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Spain roundup: Business as usual as top three post multi-goal victories

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The top of La Liga’s table remains unchanged, though for one day, Madridistas were allowed to indulge last week’s speculation Real Madrid had become title favorites. With their 2-0 win at home on Saturday against Granada, Carlo Ancelotti’s team temporary captured first place in Spain, and whilea  scoreless first half further the impression El Real’s still more promise than product, their 53 points briefly put that promise at the top of the table.

Barcelona and Atlético Madrid corrected that on Sunday. In the day’s finale, Barcelona’s attacking three (Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodríguez, Alexis Sánchez) combined for two goals and three assists, pushing Málaga within two points of the drop with a 3-0 win at the Nou Camp. Two hours early, Atlético had completed their win at relegation-embattled Rayo Vallecano, with Arda Turan’s (pictured) double fueling a 4-2 win in Vallecas. The results left Spain’s two favorites atop the Primera División with 54 points, only goal difference slotting Barcelona ahead of Atleti.

For some, Real Madrid has become the favorite, having already visited the Nou Camp earlier this season. Because the year’s second Clasico is at the Bernabéú, the Merengues have to be favorite to pass Barcelona. And if they’re good enough to move ahead of Barcelona, they’re certainly good enough to beat out Atlético Madrid.

The problem is that “good enough” part. At no point this year has Real Madrid been on the same level as Barcelona and Atlético. It was evident in their 2-1 loss at the Nou Camp. It was evident when they lost 1-0 at home to Atlético. For all of their talent and prestige, Real Madrid  have never been the equal of their two title rivals. Whether you judged by overall record, head-to-head results, or the eye test, los Blancos have been the third of three.

That impression was reinforced this weekend despite the Merengues temporarily going first. While Atlético were pouncing on Rayo and Barcelona bursting past Málaga, Real was again struggling to translate their edge in talent onto the scoresheet.

They have a little over a month until they visit the Calderón. Over the next six weeks, something could click. If it does, Real Madrid could very well claim their second title in three years. They aren’t that far away from playing to their potential, a potential they flashed last week.

Right now, however, what we see with our eyes reinforces what we’ve seen in the results, what we see in the standings. Real Madrid are contenders – strong ones, at that. But they’re not favorites. The favorites remain tied at the top.

Elsewhere

  • Celta Vigo 4, Real Betis 2 – After giving up five goals last week to Real Madrid (and firing head coach Juan Carlos Garrido), Betis give up four to a team that was averaging just over a goal per game. The Verdiblancos are 10 points back of safety.
  • Valladolid 1, Villarreal 0 – Jesús Rueda’s 40th minute goal was enough to pull Valladolid within two points of 17th. In the process, the Yellow Submarine fall five points back of the last Champions League spot.
  • Valencia 2, Espanyol 2 – Espanyol’s only two shots on goal helped send the game into halftime even, a scoreless second half keeping the teams within a point of each other in the middle of Spain’s standings.
  • Sevilla 2, Levante 3 – Keylor Navas’s stellar form continued as the Costa Rican goalkeeper held Sevilla despite the home side’s 28-7 eye in shots (10-6, shots on goal). The performance bought time for late goals from Loukas Vyntra and Simão to steal full points for Levante, with Sevilla’s eight-game unbeaten run ending in surprising fashion.
  • Almeria 1, Getafe 0 – Jonathan’s goal four minutes after halftime vaults Almeria three points clear of the drop, with Getafe’s winless streak reaching seven games.
  • Osasuna 1, Athletic Club 5 – The weekend’s biggest win saw two goals from Aritz Aduriz combine with single goals from Markel Susaeta, Ibai Gómez, and Kike Sola, strengthening the Lions’ hold on fourth.

Others
Real Madrid 2, Granada 0
Rayo Vallecano 2, Atlético Madrid 4
Barcelona 3, Málaga 0

Monday
Real Sociedad vs. Elche

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 21 17 3 1 57 13 44 10-0-0 7-3-1 54
Atlético Madrid 21 17 3 1 52 14 38 9-2-0 8-1-1 54
Real Madrid 21 17 2 2 60 21 39 9-0-1 8-2-1 53
Athletic 21 13 3 5 41 27 14 9-2-0 4-1-5 42
Villarreal 21 11 4 6 39 22 17 6-3-2 5-1-4 37
Real Sociedad 20 9 6 5 38 30 8 6-2-1 3-4-4 33
Sevilla 21 8 7 6 39 34 5 5-2-3 3-5-3 31
Levante 21 7 6 8 22 30 -8 3-4-3 4-2-5 27
Espanyol 21 7 5 9 25 27 -2 5-2-4 2-3-5 26
Valencia 21 7 4 10 28 33 -5 5-2-4 2-2-6 25
Granada 21 7 3 11 19 27 -8 3-1-7 4-2-4 24
Getafe 21 7 3 11 22 34 -12 4-3-4 3-0-7 24
Celta Vigo 21 6 4 11 27 34 -7 3-4-4 3-0-7 22
Osasuna 21 6 4 11 18 34 -16 3-2-5 3-2-6 22
Almería 21 6 4 11 22 40 -18 3-3-4 3-1-7 22
Málaga 21 5 6 10 19 27 -8 4-1-5 1-5-5 21
Elche 20 5 6 9 19 28 -9 3-3-5 2-3-4 21
Valladolid 21 4 7 10 24 37 -13 3-4-3 1-3-7 19
Rayo Vallecano 21 5 1 15 21 51 -30 2-0-8 3-1-7 16
Betis 21 2 5 14 18 47 -29 2-3-6 0-2-8 11

Allardyce on Palace’s “great victory” over Boro

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  Sam Allardyce manager of Crystal Palace signals during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough at Selhurst Park on February 25, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images
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Big Sam got a big win, and he knows it.

Two days after tearing into his players for not adapting to his system, the Crystal Palace boss was glowing with praise after the Eagles knocked off visiting Middlesbrough in a relegation six-pointer on Saturday.

[ MORE: Palace 1-0 Middlesbrough ]

The win lifts Palace out of the drop zone, a point ahead of Leicester City who plays Monday. Allardyce is shaping his own Premier League table and he’ll try to lift a sort of Bottom Seven trophy after the season

From the BBC:

“It’s a great victory. I think the two-week break helped us refocus and that showed – today they made a lot of very good decisions.

“The three points are important as it puts us in amongst the pack, out of the bottom three and a bit closer to Bournemouth.

“I see the bottom seven as the Premier League table we need to try and win. If we can achieve more then that would be great but we need to make next week’s game against West Brom a game to win.”

Crystal Palace have too much talent to be in this spot, and Allardyce’s acumen as a “never relegated” manager has not been questioned much despite the Eagles falling into a worse spot than they were when Alan Pardew was fired. Is this finally their move out of trouble, or just a clean sheet against a Boro team that can’t score?

Conte delighted with his ruthless Chelsea machine

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Chelsea are a machine.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The Blues beat Swansea City 3-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League to 11 points as the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on a weekend off due to the EFL Cup final.

Facing a stubborn Swansea side, Chelsea went ahead through the excellent Cesc Fabregas and even when they were pegged back right on half time through Fernando Llorente’s header you expected them to kick on win the game.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

They did just that as Antonio Conte‘s men were relentless throughout and goals from Pedro and Diego Costa late on made it 20 wins from 26 games this season as their title procession continues.

Speaking after the game, Conte was asked if this win was simply another step on their way to winning the title.

“Yeah, I think it is another step,” Conte said. “For sure a good game, a good win and it wasn’t easy to play against them because I watched Swansea’s games against Liverpool and City and they played very well. I think today we deserved, a lot, to win the game. We created many chances in the game, we dominated the game in the first half.

“It is a pity for the goal we conceded at the end of half time. In the second half we started again and created chances with Hazard and then Cesc hitting the crossbar. I am pleased because now, to play the ball is not easy because the season is going to end. In this moment it is very important to have the performance of my players.”

The Italian manager also admitted that a pivotal moment in the game went Chelsea’s way. With the score still locked at 1-1 with 20 minutes to Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s trickery saw Cesar Azpilicueta handle in the box. Referee Neil Swarbrick waved away the penalty calls but Conte admitted the ball hit Azpilicueta’s hand despite it being very close to Sigurdsson and perhaps unintentional.

Moments later Pedro scored to put Chelsea ahead as they powered to yet another victory, their 10th straight at home in the Premier League.

Nobody looks like catching this Chelsea side as Eden Hazard and Fabregas dazzled in the drizzle at Stamford Bridge and Costa was at his clinical best.

A brief defensive lapse aside, this was a dominant and well-deserved win against a dogged Swansea outfit.

In the words of Jay Z – “On to the next one.”

That’s a trip across London to West Ham on Mar. 6, as games against Stoke City and Crystal Palace follow. The way Conte’s side are playing and finishing teams off, they could have this thing all but sewn by April 1 when they face Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

Men In Blazers podcast: Pochettino, Lloris discuss “To Dare Is To Do”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur and Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur after the goalkeeper was substitued during the Premier League match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on August 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
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Rog speaks with Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and head of coaching and development John McDermott in a preview of his film, “Premier League Download: Tottenham Hotspur: To Dare is to Do” which airs Sunday at 11 a.m. ET after Spurs vs. Stoke City on NBCSN.

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Watch Live: Watford vs. West Ham (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Troy Deeney of Watford (L) struggles to hold off Michail Antonio of West Ham United (R) during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Watford at Olympic Stadium on September 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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Vicarage Road is the scene for a Saturday afternoon clash between top half hopefuls West Ham United and Watford (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. EDT on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Irons have 32 points and the hopes of continuing an upward climb to the position they wanted back when this season began in August.

The Hornets are two points below West Ham, having dealt with a woeful stretch in form to climb back to within sight of 10th.

LINEUPS

Watford: Gomes; Janmaat, Kaboul, Britos, Holebas; Cleverley, Behrami, Capoue; Zárate, Deeney, Niang. Subs: Arlauskis, Prödl, Cathcart, Zúñiga, Doucouré, Success, Okaka.

West Ham United: Randolph, Cresswell, Fonte, Reid, Antonio, Obiang, Kouyate, Noble, Snodgrass, Lanzini, Feghouli. Subs: Adrian, Byram, Masuaku, Collins, Fernandes, Ayew, Calleri.