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′

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.