Real Madrid cruise at Osasuna, advance in Copa del Rey

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Real Madrid never seemed to leave first gear. Then again, first gear was always going to be enough, particularly when a pair of weak hands from Osasuna goalkeeper Andrés quickly dispelled any notions the hosts could mount a comeback. Doubling the 2-0 lead they carried into today’s second leg, los Blancos used goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Ángel Di María to cruise into Copa del Rey’s quarterfinals, the 4-0 aggregate final setting up a final eight matchup with Espanyol.

The Catalan club secured their spot in the next round with a 4-2 win Wednesday against Alcorcón, reversing the 1-0 loss they suffered on the road in leg one. The first leg of their quarterfinal against El Real will take place next Wednesday, with a semifinal berth to be decided on Jan. 29.

Despite their two-goal lead, Real Madrid started a relatively strong team, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Xabi Alonso all featuring in Carlo Ancelotti’s starting XI. The inclusions of Jesé, Aiser Illarremendi, and Iker Casillas, however, did give some regulars a chance to rest, with the choice of left back Fabio Coentrão marking the Portuguese international’s first appearance since Nov. 2.

The bigger lineup news was Ancelotti’s continued use of the 4-3-3 formation he deployed this weekend at Espanyol. Ángel Di María was again in midfield with Alonso, with Illarremendi taking Luka Modric’s place in the middle trio. Instead of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale joining Ronaldo in attack, Isco became the center piece as a false nine, with Jesé playing wide in front of right back Álvaro Arbeloa. For the second match in a row, Real Madrid showed they may be moving away from a  4-2-3-1 they’ve used since shortly after José Mourinho’s arrival in the Spanish capital.

The results, however, were little different from the team’s weekend match in Catalonia, where a set piece produced Real Madrid’s only goal in a 1-0 victory. On Wednesday, a Merengues team that split possession with their hosts needed a goalkeeping error to put them in front, with Andrés allowing a Cristiano Ronaldo shot to go off his hands, through his legs, and into goal for the 21st minute opener.

Early in the second half, Real Madrid increased their overall lead to four, with Ángel Di María transcending recent controversy to record the tie’s final goal. Off a 56th minute ball cutback from the right by Jesé, the Argentine midfielder one-timed a shot into the right of Andrés’s net, giving the visitors the 2-0 (4-0) lead they’d carry to full-time.

The match’s final 30 minutes played out with the same sense of inevitability that characterized the first hour, with neither team giving us reason to think Real Madrid weren’t going through. Come full-time, los Blancos had confirmed their place in the final eight despite making progress with their new approach.

That system will get another dry run on Saturday when El Real visits last place Real Betis in league action. Then, it’s Espanyol again, with Copa’s semifinals set to begin next week.

Elsewhere in Copa


Racing Santander 2-0 (3-1) Almería
Atlético Madrid 2-0 (3-1) Valencia


Espanyol 4-2 (4-3) Alcorcón
Athletic Club 2-0 (2-1) Real Betis
Levante 1-0 (1-0) Rayo Vallecano
Osasuna 0-2 (0-4) Real Madrid


Getafe (0-4) Barcelona
Villarreal (0-0) Real Sociedad


Levante vs Getafe/Barcelona
Real Sociedad/Villarreal vs. Racing Santander
Espanyol vs. Real Madrid
Atlético Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.