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

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.

West Ham, Chicharito raise funds for Mexico earthquake victims

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and West Ham United are doing all they can to help the victims of Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Mexico which killed over 270 people.

Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer posted the following message on Instagram to help raise funds as he has set up the #YoXMexico initiative with fellow Mexican international Miguel Layun.

Hernandez, 29, detailed exactly why he wants to get involved in helping any way he can.

“Being so far from Mexico and seeing the suffering of our compatriots in the distance has been very painful,” Hernandez said. “So, after discussing it, we decided to take the initiative for Mexico and give our people a helping hand. We know that many see us as a source of inspiration, but in this case, what has inspired us is to see millions of Mexicans take to the streets and to lend a hand without asking for anything in return.

“We hope, with this initiative, to help those who need it and motivate more people to do it with us. Miguel and I are very grateful to have the backing of everyone at West Ham United and all of its supporters at this difficult time for our country.  It is a fantastic gesture and we hope it can help us raise funds that will make a difference in Mexico.”

The Hammers have announced they will hold a shirt auction for jerseys worn in their match against Tottenham on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with all of the proceeds going directly to the victims of the tragedy.

West Ham United will auction all match-worn shirts from this weekend’s London derby against Tottenham Hotspur, with all proceeds going to the victims’ families and survivors of this week’s devastating Mexican earthquake.

The Club will then double the figure raised by the auction, before donating the total amount to an appeal organised by Hammers striker Javier Hernandez and his fellow Mexico international Miguel Layun to aid the relief effort in Mexico City and the surrounding area.

To donate directly to #YoXMexico please visit youcaring.com/yoxmex or follow #YoXMexico on Twitter at @YoXMexico.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.