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.


  • 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.

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

Real Sociedad vs. Elche


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

Jose Mourinho wants Diego Costa to process game situations “faster”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho isn’t worried about Diego Costa‘s lack of goals this season, but he does know the problem.

Costa scored the winner against Norwich last time out, but has just three goals on the year and has looked frustrated often in recent matches. And the boss believes there’s still work to be done with Costa, particularly off the ball.

“Everything is OK, no problem, no problem,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference before Chelsea visits Spurs on Sunday. “But he’s not reading the game properly in these actions. That was my opinion. As a striker he must read. You have to play not only when you have the ball but when others have the ball. You have to anticipate things and read the game faster. Everything is an accumulation [of confidence]. You’re not on fire again just because you’ve scored a winning goal against Norwich. It’s all a process.”

Mourinho exploded at Costa in the waning moments of Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, with the manager focused on improving the Spaniard’s effort level.

“In the game I told him, from a distance, that I was not happy with the movement he did,” Mourinho said. “He told me a few nice words from where he was. And nothing happened.”

Despite the manager’s frustrations, Costa could be the only option on Sunday. Radamel Falcao is injured and Loic Remy’s wife is scheduled to give birth soon, leaving Chelsea’s main man as maybe the only man.

The match against Spurs is a huge one for the Blues. Chelsea seems to have recovered slightly from its early-season tumble down the table, but their only two wins since the 2-0 victory over Arsenal in mid-September have been against Aston Villa and Norwich, and a marquee win would see them firmly announce an intention to return to last season’s form. The competition will be stiff, as Spurs’ high press could frustrate Costa, potentially sending him into another mood. But it could also give him opportunities should the hosts slip on Sunday.

Premier League preview: Manchester City vs. Southampton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Manchester City has lost both its home matches against top-10 sides this season
  • Southampton is six matches away unbeaten – club record is seven
  • Southampton has lost five straight at the Etihad across all competitions

Depending on results, Manchester City could be on top of the league come the end of the weekend if they can pick up three points when they welcome Southampton to the Etihad on Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Unfortunately, they’ll face the Saints very banged up, something which has caused the home side plenty of issues recently. Goalkeeper Joe Hart suffered a hamstring injury midweek and will miss out, as will defenders Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Eliaquim Mangala.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Manuel Pellegrini‘s squad struggled mightily at times without Sergio Aguero up front during his four-match injury absence. Aguero is back and scored last week in the 4-1 loss to Liverpool, but now the back line is giving the Chilean boss headaches. They broke again midweek, a 1-0 loss to Juventus in Champions League play leaving City fans scratching their heads.

Southampton saw its six-match unbeaten run come to a surprising end against Stoke City last weekend, and that puts them in an awkward spot, stuck in a clogged portion of the Premier League table where the gap between sixth and 11th is just two points. With a difficult London list of Spurs, Arsenal, and West Ham on the docket surrounding the December holidays, stolen points here at the Etihad would go a long way later on.

The Saints are also shorthanded, with Graziano Pelle suspended for yellow card accumulation after picking up his fifth of the season against Stoke. With Jay Rodriguez still sidelined, that leaves Shane Long to lead the Southampton attack.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini on injury problems: “All the clubs have the same problems here in England and in other European leagues, because the players have to play so many games in the year and they have to go to their national squads with long flights.”

Southampton midfielder Steven Davis on Manchester City: “The demand from their fans is to win every game and they’re coming off the back of a couple of bad results. They will be looking to put it right. It should be an entertaining game but we’ll need to be at our best to get something. I’m confident we can go there and do that.”


Because of Manchester City’s defensive issues, summer signing Nicolas Otamendi will be forced back into the starting lineup after finding himself on the bench for the Liverpool loss. Since Otamendi looked off the pace in his first two Premier League matches (both of which City lost), he has acclimated quite well – the club has conceded just three goals in the Argentinian’s five matches following those two defeats.

With the striker issues for Southampton, City will use the return of David Silva to run Southampton down. Silva is known for playing his part in early goals, and the first 15 minutes will be key in this match. Manchester City will get one early, and they will return to their winning ways on a 2-0 victory.

Words fly as Mathieu Valbuena opens up about blackmail scandal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - SEPTEMBER 04: France's midfielder Matthieu Valbuena celebrating France goal during the Friendly match between Portugal and France on September 04, 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena has spoken out for the first time about the sex tape scandal that has rocked the French national team.

If what he says proves to be true, Karim Benzema could be in a whole heap of trouble.

Valbuena told his story to French newspaper Le Monde, where he explained how things began in May of 2015 with a phone call from Djibril Cisse that suggested someone had a tape of the 31-year-old Valbuena. A few days later a blocked number called Valbuena asking to meet in Dubai about the video. The Frenchman got the police involved, and then Benzema approached him during national team training.

“He [Benzema] spoke to me about a video. Immediately, I thought back to what the police chief had told me on Sunday [that someone would approach him about the video].  Then he asked me to meet a friend that he presented to be very reliable, very serious, someone that he had complete confidence in, to arrange all of that. So, anyway, I am not an idiot!

I was sceptical to say the least. Even if, it was true, at the start I said to him: “Thank you for warning me”, I was doubtful that if he wants me to meet someone, it is not for nothing. The way in which he conveyed things, it was certainly to provoke me to see someone, indirectly, it means to pay this person to destroy the video.”

Valbuena said Benzema never actually asked him to pay for the video to be destroyed, but that it was heavily implied. “I played his game, I told him, me I would like very much to pay for my freedom, but we all know that if you pay, it is endless, there will always be copies etc. He told me: ‘Don’t worry, I have total confidence in my friend, there will be no more duplicates, they will be destroyed.’ He insisted a lot for me to meet his friend.”

The Frenchman later would implicate Samir Nasri as someone who, according to Valbuena, had offered to approach him instead of Benzema. “[Nasri] is someone who is no longer part of the French national team. My relationship has always been difficult with Nasri. Now, nothing surprises me.”

Both have responded. Benzema’s lawyer gave an interview to French radio station RMC saying that there was contact between the two about the tape, but that the conversation saw Benzema encourage Valbuena not to pay for anything. Nasri also spoke to RMC, completely denying any involvement in the case by saying, “It is not my problem, not my situation.”

Benzema has been charged with conspiracy to blackmail for his role as an intermediary, but the investigation is still in the preliminary stages.

Premier League preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester United

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Watford at The King Power Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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  • Leicester sits atop the Premier League table with 28 points
  •  Manchester United has conceded just once in their last 7 league games
  • Leicester’s Premier League games have produced 48 goals, the most in the league

Yes, this is #1 vs #2. No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

And yet somehow, that magnificent lede has been buried thanks to one Jamie Vardy.

The 28-year-old can break Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record of 10 straight games with a goal as Leicester City hosts Van Nistelrooy’s former team Manchester United at King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

The Foxes are firmly atop the Premier League table, but many question whether they can hang onto that, and even others remain skeptical whether they can truly challenge for a top four spot this season. Saturday’s game will be a true test of their ability to remain in the hunt for the long haul, as the Red Devils are just a point off the top and, while it hasn’t been pretty at times this year, van Gaal’s men have done enough to pick up results in key situations.

On the other end, Manchester United has conceded just one goal in its last five league matches, and has not allowed a goal from open play since the Arsenal drubbing in early October. Can Vardy find space in the tight Red Devils’ back line?

Both teams are relatively healthy coming into this matchup. Leicester is only missing long-term absentee Matty Jones, while Manchester United is a little more banged up with Ander Herrera, Phil Jones, and Michael Carrick likely out alongside Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal on Leicester City’s chances at title“Normally these kind of clubs can compete for long time, then at the end it becomes more difficult. But in England because of the quality of the teams, because every team has the money to buy players – and they have bought players – the difference in the Premier League between the clubs is not so high.”

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri on the Foxes’ aim“The league is very strange and open but our goal is 40 points. Our goal at the moment is this but let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal. Like everybody else I am also curious in these days to watch my team, and to see how we respond in these big matches.”


Manchester United’s results have been there, and they’ve created a ton of chances. On the flip side, Leicester’s improved defensive organization is solid enough to hold off the Red Devils. This one ends 1-1, and there is no change at the top. Vardy gets the Foxes’ goal, because who doesn’t like fun things?