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La Liga roundup: Table-toppers roll, Athletic stumbles

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The weekend in La Liga saw the three clubs at the top of the table barrel through their opponents.

With Barcelona at the top, their 6-0 win over Rayo Vallecano extended their goal-differential to eight goals over Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, with all three clubs still tied at 60 points.

Both Madrid clubs also recorded clean sheets, with each taking a 3-0 victory.

Meanwhile, Atletic Bilbao, in fourth in the table, was pegged back at home by Espanyol 2-1.

Barcelona 6-0 Rayo Vallecano

Lionel Messi and Neymar both scored goals as Barcelona trounced Rayo Vallecano to take a commanding goal-differential lead at the top of the table.  For more on this match, check out Richard Farley’s recap here.

Real Madrid 3-0 Getafe

Real Madrid didn’t miss a beat without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo.  Jese got things started right away on a feed from Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema put away the comfortable win in the 27th.

The hosts have now won 14 of their last 15 in all competitions, but remain without their Ballon d’Or winner for another two matches.

Atletico Madrid 3-0 Valladolid

A flashy start saw Atletico Madrid cruise to three points, as Raul Garcia picked up a third-minute score and the ever-present Diego Costa banged home another a minute later.

With Atletico having won just two of their last five matches, the win allowed them to get back to their title-contending form.

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Espanyol

Athletic remains mired in fourth and their home league unbeaten streak comes to an end at 12 games, as Espanyol become the first team to beat Bilbao in the league at home this season.

Like many of the top teams this weekend, Espanyol got off to a great start as Sergio Garcia picked up a 6th minute goal.  Carlos Gurpegi equalized early in the second half as he beat Kiko Casilla to a cross, but Espanyol went ahead for good just nine minutes later, Diego Colotto with the winner.

Celta Vigo 2-0 Villarreal

A match that took an extra half-hour due to a tear gas canister on the pitch finally ended with the home side picking up a surprise victory.  It denied Villarreal a chance to take advantage of Athletic Bilbao’s stumble.

Instead, Villarreal remain four-back in fifth position thanks to goals from Fabian Orellana and Nolito, both after the 80th minute.

Granada 1-0 Real Betis

Granada ended a 3-game losing streak by taking their anger out on last-place Real Betis.  Piti Medina picked up the game’s only goal on the end of a long-ball.

The loss sends Real Betis tumbling 10 points from safety. Both teams finished with 10 men.

Levante 1-0 Almeria

Levante jumped four places in the table to seventh as they absorbed much of the first half pressure and grabbed all three points through a volley by David Barral.

STILL TO PLAY: Sevilla vs. Valencia, Malaga vs. Real Sociedad

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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