Spain: Cristiano Ronaldo hurt, Real Betis tempting fate again

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La Liga’s global brand has become as much about the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid as the competition itself, but the competition’s greatest inner-city derby took place on Sunday. That when Sevilla, battling at the edge of the league’s European spots, welcomed Real Betis back to the Sanchez Pizjuan. Whereas the Seville rivals once shared a volatile coexistence, Betis’s 2011 return to the Primera Division saw the derby resume in a less-heated way. On the outside side of a then ever-increasing Spanish duopoly, Sevilla and Real Betis recognized the synergistic virtues of being in the same division.

Yet coming into today’s game, Betis found themselves in last place, a six-match unbeaten run in league leaving last year’s seventh place finishers three points from safety. With the club likely to go through in their Europa League group (sitting first in Group I through four rounds), the Beticos are in danger over-exposing themselves. A team having trouble taking care of business in league will be left waging battles on two fronts into 2014.

The Primera part of that struggle took a turn for the worse two minutes into Sunday’s derby. After José Antonio Reyes played through to Carlos Bacca, the Sevilla attacker’s right-footed strike dug Betis an early hole. While the visitors appeared poised to pull the lead back, outshooting Sevilla 5-2 over the next 40 minutes, Paulao’s foul on Reyes late in the half earned the Brazilian defender a second yellow card. When Stephane Mbia headed home the restart, Betis went into half down two goals, one man.

Second half goals from Vitolo and Vicente Iborra left Betis embarrassed, but a four-goal loss to their arch rivals is now the least of their worries. Fourteen matches into the season, Pepe Mel’s side has two wins and nine points, their -16 goal difference hinting this is more than just a slow start. While the team has the talent to play closer to the level of last year’s team, as has often been the case in Betis’s history, talent isn’t enough. Just over two years into their Primera return, Betis is beginning another fight for their first division survival.

Ronaldo to join Messi on the sidelines?

Gareth Bale scored, as did Karim Benzema, Isco, and Álvaro Morata, but the big news after Real Madrid’s win over a 10-man Almeria was the injury to Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star left after 52 minutes with a hamstring injury resulting from a first half challenge.

“It was for precaution,” Ronaldo told the media after the match. “It’s nothing special. I was kicked in the first half and had the muscle a little stiff.”

Though Lionel Messi is out until 2014 with a hamstring injury of his own, it looks like La Liga will be spared the absence of its two biggest stars, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean Ronaldo will return any time soon. With matches against Galatasaray and Valladolid over the next seven days, Real Madrid can afford to exercise caution with their main weapon.

Elsewhere

  • Valladolid 0, Osasuna 1 – An unlikely goal from Oier (in fairness, his second of the season) leaves Valladolid in 17th place, the Spanish defender heading his team to their fourth win of the season.
  • Barcelona 4, Granada 0 – First half penalty conversions from Andrés Iniesta and Cesc Fábregas had Barça up two before Granada lost a man, with second half goals from Alexis Sánchez and Pedro finishing the job.
  • Real Sociedad 4, Celta Viga 3 – Mexican not-so-international Carlos Vela scored four times, twice after Andreu Fontás’s second half dismissal. Down 3-1 after 56 minutes, La Real left unexpected winners.
  • Atlético Madrid 7, Getafe 0 – Yet another red card on a weekend that saw seven dismissals allowed Atleti to score five times against 10 men, Diego Costa’s goal grabbing headlines.
  • Levante 0, Villarreal 3 – Playing 80 minutes against 10 men, the Yellow Submarine got two goals from Ikechukwu Uche, allowing them to continue their consolidation of fourth place.
  • Elche 2, Valencia 1 – Cristian Herrera’s 84th minute winner helped the home side end their three-match winless run, allowing them to join Los Che was one of four teams with 17 points.
  • Malaga vs. Athletic Club – Athletic will be looking to pull within one of Villarreal, while Malaga hopes to put more than one point between themselves and the drop.

Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi nominees for FIFA prize for 3rd year

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LONDON (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar are the contenders for FIFA’s top player award for the third straight year.

The nominations for the FIFA Best awards were announced Friday in London, where the ceremony will take place next month. Ronaldo is favored to join Messi as a five-time winner.

While Ronaldo won the Spanish league and Champions League last season at Real Madrid, Messi and Neymar only collected the Copa del Rey title with Barcelona.

Off the field, the three players have all been embroiled in tax cases in Spain over the last year.

Premier League Preview: West Ham vs. Tottenham

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  • West Ham have 14 PL wins vs. Spurs, more than against any other opponent
  • Spurs have lost 3 of their last 4 trips to West Ham
  • Since the start of 2015-16 Spurs have won the most points (164) and matches (47) in the PL
  • Harry Kane has five goals in his last five PL games vs. West Ham

West Ham United host Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday at the London Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a big London derby.

The Hammers have won both of their last two home games against Spurs 1-0 to scupper Tottenham’s title bids which has added extra spice to this rivalry in recent months.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

With West Ham winning their first home game this season against Huddersfield Town, Slaven Bilic is looking to make the London Stadium a fortress. Spurs will be eager to play another game away from their temporary home for the season, Wembley, after Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have failed to win any of their opening three home PL games at Wembley.

If Tottenham prevail in east London it will mean they have won their opening three away games in the league for the first time since 1991-92.

In team news West Ham will be without injured duo Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini but skipper Mark Noble is available. Ben Davies could return for Spurs, while Victor Wanyama, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose remain out.

What they’re saying

Slaven Bilic praises Christian Eriksen in The London Evening Standard: “They have many excellent players but the one who is maybe the unsung hero is Christian Eriksen. I don’t want to say he is under-rated because everyone in Europe is aware of the talent that he possesses. Apart from being a vital link in their team, he is also making clever little moves into pockets of space or into the box.”

Mauricio Pochettino on taking his players out for dinner: “We need time for the players that we signed to engage with everyone, know everything. It’s only a few weeks that they are involved in the dynamic of the team, the club. You need time to create a good dynamic. Not only tactics but outside too. We had a dinner in a restaurant in London with all the staff and players that I invite, of course. I paid the bill at the end! That is important because you can say: ‘Tactics here in the morning’ or you prefer to go last night and put all the staff, the players and the chairman too in a restaurant. That is tactics too. It is so important, just as it is important to work on the pitch. To get to know each other better, to speak in a different way. That creates links between them, emotion.”

Prediction

Spurs will have too much going forward for West Ham’s shaky defense and they will relish not only an away day but also putting their poor recent record against West Ham to bed. Tottenham to win 3-1.

USMNT’s Danny Williams out injured for Huddersfield

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Potentially bad news has arrived  for Danny Williams as the U.S. national team midfielder has suffered an injury at the worst possible time.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Williams ]

Williams, 28, has suffered a “small fracture” to a bone in his foot and will not play for Huddersfield at Burnley on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

UPDATE: Pro Soccer Talk understands Williams’ injury will keep him out of action for about 2-3 weeks.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the trip to Turf Moor, Wagner gave some more information on Williams’ injury.

“Danny Williams has a small fracture in a bone in his foot. We have specialists appointment tomorrow[Friday] where we will get some information on how long he will be out,” Wagner said. “At the moment it is totally open because it is a very, very small fracture. So we will see. For sure he is out for Saturday.”

So, it doesn’t seem like a long-term injury but after Williams battled to start his first-ever start in the Premier League against Leicester City last week in a 1-1 draw, this knock has come at a very frustrating time for the German-American midfielder as he established himself at his new club.

Williams has battled hard to get into Huddersfield’s starting lineup after his free transfer from Reading over the summer.

Some USMNT fans were also calling for Williams to get a recall from Bruce Arena ahead of the U.S. national teams crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago next month.

The combative midfielder now faces an anxious wait about the severity of his injury.

Antonio Conte thanks Diego Costa after Chelsea departure

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These will likely be the final questions Antonio Conte faces about Diego Costa.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Matip talks to JPW ]

On Thursday it was announced that Chelsea has sold their leading scorer in each of the past two seasons back to Atletico Madrid with a protracted fallout between Conte and Costa finally coming to a logical conclusion.

After Conte reportedly sent Costa a text message stating he was no longer needed at Chelsea, just days after they lifted the Premier League title together, the Brazilian born striker refused to return to preseason training and remained in Brazil with family as he demanded to be sold back to Atletic Madrid.

He was fined by the club but has finally got his wish with a $77 million move back to Atleti sealed for the 28-year-old who won two Premier League titles in three season at Chelsea but also brought controversy with him on many occasions as the bullish striker upset opponents and teammates alike.

Speaking at Stamford Bridge on Friday ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Stoke City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) Conte thanked Costa for his efforts.

“About this issue, we want to thank him for what he did with this club. We wish him all the best for the future,” Conte said.

Asked about the deterioration of his own relationship with Costa and if his team will miss the goals of the Spanish international, Conte was less open.

“Now it is not important, I am not interested to continue talking about this issue,” Conte said. “I am working with my players and am happy to work them them. We must work and fight to win every competition. We are Chelsea and we need to try to do this in this season. We have to try to do our best in every competition. Our target is to do our best every day, every week, every month in this season.”

Stating multiple times that he was “not interested in talking about the past” and that only the current and building for the future was important, Conte did thank Costa once again and said he will remember the success they achieved together last season.

“I do not forget we won together last season,” Conte said. “For sure we want to thank him for his effort last season with us but not only last season, the period he played for Chelsea.”

With this saga now over, Chelsea will turn to Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi to score the goals they need to be successful on all four fronts this season.

After recovering well from a sluggish start to the season it appears Conte’s decision to oust Costa will, long-term, be the correct one. Even though Morata has taken a little time to settle and Batshuayi blows hot and cold, the Blues have goals everywhere you look with Eden Hazard, Pedro, Willian and others able to chip in.

There’s only one Diego Costa and Conte must be somewhat relieved to see the back of him.