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

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.