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Spain roundup: Barcelona finally falls from first; Atlético alone on top

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If the most diehard of Barcelona fans needed further proof their team is no longer at its Guardiola-era heights, they need only open up their favorite sports daily Monday morning. If they’re impatient, they can check here, here, or here, though no self-respecting Culé would get their information form the latter. Still, every source delivers the same shocking ews. For the first time in 59 games, Barcelona does not lead La Liga, their 3-2 home loss to Valencia seeing Atlético Madrid claim sole possession of first place.

Taking advantage of Barcelona’s slip, Atleti moved three points clear with their 4-0 win over Real Sociedad – an unexpectedly lopsided result against a La Real side that’s fought their way back into Champions League contention. Sunday at the Vicente Calderón, they may as well have been Real Betis. Atlético closed with three goals in regulation’s final 18 minutes to claim their 18th win of the year, a result that reinforced the gravity of Barcelona’s slip.

Gerardo Martino’s team hadn’t lost at home in league since April 2012, but they have given Atlético other chances this season to claim the top spot. Recently Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw at Levante only to see the Colchoneros waste their chance to go top after they were drawn at home by Sevilla. On Sunday, however, David Villa’s first half goal gave Diego Simeone’s side all it’d need, with second half scores from Diego Costa, Miranda, and the recently returned Diego allowing Atlético to put up the Barcelona-esque scored.

”This is something nice for the players, who have made such effort and go into every single game with the same intensity and work ethic,” Simeone said of his team’s effort on a night the Calderón honored the departed Luis Aragonés. ”Luis would appreciate the team’s courage, since he was a courageous type with character, just like this team.”

The Blaugrana couldn’t find the same killer instinct on Saturday. Despite going up through Alexis Sánches after seven minutes, Barça approached halftime with only a one-goal advantage. Shortly before the whistle, Valencia was able to steal a equalizer from Dani Perejo despite being second best for most of the half.

Three minutes into the second, Pablo Piatti’s goals saw Los Che claim an unlikely lead. A Ricardo Costa penalty gave Lionel Messi an equalizer in the 54th, but when Paco Alcácer responded five minutes later, the last salvo in Barcelona’s upset had been cast. Jordi Alba’s 78th minute dismissal sealed their fate.

“I would say to [my team] that everything continues, that we may lose the leadership of the league, but that we will still continue to fight,” ,” Martino said after the match, taking a broader view on a loss the redefined the top of Spain’s standings.

“We will try to recover the lost ground on our title rivals. We conceded chances to Valencia and they took advantage of them. We need to keep going and keep in mind how much this hurt us today.”

Barcelona could point to the loss of an injured Neymar, but the Brazilian’s other absences hadn’t slowed them down. Andrés Iniesta could only give them 25 minutes, while Carles Puyol was out. At each level of the field, Barcelona could make an excuse, none of which can offset the loss of their home winning streak, the end to their season-and-a-half run a top the league, or their disadvantage on a seemingly improving Atlético.

As Atlético incorporates players like Diego and Jose Sosa while continuing to mature into their contenders’ identity, Barcelona has new reason to doubt. Not only have they failed to win in three meetings this season with Atlético, but their home invincibility is no more. Their loss to Valencia could serve as a reminder that a huge swath of Spain present potential downfalls, or it could plant a seed of doubt that hasn’t been present in since before Pep Guardiola.

With Manchester City coming up in Champions League, we’ll soon have our answers. Right now, the two best teams in Europe appear to be Bayern Munich and City. Barcelona and Atlético each had claims to be in that picture, but having won only one of their last four league games, the Blaugrana are suddenly more vulnerable than their recent pedigree would imply.

Real Madrid take point at San Mamés

El Real’s result in Basque Country seems like a good opportunity to note the difference between their level and that of Atlético and Barcelona. But we hammered that home last week. Besides, one point at Athletic is not a poor result. Although Atlético Madrid claimed the first win at the new San Mames earlier this week (in Copa del Rey), comparing Real Madrid to their crosstown rivals is becoming an increasing unforgiving standard. By more reasonable measures, the Merengues got a valuable point against the league’s fourth place team.

Despite ceding control of the ball — their new 4-3-3 allowing them to manage play without dominating possession — Real Madrid went up early in the second half, Jesé grabbing a 65th minute opener while taking Gareth Bale’s spot in the starting lineup. Eight minutes later, however, Ibai scored with his second touch after coming on for Iker Munain, giving Athletic an equalizer that would hold through full time.

“In the first-half Athletic pressed a lot and that made it difficult to play the ball on the ground so we played more on the counter-attack,” Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti said after the match.

“In the second-half, the intensity of their pressure dropped a bit and we played better in possession, we scored and had good control of the game.

“Bilbao scored a fantastic goal, but in general I personally am satisfied with how Real Madrid played.”

Kicking off in the last game of the day, Real Madrid knew they would pass Barcelona with a win. Their inability to grab one will surely disappoint them, even if may take a few days for that perspective to settle in.

The more lasting disappointment, however, may be Cristiano Ronaldo’s suspension, with the Blancos star set to miss three games after seeing straight red in the 75th minute. Though the decision appeared to be harsh, Ronaldo is still set for a prolonged absence, one that could leave a recently goal-starved Real Madrid susceptible to draws without their biggest star.

They do lead the league in goals (61), but since switching to their new formation earlier this month, Real Madrid have only scored three goals in a game once – the five-goal outburst the saw Real Betis fire Juan Carlos Garrido fired. Sunday against Athletic, that lack of punch cost them, leaving El Real  in third place despite a chance to pass Barcelona.

Elsewhere

  • Granada 1, Celta Vigo 2 – Celta’s won three out of four and reached 12th after an 88th minute goal from Augusto Fernandez gave Luis Enrique’s team their seventh win of the season.
  • Levante 0, Rayo Vallecano 0 – The possession-hogging Vallecano were able to retain 58 percent of the ball and limit Levante to two shots on goal, but Paco Jémez’s side remains in 19th place after their scoreless draw.
  • Getafe 0, Valladolid 0 – Getafe is winless in league since Nov. 29 after a match that saw the teams combine for three shots on goal.
  • Málaga 3, Sevilla 2 – Sevilla falls for the second game in row as Málaga stops their slide toward relegation, with late goals from Samuel and Duda giving them the home side its first win in five.
  • Elche 1, Almeria 0 – Christian Herrera’s 58th minute goal holds up, leaving Almeria within two points of the bottom three.
  • Real Betis 2, Espanyol 0 – The Verdiblancos’ first win under Gabriel Calderón gives the team new hopes of survival, though Ruben Castro’s late double still leaves them eight points from safety.

Others
Barcelona 2, Valencia 3
Atlético Madrid 4, Real Sociedad 0
Athletic Club 1, Real Madrid 1

Monday
Villarreal vs. Osasuna

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 22 18 3 1 56 14 42 10-2-0 8-1-1 57
Barcelona 22 17 3 2 59 16 43 10-0-1 7-3-1 54
Real Madrid 22 17 3 2 61 22 39 9-0-1 8-3-1 54
Athletic 22 13 4 5 42 28 14 9-3-0 4-1-5 43
Villarreal 21 11 4 6 39 22 17 6-3-2 5-1-4 37
Real Sociedad 22 10 6 6 42 34 8 7-2-1 3-4-5 36
Sevilla 22 8 7 7 41 37 4 5-2-3 3-5-4 31
Valencia 22 8 4 10 31 35 -4 5-2-4 3-2-6 28
Levante 22 7 7 8 22 30 -8 3-5-3 4-2-5 28
Espanyol 22 7 5 10 25 29 -4 5-2-4 2-3-6 26
Celta Vigo 22 7 4 11 29 35 -6 3-4-4 4-0-7 25
Getafe 22 7 4 11 22 34 -12 4-4-4 3-0-7 25
Málaga 22 6 6 10 22 29 -7 5-1-5 1-5-5 24
Granada 22 7 3 12 20 29 -9 3-1-8 4-2-4 24
Elche 22 6 6 10 20 32 -12 4-3-5 2-3-5 24
Osasuna 21 6 4 11 18 34 -16 3-2-5 3-2-6 22
Almería 22 6 4 12 22 41 -19 3-3-4 3-1-8 22
Valladolid 22 4 8 10 24 37 -13 3-4-3 1-4-7 20
Rayo Vallecano 22 5 2 15 21 51 -30 2-0-8 3-2-7 17
Betis 22 3 5 14 20 47 -27 3-3-6 0-2-8 14

Burnley’s Andre Gray charged by FA over Twitter posts from 2012

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - AUGUST 13: Andre Gray of Burnley during the Premier League match between Burnley and Cardiff City at Turf Moor on  August 13, 2016 in Burnley, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images
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A Premier League player is set to be punished by English football authorities for discriminatory comments he made on social media more than four years ago.

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The comments made by Burnley striker Andre Gray between Jan. 9 and March 11, 2012 appeared anti-gay. They came to light on Saturday, when they were retweeted by other people after he scored his first Premier League goal for Burnley in the team’s 2-0 win over Liverpool. Gray released a public apology after the match.

Gray was charged with misconduct on Tuesday by the Football Association, which said the alleged comments “were abusive and/or insulting and/or improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

Gray said in his apology “the tweets were posted four years ago when I was a completely different person to the man I am now.”

“I have experienced a lot over the past four years and have had to take responsibility for a number of things in my life which has enabled me to mature and grow as a person since that time,” the 25-year-old Gray said.

“I have a lot of regrets regarding a number of things I’ve done in the past and realize I have made some big mistakes, none more so than these tweets, but I would like to stress that I’ve worked incredibly hard to completely transform my life since that time.”

[ MORE: Champions League roundup — Roma self-destruct; Celtic sneak in ]

Gray said he wanted to clarify that he was “absolutely not homophobic” and to “ask for forgiveness to anyone I offended.”

The FA said Gray had until Aug. 31 to respond to the charge.

“He has moved a long way in life,” Burnley manager Sean Dyche said Tuesday. “He’s made that clear with an apology and also to remind the club, `It’s four years ago, I’m a different person.’

“A lot has gone on in his life to get him where he’s got to, I think he made that clear. It was authentic what he said (in the apology).”

Gray was the top scorer in the second-tier League Championship last season, helping Burnley achieve an immediate return to the Premier League.

Arsenal, Stoke target Jones part of Mourinho’s plans, will stay at Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 19: Wes Hoolahan of Norwich City and Phil Jones of Manchester United compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Norwich City at Old Trafford on December 19, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Other Premier League clubs might be interested in Phil Jones, but Jose Mourinho has no intentions of letting the 24-year-old future England captain Manchester United center back leave anytime soon.

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Mourinho and Man United have received multiple approaches for Jones this summer, but never entertained the idea of selling, according to the Guardian. Arsenal were said to have been interested earlier in the summer, while Stoke City are presently trying to pry the Blackburn Rovers academy product away from Old Trafford, as confirmed by Mark Hughes’ assistant, Mark Bowen, earlier this week.

Jones moved to Man United in the summer of 2011 for a fee believed to be north of $20 million. While he’s endured his share of hard times in his five seasons at the club, Jones would easily be a 30-$35 million player giving fees paid for comparable center backs in recent transfer windows.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup — Roma self-destruct; Celtic sneak in ]

While Jones is yet to see the field early in the 2016-17 season, he remains a viable option, along with Chris Smalling, behind $40-million summer signing Eric Bailly and midfielder-turned-defender Daley Blind. Over the course of a 38-game PL season, the UEFA Champions League Europa League, FA Cup and EFL Cup, a busy schedule and injuries will provide plenty of chances to impress the new manager and reclaim a regular place in the first team.

MLS preview: Galaxy, Sounders, Toronto FC hit the road midweek

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Colorado Rapids during the first half of the MLS soccer game in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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Previewing the biggest games across Major League Soccer on Wednesday…

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Orlando City SC vs. Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

Quick quiz: Which is the hottest team in MLS right now? Answer: It’s TFC, who are unbeaten in their last six games, a stretch which includes five wins and an aggregate score of 16-4. OK, so how are they doing it? Don’t ask silly questions. In those six games, Sebastian Giovinco, who’s again running away in the MVP race and will become the first back-to-back winner in league history (only Preki has ever been a two-time winner), has scored eight goals and notched four assists. He’s been even better this year than he was in 2015. His 2016 season tally currently stands at 16 and 11. He’ll likely be the first player in MLS history to notch multiple 20-goal seasons, if Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has 15 this season, doesn’t get there first.

It’s not only Giovinco, though, but the return Jozy Altidore which has allowed the Italian superstar the freedom, the space, and the hold-up play to thrive as he’s done. Giovinco has been given a free role by head coach Greg Vanney, and Altidore’s ability to occupy two center backs at once, along with his ability to hold the ball up and draw the opposing defense toward him, has resulted in Giovinco scoring a number of easy chances no player of his quality should ever be allowed to see. It’s amazing what happens when you build a team and system around your best player, rather than try to make that player fit into something predetermined. Three points on Wednesday would vault the Reds into first place in the Eastern Conference having finally pulled level on games played with New York City FC.

[ MORE: NYCFC’s Jack Harrison on meteoric rise — “It can only get better” ]

Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy — 8:30 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

After rattling off four straight wins over the majority of July, the Galaxy are suddenly winless winless in their last four, though they’ve managed to salvage three points during that period. During the current four-game stretch, the attacking trio of Robbie Keane, Giovani dos Santos and Gyasi Zardes have combined to contribute just one goal and three assists, all but one assist of which have come from GdS.

No team in the Western Conference has won more points away from home (14) than the Galaxy this season, while no team in MLS has won fewer home points (17 — or points, period, 22) than the Fire. All signs point toward a Galaxy victory, but this is a Fire side that has steadily improved bit by bit in recent weeks, culminating in their first road victory in 25 months last weekend. The Vancouver Whitecaps await the Galaxy on the weekend — can you say, “trap game?”

[ MORE: U.S. teen skipping college, heading to La Liga ]

Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders — 9 p.m. ET (MLS Live)

If TFC are the hottest team in MLS, the Sounders are the second-hottest and without a doubt the hottest team in the West. Since firing Sigi Schmid four weeks ago, the bunch in Rave Green are unbeaten in four games, now having won three straight. The signing of Nicolas Lodeiro has been the spark that breathed life into a dying season, but one could reasonably argue that Cristian Roldan’s emergence deep in midfield has meant just as much to a Sounders side that, for the first time all season, has found a strong base between the attack and defense.

Osvaldo Alonso is no longer being ask to play the box-to-box role in which he thrived for a half-decade, instead acting as the organizer and director in front of the backline, with Roldan, the 21-year-old with many miles left in his legs, covering large swaths of space in midfield. The biggest difference between Roldan and your typical defensive midfield in MLS? He can see a pass in the final third, and he can hit it when it’s on. Lodeiro creates plenty of space for Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey with his unbelievable range of passing, and that’s been a huge part of the eight goals the Sounders have scored in those three wins, but Roldan’s presence alongside Alonso has been just as important in allowing just four goals in four games.

EFL Cup roundup: Chelsea, Liverpool advance; Watford, WBA lose to League 1 sides

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23:  Michy Batshuayi of Chelsea celebrates scoring the opening goal during the EFL Cup second round match between Chelsea and Bristol Rovers at Stamford Bridge on August 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images )
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Watford and West Bromwich Albion were beaten by third-tier opposition in the English League Cup on Tuesday, while fellow Premier League sides Liverpool and Everton enjoyed big wins in the second round.

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Chelsea was pushed hard by third-tier Bristol Rovers before also advancing to the third round with a 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge.

Watford lost 2-1 to Gillingham after extra time and West Brom was beaten 4-3 on penalties by Northampton after they finished 2-2 after 120 minutes.

Northampton famously ousted Liverpool in the 2010-11 competition, but the Reds easily avoided a so-called “giant-killing” this time round by thrashing Burton Albion 5-0. Daniel Sturridge came off the bench to score two goals and wrap up victory over the second-tier side managed by former Liverpool forward Nigel Clough.

Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino also scored for a full-strength Liverpool team, and there was an own goal.

“Very serious, very professional performance by my side,” said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, who added that second-half injuries to Emre Can and Origi were not serious.

Everton also had a substitute striker scoring a late double, with Arouna Kone’s goals sealing a 4-0 home win over fourth-tier Yeovil.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup — Roma self-destruct; Celtic sneak in ]

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte‘s decision to field a team largely made up of reserve players nearly backfired. Belgium striker BatshuayiMichy Batshuayi scored two first-half goals as Chelsea took a 3-1 lead into halftime, before Rovers scored a 48th-minute penalty and struck the crossbar as they went in search of an equalizer.

Devoid of European football this season, Liverpool and Chelsea will likely take the League Cup seriously. They are two of the most successful clubs in the competition’s history, having won it 13 times between them.

Stoke, Swansea, Hull and Crystal Palace were the other Premier League teams to progress to the third round, when clubs involved in Europe enter the draw that takes place Wednesday.

Peter Crouch scored a hat trick – including one goal from a scissor kick – in Stoke’s 4-0 win at Stevenage, Oliver McBurnie scored twice on his debut for Swansea in a 3-1 win at Peterborough, Hull beat Exeter 3-1 away and Palace was a 2-0 winner at home to Blackpool.

Palace gave a debut to new record-signing Christian Benteke, who played the first half before being substituted.

Derby beat Carlisle 14-13 on penalties to equal the most goals scored in a shootout in the competition’s history.