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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

How Sevilla hope to destroy the Madrid-Barca duopoly in Spain

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 15: Samir Nasri  (2ndR) of Sevilla FC celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates during the La Liga match between CD Leganes and Sevilla FC at Estadio Municipal de Butarque on October 15, 2016 in Leganes, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Sevilla’s ambitious hopes of becoming a La Liga contender are beginning to materialize.

With an inspired team not afraid of confronting the powerhouses, Sevilla has shown it’s ready to take the next step and seriously challenge Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

One game before the halfway mark in the Spanish league, the squad revitalized by coach Jorge Sampaoli is only a point behind leader Madrid, a team it defeated in impressive fashion on Sunday.

The come-from-behind 2-1 win came thanks to another gritty performance by Sampaoli’s team, which has mixed high-intensity defense and a fast-paced attack to impose its style against opponents, no matter how strong they are.

“A victory in a game like this allows us to remain optimistic and believe that this team can continue this run if we maintain this same determination,” Sampaoli said. “Time will tell if we can succeed.”

Sevilla’s win halted Madrid’s 40-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Sevilla had already come close to a victory midweek in the Copa del Rey, but it conceded two late goals in a 3-3 draw that led to its elimination. It lost the first leg the week before in Madrid 3-0.

“We had three difficult matches against Real Madrid and we were superior in two of them,” Sampaoli said. “We were able to beat a team that was unbeaten.”

[ MORE: PHOTO — Juventus unveil new logo, identity rebrand ]

Sevilla this season also defeated Atletico 1-0, drew at fifth-place Villarreal 0-0, and routed sixth-place Real Sociedad 4-0. It lost 2-1 to Barcelona in an encouraging display.

It has won six of its last seven league games, including four in a row. In front of its diehard fans at Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium, Sevilla has won eight of its nine games.

It lost the European Super Cup title to Madrid in extra time last year, and this season advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League, where it will face Leicester City in the Round of 16.

Sevilla has thrived in the lower-tiered Europa League, winning three straight titles, but its last Spanish league trophy was in 1946. The last time it finished second was in 1957.

It hasn’t had this much success in the league since 2007, when a squad that included Dani Alves and Frederic Kanoute fought for the title and eventually finished third behind Barcelona and champion Real Madrid. Sevilla led the competition after 18 matches that season, but with 37 points, two less than it has now.

Sevilla, the Copa del Rey winner in 2007 and 2010, also finished third in the league in 2009.

While Atletico Madrid made its way to the top thanks to the stout defense of coach Diego Simeone, Sampaoli’s Sevilla has been balancing a competitive defense with an effective offense led by players such as Samir Nasri, Victor “Vitolo” Machin, Wissam Ben Yedder, and Luciano Vietto.

[ MORE: PL Playback — One from six; who are the title favorites now? ]

It’s the first time since the winning campaign of 1956-57 that Sevilla has scored 38 goals in its first 18 league matches. Only Barcelona (47) and Madrid (46) have scored more this season.

“This team likes to play, it likes to attack,” said Stevan Jovetic, who scored the injury-time winner against Madrid on Sunday. “There is still a long way to go and we will be fighting against some top teams, but we will keep doing our thing and see where we can end up.”

Sampaoli, the Argentine coach who arrived with high expectations this season, has made a mark by successfully rotating players. Despite not having the same budget as Madrid or Barcelona, he has been able to make the most out of the squad put together by renowned sports director Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez.

But despite the recent success and all the hype surrounding Sevilla, president Jose Castro is trying to keep the club grounded.

“We are excited, we are one point behind Madrid, and one ahead of Barcelona,” Castro said. “We will try to win it all, but the goal is to secure a spot in the Champions (League). The Spanish league is for other teams with a bigger budget.”

Sevilla’s next game is at last-place Osasuna on Sunday.

Courtois: Chelsea can still win title without Costa

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on November 26, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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A week from now, Diego Costa may still be a Chelsea player; he may also very well be off to the Chinese Super League by then.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The beauty insanity of the transfer market — and a volatile figure like Costa, in particular — is that no one knows which path he’ll take. After being made to train on his own on Monday, the best anyone can tell you is, “It’s 50-50.”

There aren’t many sides in the world that could stand to lose the league’s top goal-scorer (14 goals in 19 appearances this season; Chelsea have played 21 games) and still win the league title, but Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois believes that the current Blues squad is one that could hold onto its seven-point lead with 17 games remaining — quotes from FourFourTwo:

“Of course we have enough quality to replace Diego. Diego is important for us, but if he’s not there for one game, we know we can handle it as well.

“Was this a message to our rivals? Yes, just to see Chelsea won 3-0 and that loss at Spurs didn’t affect us and we can play without Diego if need be. I think everybody hoped for us to drop points and we didn’t so that was very good.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Eden Hazard has chipped in with nine goals of his own this season — his performances have been bordering on brilliance at points — while Pedro and Willian each have five league goals to their name. 19 goals from three secondary-type scorers is what champions are made of, until you consider the only other true striker currently in the squad, 23-year-old Premier League newcomer Michy Batshuayi, has 1) made just 13 PL appearances (all as a substitute); 2) scored just once, all the way back in August.

Louis van Gone: Ex-Man United, Barca boss LvG retires from coaching

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21:  Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United celebrates after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t supposed to end like this for Louis Van Gaal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

In his mind, he probably imagine himself manager Manchester United for the duration of his three-year contract before riding off into the sunset after restoring the Red Devils as Premier League champions four months from now. At the very least, he’d agree to stay on one more season to complete a bit of unfinished business after narrowly missing out on the title in his third season in charge at Old Trafford.

Instead, he was fired last May, two days after lifting the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium, and has been out of a job ever since. Van Gaal’s unemployment will now continue for the rest of his days, as the 65-year-old announced on Monday that he has retired from coaching after 26 years at Ajax, Barcelona (twice), AZ Alkmaar, Netherlands (twice), Bayern Munich and Manchester United — quote from the BBC:

“I thought maybe I would stop, then I thought it would be a sabbatical, but now I do not think I will return to coaching.”

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

After the stress put upon his shoulders while at Man United, the last eight months must have felt like heaven to Van Gaal. Why on earth would anyone ever go back?

AFCON: DR Congo go top of Group C with win; Ivory Coast, Togo draw

Congo's Lomalisa Mutambala, right, with Morocco's Faycal Fajr, left, during their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Morocco at the Stade de Oyem in Oyem, Gabon, Monday Jan. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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A roundup of all of Monday’s action in the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations…

Ivory Coast 0-0 Togo

OYEM, Gabon (AP) Ivory Coast’s Europe-based stars stumbled in the heat of northern Gabon in their African Cup of Nations opener, with the defending champion held by Togo to 0-0 on Monday in another twist to start the tournament.

Ivory Coast’s title-winning coach fared worse as Congo beat Herve Renard’s Morocco 1-0 in the day’s second game.

Congo, a team that was on strike and refusing to train two days ago, finished with nine men on the field and on top of Group D.

Ivory Coast created few clear chances against Togo, with Wilfried Zaha‘s blocked shot in the second half after a clever run probably its best. Zaha was substituted two minutes later and, although Ivory Coast pressed hard in stages, it never broke open Togo’s well-drilled defense in the first game in Group C in the northern jungle town of Oyem.

Togo was competitive in the first half and had two good openings with around 10 minutes to go, when Kodjo Laba missed with a header from in front of goal and Mathieu Dossevi’s deflected shot dropped onto the roof of the net.

Four of the first six games at the African Cup have been draws, with Ivory Coast’s fellow title challenger, Algeria, held to 2-2 by Zimbabwe, a team that hasn’t qualified for the African Cup in over a decade. Also, host Gabon couldn’t beat outsider and tournament debutant Guinea-Bissau in the opening game.

“After Algeria-Zimbabwe and Gabon-Guinea-Bissau, we were very careful,” Ivory Coast coach Michel Dussuyer said. “But we still have two (group) matches so we are still confident.”

Togo even started better, and Dossevi was clear on goal in the 29th minute only for Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo to smother the chance.

Zaha was at the heart of Ivory Coast’s two best attacks, first in the first half when he sped down the right wing and sent across a dangerous low cross that was scrambled away. Then, in the 68th minute, he tricked his marker with a clever turn, cut inside, and hit a low shot that was headed to goal before two Togo defenders managed to get in the way.

Senegal and Congo are the only teams to win at the tournament.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

DR Congo 1-0 Morocco

Junior Kabananga got the winner for Congo in the 55th minute after a mistake from Morocco `keeper Monir el-Kajoui. Congo’s Lomalisa Mutambala was sent off for a wild tackle in the 81st and played the last six minutes of normal time plus six minutes of injury time with nine men when captain Gabriel Zakuani went off injured with all their substitutes used up.

Still, victory was a major mood-changer for Congo, whose players refused to train on Friday and Saturday, claiming they hadn’t been paid tournament bonuses. They also posted a video on social media during their strike, where they complained about their treatment.

On Monday, Morocco was the one frustrated: Midfielder M’Bark Boussoufa hit the crossbar in the second minute. Goalkeeper El-Kajoui tried to block a cross with his feet and managed only to divert the ball to Kabananga to score the winning goal. Then, substitutes Youssef En Nesyri and Youssef el-Arabi missed late chances.

Although Ivory Coast and later Renard failed their first tests at the tournament, the Stade d’Oyem held up despite a desperate race to be ready in time, which saw workers scrambling around the venue finishing all sorts of jobs on the day of the game. Television viewers won’t have seen the construction debris that surrounds the outside of the stadium, which juts out of dense jungle canopy around 15 kilometers outside of Oyem.

Even organizers couldn’t do anything about the heat during the opening match, though, with Togo coach Claude le Roy’s shirt covered in dark sweat patches after urging his team on to a promising draw against the defending champion Ivorians.

“It was very hot. We were sweating so much,” Le Roy said. “We did what it takes. We are satisfied with the draw.”

Tuesday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Uganda — 11 a.m. ET
Mali vs. Egypt — 2 p.m. ET