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.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”