Angel Di Maria

Ronaldo-less Real Madrid overcome early red card, cruise past Galatasaray, 4-1

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Sergio Ramos seemed to pave the road to a Galatasaray upset, a controversial 26th minute call seeing the Real Madrid defender on the receiving end of a red card. Yet even with their Spanish international as well as their best player (Cristiano Ronaldo) out, Group B’s winners were too much for visiting Galatasaray, who suffered an embarrassing 4-1 loss against 10 men Wednesday at the Santiago Bernábeu.

Eleven minutes after the dismissal, Gareth Bale opened the scored when his 30-yard free kick beat an ill-positoned Eray Iscan. Gala quickly pulled that goal back, Didier Drogba setting up Umut Bulut for a 37th minute equalizer.

Real Madrid, however, would pull away in the second half, with goals from Álvaro Arbeloa, Ángel di María, and Isco helping the home team clinch first in Group B. With 13 points through five matches, the Merengues sit nine points clear of second place Juventus, who defeated FC Copenhagen in Turin, 3-1.

With Ronaldo out, having suffered a hamstring injury this weekend, Carlo Ancelotti gave a rare start to forward Jesé Rodríguez, who joined midfielder Casemiro as surprise selections in a team that only needed a draw to lock down first place.

That team struggled to get a foothold in the match early, with pressure from Galatasaray troubling their hosts. Gala however, were unable to create any meaningful chances , their energy without the ball failing to translate into effectiveness with it.

By the quarter-hour mark, Real Madrid had adjusted and were soon dominating the ball, but when a long pass targeting Umut Bulut left Ramos sprawling to recover, the home team were forced into another period of adjustment. Pursuing a ball deflected behind the defense after an aerial challenge, Bulut went down, apparently entangled with the chasing Ramos. About 24 yards from goal, Ramos was shown straight red after referee William Collum judged the contact to be more than incidental.

Sacrificing Jesé for defender Nacho, Real Madrid initially didn’t miss a beat, their control of play culminating when Felipe Melo brought down Pepe 30 yards from goal. Side-footing the restart from straight in front of goal, Bale curved his ball into the right of net, beating a Galatasaray keeper late to react to the Welshman’s shot.

A minute later, however, Drogba was able to create a goal for Bulut, who beat Pepe to a ball fed into the Real Madrid box. Given too much time on the ball by Casemiro, Drogba was able to scoop a right-footed pass behind Real’s line. Bulut’s burst left Pepe chasing as the Turkish international beat an oncoming Iker Casillas for the equalizer.

As the half stretched on, Galatasaray controlled much of the game, patiently trying to stretch a Real Madrid defense that started to play like a 10-man crew. In the second half, however, the numerical advantage was again rendered irrelevant, with Di María’s 51st minute cross for  Arbeloa catching Dany Nounkeu flat-footed. The Spanish international put home the go-ahead goal from close range, making it 2-1.

Di María would add his own in the 63rd minute, Arbeloa returning the favor by finding the Argentine in the right of the box. In the 80th minute, an individual effort that saw Isco dribble past a man before regaining possession of his own blocked shot ended with the former Málaga star beating Iscan for the day’s final goal.

El Real were without their best player, and 26 minutes into the match, arguably their best defender was given his marching orders. For a Galatasaray team that has designs on Group B’s second spot, this was a gift: their best chance to claim points at the Bernabeu. Yet after 64 minutes of playing against 10 men, the Turks were left with another embarrassing loss.

If they thought their 6-1 defeat to the Blancos in Istanbul was bad, think again. At least they were playing a full team last time around. This time, they may have been better off if Ramos had stayed on.

Goals

Real Madrid: 36′ Gareth Bale, 51′ Alvaro Arbeloa, 63′ Ángel di María, 80′ Isco

Galatasaray: 37′ Umut Bulut

Lineups

Real Madrid: Iker Casillas; Álvaro Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo (75′ Daniel Carvajal); Aiser Illarramendi, Casemiro (59′ Xabi Alonso); Gareth Bale, Isco, Ángel di María; Jesé Rodríguez (28′ Nacho)

Unused subs: Diego López, Karim Benzema, Álvaro Morata, José Rodríguez

Galatasaray: Eray Isacn; Emmanuel Eboué, Aurelien Chedjou, Göhkan Zan, Dany Nounkeu; Bruma (64′ Wesley Sneijder), Felipe Melo (88′ Ceyhun Güiselam), Selcuk Inan, Nourredine Amrabat (67′ Albert Riera); Umut Bulut, Didier Drogba

Unused subs: Burak Yilmaz, Sabri Sarioglu, Ufuk Celyan, Semih Kaya

VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week – Round 25

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In a week where defenders scored critical goals, it’s no surprise to see a 4-3-3 in the Premier League’s Team of the Week.

Robert Huth‘s brace while blanking Manchester City leads the way for the PL’s top XI from the weekend, while Southampton’s vaunted back line and keeper have two in mix.

[ MORE: Ailing Chelsea, Man Utd showcase obvious deficiencies ]

Liverpool and Arsenal both put offensive forces on the team, while big goals for safety hopefuls Newcastle United and Aston Villa found three players between the two in the XI.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Premier League Team of the Week — Round 25 ARCHIVE ]

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster (Southampton)

Defenders: Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Robert Huth (Leicester City), Joleon Lescott (Aston Villa)

Midfielders: Aaron Lennon (Everton), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

Forwards: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

Premier League Player of the Week — Round 25

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Score one for the Midlands.

In a season for lowlights, Aston Villa captain Gabriel Agbonlahor is celebrating a bit of hope for his beleaguered club after his classy finish gave the 29-year-old his first goal of the season.

[ REACTION: Agbonlahor says Villa now ready to produce great escape ]

It also inspired Villa to consider that eight points off the Premier League safety chase isn’t unrealistic if it can put together some more gritty performances like the 2-0 defeat of Norwich City on Saturday.

Premier League Players of the Week

Week 1: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 2: Romelu Lukaku, Everton

Week 3: Callum Wilson, Bournemouth

Week 4: Bafetimbi Gomis, Swansea City

Week 5: Steven Naismith, Everton

Week 6: Anthony Martial, Manchester United

Week 7: Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal

Week 8: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 9: Raheem Sterling, Manchester City

Week 10: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 11: Arouna Kone, Everton

Week 12: Jesse Lingard, Manchester United

Week 15: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 16: Ayoze Perez, Newcastle United

Week 17: Odion Ighalo, Watford

Week 19: Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke City

Week 20: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 21: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 22: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 23: Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 24: Fraser Forster, Southampton

Week 25: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.