Spain: Diego Costa’s double and the $52 million that could decide La Liga

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo usually dominate La Liga’s scoring charts, but through 17 rounds of this season’s competition, a Brazilian-cum-Spaniard is setting the pace, scoring goals at a rate that would press a healthy Messi to keep up. But with the Argentine icon sidelined for Barcelona, it’s up to Ronaldo to challenge Atléitco Madrid’s Diego Costa for the Pichichi, a race the 25-year-old striker leads after two goals on Saturday. The brace gave Atleti a 3-2 win over visiting Levante, vaulting Costa to 18 goals on the season.

Costa, on to track to represent Spain in his native Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, gave Atlético their first lead in the 47th minute, beating Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the lower-left corner with a volley off Gabi’s restart. Thirty minutes later, converting a penalty conceded by Rubén García, Costa secured Atleti’s 15th win in 17 games, temporarily moving the colchoneros to the top of the Primera Division.

“He had another great game,” Atlético head coach Diego Simeone said after the game. “He continues to show that if the Ballon d’Or deadline had been extended a bit, he would probably have been in the fight for it.”

Barcelona would reclaim their league lead on Sunday, the Blaugrana’s 5-2 win at Getafe keeping Gerardo Martino’s team top on goal difference, but Costa would finish the weekend first on the league’s scoring chart. With Ronaldo only scoring once in Real Madrid’s 3-2 win at Valencia, Costa has a one-goal lead on the Pichichi favorite, Messi’s hamstring injury having opened the gate for a new champion.

If the tabloids are to be believed, however, Costa’s quest for the crown could end at some point next month. As all players in Spain do, the 25-year-old has a release clause, but because the two-time Brazilian international’s rise has been particularly steep, his clause doesn’t reflect his current value.

Whereas most release values are prohibitively high, Costa’s is just over $52 million. While that price prevents most from dreaming of swiping Costa, it may not prevent a team like Chelsea or Arsenal from unlocking that door in January. If Costa wants to pursue a huge payday, Atlético may not be able to stop him.

As Manchester United found out this summer, activating a release clause from beyond Spain’s borders can be tricky, but with Costa’s value having peaked while teams like Chelsea need a number nine, that $52 million could loom particularly large in two Spanish races. Not only could Costa’s quest for the Pichichi end if his release clause is triggered, but Atlético’s challenge of Barcelona could fade if its star elects to cash in on his newfound success.

source: Getty Images
Pedro Rodríguez’s eighth, ninth, and 10th goals of the season vault him to Barcelona’s team lead, with the defending Spanish champions winning 5-2 on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Barcelona, Real Madrid complete perfect weekend for top three

One day after Atlético had taken first place, Barcelona and Real Madrid did their parts to maintain pace, Spain’s traditional big two pushing the league’s title-contending trio forward with wins at Getafe and Valencia.

Barcelona dug a hole for themselves by conceding twice within 15 minutes in Madrid but fired back through Pedro Rodríguez by halftime. The Spanish international scored three times in 10 minutes to give Barcelona a lead going into the break, one Cesc Fábregas would build on with a second half brace. Matching Atlético’s 15-1-1 mark, Barcelona reclaimed first place, their +37 goal difference besting Atleti by two.

[MORE: Pedro hat-trick in nine minutes gives Barcleona comeback win]

In Sunday’s final match, Valencia pulled back two Real Madrid leads, Pablo Piatti answering Ángel Di María in the first half before Jeremy Mathieu rebuked Ronaldo in the second. Had Jesé given Los Che more than eight minutes to respond, El Real may have conceded again, but after a 3-2 win at the Mestalla, Carlo Ancelotti’s team stays within five of the top.

source: Getty Images
Christian Stuani scored twice as Espanyol went up four on Valladolid. (Photo: Getty Images)

Elsewhere

  • Elche 1-0 Malaga – Ignacio Camacho’s first goal since Jan. 16 had the visitors up after six minutes, a lead which became much easier to defend when Damián Suárez earned a second yellow in the 60th. The teams combined for four shots on goal.
  • Villarreal 1-2 Sevilla – One point in their last three means the honeymoon’s over for the Yellow Submarine, who fall to sixth after their loss on Saturday. Sevilla got goals from Cala and Carlos Bacca before being reduced to 10 after Cala’s 86th minute red card. Jérémy Perbet converted the ensuing penalty, but Villarreal still fell to their second straight loss.
  • Real Betis 0-1 Almeria – A winnable game for Betis turned into the cellar dwellers’ 11th loss of the season when they were unable to pullback Ramón Azeez’s fourth minute goal.
  • Espanyol 4-2 Valladolid – For the second time this season, Espanyol explodes for four, with goals on either side of halftime from Christian Stuani complemented by Sergio García’s fifth minute penalty conversion and Victor Sánchez’s second half tally. Once up 4-0, Espanyol conceded to Javi Guerra and Victor Pérez in the final 15 minutes.
  • Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Rayo Vallecano – Athletic have a four-point cushion ahead of fifth place Real Sociedad after Mikel Rico’s 66th minute goal broke a 1-1 tie, sending Ernesto Valverde’s team to their third win in four.
  • Celta Vigo 1-1 Osasuna – Coming off a disappointing 3-0 Monday loss at Valladolid, Luis Enrique’s team never found net, Lolo’s 34th minute own goal pulling back Emiliano’s Armenteros’s 17th minute opener for Osasuna.

Standings
(all teams have played 17 matches)

1. Barcelona, 46 pts.
2. Atlético Madrid, 46 pts.
3. Real Madrid, 41 pts.
4. Athletic Bilbao 33 pts.
5. Real Sociedad, 29 pts.
6. Villarreal, 28 pts.
7. Sevilla, 26 pts.
8. Getafe, 23 pts.
9. Espanyol, 22 pts.
10. Valencia, 20 pts.
11. Granada, 20 pts.
12. Levante, 20 pts.
13. Malaga, 20 pts.
14. Elche, 17 pts.
15. Celta Vigo, 16 pts.
16. Almeria, 16 pts.
17. Osasuna, 15 pts.
18. Valladolid, 15 pts.
19. Rayo Vallecano, 13 pts.
20. Real Betis, 10 pts.

3-time Champions League winner Valdes retires

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Victor Valdes was one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, proven in part by his three UEFA Champions League winner’s medals, and has reportedly called full-time on his footballing career at the age of 35.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Monday ]

Valdes, who joined Barcelona at the age of 10 and went on to win six La Liga titles and two Copas del Rey to go with the three Champions League triumphs during his time at the club, will launch his own television production company, as well as his own show. Valdes made more than 500 appearances for Barca, beginning his first-team career in 2002 before moving to Manchester United in 2014.

If not for his career running perfectly parallel to that of Iker Casillas, Valdes would have won far more than his 20 caps for Spain during any other era, though he does have 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winner’s medals. Valdes spent the 2016-17 Premier League season with Middlesbrough, starting 28 of 38 games during the club’s relegation season.

Watch, Stream live: Premier League TV schedule – Week 2

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With the 2017-18 Premier League season up and running, there is plenty coming your way in Week 2. Here’s how you can watch it all.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

Kicking things off the season on Saturday Manchester United head to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com)

Liverpool then host Crystal Palace at Anfield (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Jurgen Klopp‘s side will have to refocus after their UEFA Champions League first leg clash at Hoffenheim in midweek.

To round things off on Saturday Stoke City welcome Arsenal to the bet365 Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as the Potters aim to get yet another positive home result against the Gunners. Will Arsene Wenger‘s defense hold firm?

Sunday sees Huddersfield Town welcome Newcastle United to the John Smith’s Stadium (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) for their first-ever home game in the Premier League as two newly-promoted teams clash.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

Then comes the big one: Tottenham versus Chelsea at Wembley (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) in a huge London derby. With reigning champs Chelsea struggling along, Spurs will want to compound the misery of their London rivals.

Week 2 ends with a Monday night clash between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) between two of the biggest spending clubs this summer.

The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Brighton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Arsenal — NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
8:30 a.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Everton – NBCSN [STREAM]

Spurs’ first signing imminent? Wimmer out; Sanchez in

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Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly nearing completion of their first signing of the summer transfer window, as well as the club’s second departure from the first-team this summer.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

According to reports, Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez is pulling out all the stops in order to force a move away from the club, with Tottenham his no. 1 preferred destination. Up until a week ago, Sanchez had scarcely been linked with a move away from the Johan Cruijff Arena, but once word of Spurs’ interest (as well as that of a handful of other European giants) got out, Sanchez had already mentally moved on to the next phase of his career.

Despite being named in Ajax’s squad to face Rosenborg in Europa League qualification on Thursday, Sanchez is not with the squad at the team hotel and the club have refused to comment regarding his current location. The 21-year-old Colombian could cost Spurs as much as $50 million, though the ongoing saga could be seen as a ploy to reduce the price and faster facilitate a move.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

With one center back now expected to make his way to north London, another — Kevin Wimmer, Spurs’ de facto fourth center back behind Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier — is reportedly the subject of a $19-million bid from West Bromwich Albion.

Barcelona’s Suarez out for a month with knee injury

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The hits just keep on coming for Barcelona, the tiny, scrappy Spanish club that just can’t catch a break.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

In the last two weeks alone, the Blaugrana have lost Neymar, spent $47 million to sign Paulinho, failed to land a single one of their reported major transfer targets, and been embarrassed by Real Madrid (of all clubs) in the Supercopa de España.

One of the few remaining saving graces was the Lionel Messi-Luis Suarez partnership — two-thirds of the historically great MSN trio — which remained in place following Neymar’s departure. That won’t be the case for the next month, at least, after Suarez suffered an injury to his right knee in the second leg of the Supercopa on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

The Uruguayan Football Association announced on Thursday that Suarez will be sidelined for four to five weeks and miss for a pair of hugely important World Cup qualifiers against Argentina (Aug. 31) and Paraguay (Sept. 5). Uruguay currently sit third in CONMEBOL’s marathon 10-team qualification round, one point clear of Chile in fourth (automatic qualification) and Argentina in fifth (qualification playoff, versus Oceania).

As for Barca, Suarez’s injury means not only will the club be without arguably the world’s best striker of the last five years, but given the desperate situation they now find themselves in, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund should be expected to demand an additional $5 million or $10 million to land Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, respectively.