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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

Report: Januzaj wants to leave Manchester United for good

SHANGHAI, CHINA - JULY 22: Adnan Januzaj of Manchester United competes for the ball during the International Champions Cup match between Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund at Shanghai Stadium on July 22, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
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Adnan Januzaj wants to leave Old Trafford permanently.

The 21-year-old has one club goal since his breakout 2013-14 campaign, when he scored four times in the season that saw him turn 19.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

It wasn’t long ago that the debate on Januzaj’s stardom was not hyped as if, rather when. Countries were fighting for his international future, and United fans were rankled when he didn’t hit the pitch.

Now, it’s a surprise if he factors at all. Januzaj hasn’t played for Belgium since 2014, and made just 12 appearances during a loan stint at Borussia Dortmund last season.

The Daily Mail reports that Januzaj has told Jose Mourinho he’s ready to leave Manchester.

Sunderland have been tipped as a possible destination for Januzaj, who certainly carries a lot of potential. The 6-foot winger has also been whispered as a target of Ajax and Milan.

WATCH: Neuer, Costa, Mourinho guest star in fantastic Pogba “Blah Blah Blah” ad

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Adidas has gone next level with its latest Paul Pogba advertisement.

Next level, or Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime” video meets Kanye West’s “Power” (meets Tim and Eric).

The ad is extra pertinent as we wait to hear whether Pogba’s seemingly inevitable move away from Juventus for a record fee.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Entitled “BLAH BLAH BLAH”, the advertisement features Diego Costa, Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller, Jose Mourinho, Marcelo and others.

For me, the video is as instantly memorable as the “Take It To The Next Level” ad that shows a player going from Sunday league to superstar while Eagles of Death Metal’s “Don’t Speak” plays.

On another day, we can have a discussion on whether the Heidecker/Wareheim collective that brought us “Awesome Show” on Adult Swim is the most influential advertising inspiration in years.

Transfer rumor roundup: Welsh EURO stars to Everton, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid

LYON, FRANCE - JULY 05:  (Forward to back) Ashley Williams, James Collins, Jonathan Williams, Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu of Wales visit the Stade de Lyon, ahead of tomorrow's UEFA Euro Champs 2016 semi-final between Portugal and Wales, on July 5, 2016 in Lyon, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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While much of the focus is on “will he/won’t he” when it comes to superstars like Riyad Mahrez and Paul Pogba, there are still plenty of fresh rumors going around the web this morning.

One of those involves a bit of a trend inspired by Juventus’ activity in the wake of Pogba rumors.

In the past, we’ve seen an almost dominant philosophy of investing in young players with the money gained from transfer sales.

[ MORE: Leicester lands Poland star ]

But Juventus prepared for a potential Pogba move by grabbing a fully-developed player who currently is an improvement on the Frenchman, nabbing Roma ace Miralem Pjanic.

Now Everton may be set to do the same thing. John Stones is by no means a finished product, and the Toffees may be forced into selling him to Manchester City.

Ashley Williams, at least right now, is a stronger player than Stones. The veteran Welsh defender leads both Wales and Swansea City, and would likely be a short-term step-up for Ronald Koeman‘s crew.

Wales Online says it would take $13 million to make the move happen, and with $50m coming in from Stones, that’s an easy decision (Though why would Swans sell? And Williams did support Liverpool as a kid).


Sky Sports says Paris Saint-Germain would love to see what Jese Rodriguez could do in a more demanding role. The Real Madrid man, 23, is jammed behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema at the Bernabeu.

From Sky:

“It’s a possibility, as are other opportunities in the transfer window,” Emery said during PSG’s tour of the US.

“I know Jese well, the club knows Jese well, he is a good player.”


Hal Robson-Kanu let his contract run out at Reading in the run-up to EURO 2016, when he scored what could be deemed the goal of the tournament.

That’s looking like a wise decision for the 27-year-old Welshman, who has become a target of Atletico Madrid and Sevilla in moves that would take him from England’s second tier to the UEFA Champions League.

Both sides are now for their signings being quite calculated, and Robson-Kanu carries risk; He hasn’t scored more than five goals in a season since 2012-13’s Premier League campaign with Reading.

“Leicester wanted me the most”: Ranieri to land Polish prize Kapustka

NICE, FRANCE - JUNE 12: Conor McLaughlin of Northern Ireland is tackled by Bartosz Kapustka of Poland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group C match between Poland and Northern Ireland at Allianz Riviera Stadium on June 12, 2016 in Nice, France.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Bartosz Kapustka is headed to Leicester City, barring something wildly wrong with his medical.

The price for Kapustka, 19, is said to be $10 million. He made his debut for Cracovia at age 16, and has piled up 65 appearances with eight goals and 12 assists for his club.

[ RANIERI: Mahrez will stay at LCFC ]

A left winger who is capable of manning a central midfield spot and also the right side, Kapustka has 11 caps for Poland. He laid out his plans in this post from the Leicester Mercury:

“Yes, of all the offers tabled, Leicester wanted me the most,” Kapustka said. “Ranieri’s interest was a big factor for me.

“He was asking about me, he wanted me to join the team. This convinced me, but there were many factors.

“I’m not going there only because of the name of the club, or because they won the Premier League. I’m optimistic and think I have a real chance of playing time.”

Seems like a good signing for both now and the future for Leicester, as the teenager has already had impactful performances for his club and national team.