Copa del Rey: Diego Godín goal gives Atlético Madrid leg one edge on Athletic

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The phrase “typical performance” has become clichéd around these parts, thanks to yours truly. Today at the Vicente Calderón, however, Atlético Madrid gave what has become a typical Atleti performance. Eschewing glamour for efficiency, relying on execution instead of the spectacular, the Colchoneros took a 1-0 victory out of the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal, using a confident, controlling performance to take an edge ahead of next week’s second leg at Athletic in Bilbao.

Those descriptions — efficiency, execution, confident, controlling — have also become clichéd when applied to Diego Simeone’s team, a testament to the consistency by which Spain’s co-leaders have won their games. Losing once in all competitions this season, Atletico’s proved thin margins are not necessarily precarious ones. While the holders’ one-goal edge leaves Ernesto Valverde’s team within striking distance, they’ll have to make up that distance against a team accustomed to maximizing their margins.

That margin was crafted in the 41st minute on Thursday when a cross from the right from Koke met an onrushing Diego Godín. The Uruguay international met the ball just outside the six-yard box, hammering a header past Iago Herrín that proved to be the match-winner.

Holding their guests to one shot on target, Atlético were never in danger of giving up their lead despite ceding 56 percent of the match’s possession. That, however, has become a Atletico’s M.O., with the team averaging only 48.3 percent possession in La Liga this season. Having given up only 12 goals (in 20 games), however, Atleti have Spain’s best defense, one that kept Athletic from testing Thibaut Courtois over the match’s final 82 minutes.

The result completed a week of first leg wins for Copa’s quarterfinals favorites. Real Madrid began the round on Tuesday with a 1-0 win at Espanyol, while Barcelona and Real Sociedad recorded Wednesday wins over Levante and Racing Santander.

Atletico’s win leaves all four La Liga qualifiers for the 2013-14 UEFA Champions League in front ahead of next week’s second legs. Real Madrid host Espanyol on Tuesday, Barcelona and Athletic are at home on Wednesday, while Real Sociedad travel to Racing on Thursday.

Quarterfinal results (first legs)

Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 1
Real Sociedad 3, Racing Santander 1
Levante 1, Barcelona 4
Atlético Madrid 1, Athletic Club 0

Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win vs. Manchester United

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-0 on Sunday at the Emirates, as the Gunners ran riot after scoring three times in the opening 19 minutes.

[ MORE: Alexis’ stunner extends Gunners lead ]

Two stunning goals from Alexis Sanchez and another from the brilliant Mesut Ozil did the damage early on and the Gunners eased to victory as they moved into second placed in the Premier League standings.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Here’s a snippet of what we learned from Arsenal’s big win and United’s demoralizing defeat.


Much was written and said in the week about Arsene Wenger‘s side losing 3-2 to Olympiakos in the UEFA Champions League to leave their European dreams hanging by a thread. Not least about his decision to start David Opsina in place of Petr Cech. Wenger was close to walking out of his pre-match press conference on Friday as he was asked repeatedly about that decision and became a rather surely customer. Wenger’s mood will have been much different after the opening 19 minutes at the Emirates on Sunday as his side led United 3-0 with three flowing moves finished off ruthlessly. That’s not something you can usually say about the Gunners. They came racing out of the traps, dominating play with 76.5 percent of the ball in the opening 15 minutes. Sanchez and Ozil (more on the latter further down) were especially majestic, with the Chilean now scoring five times in his last two PL games as he’s finally recovered from his involvement in the Copa America over the summer which delayed his return to preseason for the Gunners. With Walcot running behind United’s defense, Sanchez and Ozil floated wide and cut inside to create havoc. Francis Coquelin‘s importance as a key cog in the Wenger machine cannot be underestimated, with the French midfielder nipping balls back to launch counter attacks and pushing high to engage United’s veteran central midfield duo of Bastian Schweinsteieger and Michael Carrick. Plus Cech’s return in goal saw him save from Anthony Martial at the end of the first half, plus he denied Wayne Rooney and Schweinsteieger in the second half. His importance to Arsenal also can’t be underestimated.

[ MORE: Standings | schedule | stats ] 

A word must also go to Walcott. Although he didn’t get on the scoresheet, the 26-year-old finally seems to have established himself as Arsenal’s first-choice central striker ahead of Olivier Giroud. He set up Ozil for his strike and was influential in stretching United’s dumbstruck defensive unit. In the second half he used his blistering pace to close down an opponent and the home fans rose to their feet to chant “THEO, THEO!” in a salute to his supreme workrate. Walcott was rewarded with a lucrative long-term deal over the summer and after almost 10 years with the Gunners, he’s finally turning into the player who can carry the weight of expectation on his shoulders.  Going into the international break, Arsenal is now two points behind first-place Manchester City and with a kind fixture list on the horizon (trips to Watford, Swansea, West Brom and Norwich away, plus home games against Tottenham and Everton), they look poised to battle with City for top spot between now and the festive period. The Gunners may be struggling in Europe, but they’ve rebounded well in the PL.


Just seven minutes into Sunday’s clash between “two title contenders,” Manchester United were found out. Specifically their makeshift backline. The Gunners ripped through United’s defense in the first half, with Sanchez scoring twice and Ozil’s strike sandwiched in-between. Arsenal’s front three of Sanchez, Walcott and Ozil tore United apart as Matteo Darmian‘s lack of pace was exposed — he was taken off by Louis Van Gaal at half time — on two of the opening three goals, plus Daley Blind let Ozil slide past him too easily to set up Sanchez for the first.

Playing a winger in Ashley Young at left back and a central midfielder in Blind at center back was always going to be found out eventually. In truth, this was United’s first big test of the season and van Gaal’s men failed miserably. Before their capitulation at Arsenal, the only game they had played against a team likely to finish in the top six was an under-strength Liverpool at home. United won that 3-1 but like most of their other wins this season, they looked far from convincing. Forwards Rooney, Memphis Depay and Martial had days to forget, but United’s biggest issue is at the back. With Luke Shaw out injured, Marcos Rojo not fancied, the same could be said for Phil Jones and LVG’s failure to bring in a top class center back in the transfer window (ahem, Nicolas Otamendi) United”s defense is devoid of pace and was unable to cope with the movement of Arsenal’s front line. We all know the Gunners can click and blow teams apart when everything slots into place, but this was a combination of United being poor and Arsenal being very, very good. United’s next three PL games will truly test their resolve and their quality, with a Manchester derby at Old Trafford against City sandwiched in-between two tough trips to Everton and high-flying Crystal Palace. If Louis van Gaal’s side can


With a deft flick early in the game to help set up an Arsenal attack, you got the sense that Ozil was in the right frame of mind on Sunday. When the enigmatic German international is on, he can rip teams apart. Central to Arsenal’s stunning opening 19 minute spell which yielded three goals, Ozil raced clear of Blind and clipped in a perfect ball to Sanchez to flick home the first. Moments later he then applied the coolest of finishes after Walcott set him up to make it 2-0 with seven minutes on the clock. The criticism of Ozil has often been that he can’t do it in the big games and he’s certainly struggled to consistently provide the goods in big moments in the past. In truth, like most of Arsenal’s players, he drifted through the second half but Ozil did the damage early and orchestrated a ruthless shaming of United’s defensive frailties.

Since his $60 million move from Real Madrid in September 2013, Ozil has both frustrated and excited Arsenal fans and neutrals. More often than not, the former. However, when he is allowed time on the ball and is ready to put on a show, Ozil is world class. There are few players able to see four or five plays ahead, but he’s one of them. When he’s tuned in he can destroy teams. Ask United, they found that out on Sunday as the one thing Wenger will crave from Ozil is more consistency from his talismanic playmaker. If he does, Ozil interchanging with the pace of Sanchez and Walcott is a frightening proposition for any PL defense to face. Going forward, this has to be Arsenal’s first-choice three in attack and if they click the way they did early on Sunday, talk of winning the title will swiftly return to the red half of north London.

Swansea 2-2 Tottenham: Eriksen free-kick double atones for Kane blooper

during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on October 4, 2015 in Swansea, Wales.
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  • Andre Ayew’s powerful header gave Swansea the opener
  • Christian Eriksen struck two brilliant free-kick goals
  • A Harry Kane own-goal left Spurs feeling unlucky

Tottenham will feel unlucky to be left without all three points thanks to a cringe-worthy own goal by Harry Kane, but a pair of free-kick goals from Christian Eriksen left Spurs feeling the better side and gave the visitors a 2-2 comeback draw at the Liberty Stadium.

Things started slowly, with Nacer Chadli‘s saved shot in the 12th minute the first real effort on goal, but the game would explode open with the opener just four minutes later.

Jefferson Montero collected the ball on the left edge of the box, and he chipped across the penalty area to Andre Ayew who generated shocking power with a thumping header into the far corner of the net for the game’s first goal and his fourth of the season. The goal is the first from open play for Swansea since August.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs began slowly moving themselves into the ascendency and would get a reward for their efforts. Dele Alli was chopped down by Federico Fernandez just outside the box, and Christian Eriksen immediately took ownership of the free-kick. The Danish attacker ripped his hit just over the wall, and with Lukasz Fabianski poorly guessing the wrong way, it settled into the back of the net to equalize on Eriksen’s first goal of the year.

It wouldn’t stay level for long. With Swansea pushing forward, a corner swung into the box but failed to get past the first man. Unfortunately for Spurs, that first man was Harry Kane, whose ugly, wayward touch found the wrong net and gave Swansea a stunning lead.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The second half saw slight chances for either side, but Christian Eriksen was the hero again for Spurs five minutes past the hour mark. Jonjo Shelvey gave away a free kick when he fouled Alli, and as Eriksen stepped up again, he struck his second, this time a brilliantly curling effort that Fabianski had no chance to stop.

[ MORE: Click here for full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs nearly had the winner but Andros Townsend shot right at the goalkeeper and Fabianski was nearly wrong-footed but he saved the bobbler with his foot. Late on Eric Dier picked up a yellow card with a late challenge on Andre Ayew, his fifth on the season which leaves him suspended for next week’s match.

The points are shared, leaving Spurs with 13 to go level with Everton, and Swansea pushes up to 10 to move above Watford in 11th on goal differential.