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

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone

VIDEO: Reus scores stunning winner for Dortmund

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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BERLIN (AP) Marco Reus scored his first Bundesliga goal of the season to give Borussia Dortmund a 1-0 win at his former team Borussia Moenchengladbach on Sunday.

Reus, Andre Schuerrle and Mario Goetze started for the first time together for Dortmund, and the three Germany teammates were all involved in the 32nd-minute goal.

Goetze played the ball to Schuerrle, who crossed for Reus on the right. Reus looked up and lifted the ball over ‘Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer to score off the underside of the crossbar.

“It was a good goal. I think he wanted to do that,” Sommer said.

Reus, who returned from a serious knee injury last weekend against Hamburger SV, said he wanted to play the ball further to the left “but the important thing is it went in.”

Goalkeeper Roman Buerki was man of the match for producing a string of saves to deny the home side what would have been a deserved equalizer.

Dortmund moved second, 19 points behind Bayern Munich, while ‘Gladbach stayed 10th after its fourth consecutive defeat without scoring.

Dortmund forward Michy Batshuayi failed to score for the first time in four games since his deadline-day switch from Chelsea, though he wasn’t helped by the poor condition of the pitch. Some players lost their footing as the grass gave way.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.