Clasico: Late Varane goal keeps Real Madrid even with Barcelona

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Over the past two seasons it may have seemed like the myriad of Clasicos transcended the soccer world, today’s predictably cagey first 90 minutes of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s two-legged Copa del Rey semifinal destroyed truly detached itself from the context of the season. A Real Madrid team that trails Barcelona by 15 points in league and was without their goalkeeping captain and their two best center backs managed to go toe-to-toe with a Blaugrana side that’s only tasted defeat twice this season. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear today’s 1-1 result was from last year, when Real Madrid was taking Spain from their rivals.

But since these clubs are never out of the news, you already knew how much Real Madrid has struggled. And you probably know that their locker room is in turmoil (which Iker Casillas’s journalist girlfriend confirmed to Mexican television yesterday). And you probably know there’s almost no way José Mourinho will be back at the Bernabeu and Crisitiano Ronaldo’s holding off on signing a contract extension with the club.

Yet there we were near 3:50 p.m. Eastern time, tied 0-0 at halftime of a match that we’ve repeatedly seen some version of over the last two years. Real Madrid was frantically and physically pressing through the midfield, disrupting Xavi Hernández whenever the Barcelona quarterback would drop for the ball. Play goes wide, comes back in as it approaches the final third, and Barcelona can rarely craft a ball to beat the Real back line. Barça ends up dominating possession, but with swift counterattacks that eschew prudence for speed, Real’s able to create as many chances.

Come full-time at the Bernabeu, the story had finished playing out. Barcelona held 61 percent of the game’s possession, but they’d only put one more shot toward goal (9-8). Their early second half goal from Cesc Fábregas (made possible when a defender was dragged uncommonly deep behind the line, keeping Fábrages onside in the right of the box) was equalized late by 19-year-old Raphael Varane, the French prospect playing because of the absences of Pepé and Sergio Ramos.

Though Real was at home and may have wanted to build a first leg lead, they know a result on the road is within their powers. They got a result in Barcelona last October. Barça may convince themselves they have a leg up on their rivals, but given the familiarity these sides have with each other and their respective grounds, it’s more likely nothing’s changed but the clock. Instead of 180 minutes to decide one Cup finalist, the rivals are down to 90.

And just was today’s game predictably transcended the teams’ extra-Clasico form, you can expect Feb. 26th’s meeting to be the same game we’ve come to expect, fear, and revere. Can Barcelona handle Real Madrid’s pressure? Will El Real convert the breaks they receive? Will either side make the debilitating mistake that might define this two-legged Clasico? Who’s going to get red carded?

Real Madrid has stumbled all year, but for one day, they were back to being one of the two best clubs in the world. Expect the same next month.

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET

UCL roundup: Roma flounders against Atleti, PSG nets seven

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PSG-Celtic hogged most of the goals on Wednesday, but the action was wild across the day’s UEFA Champions League slate.

[ MORE: Celtic shocks PSG early, but Neymar and Co. take over ]

Group B now knows both of its sides that will advance into the Round of 16, but there will be plenty of drama on Matchday 6 as several other groups sort themselves out.

With PSG already knowing it would advance, Bayern Munich joined the French giants today after picking up a 2-1 win against Anderlecht. That didn’t stop the Parisians from putting on a show though, as Neymar and Co. put up a 7-1 drubbing of Celtic at the Parc des Princes.

That brings PSG’s goal total up to 24 in the group stage, which has well-surpassed Dortmund’s mark in the 2016/17 campaign (21).

Meanwhile, tight races in Groups A, C and D will see squads fighting in early December for the right to continue in this season’s competition.

Antoine Griezmann scored a massive goal for Atletico on the day to give Madrid side a 1-0 win over Roma, keeping the club’s UCL hopes alive. Atleti now sits just two points behind the Giallorossi with one match remaining.

Elsewhere, Juventus and Sporting CP will have an intriguing final matchday as the two sides currently sit one point between the other for the second position in Group D.


Group A

Basel 1-0 Manchester United
CSKA Moscow 2-0 Benfica

Table

1. Man United — 11 points  (ADVANCED)
2. Basel — 9 pts +4 GD
3. CSKA — 9 pts -1 GD
4. Benfica — 0 pts (ELIMINATED)

Whichever team finishes higher (CSKA or Basel) will reach UCL Round of 16, while other team goes to Europa League.


Group B

Anderlecht 1-2 Bayern Munich
PSG 7-1 Celtic

Table

1. PSG — 15 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Bayern Munich — 12 pts (ADVANCED)
3. Celtic — 3 pts
4. Anderlecht — 0 pts (ELIMINATED)

Celtic and Anderlecht are both in contention for the third position, which would send either of them to the UEL knockout round.


Group C

Qarabag 0-4 Chelsea — RECAP
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Roma

Table

1. Chelsea — 10 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Roma — 8 pts
3. Atletico Madrid — 6 pts
4. Qarabag — 2 pts (ELIMINATED)

Either Roma or Atleti will advance on Matchday 6, with the former taking on Qarabag and the Spanish side facing Chelsea.


Group D

Juventus 0-0 Barcelona
Sporting CP 3-0 Olympiakos

Table

1. Barcelona — 11 pts (ADVANCED)
2. Juventus — 8 pts
3. Sporting CP — 7 pts
4. Olympiakos — 1 pt (ELIMINATED)

Juventus will take on Olympiakos on Matchday 6, while Sporting faces Barcelona for the right to move into the Round of 16.

Lang strike helps Basel stun Man United in final minute

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The Red Devils didn’t make things easy themselves on Wednesday, and they certainly helped their opposition’s case of reaching the knockout phase.

[ MORE: Chelsea moves into Round of 16 with win over Qarabag ]

FC Basel struck late to earn a 1-0 win over Manchester United at St Jakob-Park in the penultimate match in Group A play, making the group-stage finale all the more intriguing for both clubs.

Jose Mourinho’s United had the chance to lock up a place in the Round of 16 with a win or draw, but the defeat now means they must get at least a draw against CSKA Moscow on Dec. 5 to move into the knockout stage.

Michael Lang struck in the 89th minute to give the home side the unthinkable victory, setting up a crazy final day.

After pushing for a goal in the second half, Lang’s chance came in the dying moments as he was picked out in the penalty area by Raoul Petretta.

The Red Devils dominated the opening stanza without allowing Basel to a single shot on target, however, the visitors struggled to find a breakthrough of their own.

Anthony Martial had the one of the best chances of the first half just minutes before halftime when his shot from close range was saved by Tomas Vaclik in the bottom corner.

Mourinho’s group certainly benefitted from Paul Pogba‘s return over the weekend, and the Frenchman’s influence showed again early on in this match.

Pogba picked out Romelu Lukaku in the 12th minute, but the latter was stopped by Vaclik.

As things stand, Man United currently tops the group on 12 points, while Basel and CSKA Moscow sit second an third, respectively, on nine points.

Madrid defender Carvajal faces 2-game ban for seeking yellow

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal is facing an additional two-match Champions League ban for deliberately getting a yellow card in a 6-0 win at APOEL.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances after 4-0 beatdown on Qarabag ]

UEFA said Wednesday it has charged Carvajal with “receiving a yellow card on purpose.”

UEFA’s disciplinary panel will judge the case on Dec. 7. The European soccer body’s disciplinary rules say a player trying to get a yellow or red card should get a two-game ban.

Carvajal was cautioned in the 90th minute in Cyprus on Tuesday for time-wasting at a throw-in.

His third yellow card in three Champions League games earned a one-game ban – at home against Borussia Dortmund on Dec. 6.

Madrid is certain to finish second behind Tottenham, making the final match essentially meaningless.

However, Carvajal now risks being suspended by UEFA for both games in the last 16 instead of beginning the knockout round with a clean disciplinary record.

Madrid has previously been in trouble with UEFA for deliberately triggering cards in a fifth group game in order to serve bans in the sixth and final game.

In the 2010-11 season, UEFA found then-Madrid coach Jose Mourinho guilty of misconduct for ordering two players, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso, to get themselves sent off late in a game at Ajax. Four players, including Ramos and Alonso, were fined over that incident.