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Copa del Rey: Real Madrid take three-goal, first leg lead on Atlético

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If you saw this coming, raise your hand and either present your Real Madrid Club de Fútbol membership card or crown yourself to a genius, because today’s result came out of nowhere. With an early second half goal from Jesé bookended but own goals from Emiliano Insúa and Miranga, the Merengues blew by league-leading Atlético Madrid, taking a commanding 3-0 lead after 90 minutes of the teams’ two-leg Copa del Rey derbi.

With two own goals, the surprise result could be seen as more bad luck than a reflection of Atlético’s deficiencies. The reality: It was a combination of both. El Real’s 17th minute opener came as a massive deflection of a Pepe shot saw an Insua inadvertently beat goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The final goal (73′) came after an Ángel Di María shot clipped Miranda’s heal. With better luck, Atlético would be returning to the Vicente Calderón with a workable 1-0 deficit.

But Real Madrid fans can point to the 71 percent possession their team held. They can point to the 21-8 edge in shots and the 7-3 edge los Blancos had in shots on goal. While Real Madrid weren’t necessarily three goals better, they were clearly the better team on the day, worthy of a result that snaps their two-game losing steak to their cross town rivals.

The game had the energy of a true derby – something that wasn’t always been present before Atlético’s recent surge. In the opening moments, the Bernabéu crowd unveiled a huge tifo featuring an ominous figure warning Atlético not to read too much into their recent success in one of the world’s most lopsided top-level rivalries. The opening minutes, controlled by Real Madrid, saw two spirited teams eager to set an early tone in their 180-minute match – motives that led to a physical game that would normally suit Atlético. By halftime, however, Atleti had so little control of the match, Diego Simeone sacrificed newly acquired Diego for the less attack-minded Cristian Rodríguez.

It didn’t help. Two goals later, Atlético had finished its worst performance of the season – only the second time the team has lost in all competitions. Though the team can try to placate themselves with the fact two goals came off their own boots, Simeone’s side failed to respond to any of the challenges presented by El Real. For a side that’s defined their rise on the ability to transcend expectation and circumstance, today’s was a surprisingly passive performance.

Simultaneously, Real Madrid unveiled a dominance they’d unable to muster against this level of competition. This wasn’t the team that played Barcelona. It wasn’t the team that lost to Atlético. This wasn’t the squad that failed to assert themselves against Juventus. Instead, los Merengues played to their immense talent level, hinting the recent tweaks Carlo Ancelotti has instilled may finally pay off.

Thanks to today’s result, the first payoff could be a spot in the Copa del Rey final. Although a second leg at the Calderón awaits, El Real’s three-goal lead should be safe – particularly if they’re never willing to give Atlético the ball.

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.