Spain: Derbi loss was so much more for Real Madrid

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Last year, Barcelona dropped points six times on the way to their title: four draws; two losses. The year before, Real Madrid posted the same record: 100 points; only six blemishes. In this new era of championship perfectionism, you have to go all the way back to Pep Guardiola’s first year on Barcelona’s sidelines (2008-09) to find a Primera Division champion who lost more than two games. Even that season, most of Barça’s losses came after they’d sewn-up the title.

That’s part of the context for Real Madrid’s 1-0 loss to Atlético Madrid. Carrying one draw into Saturday’s game, los Merengues already had an early, unexpected stumble. Now, after losing to one of the league’s two perfect teams, Carlo Ancelotti’s team is five points back in a league with no meaningful margin of error.

It sounds insane to be talking about title implications seven matches into the season, particularly with a team that sits 5-1-1 after Saturday’s loss, but that’s the absurdity of Spanish soccer. When you have a Barcelona team that’s adding new tricks to their playbook and an Atletico club that’s forged a surprise challenger, the margin looks even thinner than before. Coming off a season where they never meaningfully threatened Barcelona’s title run, we’re left wondering how much longer El Real can stay relevant.

For a club where la decima (a 10th European title) is the priority, domestic bumps can always be put in perspective. But having suffered their second straight home loss to the Atleti — their first in league since 1999 — this team’s struggles have been cast in a unique perspective. They’d already lost last year’s Copa del Rey to their cross-town rivals, and now falling at hope to team that sold Falcão this summer, there’s reason to believe what was previously unthinkable: El Real may be numero dos in the capital.

Given the talent disparity between the two sides, that’s a difficult proposition to accept, but at some point, results are the only thing that matter. Atlético is undefeated this season. The only blemishes among their results are two Supercopa draws to Barcelona (they ended up losing the competition on away goals). Through Liga and Champions League, Atlético remains one of the three perfect teams among Europe’s top five leagues. Those credentials transcend Saturday’s surprise.

They don’t have the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Isco or Sergio Ramos, but Atlético do have Diego Costa – Spain’s co-leading scorer whose form has enticed the Spanish national team to try to lure him away from Brazil. His early goal was set up by Koke, the 21-year-old attacker who’s now tied for the league lead in assists (six). With Thiago (midfield), Diego Godin (defense), and Thibaut Courtois (goalkeeper) forming one of the stronger bases of a Spanish defense, a side short on superstars is also lacks any obvious weaknesses.

source: Getty Images
Their Saturday loss to rival Atlético leaves Real Madrid five points back in Spain, but in a league that’s been won by 100-point seasons in back-to-back years, the margin for error is small. (Photo: Getty Images.)

But what they lack in star power — that enviable quality that underlies the Barça-Real duopoly — Diego Simeone’s making up in cohesion, with a stalwart defense and efficient, mostly counter-atttacking style making the Atleti into surprise contenders. Though the Argentine has led Atletico to Europa League and Supercopa triumphs since his arrival just under two years ago, nobody predicted this surprise challenge to Spain’s Big Two. Thanks to an almost trite more than the sum of their parts scenario, that’s exactly what Atlético’s done.

If Real could capture a little of that spirit, there may be hope for them to re-enter the title race. And Atlético’s quality could actually help them keep up, if their the Colchoneros are able to take league points off of Barça. But after today’s loss, El Real sit seven matches into the season having already dropped seven points. And for now, after losing to their cross-town rivals at the Bernabéu, they’ve lost their claim to being the best team in Madrid.

Elsewhere in Spain:

  • Real Valladolid 2-2 Málaga: A 76th minute goal by Bartlomiej Pawlowski salvages a result for Bernd Schuster’s side, with the point enough to carry Valladolid out of the drop.
  • Valencia 1-0 Rayo Vallecano: Jonás’s 37th minute goal completes Los Che’s turnaround. After losing their first three, they’ve taken three on the trot. Rayo, on the other hand, sit last in La Liga, allowing three goals per game.
  • Almería 0-2 Barcelona: More business-like than spectacular, Barcelona remains perfect. Lionel Messi picked up a goal and an injury.
  • Real Sociedad 1-1 Sevilla: Another disappointing result for La Real, whose winless run hits seven games. A second half goal from Antoine Griezmann pulled back Jairo’s early opener.
  • Osasuna 0-1 Levante: An 88th minute goal from Jordi Xumetra leaves Osasuna empty-handed from a match where they would have expected a result.
  • Celta de Vigo 0-1 Elche: Rebounding from mid-week disappointment, the visitors took full points thanks to Javíer Xumetra’s second half winner, Celta having lost three of four.
  • Espanyol 0-2 Getafe: Adrián Colunga scores in the 72nd, 93rd minutes to hand Espanyol their second straight loss, Getafe moving into eighth after their third win in four.
  • Real Betis 1-0 Villarreal: The Yellow Submarine had a chance to leap Real Madrid and take over third place. Instead, a 36th minute goal from Nosa hands Marcelino’s team their first loss since returning to the Primera Division.

FIFA reminds World Cup-bound Peru about government meddling

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has reminded the Peruvian soccer federation of rules prohibiting interference by national governments, one week after the South American country qualified for its first World Cup since 1982.

FIFA says the letter reacts to the “current draft of the Peruvian Sports Law” presented to a congressional committee last month. FIFA says the proposed text to lawmakers includes “certain items that, if implemented, would contravene the FIFA Statutes.”

In serious cases, FIFA can suspend a country’s national and club teams, plus officials, from international competitions and meetings.

Peruvian officials are due in Moscow next week for the World Cup draw.

Peru is not likely to be facing any action, but FIFA has promised to “continue to monitor the situation.”

PL Preview: Man United v. Brighton

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  • United have scored 19 goals, 6 wins from 6 at home this season
  • Brighton unbeaten in 5 games
  • Zlatan, Pogba, Rojo all fit for United

Manchester United host newly-promoted Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Red Devils aiming to keep their 100 percent home record in the PL intact.

[ MORE: Mourinho hits back at critics

Brighton are on a five-game unbeaten run in their debut campaign in the PL and Chris Hughton‘s side have settled impressively as they sit in ninth-place in the table.

Jose Mourinho’s United sit in second place but are eight points behind crosstown rivals Manchester City who are settling a rasping early-season pace in the Premier League. United and City clash at Old Trafford on Dec. 10 so Mourinho’s men can’t afford any dropped points between now and then.

In team news United are without central defenders Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, while Brighton have no new injury concerns.

What they’re saying

Mourinho on Pogba’s return to fitness: “Paul is still on this process where he cannot reach the fatigue limit, he cannot go more than 65 to 70 minutes because that’s when fatigue normally arrives and with so many matches consecutively we need to protect such an important player for us.”

Chris Hughton on Brighton’s mindset heading to Old Trafford: “There aren’t many teams at our level that are going to go there and win. You’ve got to play at a very high level and you’ve certainly got to have that bit of luck that goes with a win away from home at any one of the big clubs. But these are the days you’ve worked so hard for as a team and it’s what we got promoted for. What we hope to do is to make a good account of ourselves there and we hope we can do that.”

Prediction

I expect a big home win for United who are simply too powerful in attack for most PL clubs to handle. Sure, their direct approach gets criticized by many but they’re second in the PL table for a reason and Mourinho’s squad has extreme strength in depth in attack. 3-0 to the Red Devils.

Bookmakers odds on next USMNT boss

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After Sol Campbell (seriously) threw his hat into the ring to become the next U.S. men’s national team boss, now seems like a good time to check in on who are the current names being mentioned for the role.

Campbell told ESPN that he is interested in the vacant USMNT role as the former Arsenal and Tottenham star is currently the assistant coach of the Trinidad & Tobago national team.

“I think there is a lot of soul-searching [for the U.S. to do]. I think the main thing you’ve got to look at [with] America is where do they go now? They’ve invested a lot of money, and I think sometimes you’ve got to look in different area,” Campbell said. “You can’t always look in the same places. Yes, they want to keep it local, and they want to keep as much in USA with the players and the staff, but sometimes you’ve got to open up. I think there’s guys around the world who could contribute.”

“Maybe not [people] on their hit list, maybe not on the paper list, maybe not on the agent’s list, but guys who probably could help them in different ways on the field: attack-wise, defense-wise. Who knows? If they came to me, maybe I could help them out. Who knows? But I think they have got to start looking in different directions.”

Campbell’s coaching credentials are obviously limited but the former England international asking the U.S. to have a global coaching search isn’t asking for anything which hasn’t already been done. See: Klinsmann, Jurgen.

Of course, there is no imminent appointment expected with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) presidential race happening in February 2018, so appointing a new boss between now and would be a big mistake if the coach’s philosophy doesn’t fall in line with whoever is the leader of U.S. Soccer moving forward.

Still, via betting site Oddschecker, it’s very intriguing to see some of the names being linked with the USMNT job. Here are the odds on offer…


Sam Allardyce – 1/2 favorite
Caleb Porter – 8/1
Gregg Berhalter – 14/1
Jesse Marsch – 14/1
Laurent Blanc – 14/1
Patrick Vieira- 14/1
David Wagner – 16/1
Peter Vermes – 16/1
Bob Bradley – 20/1


Sam Allardyce has already put himself out there with regards to the USMNT job and his vast experience leading club teams from ruin to redemption could work well in this scenario, even if Big Sam’s knowledge of Major League Soccer and the USMNT is vastly inferior to MLS coaches in the running.

Caleb Porter leaving his role with the Portland Timbers has led to plenty of intriguing reports and rumors but is he really the right man to lead the USMNT?

Other MLS coaches linked with the position are Jesse Marsch who continues to overachieve with the New York Red Bulls, while Gregg Berhalter in his uncertain situation with Columbus Crew could be a good shout, especially with his brother Jay playing a prominent role at U.S. Soccer.

David Wagner’s past as a USMNT player will resonate strongly with many involved in the American soccer community but he’s unlikely to leave Huddersfield anytime soon, and then there’s Bob Bradley on the list. Quite why he’s on there as he builds LAFC ahead of their debut season in MLS in 2018 says it all about these bookies odds.

Take it all with a hefty pinch of salt and expect no movement for a while as the USSF presidential election takes center stage over the next few months. When that concludes and a successor (more than likely) is selected to replace Sunil Gulati, then we should expect a new head coach to be appointed by the USMNT.

With no World Cup next summer or competitive games until 2019, what’s the rush?

We are talking about a nation which is not only 24th in the FIFA world rankings, but also one where the sport is growing an you get the sense a fine crop of players are bursting to come through and the 2018 World Cup could be the catalyst for significant change in the USMNT playing squad.

Time needs to be taken to assess who the best man for the job would be and, right now, nobody jumps off the page as the leading contender. After the World Cup next summer plenty of international coaches will become available as they come to the end of their cycle or they’re fired. In my opinion, why not wait until the end? Having an interim boss in charge for a friendly match in January and two more in March and June isn’t the end of the world and gives the U.S. plenty of time to make the correct decision moving forward.

This next hire is crucially important to the future of the USMNT.

Black Friday sale on NBC Sports Gold

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Celebrate Black Friday by getting a lovely discount on NBC Sports Gold.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

The deal, available from today until midnight next Wednesday, gives you 20% off of the Premier League Pass for the rest of the season, which includes 40 exclusive matches in the next 32 days as well as access to Premier League shows featuring the latest news, analysis and more – which are only available on NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League Today, Premier League News and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

Click on the link below for details on how to purchase the sale on NBC Sports Gold.