Messi, Neymar help Barcelona extend Real Sociedad’s winless run

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In this fixture last year, Barcelona won 5-1, so today’s 4-1 loss by Real Sociedad may not be as bad as it seems. But that game took place on Aug. 19 – over a year ago. Since then La Real has posted five-month unbeaten run (Jan. 6-May 6), a fourth place finish in Spain, and a Champions League playoff win over Lyon – a win that put them back in Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in 10 years. Perhaps only a year has passed since their last trip to Camp Nou, but it was a defining year, one that cast today’s lopsided loss in a different light.

Sociedad was terrible for the first 23 minutes, enough time to dig a three-goal deficit. Poor defending against Alexis Sanchez and the inability to deal with the Chilean’s cross allowed Neymar to score his first La Liga goal on five minutes. Shortly afterward, the Brazilian’s far post lob from the left found a diving Lionel Messi for the Argentine’s seventh goal of the season. And 15 minutes later, poor decision-making on a ball coming out of the Real area allowed Sergio Busquets to blast home Barcelona’s third. After the teams traded second half goals (Alberto De La Bella, Marc Bartra), Real Sociedad had their worst loss of the season, the latest disappointment in what’s become a five-match winless run.

[MORE: Neymar scores his first La Liga goal (Video)]

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iU0QxK1Z_Ao]

It may be too early to truly worry about La Real, though, as their fixture list plays a huge part in their recent downturn. This five-match slide started with a 2-1 loss at home to a still perfect Atlético Madrid. They then drew on the road at Levante (0-0), lost in Champions League to Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2), and were drawn at San Sebastian this weekend my Málaga (0-0). Barcelona’s win was more lopsided, but Jagoba Arasante’s team isn’t the first to be on the wrong side of Nou Camp shellacking. When Sevilla visit this Saturday, Real Sociedad should see their winless run end.

That doesn’t mean there are no reasons for concern. De La Bella’s 64th minute goal ended a 355 minute scoreless run, with the absence of their first choice number nine (Imanol Agirretze) continuing to limit their attack. And at the other end, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo gave a disappointing Tuesday performance behind a defense that offered little resistance wide of goal (each Barça goal was built wide before playing in). Even by Barcelona standards, Tuesday’s win was easy for the hosts.

La Real started the year unbeaten in four, their two wins over Lyon putting them in Champions League for the first time in 10 years. Perhaps this drive is just their course self-correcting. But after going five months without a loss under Philipp Montanier, it may be time to consider the implications of the former boss’s move to Stade Rennes. Will Sociedad be left to rue their inability to sign Montainer to a new deal?

The team’s next six league matches should answer that question. Sevilla, Rayo Vallecano, and Valencia all present challenges, some of which Arasante should be expected to overcome. After that, matches against Almería, Real Valladolid, and Osasuna give the team a chance to build momentum ahead of their trip to the Santiago Bernabéu.

By then, Sociedad’s course should be corrected. And if it’s not, we’ll have a better idea of how much Montanier’s departure’s meant to La Real.

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”

Spurs’ Alderweireld won’t return until February

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Spurs finally got a bit of good news this weekend with a blowout of Stoke City.

That was a followed by a tough draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, and bad news on an old injury.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Center back Toby Alderweireld is going to be gone into February, extending his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 1 against Real Madrid.

Spurs were 6-2-2 in league when Alderweireld went down, and are just 2-2-2 since the injury. The Belgian has missed losses at Arsenal and Leicester, draws against Watford and West Brom, and wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke.

Tottenham did win both of its UCL matches since the injury.