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Real Madrid carefree, trouble-free in win over Galatasaray

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It would be more accurate to say Real Madrid were never tested than trot out the old cantor cliché, but within the parlance of soccer matches, both descriptions hold. Scoring ten minutes into today’s Champions League match against Galatasaray, El Real were able to play the match with a friendly’s intensity, particularly after a 29th minute goal from Karim Benzema presented Gala head coach Fatih Terim with an unenviable choice: Do we pull back and try to limit the damage ahead of a second leg in Istanbul? Or do we persist with our commitment to attacking soccer, the value we promised we’d uphold ahead of our trip to Madrid?

When Wesley Sneijder was subbed off at halftime, we knew the answer, with defender Gohkan Zan brought on in his place. That change could have been about balance, moving Albert Reira into midfield as Galatasaray set up wider, but having generated a couple of good chances in the first half (most notably through Emmanuel Eboué in the 44th minute), Gala’s attack wasn’t the problem. Terim was trying to consolidate, something that went by the wayside when Gonzalo Higuain scored in the 73rd minute. Down 3-0 after 90 minutes, Galatasaray are left to ruminate over whether they should have pulled back from minute one.

(MORE: Caballero impenetrable for Málaga vs. Dortmund.)

Though some recommended Terim choose only two of Burak Yilmaz, Didier Drogba and Sniejder ahead of the match, the Gala boss stuck with the same 4-3-1-2 formation he’s come to prefer since incorporating the club’s January buys. Given the monumental nature of their task, it’s hard to blame him for wanting to play his own way. Galatasaray could have employed a more defensive set up, but the odds of containing Real Madrid would have still been slim. Why go down being something you’re not, Terim could have argued.

It’s the type of no-win situation that’s unavoidable for an underdog. You can look at what a team like Chelsea did in last year’s tournament and say there’s always a chance, but not everybody has the personnel to play that way. Felipe Melo would have been dismissed by halftime, and the central defense would have been left exposed. In Terim’s mind, Gala may have been at their best trading punches with Real.

Ten minutes in, they took the first punch, with a ball played by Mesut Ozil into the left of the penalty area allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to score his competition-leading ninth Champions League goal. Near the half-hour mark, poor defending on a Michael Essien cross gave Benzema an easy finish at the far post. In the second half, Higuaín added what will likely amount to insurance.

Galatasaray scoring three against Real is a huge challenge, particularly given José Mourinho has six days to plan against it. To do so without giving up a goal is an even bigger task, and that scenario would only guarantee Gala extra time. If they’re scored upon, the Turkish champs will need five goals to advance to their first semifinal.

In today’s preview, we asked if history implied the quarterfinals are a step too far for Turkey’s best. On Wednesday, it looked that way. Real Madrid played with same intensity you’d see during a Copa del Rey visit from a second-tier side. At times that conceded chances, and others it meant they weren’t as clinical as they could have been. But they still won, 3-0.

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

WATCH: USMNT’s Gonzalez nets first for Pachuca, earns exuberant “Gol” call

Marouane Fellaini, ,Omar Gonzalez
AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
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Come for the goal, stay for the “Gol” call.

Or should we say the “Gol. Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Gol” call.

[ MORE: Angry Louis van Gaal rips journalists for “inventing” stories ]

USMNT defender Omar Gonzalez has opened his account for Pachuca with this 88th minute header, and it’s worth it if just for the auditory performance.

Gonzalez also pulls out the high-capacity weapon celebration, though he’s apparently opted to do the version closer to the “Scarface” finale (Spoiler alert).