Hard to believe results like Real Madrid’s loss to Granada

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Last year Real Madrid posted 100 points in league. They only lost once to somebody other than Barcelona. They won 32 of their 38 games and hosted a +89 goal difference.

This season El Real’s returned all their players and added Luka Modric and Michael Essien, yet they’ve lost at Getafe, Sevilla, Málaga, and as of Saturday, they’ve also lost at Granada. With 16 matches left in the season, Real has lost twice as many games as they did last year.

That increase by itself isn’t remarkable. When you’re dealing with as few losses as Real suffered in 2011-12, it’s easy to double a total. But whereas Málaga is a legitimately good team, Getafe sits 11th in Spain. Sevilla is 12th. Granada entered the day in 17th, two points above the drop. While these losses could be explained away if they happened to other teams, they were not what Real Madrid expected coming into the season. It’s certainly not what the most expensive squad in the world was assembled to produce.

Today’s 1-0 loss at Granada couldn’t have been a better (if overly reductionist) embodiment of Real Madrid’s problems. An early own goal from Cristiano Ronaldo was an example of the kind of variation teams should be equipped to overcome. In season’s past, that wouldn’t have been enough to dissuade Los Merengues from a rout. Today, a dispirited squad couldn’t muster the kind of dominance needed to knock the underdogs off their lead.

Real only put four shots on target. That used to be a half hour’s worth of work. Cristiano Ronaldo was the only starter to register a shot on goal. Despite holding 72 percent of the game’s possession, the team only played two successful through balls.

Those numbers are attempts to describe a match that would have seemed typical under other circumstances but was fully unbelievable in the context of Real Madrid. We’re used to teams having bad days, but today’s result was the latest on a list of inexplicable performances, some of which Real’s actually managed to win on talent alone. But today, we never saw a siege. There was no huge push. The greatest sparks of intensity were Ronaldo’s appeals for the officials to save them. None of the drive Real Madrid showed against Barcelona came with them from the Bernabeu.

La Liga was lost a long time ago. The key to Real’s season is Champions League, a competition that resumes in 11 days. If you’re in upper management at Real Madrid and want to give your club the best chance possible at claiming a 10th European title, what do you do? Do you stay the course and hope the team that played Barcelona is the one that will take on Manchester United? Or after seeing today’s disappointment on top of the squandering of the league season and the team’s earlier Champions League stumbles, do you say change — even for change’s sake — is good?

The current situation may not be José Mourinho’s fault — he seems to be undercut but an old guard at Real Madrid that lacks perspective on how much he’s improved the team — but if the Special One can’t guarantee he’ll consistently get more out of the team, you almost have to let him go. Perhaps you apologize to him while doing so, but you have to make a change.

It would be too much to say these results are inexplicable because there is an explanation: The players need to play better. But it’s unbelievable that they’re not.

Former Czech Republic defender Rajtoral kills himself

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PRAGUE (AP) Former Czech Republic defender Frantisek Rajtoral, who won the domestic league title four times before joining Turkish club Gaziantepspor, died on Sunday. He was 31.

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The Czech football federation said in a statement that Rajtoral had “committed suicide in Turkey.”

His agent Pavel Zika confirmed the player’s death, describing it as a “huge tragedy.”

Gaziantepspor announced Rajtoral’s death in a brief statement on its website.

Rajtoral played 14 international matches for the Czech Republic.

In the top Czech league, he won four titles with Viktoria Plzen and played in the group stage of the Champions League twice for the club. He moved to Hannover in the Bundesliga in 2014 for half of the season, on loan.

He left Viktoria Plzen last year to move to Turkey.

Bellerin wants to represent Spain U21s despite Wenger’s wishes

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Arsene Wenger has made it clear about Hector Bellerin representing Spain this summer but the Arsenal defender is prepared to go against his manager’s wishes if he is selected.

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The 22-year-old has said he hopes to play for Spain’s Under-21 side this summer during the 2017 European U-21 Championship but Wenger has been weary of Bellerin’s injury status and wants his fullback to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the offseason.

“I really want to play,” Bellerin told IBTimes. “Representing Spain is very important. If [Albert] Celades gives me the chance I’ll be there.

“Those are opinions of the managers. I have to keep working. The truth is that I had a difficult injury but I think that I am at 100% now and I’ll try to prove it when I get the chance.”

Bellerin signed a six-and-a-half year deal with the Gunners in November, where he has resided since coming up in the club’s academy. He has made 102 appearances for Wenger’s team in that span over all competitions.

Roma boosts bid for 2nd in Serie A by beating Pescara 4-1

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PESCARA, Italy (AP) Roma boosted its bid for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the Champions League with a 4-1 win at Pescara, which was mathematically relegated on Monday.

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Roma moved four points clear of third-placed Napoli, which drew against Sassuolo 2-2 on Sunday. Third place in Serie A receives a Champions League playoff.

Pescara remained 15 points behind Empoli. There are only five matches left and Empoli has the better head-to-head record, which is the deciding factor if two teams finish level on points.

There were 48 goals in total in the 33rd round, matching the record set in October 1992.

Roma took control shortly before halftime, with Kevin Strootman breaking the deadlock after Stephan El Shaarawy unselfishly rolled the ball across the area.

Radja Nainggolan, who earlier hit the bar, doubled Roma’s lead two minutes later.

Mohamed Salah extended Roma’s advantage three minutes after the break and the winger doubled his tally on the hour following a swift counterattack.

Ahmad Benali got a consolation for Pescara and a Cristiano Biraghi free kick also hit the post for the home side.

Frank Yallop resigns as Phoenix Rising coach shortly after Drogba arrival

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The timing is a bit sudden and certainly leaves many questions up in the air, but Phoenix Rising will have to look for a new manager.

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On Monday, head coach Frank Yallop resigned from his position with the United Soccer League (USL) club less than one day after former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba joined the organization as a player-owner.

With Phoenix seen as one of several lower-level clubs with ambitions of making the leap to MLS over the coming seasons, Yallop’s departure is surely a shock to many.

According to ESPN FC, Rising lead owner Berke Bakay was quite surprised by Yallop’s decision to step down, as was Drogba.

“Didier was as surprised and disappointed as we were that Frank is unable to continue coaching our Club,” Bakay told ESPN FC. “But, we all respect his decision to put his family first.

“Didier’s focus will remain on improving our team as a player and assisting our MLS expansion team ownership group as a co-owner. Frank will be helping with our international search for a new head coach.”

Rick Schantz, the current Rising assistant coach, will head the team’s managerial duties for the interim while the club completes a full search for a new manager.