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

Rio prosecutors launch probe into soccer final violence

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro launched an investigation Thursday into the fan violence surrounding the Copa Sudamericana final between local club Flamengo and Argentine team Independiente.

[ SOURCE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Geraldes of Sporting CP ]

Clashes broke out on the night before Wednesday’s match at Maracana Stadium, and continued throughout the day. There was vandalism inside the stadium during the match and violence afterward, with more than 50 Flamengo supporters being detained over the two days.

The Rio prosecutor’s office said in a statement it would be questioning officials at Brazil’s football confederation, South American soccer’s ruling body, CONMEBOL, and local police about the incidents.

The statement added that “a profound investigation of the facts is needed so we can identify and punish the criminals that disguised as fans to spread chaos, fear and disorder in society.”

Major Silvio Luiz, head of policing for the final, criticized Flamengo’s handling of ticket sales.

Flamengo drew the second-leg match 1-1, and lost the final 3-2 on aggregate. The Copa is the second most prestigious club competition in South American soccer.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Top Premier League storylines — Week 17

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The title is looking more and more like it’s heading to Manchester, so will Tottenham be able to slow the Premier League leaders on Saturday?

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

 

Here are the four biggest storylines ahead of this weekend’s action.

Can anyone stop the Cityzens?

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

Nobody has found a way to halt Pep Guardiola‘s side yet this season in PL play, so why would that change this weekend? City remain unbeaten through 17 matches, and while Spurs enter the weekend unbeaten in its last four, Mauricio Pochettino and Co. have their work cut out. The City attack, which has scored 52 goals this season, has shown no signs slowing down during the first four-and-a-half months of play, giving Tottenham a big test defensively. Harry Kane and his 12 goals will surely have a say in the get together, but Spurs has been lacking thus far in another go-to finisher.

Will the Toffees keep rolling under Big Sam?

Everton vs. Swansea City — 3 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

It’s been quite the turnaround recently at Goodison Park, and Everton has the chance to extend its unbeaten streak to six games on Monday. Sam Allardyce has brought life to the Toffees as of late, with Everton scoring 11 goals over the last five matches.

Foxes aim to climb higher, while Palace shoots for safety

Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace — 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Foxes have found their footing this season, and dare I say there are some glimpses of the team that won the title two years ago? Since Leicester’s 2-0 defeat to Man City, the Foxes have looked the part of a top-tier PL side, winning four of five matches, including victories over Tottenham and Burnley. Meanwhile, Palace has made the relegation battle a very intriguing one, as Roy Hodgson and Co. sit just a point inside the bottom three. Amazingly, Palace is unbeaten in seven of its last eight matches, but the club remains in 18th place.

Clarets aim for third consecutive victory

Brighton vs. Burnley — 10 a.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Gold (Watch online at NBCSports.com)

The Clarets don’t boast a bonafide goalscorer, but Burnley looks like a well-oiled machine as Sean Dyche‘s side sits on the edge of the top four. Although the side likely won’t be pulling off a Leicester-sided feat in 2017/18, what the Clarets are accomplishing is quite amazing given the squad currently in place. Brighton has gone through its share of struggles recently, going winless in its last six matches, and scoring just three goals in that span. They’ll likely have a hard time breaking past Burnley’s tough backline.

NYCFC busy on Thursday with Abdul-Salaam, Stuver additions

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New York City FC is moving on from the club’s first-ever MLS SuperDraft selection, but they’ll be acquiring a solid defensive piece as the team continues to rebuild at the back.

[ SOURCE: LAFC finalizing deal to make Sporting CP’s Geraldes third DP ]

On Thursday, NYCFC announced a trade sending former 2015 first-round pick Khiry Shelton to Sporting KC in exchange for defender Saad Abdul-Salaam.

Shelton, who spent three seasons with NYCFC, struggled to find playing time under manager Patrick Vieira, particularly once the organization drafted England youth international Jack Harrison in 2016.

Vieira and Co. will be getting back a player also selected in the 2015 SuperDraft in Abdul-Salaam.

With the departures of Ethan White, RJ Allen and Andraz Struna this offseason, the move certainly makes sense for NYCFC, who were severely lacking at the right back position heading into this week.

NYCFC signed Malmo defender Anton Tinnerholm on Wednesday to help improve the backline.

The Eastern Conference side also added goalkeeper Brad Stuver from the Columbus Crew on Thursday, with the 26-year-old presumably serving as the backup to Sean Johnson in 2018.