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: Bayern Munich scouted Walker, Alexis this weekend

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German publication Kicker says Bayern Munich technical director Michael Reschke attended both of this weekend’s FA Cup semifinals and had his eye on two players in particular.

Reschke apparently wants to bring players from both North London Derby rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Top Four plight ]

In the case of Spurs, that man is right back Kyle Walker. The 26-year-old has also played right mid in 8 of his 35 matches for Tottenham this season, and was named in the PFA Team of the Year. It’s hard to believe Spurs would have interest in selling Walker, who would help fill the role of retiring Philipp Lahm.

On the other side is Alexis Sanchez, the embattled but electric Arsenal attacker who Arsene Wenger described as an “animal” and “always ready to kill the opponent” this weekend. Wenger says Sanchez isn’t going anywhere, but Bayern does boast Chilean teammate Arturo Vidal and former Barca mate Thiago Alcantara.

Walker is signed at Spurs through 2021, while Sanchez’s contract ends after next season.

Roma lands sporting director Monchi, a reported Arsenal target

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AS Roma has found its new sporting director, and it’s a man with a keen eye for talent.

Ramon “Monchi” Rodriguez Verdejo, 48, has spent the last 18 years as the sporting director at Sevilla, which won five UEFA Europa League titles under his watch.

Monchi was discussed in the media as a target for the same job at Arsenal and was a target for other Premier League clubs, but Roma sealed the deal with the former goalkeeper.

[ JPW: Oriol Romeu — The Perfectly Poised Destroyer ]

He is considered to have a big role in discovering and developing Sergio Ramos, Jesus Navas, and Dani Alves.

Read more from ASRoma.com.

Liverpool’s murky Top Four path depends on Manchester United

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Liverpool is a historic club with incredible presence. Jurgen Klopp is a celebrated manager with a strong reputation as a players’ coach.

Those two facets will always make the club attractive to players. Missing out on the UEFA Champions League is another thing altogether and would put a huge dent in Klopp’s ambitious recruitment goals.

And right now, the Reds look destined to drop out of the Top Four.

[ JPW: Oriol Romeu — The Perfectly Poised Destroyer ]

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Chelsea 32 24 3 5 65 27 38 13-0-2 11-3-3 75
 Tottenham Hotspur 32 21 8 3 68 22 46 15-2-0 6-6-3 71
 Liverpool 34 19 9 6 70 42 28 11-4-2 8-5-4 66
 Manchester City 32 19 7 6 63 35 28 8-6-1 11-1-5 64
 Manchester United 32 17 12 3 50 24 26 7-9-1 10-3-2 63
 Everton 34 16 10 8 60 37 23 12-4-1 4-6-7 58
 Arsenal 31 17 6 8 63 40 23 10-3-2 7-3-6 57

Even if Manchester United and Manchester City draw Thursday’s derby, both will be poised to pass the Reds by winning the match-in-hand.

Injury-ravaged United is bothered by UEFA Europa League duty against Celta Vigo, and has a brutal run-in that includes Spurs and Arsenal in addition to City. Liverpool has to hope United falls off, because Man City is likely going to walk over the Top Four line even with a draw in the derby.

The worst case scenario for Liverpool, aside from continuing to flail against clubs outside the Top Seven, is United toppling City on Thursday.

As an aside, it’s extremely unlikely that Arsenal leaps into the fray but if the Gunners did it would come at the expense of United.

Really, Liverpool’s run-in is perfectly built for two of its supporters’ favorite things: Winning matches and rooting against Manchester United. Here’s how they finish:

May 1 — at Watford
May 7 — vs. Southampton
May 14 — at West Ham United
May 21 — vs. Middlesbrough

Liverpool battered Watford 6-1 at Anfield and Boro 3-0 at the Riverside Stadium, but drew both Saints and West Ham earlier this season in addition to losing to Southampton in an EFL Cup semifinal.

Say the Reds nab a perfect 12 points to finish with 78; They’ll need City to take less than 14 from six remaining matches and United to earn less than 15 from six. The latter is far more likely than the former, but will matter very little if Klopp can’t motivate and organize his men in the final four matches.

Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS, much more in lengthy interview

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Ambassadors responsible for Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s move to America extend deep into the 1970s.

1977 to be exact. That’s when Franz Beckenbauer first came to the New York Cosmos from Bayern Munich, a three-season tenure that went so well he returned to New York for his final professional season after time with Hamburg.

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

Schweinsteiger said Beckenbauer’s words meant a lot to him, and admitted that he’s not imparting that wisdom to other overseas players who ask him about MLS.

From TSN.ca (Full video here):

“I remember when David Beckham was playing here or even I know when Franz Beckenbauer was playing here, and I was talking to him and he said he had his best life in America,” Schweinsteiger said. “We spoke about it and I was thinking about it a little bit.For me it was a little bit different because I love to play soccer and in Manchester I couldn’t play enough soccer so that was the problem.”

Among several interesting soundbites from the interview with Schweinsteiger also spoke about Germany’s memorable destruction of host nation Brazil at the 2014 World Cup:

“I remember the semifinal that we won 7-1. Everyone speaks about the 7-1, but we were not talking so much about it because we felt very, in a way, sad, because you saw your teammates like Dante and Luis Gustavo and the Brazilian supporters and the team crying, so you couldn’t really celebrate. Our focus was so much looking forward to the final. I remember things like this, sometimes more than the final.”

Not something you consider often. Winning a match 2-1 against your club teammates is one thing, but sending them to international humiliation is another.