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

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”