Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos earn suspensions – Master tactics by The Special One?

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Master tactics or merely a coincidence?

That’s the question after Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso both earned suspensions for yellow card accumulation during their first-leg Champions League match against Galatasaray. Both players were cautioned towards the end of the match meaning they will be suspended for the second-leg of the quarter-final in Istanbul on April 9. UEFA rules state that any player who accumulates three yellow cards during the Champions League knockout stages is suspended for his next match.

The theory is that Ramos and Alonso – as directed by Mourinho – intentionally got themselves booked knowing that Madrid’s three goal cushion essentially renders the second leg a mere formality. For Galatasaray fans it’s an offensive suggestion but is nevertheless worth exploring as UEFA rules state that players who deliberately seek a booking can be handed a two-game ban.

The problem, of course, is proving that Ramos and Alonso deliberately sought the booking. At the moment the best evidence is that both players went into the book when the match was 3-0 with time nearly having expired. Alonso was booked in the 84th minute for an angry confrontation with referee Svein Oddvar Moen, who made a host of questionable decisions throughout the night. Six minutes later, Ramos followed suit as he kicked the ball away after committing a foul. While one could argue that both instances indicate a desire to be cautioned as they were innocuous occurrences transpiring outside the run of play, proving intent seems impossible unless Ramos and Alonso admit to their misdeeds.

Even assuming UEFA somehow manages to prove intent, the ramifications could be devastating as players will thereafter have to be even more convincing in their efforts to be booked. This could result in intentional fouls comitted during the run of play, which raises the potential for injury. It’s a slippery slope that UEFA is on with this rule and one that, if the governing body is not careful, could get out of hand.

In all likelihood Ramos and Alonso will not be assessed a two match ban. But a variety of penalties could ensue, as there is precedence.

Three years ago both Ramos and Alonso were sent off in a Champions League knockout stage match at Ajax. Late in that game Madrid was winning 4-0 when the duo, both one card away from suspension, wasted time during free-kicks. They were each issued second yellow cards, sent off and suspended for the irrelevant final group game. But when the next round of games came both enjoyed a clean slate. UEFA thereafter handed Jose Mourinho a two-game suspension and a £35,000 fine, while Ramos and Alonso were each fined £18,000.

If you’re sitting there reading this and thinking, ‘holy crap, that’s nuts‘, that’s because it is nuts. It’s nuts that UEFA can assess such steep penalties on an intent-heavy rule but it’s even more nuts that Mourinho is that clever of a manger. He knew the rule, recognized the loophole and did his best to access it.

And you wonder why we call him ‘The Special One’.

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-1 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): For nearly 75 minutes, NYCFC couldn’t muster up any chances in the attacking third, but thankfully their captain did what he does best. David Villa scored his 19th goal of the season on Sunday night to pull out a 2-1 win against the New England Revolution, but it was rookie Jonathan Lewis that notched the winner. The visitors took the lead 20 minutes prior after Sean Johnson spilled a shot in front of his own goal, allowing Teal Bunbury to pounce on the rebound. NYCFC now moves to within four points of Eastern Conference leaders Toronto FC with nine matches remaining in the regular season.

Three four moments that mattered

16′ — Harrison breaks ankles, but Villa can’t finish — This might be the only time all see you’ll see David Villa miss a chance like this…

38′ — Johnson gets a finger tip to Rowe’s blast — Sean Johnson had no work to do in the first half, at least until Kelyn Rowe decided to rip a shot from distance just before halftime.

57′ — Johnson’s error grants Bunbury, Revs the lead — Look away, NYCFC fans.

77′ — Villa find the back of the net — When you need a goal, who you gonna call? That’s right. David Villa. The NYCFC captain is now up to 19 this season.

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Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Teal Bunbury (57′), David Villa (77′), Jonathan Lewis (90+4′)

Honoring victims of attacks, Barcelona wins league opener

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Wearing shirts honoring victims of the recent attacks in Spain, Barcelona opened its Spanish league season with a comfortable 2-0 win over Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Neymar double helps PSG cruise past Toulouse ]

Players had the word “Barcelona” instead of their names on the back of their shirts, and the Catalan hashtag “TOTSSOMBARCELONA” (We are all Barcelona) was on display around the Camp Nou stadium. The message was also shown on the stadium’s large screens, as well as on many banners carried by fans.

An emotional minute’s silence was held before the game as the music of Catalan cellist Pau Casals played in the background.

Before the minute was up, the more than 55,000 fans at the stadium broke into a round of applause and began chanting “No tinc por” (I’m not afraid), a chant which has become a symbol of people’s reactions to the attacks that killed 14 people and injured more than 120 in Barcelona and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils.

Extra security was implemented in and around Camp Nou.

There was a minute’s silence before every Spanish league match this weekend.

Without Neymar and the injured Luis Suarez, Barcelona got off to a winning start in the league after consecutive losses to rival Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final.

It scored two goals three minutes apart near the end of the first half – an own-goal by Betis defender Alin Tosca and a close-range shot by Sergi Roberto. Both goals came after plays started by Gerard Deulofeu, one of the players expected to try to replace Neymar after his world record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

“We lost depth with Neymar’s departure and we have to find a way to overcome that,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Lionel Messi looked lively but wasn’t able to score his 350th goal in La Liga. He came close, though, being denied by the woodwork three different times.

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Brighton breaks club record with signing of winger Jose Izquierdo

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Brighton hasn’t gotten off to the ideal start in its debut season in the Premier League, but a key reinforcement is on the way.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Spurs at Wembley behind Alonso’s brace ]

After starting the 2017/18 campaign with back-to-back defeats, the Seagulls announced on Sunday the signing of Colombian winger Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge in Belgium for a record fee.

The 25-year-old spent three seasons in Belgium’s top flight and totaled 38 goals across all competitions for Brugge, prior to making the move to England.

Additionally, Izquierdo has worked his way into the Colombia squad as of late, and scored his first international goal for his country in June 2017 in a friendly against Cameroon.

MLS Follow Live — NYCFC hosts Revs, Minnesota meets Sounders

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Only two matches will feature on the MLS docket Sunday evening, but luckily two of the league’s most exciting teams will take to the pitch.

[ MORE: Toronto tops Fire as East leaders reach 50 points on season ]

First, New York City FC will attempt to continue its ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder when they host Kei Kamara and the New England Revolution.

In the night cap, the Seattle Sounders look to extend their unbeaten streak to nine matches when they welcome newcomers Minnesota United to CenturyLink Field.

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Here’s the schedule and kick-off times for Sunday’s two MLS fixtures.

New York City FC vs. New England Revolution — 6 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 10 p.m. ET