Convincing results show La Liga trio ready for UEFA Champions League

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Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid have been on a higher level than the rest of Spain all season, so it’s no surprise the trio put up a set of convinced results in this weekend’s La Liga action. Yet during a winter where each team has shown its flaws, it’s worth asking: Why now? What clicked this weekend that wasn’t in place while Atlético struggled over the last two weeks, Barcelona stumbled against Valencia, and Real Madrid spent January trying to find their scoring touch?

Perhaps it took Spain’s giants seven weeks to shake off the league’s short winter break, but there’s another potential explanation. With UEFA Champions League restarting on Tuesday, all three contenders may be stepping it up their games, hoping to mount a serious challenge for this year’s European Cup.

Barcelona’s leading the way. We talked about their 6-0 result yesterday, but just as important is their return to health. Neymar, out for a month, played in the second half against Rayo Vallecano. Andrés Iniesta appears to be approaching 100 percent. Lionel Messi has hit his stride. The oft-injured Carles Puyol will be available this week, while 34-year-old Xavi Hernández was rested ahead of the team’s trip to Manchester City. When Barcelona walks out at the Etihad on Tuesday, they’ll be as healthy as they’ve been all season.

Atlético also served notice this weekend, posting a 3-0 win on Saturday over visiting Valladolid. Given the three-match losing streak Atleti brought into the match, the win alone was noteworthy, but the fact that Diego Simeone’s team scored twice in the first four minutes hinted at a level of urgency we hadn’t seen over the previous two weeks. If Atlético can reclaim the form that saw them lose only one game between August and January, they’ll also reclaim their status as Champions League dark horses.

Dark horse is a status a club with nine titles can never assume, but with Real Madrid posting a 3-0 win at Getafe on Sunday, Carlo Ancelotti’s team is most certainly a contender. While the coach’s switch to a 4-3-3 in early January initially produced a series of unconvincing( if victorious) results, los Blancos are now playing their best soccer of the season. They’ve joined the cluster of teams who you could see knocking off Bayern Munich, who will still need to be caught on a bad day to have their title defense derailed.

This weekend, all three Spanish contenders looked capable of playing spoilers. Even Atlético, who looked on the verge of regressing to their 2012-13 selves, showed the type of play you’d expect from a Champions League semifinalist. If their recovery is real, La Liga has three teams who can realistically expect to be alive come the quarterfinals.

Daly collapses during match, treated for heat illness

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HOUSTON (AP) Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly collapsed during the final minute of a National Women’s Soccer League match against the Seattle Reign as temperatures climbed into the 90s.

The 25-year-old Daly was stretchered off the field and taken to the hospital, where the team said she was being treated for heat illness.

The temperature at BBVA Compass Stadium was 92 degrees at the 3 p.m. kickoff. The Reign won 2-0.

[ MORE: Perisic talking with Man Utd? ]

The NWSL issued a statement that said the league had worked with the Dash before the season to schedule any afternoon games early in the year to help avoid heat issues. The teams took a hydration break late in the match.

“We will immediately review these measures to prevent this situation from occurring in the future,” the statement said.

Reign coach Laura Harvey posted to Twitter: “Proud of the team today. Some of the hottest conditions I’ve seen. Road games are tough but that was crazy.”

MLS roundup: Outrageous dive, posts doom ‘Caps; Ramirez stays red hot

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Six matches are in the books on a busy Saturday in Major League Soccer, and five of them finished 1-0.

How they got there? Much different stories. With the Cali Clasico still to play, let’s dig into the five that followed Seattle 1-0 Portland.

[ MORE: Perisic to Man Utd? ]


Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 DC United

It’s especially difficult to win on the road in Major League Soccer, unless the hosts fritter away four good chances off the woodwork — including a Cristian Techera PK — and give away a spot kick of their own. Lamar Neagle converted the 61st offering after a sinister dive from Jose Guillermo Ortiz. He was taken off soon after, and is probably going to miss sometime when the DisCo is done with him. Outrageous.

New York Red Bulls 2-1 New England Revolution

Not one, not two, nor three, but four New England players saw a low cross slide by them for Daniel Royer to finish as New York came from behind to take all three points at Red Bull Arena. Cody Cropper committed a gaffe that allowed Bradley Wright-Phillips to equalize after a Lee Nguyen PK had put the Revs ahead early.

Colorado Rapids 1-0 Sporting KC

Homegrown defender and University of Denver product Kortne Ford has his first MLS goal, as the Rapids surprised the Western Conference leaders on Saturday. SKC outshot Colorado by nearly 20 attempts (Shoulder shrug emoji).

Minnesota United 1-0 Orlando City

There were questions as to whether NASL superstar Christian Ramirez could translate his game to Major League Soccer.

Yes. The answer is yes.

Ramirez has eight goals in 13 MLS matches, and should be hearing his name from a certain Bruce Arena around Gold Cup time. Those USMNT dreams of last season should come true.

Bobby Shuttleworth made six saves for his third shutout of the season. All have come at home.

Real Salt Lake 1-0 Philadelphia Union

Joao Plata keeps shooting, and the tiny Ecuadorian menace keeps scoring, too. His 36th minute goal was enough for the hosts at Rio Tinto.

Raiola: Zlatan to “100 percent” stay in Europe for two seasons

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be 35 and coming off major knee surgery, but that isn’t stopping suitors from lining up across Europe.

[ MORE: Perisic to Man Utd? ]

Ibrahimovic’s agent, Mino Raiola, says that MLS is not an option for the Swede over the next two seasons. From Sky Sports:

“Many clubs have asked for Zlatan. He can play two more years and will stay in Europe, 100 per cent.”

It would make sense for Ibrahimovic to stay around Manchester United, where he is admired by Jose Mourinho and coming off a season that showed he’s still capable of contributing at a high level.

But he remains beloved in Italy, and would be effective for most clubs in the Top 5 leagues should he return at even 75 percent of the Zlatan we’ve seen regularly.

Report: Manchester United, Inter Milan keen on Perisic deal

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Manchester United wants Ivan Perisic, and both the player and his current club are all about it.

Perisic, 28, is ready to leave Inter Milan, and the Serie A mainstays are happy to accept $46 million for his services according to Sky Sports.

[ MORE: No China for Costa ]

Primarily a left winger, Perisic moved to Inter from Wolfsburg at the start of the 2015-16 season. He scored 10 goals and added nine assists in Serie A play this season, and has kept up his production pace since moving from the Bundesliga to Italy.

United needs stars and depth for its Champions League campaign, and Perisic would buttress an attack with Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan amongst others. He was a difference maker for Croatia at EURO 2016, and can do the same at Old Trafford.