Spain Soccer Champions League

Cristiano Ronaldo double helps Real Madrid see off 10-man Juventus

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Upsets usually require a confluence of factors: A strong performance from the underdog; a downturn from the favorites; and, some luck. Tuesday in Madrid, two of those factors broke Juventus’s way, with a slow start giving way to a strong performance augmented by their hosts’ complacency. But when two key calls went against them, a 10-man Bianconeri still fell at Real Madrid, 1-1.

Cristiano Ronaldo had beaten Gianluigi Buffon early, his fifth minute goal giving way to a period of Juventus control. A surprise four-man midfield from Juve boss Antonio Conte was controlling play and generating most of the games shots, even if many of them weren’t stressing Iker Casillas. In the 22nd minute, however, the visitors finally broke through, a header from Paul Proga onto Casillas’s line pushed into the path of Fernando Llorente. The former Athletic striker pulled his side even.

Then bad break number one for Juventus, though you can’t fault Manuel Gräfe’s decision. Giorgio Chiellini pulled down Sergio Ramos at the edge of the six-yard box on a 26th minute restart. Though the foul may have gone uncalled by less stringent officials, there was little doubt Chiellini had fouled his mark. Two minutes later, an unstoppable shot into the top of Buffon’s net gave Ronaldo his second goal.

By that time Real was putting up more of a fight through the middle, but out-manned by Conte’s shift in formation, the Spaniards were still second-best for much of the half, While that didn’t necessarily lead to a slew of Juventus chances, it did augur well for the Old Lady’s second half chances.

Those chances disappeared on the breath of another whistle, one that saw Chiellini sent off. But whereas the Italian international’s first half infraction seemed fair, his straight red in the 48th minute was harsh. Defending against Ronaldo on the right flank, his extended arm slipped along Ronaldo’s torso, eventually meeting his face. The assistant referee seemed to see the foul as a strike to the head, leading to Chiellini’s sending off.

Up a man, Real Madrid’s substitutions showed no sign of letting up. Gareth Bale came on for Karim Benzema, temporarily leaving El Real without a striker. Isco came on for the less attacking Asier Illarramendi. Then, birthday boy Álvaro Morata replaced Ángel Di María, by which time Real Madrid had firm control of the match. An insurance goal, however, eluded them.

source: Reuters
Giorgio Chiellini, whose foul on Sergio Ramos (right) led to Real Madrid’s second goal, saw straight red in the 48th minute of Juventus’s 2-1 loss at the Santiago Bernabéu. (Photo: Reuters.)

Over the last 10 minutes, Juventus tried to steal a result, forcing Real Madrid into a more defensive posture. Come stoppage time, Real Madrid were allowing the short-handed visitors to dictate the match, opting for security at the back in lieu of pressure at the top.

Ultimately, they were able to preserve their win and their perfect Champions League start. At 3-0-0, Carlo Ancelotti’s team is one of four clubs who’ll reach matchday four unblemished. While they failed to  play to their potential on Wednesday, they were good enough to take a five-point lead in Group B.

That group currently sees Juventus in third, Galatasaray’s win over Copenhagen leaving Juve two points back of the Turkish champions. Staring at another game against Real Madrid, Juventus may yet lose more ground to Roberto Mancini’s side, increasing the possibility they’ll have to win in Istanbul to reach the knockout round.


REAL MADRID: Iker Casillas; Álvaro Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo; Sami Khedira, Asier Illarremendi (Isco 72′); Ángel Di María (Álvaro Morata, 79′), Luka Modric, Cristiano Ronaldo; Karim Benzema (Gareth Bale, 60′). Unused subs: Diego López, Fabio Coentrao, Raphael Varane, Daniel Carvajal.

JUVENTUS: Gianluigi Buffon; Martín Cáceras, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Angelo Obinze Ogbonna (Sebastian Giovinco, 69′); Andrea Pirlo (Kwandwo Asamoach, 59′), Arturo Vidal, Paul Pogba, Claudio Marchisio; Carlos Tévez, Fernando Llorente (Leonardo Bonucci, 50′). Unused subs: Mauricio Isla, Marco Storari, Federico Peluso, Simone Padoin.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.