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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

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
AP Photo/Raad Adayleh
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
AP Photo/Michel Euler
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)