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Spain: Neymar keeps scoring; Real Madrid drops more points

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It’s a reoccurring theme, the thin margin for error in Spain’s title race, but given how infrequently Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, or Real Madrid drop points, the notion doesn’t come up that often. But when it does, we’re typically talking about the Merengues, and after the team’s 2-2 draw at relegation-battling Osasuna, we’re again left wondering whether the Blaugrana and Atleti are going to led Carlo Ancelotti’s team back into this title race.

The “and” part is important. If we were talking about one team stumbling, Real Madrid’s odds would be better. Or if the goal was merely to make the top two, allowing los Blancos to take advantage of either team’s stumbles, Saturday’s draw wouldn’t be such a setback. Instead, the team’s second draw of the season (on top of two losses) leaves them five points back of both Barcelona and Atlético, tied atop La Liga’s table. Given each of those clubs have collected 43 of 48 possible points, Real Madrid approaching a point where they may need to run the table. It’s unclear whether (or when) Barça and Atlético will slow up.

The extent to which a title matters to a club’s chasing a 10th European Cup is worth debating, but if Sergio Ramos keeps getting red cards, the conversation will be moot. After 43 minutes on Saturday, Ramos earned his second booking, sending him to the dressing room with his team already down 2-0. Having just come back from a red card suspension, the Spanish international again left his team playing shorthanded, a disadvantage that was eventually wiped away when Osasuna midfielder Francisco Silva picked up his second yellow in the 79th.

By then, Isco had halved Real’s deficit, with Pepe eventually heading the visitors back even. Over the final 13 minutes, however, Real Madrid would only manage one shot on goal, Ancelotti’s team only registering four tries on target against a team that came into the game with 10 losses.

“The first 20 minutes were very good and it is incredible that we went 2-0 down and had ten men,” Ancelotti told media post game (as relayed by Reuters). “We responded well but we suffered a lot.”

In another league, these types of slips could be forgiven. Arsenal has already dropped points six times, yet the Gunners remain on top in England. In Spain, however, with Barcelona and Atlético pushing each other every week, one point instead of three is a more significant setback. Having dropped points four times this year, it’s unclear home many strikes are left in Real’s domestic campaign.

source: APNeymar strikes twice as Barcelona down Villarreal

The Yellow Submarine were a potential stumbling block for Barça, something that came iton focus when Mateo Muscacchio pulled back the defending champions’ one-goal lead minutes into the second half. Neymar, however, build on his first half penalty conversion (and his three-goal day in Champions League) with his second in the 68th, a goal set up by Alexis Sanchez. Against a dominated an inhibited Villarreal, Barça went on to a 2-1 win at the Nou Camp.

That the run of play was so lopsided, with Barcelona holding 76 percent of the ball, was a disappointment. To some, it was also a surprise. Villarreal has been an attacking team all season, but compensating for injuries, the visitors started Mexican international Giovani Dos Santos alone up top on Saturday. The result was one shot on goal: Musacchio’s conversion of an early second half corner kick.

“This performance has made me the happiest yet as it follows on from the good performances against Cartagena (4-1 win in the King’s Cup) and Celtic, and we were against a strong Villarreal side,” Barcelona head coach Gerardo Martino said after the match, the Argentine in his first season with the club.

“Winning like that gives confidence to the players and it’s only a shame that the (Christmas) break is coming up.”

Atlético keep up with easy second half against Valencia

It was one of those days where Europa League came back to haunt them. Valencia, having finished off their group stage campaign on Thursday, had a relatively quick turnaround against Atlético, and although Diego Simeone’s team had played in Champions League on Wednesday, Los Che were still worse off. Though the started strong, Miroslav Dukic’s team ended the match without a shot on goal, giving up two penalty kicks in a 3-0 at the Vincente Calderon.

The result just piles on to what’s becoming a garish record for Atlético Madrid. They’re won 14 of 16 in league and have only lost once this season in all-competitions. Their nine goals allowed in La Liga gives them the league’s best defensive record, while the 43 goals are only one off league-best Barcelona. With two more goals on Sunday, Diego Costa is now tied with Cristiano Ronaldo for the league lead (17), a honor he’d hold be himself had a successful converted a second half penalty.

Winners of six of their last seven, Atlético continues to show it’s the equal of Barcelona, something few seemed to realize as Atleti were dubbed by some as a team to draw for Arsenal and Manchester City in Champions League. At this point, however, it’s Atlético’s crosstown rivals that are the easier matchup, with Diego Simeone’s side continuing to stretch Spain’s Big Two into a Top Three.

Elsewhere

  • Levante 2, Elche 1 – Goals in the 41st and 80th minutes from David Barral reversed an early score from Cristian Sapunaru, with Levante snapping their four-game losing streak.
  • Rayo Vallecano 0, Granada 2 – A second yellow card for Nacho in the 43rd minute gave Rayo little chance of pulling back Fran Rico’s 35th minute opener, with Riki eliminating all doubt in the 89th by giving Granada their insurance.
  • Malaga 1, Getafe 0 – Snapping his team’s three-game winless run, Roque Santa Cruz scored the game’s only goal in the 75th minute, giving Malaga their first win since beating Real Betis on Nov. 3.
  • Almeria 0, Espanyol 0 – Almeria miss their chance to climb out of the drop, with Verza failing to convert on a 23rd minute penalty kick.
  • Real Sociedad 5, Real Betis 1 – La Real  recovered from Champions League disappointment to throttle the league’s cellar dwellers, with the first two goals of the season from Imanol Agirretze complemented by scores from Ion Ansotegi, Antoine Griezmann (his 10th of the year) and Xabi Prieto.
  • Sevilla 1, Athletic Bilbao 1 – Perhaps the weekend’s most competitive matchup, fourth place Athletic takes a point from the Sanchez Pizjuan, with Sevilla climbing to seventh after Alberto Moreno’s fourth minute opener was cancelled out by Markel Susaeta’s sixth minute response.

Monday: Valladolid vs. Celta Vigo

West Ham United 2-1 Liverpool: Ogbonna strikes after 120 minutes

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Jordon Ibe of Liverpool takes on Pedro Mba Obiang of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Angelo Ogbonna is now an FA Cup hero.

Two sides willing to move the ball and attack produced a fine FA Cup tie on Tuesday at the Boleyn Ground, with Ogbonna heading home the match-winner in the 121st minute of play for a 2-1 win.

Michail Antonio scored a first-half goal for West Ham before Philippe Coutinho equalized for the visiting Reds.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s cheeky free kick ties the score ]

All told, West Ham heads to Ewood Park for a fifth-round date with Blackburn Rovers. Peterborough United hosts West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday to sort out the fourth round’s other replay.

Liverpool played a more second-string set than the home side.

Brilliance met brilliance in the 38th minute, as Dimitri Payet struck a gorgeous dipping free kick over the wall only to see Mignolet get the slightest touch to help the ball crank off the goal post. Cheikhou Kouyate failed to scissor kick the rebound, and Mignolet flew back into the picture to parry Antonio’s header.

Antonio would get his glory next, as Enner Valencia took Payet’s pass and dribbled through the left side of the 18 and toward the end line before crossing the ball. Antonio let the ball sink to hip height before volleying home. 1-0, 45′.

There were three goal posts struck in the first half.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Coutinho scored on a clever free kick from the edge of the 18, betting on the wall jumping and cheekily rolling his shot under it and past Hammers keeper Darren Randolph.

Christian Benteke started and nearly finished a 56th minute chance inside the box, but his shot was blocked.

West Ham should’ve been awarded a penalty when Tiago Ilori pulled down Valencia in the box. Roger East didn’t see it that way.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or UEFA Champions League final a must ]

The match went to extra time after eight minutes of second-half stoppage time.

Mignolet made a solid flying stop on Mark Noble in the first frame of extra time. At the other end, Benteke struck a low chance wide of the right post. Moments later, Randolph came out to thwart Benteke on a breakaway.

If anyone needed a reminder of Daniel Sturridge‘s skill, the late sub let fly with a 108th minute bullet that missed the goal by inches.

Then Lucas Leiva gave up a free kick just as two minutes of extra time stoppage began, and Ogbonna struck.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Randolph, O’Brien (Moses, 83′), Reid (Collins, 64′), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate (Carroll, 76′), Noble, Obiang, Antonio, Valencia, Payet.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Flanagan, Stewart, Tiago Ilori, Smith, Teixeira (Origi, 60′), Lucas, Chirivella (Milner, 102′), Ibe, Benteke, Coutinho (Sturridge, 60′).

WATCH: Liverpool’s Coutinho bewitches West Ham with cheeky free kick

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores from a free-kick during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Philippe Coutinho has some gumption.

Liverpool’s Brazilian wizard tied things up with West Ham United in Tuesday’s FA Cup replay at the Boleyn Ground, and did it in style.

[ MORE: Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must ]

With a free kick from just outside the 18, Coutinho thought West Ham would expect he’d hit a ball that would get up quick before dipping after the wall.

They’d jump, he figured, and he’d roll it under the wall. He was correct (video courtesy Fox Soccer):

USWNT’s Solo says Zika fears could make her skip the Olympics

Hope Solo attends the premiere of "He Named Me Malala" at The Ziegfeld Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
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As it stands, Hope Solo would skip the Olympics if fears over the Zika virus don’t subside in Brazil.

It’s been speculated that Zika increases the odds of certain birth defects, and Solo said playing in the Olympics is not worth risking future pregnancies.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

With CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying heading to NBC Live Extra at 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday against Costa Rica (All games of the tournament will be streamed on Live Extra), Solo is set to star between the sticks for the USWNT.

But in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, the 34-year-old netminder is far from ready to commit to the tournament.

She went as far as to say she wouldn’t go if the tournament was today, elaborating in this story from SI.com:

“I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child,” said Solo, 34. “I don’t know when that day will come for Jerramy and me, but I personally reserve my right to have a healthy baby. No athlete competing in Rio should be faced with this dilemma. Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professional athletes don’t.”

Brazilian officials claim there will be minimal risk by the Summer Games because of the change in season, but that won’t alleviate all the concerns of female athletes. It will certainly be interesting to monitor how the situation develops in the coming months.

Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must

Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC
Brian Westerholt/AP Images for International Champions Cup
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is used to big matches, whether at Stamford Bridge, with the Belgian national team or during his loan to Atletico Madrid.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Courtois “standing tall” at Chelsea ]

If he doesn’t get one or two of those contests by the end of this season, a bad season will become an utter failure.

Courtois says it’s a long way to the Top Four, but Chelsea hasn’t given up on that hope. Regardless, he’s targeting wins over Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, respectively.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“After that we play in the Champions League and FA Cup against two great sides and we have to try to win those games because the only way to save our season is to reach the final in one or both of them.”

Chelsea’s star has fallen this year, but this is still largely the team that won the Premier League last season. Courtois’ goals are not unreasonable.