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

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.