Fractured, unmotivated Real Madrid drawn at last place Osasuna

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Having only allowed 20 goals through 19 games, Osasuna has one of the best defenses in La Liga. Unfortunately, because los Rojillos have scored a league-worst 14 goals, José Luis Mendilibar’s team have only won three times this season (also a league low). No surprise, Osasuna sits last in Spain’s Primera Division.

It’s a team Real Madrid should streamroll. Even on the road — even without Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and Pepe — a team with El Real’s resources should have no trouble with Osasuna, a team they outscored 12-2 in two games last season.

But this is the 2012-13 Real Madrid, a team that’s never lived up to the club’s lofty expectations. They’re a team that started the domestic season flat before transitioned into Champions League disappointment. As winter came they embraced a dressing room chaos that eventually became a type of existential crisis. As José Mourinho confronted the heart of the team by challenging Ramos and benching Casillas, El Real’s play became  a fractured and unmotivated team with no sense of consequences.

After today’s 0-0 draw at El Sadar, Los Blancos could be staring at an 18-point Liga deficit if Barcelona wins at Málaga tomorrow, yet there is little indication they care. Even Mourinho, perhaps out of tactics to use with this team, has adopted an accepting approach, saying he had “no complaints” after the match.

Against one of the Primera’s worst teams, the most expensive squad in the world were played to a standstill, left of absorb as many attacks as they created. They put one shot on goal to Osasuna’s two and split possession with their hosts, and failed to exhibit the kind of dominance the squad’s capable of imposing on a squad of this caliber. Yet José Mourinho “liked the team’s attitude” and had “no criticism” of their performance.

Clearly, he should. His squad showed none of will that was on display last Sunday when a 10-man team withstood a hat trick from Xabi Prieto to beat Real Sociedad, 4-3. As today’s second half ticked away and Mourinho threw on Karim Benzema, Kaká, and Mesut Ozil, there was never an uptick in intensity. There was never any desperation, let alone an increase in effectiveness. Repeatedly Osasuna seemed able to win possession, transition quickly, and put Real on their heals. That shouldn’t be happening against a team as impotent as Osasuna.

The only possible explanation for Real Madrid’s apathy seems to be focus on la decima – their 10th European title. The nine-time European champions are consumed by the pursuit, which is the whole reason why Mourinho is even in Madrid. That fixation combined with the team’s late fall swoon may have forced all their eggs into one basket, making these mid-January league matches almost inconsequential. Perhaps Mourinho has decided to make short terms sacrifices with the hopes of getting his team ready for Manchester United (their Champions League Round of 16 opponent).

If that means benching his best goalkeeper (Casillas) to regain his authority, so be it. If that means upsetting the locker room by butting heads with Ramos, he think that’s for the best. If that means continuing to try places to play Luka Modric, perhaps that will leave them in a better place come February. And if that means dropping points in January, losing track of Barcelona and Atlético Madrid in order to prepare the team for the decima, that may be his only way to salvage this season.

The problem for us, looking on from our detached position, is not knowing whether this is preparation or folly. Real Madrid looks inexplicably bad, and there’s no reason for it. They’re playing worse than we’ve ever seen a José Mourinho team play, and unless there’s some sign this team can turn it around — some indication there’s a method to this melancholy madness — it may not be Mourinho’s team for long.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.