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What we learned from Real Madrid’s five-goal, Champions League rout of Schalke

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  • Europe has a clear one-two

Count Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund among teams that could win Champions League, but if you see a European power ranking than has anybody but Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the top two spots, hit Ctrl+W, go to Twitter, unfollow the author and be thankful for all the free time you’ll have going forward. On current form, there’s no question Bayern and El Real are the world’s top two teams. Anything other ranking is talking potential, not present day reality.

After today’s 6-1 blowout in Gelsenkirchen, Real Madrid hasn’t lost since late October. In that time, they’ve climbed to the top of the Spanish league and dealt two lopsided defeats to an Atlético team that entered the month with one all-competition loss. Today at Schalke, their 6-1 served as a counterpoint to the moderation Ancelotti preached in yesterday’s press conference. Whether planned or not, this was a statement of intent, one which saw their talented attack pile on its overmatched opponent.

Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund both lost in league this weekend. Paris Saint-Germain lost to Montpellier last month. All of England’s top teams have stumbled recently. In the meantime, Bayern and Real press on. Bayern hasn’t lost since Dec. 10 (their only competitive defeat under Pep Guardiola), while Real Madrid hasn’t fallen since Oct. 26’s trip to the Nou Camp.

(MORE: Real Madrid sends Champions League message with 6-1 demolition of Schalke)

  • Harsh realities for the German Bundesliga 

Only Spain’s Liga sports a better one-two than Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, but beyond that duopoly, the Bundesliga looks a lot like the Spanish Primera División before Atlético Madrid’s recent emergence. While a BVB team that’s struggling in league gives the false impression teams like Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke can match their play, the league actually has two European elites that are head and shoulders ahead of the circuit’s versions of Valencia, Sevilla, Villarreal and Málaga.

Last week provided the first evidence, with Bayer Leverkusen putting up no fight as Paris Saint-Germain took a 4-0 lead of the BayArena. Today, Schalke’s result was even worse, with three Real Madrid players scoring twice as the Miners fell behind, 6-1. If this is what the Bundesliga has to offer beyond Bayern and Dortmund, it’s difficult to argue this is the best league in the world.

And in fairness, that argument’s only gained momentum over the last two years. And compared to leagues like Italy’s or France’s, Germany certainly has enviable depth. Ligue 1 only placed one team in the knockout round, while two of Serie A’s three qualifiers also departed in the group stages.

But where the Bundesliga is now being mentioned with England and Spain as the top leagues in the world, results like Bayer’s and Schalke’s are informative. The circuit still has a way to go to make the argument its on the same level as the Premier League or La Liga.

(MORE: Chelsea fails to kill off Galatasaray as home side earns a 1-1 draw)

  • source: APSan Iker still capable of brilliance

The scoresheet speaks to Real Madrid’s attacking brilliance, but a highlight at the other end of the field shouldn’t be overlooked. One minute after Karim Benzema gave los Blancos and early lead, Iker Casillas — the team’s No. 1 in cup competitions only — offered a reminder of why he’s still Spain’s first choice. On a cross from the right for Julian Draxler, San Iker was able to get back from the left post to the middle of goal, his leaping stop denying the talented German from four yards out. On a day where Casillas saw little action, the Madrid icon made one of the tournament’s best saves.

The controversy around the Madrid legend’s benching died down this summer, but performances like today’s offer a reminder. Casillas may not be the elite keeper he was four years ago, but he’s still more than capable of moments that evoke similar qualities. Whether it’s for Real Madrid or another club, the 32-year-old is still worthy of being somebody’s starter. He is, after all, in goal for one of the top teams in this year’s Champions League.

VIDEO: Premier League Team of the Week – Round 25

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In a week where defenders scored critical goals, it’s no surprise to see a 4-3-3 in the Premier League’s Team of the Week.

Robert Huth‘s brace while blanking Manchester City leads the way for the PL’s top XI from the weekend, while Southampton’s vaunted back line and keeper have two in mix.

[ MORE: Ailing Chelsea, Man Utd showcase obvious deficiencies ]

Liverpool and Arsenal both put offensive forces on the team, while big goals for safety hopefuls Newcastle United and Aston Villa found three players between the two in the XI.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Premier League Team of the Week — Round 25 ARCHIVE ]

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster (Southampton)

Defenders: Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), Maya Yoshida (Southampton), Robert Huth (Leicester City), Joleon Lescott (Aston Villa)

Midfielders: Aaron Lennon (Everton), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

Forwards: Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)

Premier League Player of the Week — Round 25

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Score one for the Midlands.

In a season for lowlights, Aston Villa captain Gabriel Agbonlahor is celebrating a bit of hope for his beleaguered club after his classy finish gave the 29-year-old his first goal of the season.

[ REACTION: Agbonlahor says Villa now ready to produce great escape ]

It also inspired Villa to consider that eight points off the Premier League safety chase isn’t unrealistic if it can put together some more gritty performances like the 2-0 defeat of Norwich City on Saturday.

Premier League Players of the Week

Week 1: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 2: Romelu Lukaku, Everton

Week 3: Callum Wilson, Bournemouth

Week 4: Bafetimbi Gomis, Swansea City

Week 5: Steven Naismith, Everton

Week 6: Anthony Martial, Manchester United

Week 7: Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal

Week 8: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 9: Raheem Sterling, Manchester City

Week 10: Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 11: Arouna Kone, Everton

Week 12: Jesse Lingard, Manchester United

Week 15: Riyad Mahrez, Leicester City

Week 16: Ayoze Perez, Newcastle United

Week 17: Odion Ighalo, Watford

Week 19: Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke City

Week 20: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 21: Jermain Defoe, Sunderland

Week 22: Sergio Aguero, Manchester City

Week 23: Dele Alli, Tottenham Hotspur

Week 24: Fraser Forster, Southampton

Week 25: Gabriel Agbonlahor, Aston Villa

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.