Madrid had their title, dropping Athletic Bilbao to eighth. Had Athletic’s Copa spot not already put them back in Europe, they’d be on the verge of missing out.

Athletic’s is not an uncommon story among those jockeying for Europe. Only one of the teams sitting fourth through 10th won during the mid-week match day. Mallorca, that club, has won three in a row and climbed all the way to seventh place. Two weeks ago, Joaquín Capparrós’s team sat 14th. Now they’re one point from Europe. Such is the sudden weakness of Spain’s mid-table.

It’s something nobody’s noticed. Even with the season’s last Clasico more than a week in the past, most are still focused on Real Madrid and Barcelona. Lionel Messi’s in the news for breaking records, while Real Madrid’s there for winning what José Mourinho call his most difficult title.

Perhaps with that settled, people can start taking note of the rest of the league. Then again, on match day 36, there wasn’t much to notice.

Elsewhere in Spain

Tuesday’s results
Getafe 1-1 Racing Santander
Granada 2-1 Espanyol
Sporting Gíjon 2-3 Villarreal

Wednesday’s results
Atlético Madrid 1-1 Real Soceidad
Barcelona 4-1 Málaga
Sevilla 1-2 Real Betis
Mallorca 1-0 Rayo Vallecano
Real Zaragoza 1-0 Levante
Valencia 4-0 Osasuna
Athletic Bilbao 0-3 Real Madrid

Races

Champions League: Real Madrid (94 points, 36 games), Barcelona (87, 36), Valencia (58, 36), Málaga (55/36)*

Europa League: Levante (52, 36), Atlético Madrid (50, 36) (Athletic Bilbao has qualified by virtue of making the FA Cup final)

Survival (relegation): Rayo Vallecano (40, 36), Real Zaragoza (37, 36)

Stuff that stuck out:

  • The flip side to Mallorca’s ascension was Rayo Vallecano’s descent. Whereas a month ago the Madrid-based club was coming off a 6-0 demolition of Osasuna and was looking at a top-half finish, five straight losses have then only three points from the drop. On Wednesday, Rayo found the woodwork before Mallorca’s second half goal extended the losing run.
  • The means Zaragoza have a chance to stay up. For most of the season, they’ve been in last place, though a late winter surge gave the economically-challenged club hope. Edu Oriol’s early goal against visiting Levante gave Zaragoza another upset, and with closing matches against Racing and Getafe, Real may actually stay up. Again.
  • Real Betis’ 1-0 win at the Sánchez Pizjuán not only gave the club a win over their arch rivals, it pulled the club even on points with Sevilla. Few would have thought that possible at the beginning of the season, but with Sevilla having only taken one point from their last four, Betis may be looking down on their rivals at season’s end.
  • Villarreal extended their unbeaten run to five games with their win at Sporting. They’re now four points clear of the drop, far enough in front that we didn’t bother listing them in the relegation race. It’s been a difficult year for the Yellow Submarine, having lost their best player for most of it. That Nilmar’s been hurt and Santi Cazorla was sold created a perfect storm, the club only good for 39 goals this season. It’s a kind of confluence you can’t deny – you can only survive. All they need to do is get to the finish line and start over.

Up next: Barcelona hosts Espnayol for a Catalan derby while Valencia and Villarreal have on of their own. As far as matches that influence the races, Mallorca will host Levante is a shockingly important fixture, Real Zaragoza has a must win match against already-relegated Racing, while Atlético hosts Málaga.

Highlights

This is what it looks like when you win the one of the two biggest leagues in the world:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulbqwwZUwZM]

Anything involving tighty whities? I’m out.

Shipped from abroad is a regular thing. You should check out the rest of them.

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.

FA Cup: Three key battles between Arsenal, Chelsea

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The FA Cup final usually brings out terrific entertainment for the fans, and this Saturday’s finale should be no different.

When Arsenal and Chelsea take the field at Wembley Stadium, it will be the last chance this season for some of the Premier League’s stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa for Chelsea and Alexis Sanchez and Mezut Ozil for Arsenal to bring glory to their club.

[ MORE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The match features two teams heading in different directions. Chelsea, the Premier League champions are in the ascendency after a one-year hiatus out of European competition, while Arsenal finished outside the top-four places in the Premier League for the first time in 20 years under manager Arsene Wenger.

In addition, there’s plenty of other storylines to watch on the field, from whether it’s Costa, Sanchez and Ozil’s potential last matches with their respective teams to how Arsenal will deal without two of its three regular centerbacks they’ve used this season.

Here’s a look at three key battles on the field ahead of the FA Cup final:


Arsenal’s centerbacks vs. Diego Costa

Diego Costa may be a thorn in Chelsea’s side off the field when it comes to the constant speculation of a move away from Stamford Bridge, but on the field this season he’s been brilliant. Costa scored 20 goals in the Premier League and another goal in FA Cup action, and he contributes off the ball as well, drawing the defense in towards him while opening up space for teammates including Hazard and Willian.

Heading into Saturday, it’s unclear who on Arsenal will be tasked with marking Costa. Laurent Koscielny was issued a straight red card in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Everton and will miss the FA Cup final due to suspension while fellow centerback Gabriel left the field on a stretcher after suffering a knee injury. In addition, Shkodran Mustafi is still recovering from a concussion and is a doubt for Saturday.

That leaves Wenger with just Per Mertesacker and Rob Holding as healthy centerbacks, which could force Wenger to revert back to his usual four-man backline from the more recent three-man backline that’s been used.

Regardless of who Arsenal put out there, expect Costa to be at his best, attempting to physically dominate his opponent and get under their skin.


Nemanja Matic and N'Golo Kante vs. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal are at their best when they play through the middle of the field before finding runners out wide, setting up crossing attempts into the middle or perhaps another chance to play through the lines in the center of the field.

Standing in Arsenal’s playmaking duo of Mezut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s way are Nemanja Matic and N’Golo Kante. Kante, as Riyad Mahrez saw last year, does so much of the dirty work defensively that he allows his teammates including Matic and Hazard to bomb forward and either create or finish goal-scoring opportunities.

Kante will have his hands full dealing with Ozil and Sanchez in midfield, and Matic may need to sit a bit deeper to cut off the passing lanes, potentially taking him out of Chelsea’s counter attack.


Eden Hazard vs. Hector Bellerin

For all the speed that Hazard possesses on the ball, there’s at least one player on Arsenal who can keep stride pace-for-pace.

With Hazard likely lining up on the left wing, Arsenal’s right wing back Hector Bellerin will likely face Hazard up one-on-one at both ends of the field, setting up a fun encounter. With Bellerin’s speed and ability to track back, he may be open to a few 40-yard springs into space down the right wing, knowing that Hazard probably won’t be in hot pursuit.

But if Bellerin doesn’t end up with the ball and there’s an Arsenal turnover, Hazard on his own or against a centerback on the left wing could be a nightmare for Arsenal to deal with.

Man United, Man City come together to support terror victims

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The Manchester derby is known as one of the world’s fiercest rivalries, but in the wake of a devastating terrorist attack this week, both sides are joining together to support the city of Manchester and victims of the attack.

Manchester United and Manchester City announced Thursday they pledged together nearly $1.3 million into the We Love Manchester community fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the 22 people who died and 64 people who were injured in the attack.

“The barbarism of Monday evening’s attack has shocked everyone,” Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. “Our clubs are right at the heart of our local communities in Manchester and it is right that we present a unified response to this tragedy. The money will help of course but the work of the two clubs and their respective foundation and community scheme can build on the fantastic spirit that Mancunians have shown in the immediate aftermath.”

Folks who want to donate to the fund can visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/manchester or http://www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/redcross/ManchesterEmergencyFund.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

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