Real Madrid's coach Mourinho gestures during his Spanish First Division soccer match against Malaga in Malaga

Real Madrid loss forces consideration of the unthinkable

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Given the quality Málaga has shown this year, it’s not a huge surprise that Real Madrid would lose in Andalusia. That they gave up three goals, never led, and benched their captain for a game that left them 16 points behind league-leading Barcelona adds emotional weight to the bottom line results.

Real Madrid aren’t just struggling. They’re sliding, and with the lack of urgency in the squad, it’s not difficult to imagine them free falling without a severe change of approach.

After a scoreless first half at the Rosaleda, Málaga midfielder Isco opened the scoring before an own goal pulled El Real back even. Substitute Roque Santa Cruz was resurrected to post a second half double, with a consolation goal from Karim Benzema leaving Real Madrid 3-2 losers.

The win moves Málaga fourth in Spain with 31 points through 17 games. They’re two points back of Real, who’ve only managed one point from their last two games.

Real Madrid’s closer to 13th place Sevilla than their rival Barcelona. If José Mourinho was dubious of Real’s title chances last week, he can no longer have any doubts. All that’s left for Los Blancos is Champions League (and, at this rate, qualifying for next year’s Champions League).

MORE: Implications of benching Iker Casillas

It’s almost unthinkable to suggest this, but you have to wonder if the José Mourinho-Real Madrid marriage is destined to end before the sides’ anticipated summer divorce. Still, all trends are pointing in that direction. An already down season is starting to get worse on all fronts. Real’s losing touch with Atlético in league, let alone Barcelona. They’re trailing in Copa del Rey to Celta Vigo, and they were clearly second best to Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League group.

For a club obsessed with winning a 10th European title, the team’s current slide is unacceptable. Were Los Merengues struggling yet still looked a good bet to win in February, the team’s current struggles could be accepted. But Mourinho seems to have no answers to a side that’s failing to execute. Their play suggest that, despite advantages all over the pitch, Real Madrid may struggle to get past Manchester United in Champions League’s knockout round.

The situation is starting to mirror the one that befell Mourinho at Chelsea. Despite the coach’s obvious qualities, Blues’ owner Roman Abramovich was put in a situation where the otherwise ludicrous notion of change for change’s sake could actually help. While decisions to fire a coach have to be considered in light of who’s available, the decision-making process changes when a coach’s message is starting to fall on deaf ears. A new man with new ideas might help, even if under most circumstances those ideas would be inferior to Mourinho’s.

MORE: Mourinho sends best wishes to Tito Vilanova

Eventually, Mourinho and Chelsea parted ways. The Blues went on to the 2008 Champions League final with Avram Grant, one of the worst managers in English soccer over the last five years. A year later, Carlo Ancelotti moved to London from Milan, and Chelsea reclaimed the league title.

The amazing part of the parallel is the speed with which things changed. True, Mourinho was coming off his first non-title year at Chelsea when he was dismissed, but in only three seasons, the man had crafted a legend. That he would leave the team within a year-plus of a title was shocking. But in Madrid, the turn has been just as quick. Just eight months ago, Real Madrid seemed destined for a domestic title and a Champions League final meeting with Barcelona (a meeting that never happened).

MORE: Kaka likely to stay, according to coach

Now, Real’s grasping at straws. They benched Iker Casillas today, a seemingly desperate attempt to inject some fear into a team that’s lacked urgency all season.

Soon, Florentino Perez may try the same plan. If Mourinho, destined to leave in May regardless, can’t get more out of this team, rolling the dice on change for change’s sake becomes a low risk move for El Real.

Arsenal’s Wilshere: “Hopefully we can go better this year and win it”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Jack Wilshere of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on May 15, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Arsenal star Jack Wilshere is excited about the developments at his club and country.

The English midfielder, 24, has a new coach for his country in ex-Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce, and a new big-money teammate in Granit Xhaka.

[ MORE: Immobile finds new team ]

Both moves have him feeling good, and Wilshere is looking to inch his club one spot higher in the Premier League table this season.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“This year is going to be interesting. There are six or seven teams who could potentially challenge for the trophy. Man United have got a new manager, [Manchester] City have got a new manager; both managers are known for winning things wherever they go. And Chelsea as well. And then there are Leicester City, who are going to have to deal with a totally different pressure of being champions last year,” he said.

“We feel we’ve got better as well,” Wilshere continued. “Over the year we finished fourth, then third, then second. Hopefully we can go better than that this year and win it.”

With the big pick-ups at Man City and United amongst other clubs, Arsenal’s low-key offseason has made many forget that the Gunners return almost everyone from their second place finish next year. What chance do you give them of seizing a title?

UEFA Champions League roundup: Celtic, Monaco snare first leg road goals

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 20: Patrick Roberts of Celtic celebrates his goal (Celtic's third goal) with Leigh Griffiths during the UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round: Second Leg between Celtic Football Club and Lincoln Red Imps   at Celtic Park on July 20, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Steve  Welsh/Getty Images)
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This is a draw that Brendan Rodgers will gladly accept.

Celtic went all the way to Kazakhstan and came back with a 1-1 draw against Astana in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie on Wednesday.

[ REPORT: Timbers add NUFC man ]

Yuri Logvinenko scored for Astana, but Leigh Griffiths did what he normally does for Celtic and the Scottish champs are bringing a road goal back to Glasgow for the second leg.

Elsewhere, remember Emmanuel Emenike? He scored twice for Fenerbahce, who boosted itself into a 2-1 advantage after one leg in a win over Monaco. Radamel Falcao scored for the visitors.

Wednesday’s first legs
Astana 1-1 Celtic
Astra Giurgiu 1-1 Copenhagen
Fenerbahce 2-1 Monaco
Rosenborg 2-1 Apoel Nicosia
Trencin 0-1 Legia Warsaw
Olympiacos 0-0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva

Sounders add Uruguay star Lodeiro as Designated Player

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Rodriguez of Uruguay celebrate a 2-1 victory in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between Uruguay and England at Arena de Sao Paulo on June 19, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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SEATTLE (AP) Nicolas Lodeiro, the attacking midfielder who just helped Argentina powerhouse Boca Juniors reach the semifinals of the prestigious Copa Libertadores club championship in South America, has signed with the Seattle Sounders as a designated player.

The 27-year-old Lodeiro also has 48 caps for the Uruguay national team, including this summer’s Copa America Centenario in the United States.

[ REPORT: Timbers add NUFC man ]

“With the performance the Sounders typically have, they have always played in the playoff every season and are an important team in the MLS overall,” Lodeiro said through a translator during a press conference Wednesday. “That convinced me to come over here and be part of this project and be part of this team, and to help the team to continue to be successful.”

Success has been elusive for the Sounders this season, as they lag near the bottom of the standings with a 6-12-2 record. Wednesday’s move was their second major one in 24 hours.

On Tuesday, the team announced it had parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid, who had been in charge since Seattle joined MLS in 2009. Longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer was named the interim head coach and was delighted to add Lodeiro to the roster in just his second day on the job.

“I’m very keen on getting Nico and Clint Dempsey together,” Schmetzer said about pairing the newcomer with the U.S. national team forward. “All the guys, I’m sure, are going to get a good burst of energy from Nico’s appearance with the club.”

[ MORE: Full PL preseason schedule ]

Pending the receipt of his P-1 visa and international transfer clearance, Lodeiro could be available as soon as Sunday when the Sounders host the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“The decision of where I play is up to the coach,” he said. “The most important thing to me is to play with great players.

Added Schmetzer, “It gives us new options. Nicolas is going to have a big impact on the team, on and off the field. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to work smart.”

Loderio has played in three Copa Americas, including 2011 when Uruguay won it. He has been in two World Cups, helping the country finish fourth in 2010 and reach the round of 16 in 2014. He also was in the 2012 London Olympics.

Professionally, Lodeiro played three seasons with Uruguay’s Nacional, three seasons with Dutch side Ajax, two with Brazil’s Botafogo, and one with Corinthians of Brazil. He joined Boca Juniors in 2015, scoring three goals.

With Dempsey, rookie Jordan Morris, and veteran Nelson Valdez up front, Sounders officials said adding an attacking midfielder was a priority.

[ MORE: Immobile finds new team ]

“Nicolas is going to be a tremendous presence for us going forward,” general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerway said. “Even five years ago, the thought that the playmaking midfielder for Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in all of the Americas, would come and play in MLS in the prime of his career at age 27 was unbelievable.

“This is a game-changer for us.”

Nicolas Lodeiro, the attacking midfielder who just helped Argentina powerhouse Boca Juniors reach the semifinals of the prestigious Copa Libertadores club championship in South America, has signed with the Seattle Sounders as a designated player.

The 27-year-old Lodeiro also has 48 caps for the Uruguay national team, including this summer’s Copa America Centenario in the United States.

“With the performance the Sounders typically have, they have always played in the playoff every season and are an important team in the MLS overall,” Lodeiro said through a translator during a press conference Wednesday. “That convinced me to come over here and be part of this project and be part of this team, and to help the team to continue to be successful.”

Success has been elusive for the Sounders this season, as they lag near the bottom of the standings with a 6-12-2 record. Wednesday’s move was their second major one in 24 hours.

[ MORE: Conte questions PL spending ]

On Tuesday, the team announced it had parted ways with coach Sigi Schmid, who had been in charge since Seattle joined MLS in 2009. Longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer was named the interim head coach and was delighted to add Lodeiro to the roster in just his second day on the job.

“I’m very keen on getting Nico and Clint Dempsey together,” Schmetzer said about pairing the newcomer with the U.S. national team forward. “All the guys, I’m sure, are going to get a good burst of energy from Nico’s appearance with the club.”

Pending the receipt of his P-1 visa and international transfer clearance, Lodeiro could be available as soon as Sunday when the Sounders host the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“The decision of where I play is up to the coach,” he said. “The most important thing to me is to play with great players.

Added Schmetzer, “It gives us new options. Nicolas is going to have a big impact on the team, on and off the field. He’s going to work hard and he’s going to work smart.”

Loderio has played in three Copa Americas, including 2011 when Uruguay won it. He has been in two World Cups, helping the country finish fourth in 2010 and reach the round of 16 in 2014. He also was in the 2012 London Olympics.

Professionally, Lodeiro played three seasons with Uruguay’s Nacional, three seasons with Dutch side Ajax, two with Brazil’s Botafogo, and one with Corinthians of Brazil. He joined Boca Juniors in 2015, scoring three goals.

With Dempsey, rookie Jordan Morris, and veteran Nelson Valdez up front, Sounders officials said adding an attacking midfielder was a priority.

“Nicolas is going to be a tremendous presence for us going forward,” general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerway said. “Even five years ago, the thought that the playmaking midfielder for Boca Juniors, one of the biggest clubs in all of the Americas, would come and play in MLS in the prime of his career at age 27 was unbelievable.

“This is a game-changer for us.”

Premier League preseason: Four road sides win, Chelsea faces Liverpool tonight

KINGSTON UPON THAMES, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Yannick Bolasie of Crystal Palace celebrates with Freddie Ladapo of Crystal Palaces after he scores his sides second goal during the pre-season friendly between AFC Wimbledon and Crystal Palace at The Cherry Red Records Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Kingston upon Thames, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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The main event of Wednesday’s preseason schedule is still to come, but we have four results in the books before dinner time.

[ REPORT: Timbers add NUFC man ]

Chelsea and Liverpool will tangle in an International Champions Cup date at the Rose Bowl come 11 p.m. ET, but Sunderland, Southampton, Swansea and Crystal Palace all played earlier.

Dijon 2-3 Sunderland

David Moyes oversaw another win for the Black Cats, who took on a Ligue 1 side in Dijon. Star midfielder Wahbi Khazri scored again for Sunderland, Fabio Borini converted a penalty and Joel Asoro also scored. Sunderland never trailed but gave away a pair of leads on the evening.

FC Twente 1-2 Southampton

Virgil Van Dijk and Sam Gallagher scored for Saints as by all accounts they had a rather comfortable afternoon despite the hosts scoring with a quarter-hour remaining in the friendly.

[ MORE: Full PL preseason schedule ]

Swindon 0-3 Swansea

Modou Barrow had a goal and two assists as Swansea won its third match of the preseason, with Andre Ayew and Jay Fulton also netting in the victory.

AFC Wimbledon 2-3 Crystal Palace

Palace led 1-0 and 3-1, but had to hold on for the win after a Papa Souare own goal brought the hosts to within one in the second half. Palace’s goal scorers were Connor Wickham, Yannick Bolasie and new boy Freddie Ladapo.

Chelsea vs. Liverpool — 11 p.m. ET