Spain roundup: Barcelona, Atlético draws bring Real Madrid within one of first

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Real Madrid started the new year a distant third in Spain, two draws and two losses in 17 games leaving Carlo Ancelotti’s team five points behind Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. Now, three games later, the Merengues have cut that gap to one, with Saturday’s match at Real Betis finally hinting at an ability to keep up with the competition.

Sitting in last place, the Verdiblancos wouldn’t normally be a good litmus test for a title aspirant, but with Real Madrid’s attack failing to get out of first gear since the calendar turned, Saturday’s style points were just as important as the bottom line. The team needed to prove their switch to a 4-3-3 formation could be a fruitful one, particularly after the set up failed to ignite fireworks against Espanyol and Osasuna.

On Saturday, however, those fireworks started after 10 minutes. That’s when Cristiano Ronaldo began an onslaught that would leave Real Madrid up 3-0 at halftime. Building on Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema’s goals, Ángel Di María scored just after the hour, with Álvaro Morata adding the final near full-time. For the first time since doing it back-to-back in November, los Blancos scored five times in a game, with five different goal scorers making this more than just a Ronaldo-led explosion.

On Sunday, Betis parted ways with head coach Juan Carlos Garrido, his dismissal highlighting the downward spiral being experienced in Seville. Still, this was Betis’s worst lost since visiting Atlético in late October, something that highlight’s Real Madrid’s performance. Although the Betícos have been poor, they’ve rarely been this bad. Real Madrid deserves credit for that.

source: APBarcelona, Atlético draw Real near

The big payoff for the Merengues came on Sunday when Barcelona and Atlético were unexpectedly tripped up. Dropping points for only the fourth time this season, Spain’s two front-runners brought El Real within a point of the top, with draws to Levante and Sevilla leaving each club on 51 points for the season.

Barcelona’s result was the slightly more one surprising, and not only because Levante entered the weekend in 12th place. Held scoreless after Gerard Piqué’s 19th minute equalizer pulled back Loukas Vyntra’s opener, the defending champions couldn’t take advantage of a team that’s allowed 27 goals in 19 rounds. Despite 74 percent possession and six shots on goal, the Blaugrana were left with a 1-1 draw, leaving the door open for Atlético to claim first place.

To walk through that door, however, the Colchoneros would have to beat a Sevilla side that hasn’t lost in league since Nov. 2. After 17 minutes, however, Atlético were on their way, getting an early opener from David Villa. For the next 55 minutes, the score would remain 1-0, but after Juanfran was whistled for a foul in the penalty area, Ivan Rakitic’s ninth goal of the season brought the teams back to even footing. Despite seeing Alberto Moreno red carded in the 89th minute, Sevilla would hold on for the 1-1 draw.

Barcelona’s result tempers the impact of Atlético’s disappointment, but having known at kickoff that their title rivals dropped points, Sunday’s game became a must win for Atleti – a rare chance to gain ground on a team that rarely drops points. Instead, Atlético stayed even with Barcelona, second place on goal difference. In the process, they helped rekindle Real Madrid’s title hopes.

Elsewhere in Spain

  • Málaga 0, Valencia 0 – First half opportunities settled into a second half stalemate as Bernd Schuster’s team creeped ever-closer to a relegation battle.
  • Elche 2, Rayo Vallecano 0 – Raúl Baena’s 18th minute red card allowed Edu Albácar to open the scoring from the spot, with Javier Márquez providing insurance in the 79th minute.
  • Granada 0, Osasuna 0 – The visitors failed to put a shot on target while Asier Riesgo kept all three Granada shots out, leaving both teams stuck in the middle of La Liga’s table.
  • Espanyol 1, Celta Vigo 0 – A game short on chances was decided two minutes from time when Sergio Garcia, with the match’s only clear opportunity, found a corner to give the Catalans their seventh win of the season.
  • Villarreal 2, Almeria 0 – The Yellow Submarine return to the top four on the back of goals from Ikechukuwu Uche and Bruno, the second coming from the spot in the 87th minute.

Others
Real Betis 0, Real Madrid 5
Levante 1, Barcelona 1
Atlético Madrid 1, Sevilla 1

Monday
Athletic Club vs. Real Valladolid

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 20 16 3 1 54 13 41 9-0-0 7-3-1 51
Atlético Madrid 20 16 3 1 48 12 36 9-2-0 7-1-1 51
Real Madrid 20 16 2 2 58 21 37 8-0-1 8-2-1 50
Villarreal 20 11 4 5 39 21 18 6-3-2 5-1-3 37
Athletic 19 11 3 5 32 24 8 8-2-0 3-1-5 36
Real Sociedad 20 9 6 5 38 30 8 6-2-1 3-4-4 33
Sevilla 20 8 7 5 37 31 6 5-2-2 3-5-3 31
Espanyol 20 7 4 9 23 25 -2 5-2-4 2-2-5 25
Valencia 20 7 3 10 26 31 -5 5-1-4 2-2-6 24
Granada 20 7 3 10 19 25 -6 3-1-7 4-2-3 24
Levante 20 6 6 8 19 28 -9 3-4-3 3-2-5 24
Getafe 20 7 3 10 22 33 -11 4-3-4 3-0-6 24
Osasuna 20 6 4 10 17 29 -12 3-2-4 3-2-6 22
Málaga 20 5 6 9 19 24 -5 4-1-5 1-5-4 21
Elche 20 5 6 9 19 28 -9 3-3-5 2-3-4 21
Celta Vigo 20 5 4 11 23 32 -9 2-4-4 3-0-7 19
Almería 20 5 4 11 21 40 -19 2-3-4 3-1-7 19
Valladolid 19 3 7 9 21 33 -12 2-4-3 1-3-6 16
Rayo Vallecano 20 5 1 14 19 47 -28 2-0-7 3-1-7 16
Betis 20 2 5 13 16 43 -27 2-3-6 0-2-7 11

Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace: Benteke haunts Klopp

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  • Palace win third-straight at Anfield
  • Christian Benteke scores twice
  • Liverpool slip up in top four race
  • Eagles 7 points above drop zone

Crystal Palace stunned Liverpool at Anfield once again on Sunday as the Eagles fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 and added to their recent impressive wins against Arsenal and Chelsea.

Phillipe Coutinho gave Liverpool the lead with a stunning free kick but just before half time Christian Benteke made it 1-1 and then the former Liverpool striker headed home in the second half to give Palace a precious three points.

With the win the Eagles are on 38 points and move up to 12th place as they surge away from the relegation zone, while Liverpool remain on 66 points and can feel Manchester City and Manchester United breathing down their neck in the race for the top four.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Liverpool started the game well but found it tough to break down a stubborn Palace defense and the Eagles always looked dangerous on the break.

One of their breaks saw the ball drop to Benteke but the former Liverpool dragged his effort wide of the post after beating two players.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Coutinho soon had Liverpool ahead as the Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick for his 10th Premier League goal of the season. 1-0 to the Reds.

Just before half time Palace were level as sloppy defending let in Yohan Cabaye and his perfect cross was tapped home by Benteke against his former club. 1-1. Benteke had another shot on target before half time but Simon Mignolet saved as Palace were buoyed by their equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the second half Coutinho danced free on the edge of the box but smashed an effort way over as Palace sat in deep and frustrated Liverpool’s attack.

Palace threatened at the other end from set pieces and Benteke caused mayhem in the 71st minute but Cabaye smashed an effort over the bar with the goal gaping.

Moments later Benteke put Palace ahead as Andros Townsend‘s corner from the right missed everyone and the Belgian nodded home his second goal of the game. 2-1 to the Eagles.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Late on Liverpool pushed hard for the equalizer but Palace held on for their third-straight win at Anfield and all but secured their Premier League status for another season.

Arsenal 2-1 Man City: Gunners reach FA Cup final

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Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 after extra time at Wembley on Sunday as Arsene Wenger got the better of Pep Guardiola to set up an FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Sergio Aguero put City ahead in the second half but Nacho Monreal equalized in normal time and then Alexis Sanchez scored the winning goal in extra time to seal the Gunners spot in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley.

It will be an all-London affair in the FA Cup final and it could perhaps be Wenger’s final game in charge.

[ MORE: Full FA Cup schedule ] 

Aguero went close early but made a mess of a patient build up play and David Silva‘s header was pushed over by Petr Cech, while Arsenal had the ball in the net at the other end but Laurent Koscielny was offside as he flicked the ball past Claudio Bravo.

City were forced into an early change as Silva limped off after a collision and Raheem Sterling came on and soon after Aguero went down in the box under a challenge from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but referee Craig Pawson waved away the appeals.

Aguero slammed a shot into the side-netting as half time approached with City controlling the possession but failing to break through. A huge moment of controversy arrived five minutes before half time as Leroy Sane’s cross was flagged to have gone out of play as Aguero and then Sterling both finished but replays showed it had stayed in.

A huge let-off for Arsenal and right on half time they could’ve had a penalty kick as Jesus Navas bundled over Sanchez in the box.

In the second half it was Arsenal who put City under pressure as Fernandinho gave the ball away on the edge of the box and Olivier Giroud‘s effort was blocked by Nicolas Otamendi.

Moments later City were 1-0 up as Aaron Ramsey was robbed by Yaya Toure and Aguero raced free from Monreal and dinked home to put City ahead. The goal was Aguero’s fifth in as many FA Cup appearances this season and with 12 goals in his last 12 games he now has 166 for City, taking him to tied second on their all-time list of scorers.

Mesut Ozil flashed an effort just wide of the post after City went ahead as the Gunners continued to push forward in pursuit of an equalizer.

The leveler arrived with less than 20 minutes to go as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine cross from the right found Monreal at the back post and the Spanish left back nonchalantly smashed home with the outside of his right foot. 1-1. Game on.

Moments later Toure’s stunning volley was superbly saved by the fingertips of Cech as the ball hit the post and came out and soon after Fernandinho’s header cannoned off the bar as City pushed hard for a late winner.

Substitute Danny Welbeck went so close to snatching the win for Arsenal in normal time but the former Manchester United striker lashed an effort inches wide of the far post after breaking free.

In extra time it was Arsenal who could’ve gone 2-1 up as Rob Holding headed over the bar from close range. Soon after Sanchez did put Arsenal ahead as Welbeck missed his kick but Sanchez controlled and finished clinically to make it 2-1.

At the other end Sterling’s cross was cleared by Holding and the sub was subbed at the half time of extra time with Kelechi Iheanacho coming on as City’s fourth substitute as the new FA rules were used.

Fabian Delph, another sub, was put in by Kevin De Bruyne in the 110th minute but Hector Bellerin deflected his effort wide at the crucial moment then De Bruyne flashed an effort just wide as City poured forward for an equalizer.

In the end Arsenal held on to seal a third FA Cup final appearance in the last four seasons.

VIDEO: Coutinho curls home stunning free kick

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Philippe Coutinho was at it again at Anfield on Sunday.

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The Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick in the first half to put Liverpool 1-0 up against Crystal Palace.

Click play on the video above to watch his 10th Premier League goal of the season as Wayne Hennessey couldn’t get close to it.

How Martial’s goal cost United $10.8 million; Pogba injury update

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You could perhaps forgive Manchester United’s hierarchy for not celebrating Anthony Martial‘s goal against Burnley with the usually zest…

[ MORE: United see off Burnley ]

That’s because Martial’s strike in the 2-0 victory at Turf Moor on Sunday was his 25th for United.

‘So what?’ you might be asking. Well, when Martial arrived at Old Trafford as a teenager in the summer of 2015 his transfer from AS Monaco was heavily incentivized with documents leaked in recent weeks showing many clauses in place which could see the deal rise to over $80 million over the years.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Monaco are now owed an extra $10.8 million with Martial scoring his 25th goal for United and it was just his eighth goal of the season as he’s mostly been used as a sub by Jose Mourinho.

If Martial reaches 25 caps for the French national team before 2019 while at United (he’s currently on 15) Monaco will get another $10.8 million and if he wins the Ballon d’Or before 2019 Monaco will also get another $10.8 million.

That’s some deal for the Ligue 1 side but Martial will be playing a lot more games in the coming weeks with Zlatan Ibrahimovic out for the season with a horror knee injury.

Staying in United news, and finances, the most expensive player on the planet, Paul Pogba, hobbled off towards the end of the victory.

Speaking after the game Mourinho confirmed that he’s “not sure” if Pogba will play against Manchester City on Thursday and singled out the displays of Eric Bailly and Pogba after both had played the full 120 minutes against Anderlecht on Thursday.

“We wanted Anthony Martial to get behind as he’s faster, and he did well. But I can’t choose an individual performance as they all did well,” Mourinho said. “Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly get a mention after two hours of football against Anderlecht.”

United will be sweating on the fitness of Pogba ahead of the monster clash against City as United’s win means they’re now just one point and one place behind their crosstown rivals who occupy the final UEFA Champions League spot in the Premier League standings.