Premier League Preview: Cardiff City

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Each day from now until the beginning of the Premier League season, we will preview two teams from England’s top flight. You can view them all here at PST Preview central. Don’t forget, the 2013-14 PL season begins on August 17th, and for the first-time ever you can watch every game live on NBC Sports.

For the first time in the club’s history, Cardiff City will compete in the Premier League after winning the 2012-2013 Football League Championship title. For the Bluebirds, this season will mark the club’s first taste of top-flight football in 51 years and they’ll look to one of the brightest young managers in the game, Malkay Mackay, to follow the successful path tread by fellow Welsh side and mortal enemy, Swansea City.

With Mackay’s vibrant, attractive style of football and the financial backing of their billionaire Malaysian owner, Vincent Tan, Cardiff City will seek to avoid the jaws of relegation that snap up so many Premier League newcomers.

Transfers In: GK Simon Moore (Brentford); D Steven Caulker (Tottenham); D John Brayford (Derby County); F Andreas Cornelius (FC Copenhagen)

Transfers Out: GK Elliot Parish (Bristol City); D Ben Nugent (Brentford, loan); M Stephen McPhail (free agent); F Nathaniel Jarvis (free agent); F Heidar Helguson (free agent); F Jesse Darko (AO Episkopi Rethymno, Greece)

Key Player: If there is one spot on the field where Cardiff may lack bite, it’s in the box. Enter 20-year-old Danish international Andreas Cornelius (pictured).

source: Getty ImagesThe striker signed with Cardiff in July 2013 for a then club record transfer fee of $12.3 million (£8m). He arrives in South Wales after just one season of first team football, but what a season it was for the youngster, scoring 18 goals and notching five assists in 32 Danish Superliga matches with FC Copenhagen.

His lack of experience, however, shouldn’t come as a worry to Bluebirds supporters as Cornelius gained valuable experience playing in six Champions League qualification matches and four Europa League matches last season.

Cornelius’ strength and power should further enable him to compete well in the Premier League. The 6’4″ striker has been known to bully defenders, possesses strong aerial capabilities and is good at using his body to hold up play. On the ground he’s skilled as well, with a smooth touch, an eye for the cheeky pass and a strong left foot.

Helping Cornelius adapt to life in England’s top flight will be Craig Bellamy, the heart and soul of this Cardiff side. The Cardiff-born striker has plenty of Premier League experience – with spells at Liverpool, Manchester City, West Ham United, Blackburn and Newcastle – and at 34 years old still terrorizesdefenses with gut-busting runs, searing pace and a fiercely competitive spirit.

If Cardiff is to stay up it will be the strike partnership of Cornelius and Bellamy that paves the way.

Manager: Malky Mackay arrived at Cardiff City in June 2011 after spending the first two years of his managerial career with Watford, where the five time capped Scottish international ended his playing career.

During his first season at the helm, Mackay led Cardiff City to Championship Play-Offs and the Carling Cup Final, leading many to consider him one of the best up-and-coming managers in the game. The following season, Mackay justified the praise, guiding the Bluebirds to first place in The Championship, beating out 2nd placed Hull City by eight points.

OutlookCardiff City will find themselves in a fight to stay in the top flight, although of the three promoted sides, the Bluebirds are the most likely to succeed. Their notably strong defense has been bolstered by the recent acquisition of English international Steven Caulker, who will look to prove himself after being used sparingly during his four year stint atTottenham Hotspur. With Caulker and captain Mark Hudson leading the back line, the experience of Peter Whittingham in midfield, the play-making abilities of Craig Noone and the strike-partnership of Cornelius and Bellamy, Cardiff City have the tools to make their first Premier League campaign a successful one.

MORE: Read all the Premier League previews for each team here

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.