Alexis Sanchez

Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid: a thrilling Clasico lifts Barcelona higher

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Real Madrid’s trip to Barcelona on Saturday evening was the year’s first El Clásico, and it certainly provided plenty of drama: delicious goals, controversial refereeing decisions, and a few physical battles from the Spanish rivals. But in the end it was Barcelona that came out on top, giving themselves a six-point cushion over Madrid.

Barcelona were certainly dominant in the first half. The hosts controlled the match right from the start, despite a little heated physicality that saw both sides awarded yellow cards before the 15th minute. But Barcelona’s composure paid off in the 19th minute, when Neymar opened the scoring in his first El Clásico. The majority of the magic came from Andrés Iniesta, however, who had a fabulous game. It was he who got the ball up through the area, drawing in the Madrid defense as Neymar took up a position on the edge of the area. A perfectly threaded past set up the Brazilian, whose low shot flew past Diego Lopéz to settle at the far post.

Just a minute later, Lionel Messi very nearly doubled Barcelona’s lead. But the Argentine’s shot went just wide, settling on the wrong side of the far post (or, perhaps, the right side, if you’re a Madridista).

Despite Barcelona being on top for much of the first 45, Real Madrid very nearly snagged an equalizer just before the whistle. Cristiano Ronaldo sent an absolutely delicious cross into the area, with a sliding Sami Khedira able to get a touch. But Victor Valdés was right there to prevent the ball from slipping into goal. Real Madrid players surrounded the referee, appealing for a handball, but none was given. The replay showed that, although Javier Mascherano did make contact, it was the ball that rolled on to his hand, not the other way around.

Whatever Carlo Ancelotti said in the Camp Nou dressing room seemed to have some affect on the visitors, who looked much more lively after the restart. Luka Modric took greater control in the area, picking out passes and finding his teammates in space. It was his ball that set up Ronaldo in the 58th minute, but Valdés managed a terrific one-armed save. Seconds later, Angel di Maria forced the Barcelona keeper into another great rescue.

In the 71st minute, the visitors had a legitimate penalty call waved away. Javier Mascherano slammed into Ronaldo, putting his shoulder into the Madrid man’s back. Ronaldo went down but the referee failed to bat an eye. Just after, Karim Benzema, on for Gareth Bale at the hour mark, managed to get his shot on target. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, the ball smashed against the crossbar and landed on the wrong side of the goaline.

After all the hard work put in by Madrid, it was almost sad when Barcelona doubled their lead — or, it would’ve been sad, had the goal not been so spectacular. Alexis Sánchez, who’d replaced Cesc Fábregas less than ten minutes before, practically did all the dirty work himself. A through ball from Neymar set him free, but it was Alexis that went left, then right, to shake off Raphael Varane. Once he’d rid himself of the defender, the Chilean chipped the ball over the head of Diego Lopéz and into the back of the net.

Real Madrid did manage to pull one back in the dying minutes of the match. The young Jesé, on in place of the unimpressive Angel di Maria, got on the end of a lovely ball from Ronaldo. He sent the shot straight at Valdés, who managed to fumble it completely, with the ball going through the goalkeeper to end up in the back of the net. In the end, though, it was nothing but a consolation for los galacticos. 

Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta (Song 77); Messi, Fábregas (Sánchez 70), Neymar (Pedro 84)

Subs not used: Puyol, Montoya, Pinto, Roberto

Goals: Neymar 19′, Sánchez 78′

Real Madrid: Diego López; Carvajal, Varane, Pepe, Marcelo; Ramos (Illarramendi 56), Khedira, Modric; Bale (Benzema 61), Di María (Jesé 76) Ronaldo

Subs not used: Coentrão, Casillas, Isco, Arbeloa

Goals: Jesé 90′

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”

Leipzig beats ‘Gladbach 2-1, cuts Bayern’s Bundesliga lead

Leipzig's scorer Willi Orban, center, and his teammates celebrate their side's 2nd goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Hertha BSC Berlin in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
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BERLIN (AP) Leipzig held on for a 2-1 win at Borussia Moenchengladbach to cut Bayern Munich’s lead in the Bundesliga to five points on Sunday.

[ MORE: Messi rescues Barca, Pescara wins second Serie A match ]

Emil Forsberg scored one and set up another for the promoted side to end its two-game losing streak and stay on course for Champions League qualification with its 14th win of the season.

[ MORE: Bielsa makes Ligue 1 return, joins Lille as new manager ]

`Gladbach `keeper Yann Sommer pulled off a brilliant fingertip save to deny Marcel Sabitzer early on, but he was powerless to stop Forsberg from breaking the deadlock after half an hour played.

Sabitzer and Timo Werner played their way through the static `Gladbach defense and Werner laid the ball off for the Sweden midfielder to fire inside the bottom left corner.

The home side was given a lifeline when Marvin Compper brought down Lars Stindl and referee Felix Zwayer pointed to the spot, but Peter Gulacsi saved Thorgan Hazard‘s penalty before the break.

More poor defending allowed Werner grab the second 10 minutes after the break, firing inside the far post after Forsberg played him through.

Jannik Vestergaard pulled one back with a powerful header from a corner to set up an exciting finale. However, six minutes of injury time were not enough for an equalizer.

Leipzig had kicked off to a chorus of whistles from the home fans, who then mostly stayed silent till the 19th minute in protest against the visiting side. Huge banners in the north stand said “Traditional club since 1900” – an apparent protest against Leipzig, founded in 2009 when Austrian energy-drink billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz rebranded a fifth-tier team with his company’s livery before financing its steady promotion through the lower leagues.

COLOGNE 1, SCHALKE 1

Cologne stopped Schalke’s progress but the point was enough for the visiting side to overtake `Gladbach on goal difference in 10th.

Alessandro Schoepf got the visitors off to a flying start in the second minute with the help of the left post, and Leon Goretzka hit the post after half an hour with the home side still struggling to get into the game.

But Anthony Modeste equalized before the break with a fine strike inside the far post, and might even have scored again just minutes later, when his hesitation allowed Benedikt Hoewedes get back and clear.

Guido Burgstaller came closest to a winner for Schalke in the second half, his shot just wide of the far post after beating the goalkeeper.