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

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”