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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.

Premier League Preview: Arsenal vs. Norwich City

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal and Johan Elmander of Norwich City compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on May 11, 2014 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Arsenal is unbeaten in last six matches
  • Teams drew 1-1 back in November
  • Norwich has lost two straight

Arsenal hosts Norwich City on Saturday at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) with the Canaries seeking life in their relegation battle.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

Three matches remain and Arsenal sits in a precarious position, despite occupying third in the Premier League. Level on 64 points with Manchester City, the Gunners are in search of three points in order to create separation in the battle for the final automatic Champions League qualification spot. In the event Arsenal finishes fourth, Arsene Wenger‘s side would have to go through qualifying in the competition.

[ MORE: Sunderland travels to Stoke looking to extend unbeaten run to three ]

The Canaries have lost two straight to bottom half sides, following a thrilling 3-2 victory over Newcastle in early-April. With only three wins to back them up in the new year, Norwich really needs to turn up the dial as the PL season winds down. Sunderland’s form has increased and a string of Newcastle results has Norwich scrambling. Being on the road at the Emirates doesn’t necessarily help their case either.

What they’re saying…

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “I have no doubt because I am committed and when I do something I do it 100%. I am always committed to give my best as long as I am at the club. I don’t worry too much about the rest, what other people say.”

Norwich boss Alex Neil : “The bottom line is we have to go there with the intention of bringing something back, be it three points, which would be great, or a point. Whatever the case may be. We just want to go there and play as well as we can, and if we do that then we have a chance against them.”

Prediction

It’s quite simple. Norwich needs a victory, and as much as they have shown this season, it simply doesn’t seem like they have enough to complete the task. Arsenal wins 2-0, a massive gut-punch to the Canaries with three games to play.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Sunderland

during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Sunderland at Carrow Road on April 16, 2016 in Norwich, England.
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  • Stoke is winless in last four matches
  • Four points in two games have Sunderland in 17th

Stoke City hosts Sunderland on Saturday from the Britannia Stadium as the Black Cats look to stay afloat in the Premier League (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

With Stoke sitting in the midst of mediocrity this season, Mark Hughes and his side have very little to play for when they meet Sunderland. Hughes’ men have allowed 12 goals in the past three matches, while only a single finish themselves. Despite boasting powerful names like Marko ArnautovicXherdan Shaqiri and U.S. National Team defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron, the Potters have certainly underachieved and Sunderland will look to capitalize.

[ MORE: PST discusses Leicester’s success and how they got here ]

Sunderland has caught a bit of a hot streak over recent weeks, pulling off key results against Norwich City and Arsenal. Striker Jermaine Defoe has been a savior for the Black Cats, posting 13 goals on the season for a side that has only mustered up 39 as a team. With Sunderland lumped together with Norwich and Newcastle in the relegation battle, Sam Allardyce and his squad need a result to keep momentum rolling forward.

What they’re saying

Stoke City manager Mark Hughes: “I’m not one to hide behind injuries – I’ve never done that – but the reality is that we haven’t been at our best form because maybe key individuals aren’t available and we’ve had to make changes within games at times.”

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “We are in good form at the moment… but I would expect Mark will have Stoke really revved up and he will want to stop this very poor run of performances. But I do hope they’re as bad as they have been in the last three games!”

Prediction

While Stoke may be playing for a top-half finish this season, the pressure remains firmly on Sunderland with four games left to play. Last week’s 0-0 draw against Arsenal has the Black Cats believing they can stay up next season, and I believe they’ll put out a result on the road. The two sides will finish in a 1-1 draw, leaving Sunderland fans to turn to Crystal Palace-Newcastle and Arsenal-Norwich.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

VIDEO: Previews of every Premier League game – Week 36

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23:  Louis van Gaal manager of Manchester United celebrates with winning goalscorer Anthony Martial of Manchester United after victory in The Emirates FA Cup semi final match between Everton and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on April 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Week 36 is a huge one in the Premier League.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 storylines

Leicester City can win the title, the top four race is intense, there’s a scramble for the top six and the relegation battle is stressing fans out.

Everything is on the line with three weeks of the season to go. This is magic.

[ MORE: Week 36 TV schedule

So, let’s take a look at each game this weekend with previews of all of them below.


Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA Network) – [STREAM]

Arsenal vs. Norwich City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Manchester United vs. Leicester City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Swansea City vs. Liverpool – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Stoke City vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom vs. West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton vs. Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton vs. Manchester City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford vs. Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: This is it, don’t get scared

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur is challenged by Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Week 36 of the Premier League season is here and we have a full slate of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 storylines

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Newcastle United 2-0 Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA Network) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-1 Norwich City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Manchester United 2-1 Leicester City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Swansea City 1-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 1-1 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton 2-1 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Southampton 3-1 Manchester City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]