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Spain roundup: All of a sudden, Real Madrid’s in total control

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Last month, when Real Madrid pulled itself back into Spain’s title race, the main obstacle separating the team from the favorite’s position with the form of their competition. Barcelona was still plugging away at the top of the league, having only once all season. Atlético were right there, with only goal difference keeping them from La Liga’s top spot. Real Madrid could get as hot as they wanted, but unless Barcelona and Atlético began stumbling, they had no chance of claiming the title. And based on the records each team carried into January, there was little evidence saying their pace would slow.

There was little evidence besides history, that is. At one point, both Barça and Atlético were 16-1-1, having claimed 49 of a possible 54 points. In hindsight, we should have seen those rates as admirable but completely unsustainable. Where Barcelona and Atlético really going to navigate the back halves of their seasons — when the Liga, Copa del Rey, and Champions League heat up — claiming 2.7 points per game? Leaving both teams on pace to beat the Primera record of 100 points in a season?

After this weekend’s action, that assumption of greatness looks incredibly naive, particularly after results against Real Sociedad and Osasuna allowed the left for dead Merengues to claim first place. Coming off their Champions League victory at Manchester City, Barcelona was outplayed in San Sebastián on Saturday, losing 3-1. Atlético did the feat one worse on Sunday, losing at Osasuna, giving Real Madrid sole possession of first place thanks to its 3-0 win against Elche.

The win was more workmanlike that spectacular, but on a weekend when Carlo Ancelotti’s team distanced themselves from their competition, the virtues of the workmanlike were never so evident. With goals from Aiser Illarramendi, Gareth Bale, and Isco, El Real enjoyed a leisurely Saturday against the Segunda’s reigning champions, with the quality of Bale and Isco’s tallies underscoring the ever-present potential of Real’s potent attack.

“I am satisfied because we didn’t concede,” was Ancelotti’s assessment, the Real Madrid head coach maintaining perspective ahead of a mid-week Champions League trip to Schalke.  “Our play could have been better but at this stage of the season we need to be solid and we were.”

With Barcelona kicking off later against Real Sociedad, that solid performance would surely only be good enough for a temporary hold on first place. Though they stood three points clear that the final whistle, a Barça victory at Real Sociedad would vault the defending champions back to the top of the table.

But at a venue they haven’t won at since 2007, Barcelona again stumbled. Making six changes from the team that won in Manchester, Gerardo Martino saw his team go down to an early Alex Song own goal. Lionel Messi’s 14th goal of the season brought Barça even, but second half scores from Antoine Griezmann (his 15th of the season) and David Zurutuza punished a lackluster Blaugrana, with La Real claiming a well deserved two-goal victory.

“Real (Sociedad) deserved to win,” Martino confessed afterward, eventually rueing his reluctance to change his tactics. “I didn’t make the correct reading of the game. The decision not to change was also a mistake.”

As shocking as that result was, Atlético’s Sunday performance became the weekend’s biggest surprise. Allowing first half goals to Alvaro Cejudo, Emiliano Armenteros, and Roberto Torres, Diego Simeone’s team went into half time down three. After 15 minutes contemplation on whether the poor form (three-match losing streak earlier this month) had returned, the Colchoneros were unable to make a dent in the second half, leaving the field to their fourth lopsided loss in three weeks.

“Osasuna played a great game,” according to Atlético left back Filipe Luis, who returned from injury on Sunday. “You can’t take anything away from them. They beat us in every facet of the match.”

The loss capped a perfect weekend for Real Madrid. Though the team’s winter form always made a win against Elche likely, Ancelotti’s men couldn’t have foreseen stumbles from both Barcelona and Atlético. But with fortune now extending beyond their own performances, also blessing those trying to take points from their rivals, los Blancos are now in control of La Liga’s title race.

And right now, there’s little doubt: They are the best team in Spain.

Elsewhere

  • Valladolid 1, Levante 1 – Javi Guerra’s second half goal salvaged an important point for Valladolid, who stay within three points of Málaga for the last spot above the drop.
  • Celta Vigo 1, Getafe 1 – A second yellow to Lisandro López in the 52nd minute left a shorthanded Getafe to defending their 1-0 lead, but a 59th minute goal from Rafinha allowed Luis Enrique’s team to extend their unbeaten run to five.
  • Almería 0, Málaga 0 – Bernd Schuster’s team doubled their hosts’ shot total but were left empty-handed after a game where the two teams combined for four shots on goal.
  • Rayo Vallecano 0, Sevilla 1 – Coke’s 57th minute goal gave Sevilla full points from a match where they held only 29 percent possession but limited their hosts to one shot on goal.
  • Real Betis 0, Athletic Club 2 – Athletic maintain their four-point lead on fifth after two Betis red cards left the league’s last place club  little change to pull back Iker Munain’s opener. Guillermo’s late insurance leaves the verdiblancos 11 points from safety.
  • Valencia 2, Granada 1 – Rubén Vezo’s 91st minute winner extends Los Che’s unbeaten run to seven, handing Granada their fourth loss in five.

Monday
Espanyol vs. Villarreal

Others
Real Madrid 3, Elche 0
Real Sociedad 3, Barcelona 1
Osasuna 3, Atlético Madrid 0

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Real Madrid 25 20 3 2 71 24 47 11-0-1 9-3-1 63
Barcelona 25 19 3 3 70 20 50 11-0-1 8-3-2 60
Atlético Madrid 25 19 3 3 59 19 40 11-2-0 8-1-3 60
Athletic 25 14 5 6 45 30 15 9-3-1 5-2-5 47
Real Sociedad 25 12 7 6 46 35 11 8-3-1 4-4-5 43
Villarreal 24 12 4 8 44 29 15 7-3-3 5-1-5 40
Valencia 25 10 5 10 38 36 2 7-2-4 3-3-6 35
Sevilla 25 9 8 8 43 41 2 5-3-4 4-5-4 35
Levante 25 8 9 8 24 31 -7 4-5-3 4-4-5 33
Espanyol 24 9 5 10 28 30 -2 6-2-4 3-3-6 32
Celta Vigo 25 8 6 11 32 36 -4 3-6-4 5-0-7 30
Osasuna 25 8 5 12 24 37 -13 5-2-5 3-3-7 29
Granada 25 8 3 14 22 32 -10 4-1-8 4-2-6 27
Elche 25 6 8 11 22 37 -15 4-4-5 2-4-6 26
Getafe 25 7 5 13 23 40 -17 4-4-5 3-1-8 26
Almería 25 7 5 13 24 42 -18 4-4-4 3-1-9 26
Málaga 25 6 7 12 23 34 -11 5-1-6 1-6-6 25
Valladolid 25 4 10 11 27 43 -16 3-6-3 1-4-8 22
Rayo Vallecano 25 6 2 17 25 59 -34 3-0-9 3-2-8 20
Betis 25 3 5 17 20 55 -35 3-3-7 0-2-10 14

PL Sunday preview: Spurs-Man City; Man United, Arsenal in action

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Four-game Sundays are something of a rare sight in the Premier League, thus we must cherish such an occurrence when the soccer gods are kind enough to bestow upon us a four-game slate of fixtures like the one which awaits us this Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United vs. Stoke City — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

With Wayne Rooney dropped from the starting lineup last weekend, Man United looked the best Red Devils side since — dare we say it — Sir Alex Ferguson retired. That’s all well and good, until Jose Mourinho has to pick his next starting XI for a PL fixture, Sunday against bottom-of-the-league Stoke City. The United and England captain has played in over 500 games for the club (all competitions), and scored nearly 250 goals, yet he’s no longer an automatic starter for the club. Not by coincidence, Paul Pogba scored his first United goal playing in Rooney’s regular position, just behind the striker, which is something he’ll be expected to continue doing as the most expensive signing in the history of the world.

As for the Potters, it’s been a miserable start to the season — yet to win a game; just two points from six games — and Mark Hughes will undoubtedly be wondering, “Am I in danger of being fired?” The answer is simple, Mark: yes, if you’re still at or near the bottom of the league in a month’s time. The elusive first trio of points looked on the cards last weekend, but a 91st-minute equalizer scored by Salomon Rondon extended Stoke’s winless start to the campaign. The last time Stoke won at Old Trafford, in any competition, the date was April 21, 1976.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Key wins for Chelsea, Liverpool ]


Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Six weeks into the season, there are exactly two remaining unbeaten sides in the PL: Man City and Tottenham, who sit first and third in the league table, respectively, heading into Sunday’s showdown at White Hart Lane. For the second straight season, Mauricio Pochettino‘s Spurs possess the league’s best defensive record (three goals conceded), with Pep Guardiola‘s City a close second (five, level with Everton). The two managers know each other well, from their days as Catalonian rivals, at Espanyol and Barcelona, respectively. Pochettino has managed just one win in seven all-time meetings (to Guardiola’s four), though the Argentine has never taken a side as talented as this Spurs squad into a clash with his Spanish counterpart either.

Both sides will be without key figures, with Harry Kane (ankle ligament damage) and Kevin De Bruyne (hamstring) out weeks beyond Sunday’s duel at the Lane. Nolito (suspension) and Vincent Kompany (hamstring) will also be unavailable for City, while the quartet of Mousa Dembele (hamstring), Eric Dier (hamstring), Danny Rose (hamstring) and Moussa Sissoko (concussion) will all face late fitness tests to determine their status on the day. Heung-Min Son has shouldered the goal-scoring load in Kane’s absence, tallying five times in five games (all competitions). City’s 100-percent record is on the line, against a side that turned them over twice in 2015-16, by a combined score of 6-2.

[ MORE: WATCH — PL Download celebrates Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal ]


Leicester City vs. Southampton — 9:15 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

The defending champions, Leicester, are due a victory on Sunday, if their recent form is any indication. The Foxes have alternated wins and losses — both defeats coming via 4-1 scorelines — over their last four games, with the latest thrashing delivered by Man United last weekend. They’ve managed to hit the ground running in their maiden UEFA Champions League voyage (two wins in two), but the early-season league form has all but removed Claudio Ranieri‘s side from this season’s title race. Southampton, meanwhile, have found their footing under (another) new manager, Claude Puel, with back-to-back wins (and clean sheets) after a four-game winless skid to start the season.

[ MORE: Conte revels in Chelsea’s intensity in win at Hull ]


Burnley vs. Arsenal — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Name a time in the last decade in which Arsenal looked more fluid, more balanced, and more ruthless with every foray into the final third. You’d be hard-pressed to do so after recent performances — four straight PL wins, by a combined score of 12-3, including last weekend’s demolition of Chelsea. Throw in the fact Arsene Wenger is celebrating 20 years in charge of the Gunners this weekend, and all of that equals another dominant Arsenal victory, right? Of course, because Arsenal have never once fallen flat on their face when you least expected them to do so.

Burnley have already claimed a pair of impressive scalps — Liverpool and Watford — at Turf Moor this season, which is critical for the Clarets, because they’ve been woeful away from home (two losses in two, both by 3-0 scorelines). With the second-fewest goals scored (five) in the PL this season, Sean Dyche will pin his side’s hopes on a potential third clean sheet of the season.

Ilkay Gundogan returns to Germany squad for qualifiers

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: IIkay Gundogan of Manchester City in action during the UEFA Champions League match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) Ilkay Gundogan will return for Germany after nearly a year out with various injuries for World Cup qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Northern Ireland.

The Manchester City midfielder last played for Germany in a friendly against France on Nov. 13, the night of multiple attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

Gundogan missed the European Championship in France.

Striker Mario Gomez and defender Jerome Boateng are also back after injuries at the European Championship.

Germany began its defense of the World Cup title with a 3-0 win in Norway. The team plays the Czechs in Hamburg on Oct. 8 and Northern Ireland three days later in Hannover.

Germany is the favorite to win Group C and qualify directly for the 2018 tournament in Russia.

WATCH: New PL Download — Celebrating Wenger’s 20 years at Arsenal

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In an era where managers are frequently hired and fired barely 12 months apart, Arsene Wenger has managed to stay afloat — and thrive like few others have done — for 20 years today, Saturday, October 1.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

It’s an unbelievable milestone for the Frenchman, who will finish the 2016-17 season just shy of 1,200 games managed at the club. For the latest episode of Premier League Download, NBC Sports’ Roger Bennett sat down one-on-one with the Gunners’ legendary boss (above video).

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Key wins for Chelsea, Liverpool ]

Their conversation was wide-ranging, from Wenger’s early days at the club, to the world-class players he’s had the privilege of working with, to his personal philosophy about what it takes to be a successful manager.

Bundesliga wrap: Bayern draws, Dortmund loses; Chicharito on fire (video)

Dortmund's Christian Pulisic and Leverkusen's Charles Aranguiz, from left, challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund in Leverkusen, Germany, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Bayern Munich dropped rare points but increased its lead on the field, as Borussia Dortmund fell at Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.

[ MORE: PST talks with Michael Bradley ]

Javier Hernandez made sure he out-CONCACAFed Christian Pulisic, scoring for Bayer in the win. USMNT back Timmy Chandler also went 90 minutes in a loss, as did Mexico’s Marco Fabian.

Bayern Munich 1-1 FC Koln

Joshua Kimmich’s 40th minute goal looked to have lifted Bayern out of its doldrums after the Bavarians fell to Atletico Madrid at midweek, but Anthony Modeste scored his fifth goal in six matches to give Koln a point at the Allianz Arena.

Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 Borussia Dortmund

Someone tapped Bayer out of its long early season nap, as Admir Mehmedi’s 10th minute goal combined with a disciplined, physical performance for the hosts to scoop up three points. Mexico’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez enters the international break in fine form after adding his seventh goal in all competitions this season.

USMNT teen Christian Pulisic got another start for BVB, and was waylaid with a knee to the back. The 18-year-old American came through the scare fine, but had a mostly anonymous match as his team struggled against a game home side.

Hertha Berlin 2-0 Hamburger SV

Vedad Ibisevic made it four goals in his last two outings as Hertha scored in both halves of a home win.

Darmstadt 2-2 Werder Bremen

Serge Gnabry had a great Olympics, and many were surprised when Arsenal allowed him to go back home to Germany. He’s picked up where he’s left off, joining Lamine Sane on the scoresheet in a 2-2 road draw.

Ingolstadt 1-2 Hoffenheim

Sandro Wagner and Kerem Demirbay scored for the visitors, whose clean sheet was spoiled in injury time by a Lukas Hinterseer penalty kick. USMNT midfielder Alfredo Morales did not make the 18 for Ingolstadt.

Freiburg 1-0 Eintracht Frankfurt

Vincenzo Grifo scored in the fourth minute, and it was all the hosts needed to pick up three points. USMNT back Timmy Chandler went 90 minutes in the loss.

Sunday’s matches
Wolfsburg vs. Mainz — 9:30 a.m. ET
Schalke vs. Monchengladbach — 11:30 a.m. ET

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 6 5 1 0 16 2 14 3-1-0 2-0-0 16
 Hertha BSC Berlin 6 4 1 1 11 7 4 3-0-0 1-1-1 13
 Borussia Dortmund 6 4 0 2 16 6 10 3-0-0 1-0-2 12
 1. FC Köln 6 3 3 0 10 3 7 2-1-0 1-2-0 12
 RB Leipzig 6 3 3 0 11 5 6 2-1-0 1-2-0 12
 Mönchengladbach 5 3 1 1 10 6 4 3-0-0 0-1-1 10
 Bayer Leverkusen 6 3 1 2 10 7 3 2-1-0 1-0-2 10
 1899 Hoffenheim 6 2 4 0 11 9 2 1-2-0 1-2-0 10
 Eintracht Frankfurt 6 3 1 2 8 6 2 2-1-0 1-0-2 10
 SC Freiburg 6 3 0 3 7 9 -2 3-0-0 0-0-3 9
 FSV Mainz 05 5 2 1 2 12 11 1 0-1-1 2-0-1 7
 FC Augsburg 6 2 1 3 5 8 -3 1-0-2 1-1-1 7
 VfL Wolfsburg 5 1 2 2 4 7 -3 0-1-1 1-1-1 5
 Darmstadt 6 1 2 3 4 12 -8 1-2-0 0-0-3 5
 Werder Bremen 6 1 1 4 7 17 -10 1-0-2 0-1-2 4
 FC Ingolstadt 04 6 0 1 5 3 12 -9 0-0-3 0-1-2 1
 Hamburger SV 6 0 1 5 2 12 -10 0-1-2 0-0-3 1
 FC Schalke 04 5 0 0 5 2 10 -8 0-0-2 0-0-3 0