Vicente del Bosque doing his part to affirm Iker Casillas’s iconography at Real Madrid

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It’s important to remember that a lack of discussion is what got us here to begin with. The blind assumption that Iker Casillas — or Saint Iker, as he’s known to Real Madrid loyalists — was beyond reproach the greatest goalkeeper in the world enhanced the shock when he was benched midway through last season. Had people, especially those who follow Real Madrid, spoke of Casillas as one of the best goalkeepers in the world (instead of the best), his minor faults would have been closer to the public mind. The debate about his value would have already been happening, if only implicitly.

But because of an exaggerated perception, his 2012-13 fall became particularly pronounced. Instead of a goalkeeper merely losing his job, Casillas’s benching was became a saint’s fall from grace. Or, for more Real Madrid fans, the unjust attack on an idol perpetrated by a pariah, José Mourinho.

It was a heightened discussion, often irrational discussion, but it id have one meaningful positive: We could finally start having meaningful conversations on the merits and drawbacks to Casillas. They’re the type of conversations we’ve been having for years around Gianluigu Buffon, Petr Cech, Manuel Neuer, yet Casillas’s image and renown left him relatively free of such evaluations. Now that Mourinho and his conflicts have moved on from the Bernabéu, we can finally start having such disucssions.

Well, we can have those discussions unless, for some reason, Saint Iker somehow manages to be re-anointed, something these comments from Vicente del Bosque in Marca serve to do. The Spain national team coach, a Real Madrid man through and through (14 years as a player; six as a coach), offered words of defense for his current number one, words that play into some of the hyperbole that surrounds Casillas.

Describing what he’s noticed of Casillas’s emotional state:

It is not easy to overcome a very difficult situation. I have many times imagined him getting up in the mornings and saying to himself “I have been with Real Madrid since I was a boy, and I can’t be compared with any other player in terms of cost and productivity, so why are there a number of people who spend all day long abusing me, insulting me?

Del Bosque’s highlighted a real problem, one that may explain Casillas’s turmoil, though there is an obvious solution. Players shouldn’t get up in the morning telling yourself things like “I can’t be compared with any other player in terms of cost and productivity.” Let’s hope Casillas has never done that, though if he has (or anybody felt the same about him), it would explain the disproportionate incredulity surrounding his benching.

Del Bosque again, on the importance of Casillas:

There are people who simply don’t realise what he means to Real Madrid, but there are many, many more who do.

I clearly don’t. I’ll admit that. However, in the abstract, if a player within a club is so valuable that he can’t be benched, we can’t have an honest dialog about his merits, nor can we move on from that dialog without resurrecting of an apocryphal legacy, the club becomes overly beholden to one man, something that should never happen. Iker Casillas is a part of Real Madrid. He doesn’t define it.

To be clear, the fact that Iker Casillas is a soccer legend at the Bernabéu is not apocryphal. He certainly is. The extent to which that legend influences our evaluation of the Casillas’s 32-year-old self is the problem.

Casillas can both be a legend and imperfect. There’s no need for Madrid loyalists like del Bosque to persist with the insistence he’s beyond reproach.

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.

Ligue 1: Falcao, Balde score to keep Monaco close to PSG

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PARIS (AP) French champion Monaco got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home win against Caen on Saturday.

Monaco lost three and drew one of its previous four games in all competitions. But coach Leonardo Jardim’s side was largely in control against a Caen side that started brightly and faded after Keita Balde’s opening goal and first for Monaco.

“It was important to win, to get a bit of confidence back,” Jardim said. “We’ve been working hard and the players were very serious today.”

Captain Radamel Falcao scored his league-leading 13th from the penalty spot in the 59th, confidently sending goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre the wrong way.

The win moved second-place Monaco within three points of Paris Saint-Germain, having played one game more. Unbeaten PSG is away at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Falcao’s partnership with teen star Kylian Mbappe was crucial to Monaco’s charge to the league title and the Champions League semifinals last season. Mbappe left to join PSG in a high-profile move — as did several other key players — but Falcao’s new partnership with the unselfish Balde looks a promising one.

“We’ve lost a few players and we need a bit of time, it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. “I hope we can stay at the top of the table and that the young players can shine. We have a lot of quality here.”

Balde has been sharp in his handful of appearances since joining from Lazio in the offseason, but mainly as a link player and a provider.

This time, the Senegal forward finished off the move as he ran onto Thomas Lemar’s perfectly weighted pass into his path, cut across a defender on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.

Lemar almost created another goal when his corner was headed against the crossbar by Brazilian defender Jemerson late in the first half.

Falcao put the game beyond doubt from the spot after Slovenian midfielder Jan Repas fouled attacking midfielder Rony Lopes.


After a tricky start to his tenure at Nantes, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has turned things around.

Nantes beat Guingamp 2-1 at home to move up to third place, extending Ranieri’s unbeaten run to eight matches after losing the first two.

Nantes, which scored through defender Chidozie Awaziem and midfielder Abdoulaye Toure, is just two points behind Monaco.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.