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Spain weekend roundup: Takeaways from another Atlético Madrid-Barcelona stalemate

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For some, Saturday’s showdown was anticlimactic, the anticipation leading into the Atlético Madrid-Barcelona showdown failing to translate into the 0-0 final. With both teams dropping points for only the third time,  nothing changed at the top of the Primera División, even if Real Madrid was able to gain two points with their Sunday win at Espanyol. For the third time this season, Atlético and Barça were deadlocked after 90 minutes, slightly increasing the likelihood only goal difference the teams after 38 rounds.

[MORE: Leo Messi can’t quite find the magic; Barcelona and Atletico fight to scoreless draw]

At La Liga’s half-way mark — after a match that was supposed to identify Spain’s favorites — we still haven’t learned which team is better than the other. Saturday’s stalemate did, however, reveal a number of other, smaller things about the Primera’s title race:

1. 270 wasn’t enough – 1-1, 0-0, 0-0. Not only have these teams produced three draws in their 2013-14 meetings (the first two in August’s Spanish Supercopa), but neither side has scored in 204 minutes. At what point do we throw our hands up and say “these teams are equal,” acknowledging any potential goals represent the variance, not a true difference in quality?

We probably aren’t there yet, but if you saw a meaningful difference in Atlético and Barcelona on Saturday, you’re either a.) a fan of one of those teams, or b.) somebody I could really learn something from, because three matches into these teams’ 2013-14 series, there’s no way to tell who’s better.

2. Missed chance for Atleti Even if you think these teams are equal, you can argue Atlético should have done more at home. Being drawn by Barcelona could be seen as dropping points the Blaugrana are likely to build on at home on May 17.

Diego Simeone, however, didn’t seem to agree. At least, judging by his approach, he was fine playing out Saturday’s game to its logical conclusion. Like his counterpart (Gerardo Martino), he never had his team deviate from its game plan, either confident in its ability to break through or unwilling to risk a failure that could give their opponents two more valuable points.

With 19 matches left in the season, with every point so valuable between two teams that will push 100 points this season, that may not have been a risk either coach was willing to take. Whether Simeone comes to regret that will be determined in Catalonia.

3. Another lesson on possession – Barcelona had 69 percent of the ball. They controlled the game, right? No. Atlético’s work and pressure were just as important to how the game played out. Both teams finished with two shots on goal. Neither team looked close to taking the game from the other. Possession was incidental to the result.

4. Set pieces should have meant more for Atlético – Defending set pieces, Barcelona really only have one person capable of marking a significant opposing threat. Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves can try, but it’s Gerard Piqué little else until Carles Puyol returns.

Atlético, on the other hand, have six players within two centimeters of six feet tall, and on Saturday, they won seven corners and three free kicks in the Barcelona half. Yet come full-time, they’d failed to capitalize on any of them, giving those claiming Atlético should have done some fodder.

source: Getty Images5. Gerard Piqué reminded people of his value – Even the world’s best defenders have their detractors. It’s too easy to watch a player on a bad day, see a couple of mistakes, and pass judgment. To a certain degree, that’s the nature of defending, but over the past two years, Gerard Piqué (right) seems to have accumulated more detractors than most. Having to carry the defense in the absences of Carles Puyol, the Spanish international has occasionally faltered.

Saturday was not one of those times. Often isolated on Diego Costa, Piqué was the main reason one of Spain’s leading goal scorers was kept quiet. As best seen on the first half ball that forced Piqué to track Costa into the right channel, Barcelona’s center half seemed a step ahead of his marks, quick to read plays and beat his opponents spots while helping keep flack off Víctor Valdés.

On that play (and on a similar read to his right in the second half), Piqué’s positioning left Costa with a series of low percentage options, both times preventing a shot from testing his keeper.

6. Javier Mascherano continues to be a gamble – This:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtLPHi8T63E]

Let’s set aside the debate as to whether that could have been red, yellow, or nothing (it wasn’t a booking on Saturday). Why does Javier Mascherano continue to put himself in positions to turn games … in a bad way?

Two-footed, going straight into his man, the only thing that saved Mascherano on that play was Arda Turan being so close at the time he committed. Even then, the foul could have seriously hurt the Atlético midfielder, had Mascherano made contact. Once the Barça defender’s feet go out from under him, he loses all influence over whether that contact happens or not.

To paraphrase Charlie Murphy, Mascherano continues to be a habitual dice-roller. Often, you get a quality player who provides a midfielder’s skills in defense. Sometimes, and more often than most players, he takes unjustifiable chances.

Another official may have had Barça playing with 10 for Saturday’s final half-hour.

7. Barcelona is more than Messi, Neymar – When neither Lionel Messi nor Neymar started against Getafe mid-week, it seemed a long shot they’d go 90 against Atlético. Yet given the stakes, many wondered if Tata Martino would still take a chance. When Barça’s South America duo started the game on the bench, people both understood and respected the other gamble he was taking – keeping his best attackers on the bench.

The 0-0 scoreline gives cynics reason to criticize the move, but the silver lining speaks to the quality of Messi and Neymar’s teammates. On the road, against one of the best teams in Europe, and without their two most-talented attackers, the Blaugrana were still able to get a result, one that keeps them at the top of the table. And while this two may have been able to snag additional points for Barcelona, Martino was able to respect their recoveries while keeping his team in first.

8. Atleti better get scoring goals – If Saturday was an indication Barcelona and Atlético may finish this season tied on top, Diego Simeone’s team needs to start scoring goals. They’re five back on goal difference, the likely tiebreaker (if the teams end up even). If Atlético going to claim their unlikely crown, they may need to out-score their more-prolific opposition.

To date, Atleti have allowed 11 goals this season. Barcelona’s allowed 12. Even if Atlético try to make up the five-goal difference by conceding less, there isn’t much room for improvement in that column.

Odds are to catch Barcelona, they’re going to have to be a little more like Barcelona. Barça have scored 53 times so far this year. Atlético (47) need to catch up.

source:  9. Real Madrid was the ‘real winner’ – The instant, post-match analysis was unanimous: Real Madrid were the real winners on Saturday, even if they didn’t play until Sunday. Once they beat Espanyol, however, los Blancos were back within three points of this season’s big two. According to the standings, we have a three-team race.

At the same time, we can’t ignore what we saw from Real Madrid. Failing to score from open play against the league’s 12th-placed team, El Real are still playing like the Spain’s third-best team, and with Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso holding down the middle, it’s not difficult to imagine where Spain’s leaders will be able to given the Merengues problems.

By the math, Real Madrid did “win” this weekend, but seeing how Spain’s top-three performed, there was no change in the power dynamics at the top of the table. La Liga still has two main contenders for the title, with a sleeping giant given extra time to show they can make this a three-team race.

Elsewhere

  • Granada 4, Valladolid 0 – Two goals from Recio left Valladolid in the bottom three come at the end of the weekend, with goals from Jeison Murillo and Youssef El-Arabi piling on to drive Lucas Alcaraz’s team 10th.
  • Athletic Bilbao 6, Almeria 1 – Bouncing back from last week’s loss to Real Sociedad, Athletic got two goals from Ibai Gómez after Mikei Rico, Ander Herrera, Aymeric Laporte, and Artiz Aduriz had already put the game out of reach.
  • Celta Vigo 2, Valencia 1 – A second half brace from Charles reversed Daniel Parejo’s opening goal, ending Celta’s three-match winless run.
  • Elche 1, Sevilla 1 – Christian Herrera’s 82nd minute goal seemed to give Elche its upset, but one minute before full-time, Daniel Carriço equalized, carrying Sevilla’s unbeaten run to seven in league.
  • Getafe 0, Real Vallecano 1 – Alberto Bueno’s 29th minute goal held up as Rubén Martínez’s five saves helped keep Getafe off the scoresheet.
  • Real Betis 1, Osasuna 2 – Nono’s second booking left Real Betis down a man and a goal in the 38th minute. A second half own goal from Jordi Figueras put the game away before Jorge Molina got the home side on the board late.
  • Levante 1, Málaga 0 – Bernd Schuster’s team spent 71 minutes chasing David Berral’s opener, putting up 22 shots along the way. Six saves from Keylor Navas, however, delivered Levante’s sixth win of the season, Málaga now losers of two in a row.

Others
Atlético Madrid 0, Barcelona 0
Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 1

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 19 16 2 1 53 12 41 9-0-0 7-2-1 50
Atlético Madrid 19 16 2 1 47 11 36 9-1-0 7-1-1 50
Real Madrid 19 15 2 2 53 21 32 8-0-1 7-2-1 47
Athletic 19 11 3 5 32 24 8 8-2-0 3-1-5 36
Real Sociedad 18 9 5 4 35 23 12 6-2-1 3-3-3 32
Villarreal 18 9 4 5 32 20 12 4-3-2 5-1-3 31
Sevilla 19 8 6 5 36 30 6 5-2-2 3-4-3 30
Valencia 19 7 2 10 26 31 -5 5-1-4 2-1-6 23
Granada 19 7 2 10 19 25 -6 3-0-7 4-2-3 23
Levante 19 6 5 8 18 27 -9 3-3-3 3-2-5 23
Getafe 19 7 2 10 20 31 -11 4-2-4 3-0-6 23
Espanyol 19 6 4 9 22 25 -3 4-2-4 2-2-5 22
Osasuna 19 6 3 10 17 29 -12 3-2-4 3-1-6 21
Málaga 19 5 5 9 19 24 -5 4-0-5 1-5-4 20
Celta Vigo 19 5 4 10 23 31 -8 2-4-4 3-0-6 19
Almería 19 5 4 10 21 38 -17 2-3-4 3-1-6 19
Elche 19 4 6 9 17 28 -11 2-3-5 2-3-4 18
Valladolid 19 3 7 9 21 33 -12 2-4-3 1-3-6 16
Rayo Vallecano 19 5 1 13 19 45 -26 2-0-7 3-1-6 16
Betis 19 2 5 12 16 38 -22 2-3-5 0-2-7 11

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

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

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.