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.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

[ MORE: Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho transfer ]

The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

[ MORE: LA Galaxy send Van Damme back to Belgium ]

But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.