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

Keeper Ederson hopeful he can score this season for Man City

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The prospects for a goalkeeper scoring during a match are usually uncommon, but that hasn’t halted Manchester City’s number one choice from aiming to break the trend this season.

Ederson — who has moved into the starting role at the Etihad Stadium with relative ease in 2017/18 — has dreamt of scoring a goal of his own for the Premier League champions in waiting.

“I heard the fans chanting my name, asking me to take the penalty but Gabriel went there,” Ederson said. “Unfortunately he missed it and Bernardo happily scored. But if the manager have asked me to go there, definitely I’d score.

“I’m not sure if I would be able to do set-pieces, but I’m good at penalties, either using power or technique on shooting it. But City have [their] regular penalty-takers and we are well-served.

Citizen supporters chanted for the goalkeeper to take a penalty kick over the weekend in the team’s 5-0 win over Swansea City.

However, Gabriel Jesus was the man selected for the opportunity, but had his attempt saved by Lukasz Fabianski before Bernardo Silva was in the right spot to score the game’s fifth goal.

“If Pep asks me to take it, I’m there,” Ederson said of the penalty kick. “Hopefully it will happen [before the end of the season], I’d like to score.”

This isn’t the first time Ederson has discussed exploring opportunities outside of the net, though.

The Brazilian shot-stopper has long been a fan of former Brazil international goalkeeper Rogero Ceni — who scored 65 goals for club side Sao Paolo.

Earlier this season, the 24-year-old joked around with the media, saying that he’d be more than happy to fill a role in the midfield when City was experiencing some injury issues within the squad.

Everton 1-0 Newcastle: Walcott blast has Toffees up to eighth

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Everton earned a 1-0 win against Newcastle on Monday behind Theo Walcott‘s second-half strike at Goodison Park.

The victory puts the Toffees into eighth place, leaping over Leicester City for the time being — as the Foxes have an extra game in hand.

[ MORE: Sweden coach says Ibra must reach out to have shot at World Cup ]

The former Arsenal man broke the deadlock six minutes into the second half when Walcott blasted the ball into the roof of the net following a lofted cross from Yannick Bolasie.

For Walcott, it’s his third goal since joining Everton in 2017/18 from the Gunners.

The visitors had their fair share of opportunities on the day, particularly through Ayoze Pérez, who was active all throughout the match.

Perez nearly broke the deadlock after the half hour mark when he tested goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in the 31st minute with a diving save in the bottom left corner.

Phil Jagielka came close four minutes later when his close-range attempt narrowly missed the top left corner after Michael Keane‘s flicked header off a corner kick.

The Spanish forward was at it again in the second stanza, and nearly found the back of the net when his header was saved in the center of the goal off of a cross from Kenedy.

Newcastle pushed hard for an equalizer in the dying moments, and even played up a man for a few minutes when Leighton Baines was tended to for a head injury, but the Magpies couldn’t even the score.

Sweden coach: Ibrahimovic must call in order to have chance at World Cup

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently raised the stakes when he said, “I am going to the World Cup, yes!” despite having previously declared his retirement from international soccer.

Although the LA Galaxy forward’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show may not be a clear indication of his involvement in this summer’s World Cup in Russia, Ibrahimovic certainly has an interest in representing his native Sweden once again.

[ MORE: FIFA subjects Morocco 2026 bid to scrutiny ]

Now, all the veteran goalscorer has to do is pick up the phone and call Sweden coach Janne Andersson, according to the manager.

“He can do it,” Andersson told kicker. “But If he changes his opinion, contacts me and tells me ‘yes, I want to be part of it,’ then we’ll sit down and discuss what that would mean, how we play these days and so on. But that’s all speculation.

“I don’t know [if he’d still fit into the team]. But I also don’t think about it. I take the things as they come if they come. If you want to be part of it, you must call me. Easy as that.”

The 36-year-old retired from the international game following Sweden’s involvement in EURO 2016, and Andersson says that he had no intention of calling up Ibrahimovic prior to the media-driven questions surrounding the striker.

Ibrahimovic ranks first all-time for his homeland in goals scored (62) since debuting for Sweden back in 2001.

“Not him, or anyone else who retired. But there’s this media noise,” he said. “I have no problem with those questions [about a possible return]. Not with what he says or what is written in media.”

Several of Sweden’s current players, including goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson recently stated that bringing Ibrahimovic back into the fold may disrupt the rhythm created within the squad — who handled Italy in their World Cup qualifying playoff to reach the final tournament in June.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup