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.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. The manager guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images
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The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).

Report: USWNT star Holiday has brain tumor removed

Costa Rica v United Staes: Final - 2014 CONCACAF Women's Championship
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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World Cup champion Lauren Holiday has had a brain tumor removed, one month after giving birth.

Holiday’s husband, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans, announced that his pregnant wife was diagnosed with an operable tumor in September, and Lauren Holiday has publicly thanked fans for support while requesting prayers.

[ MORE: UCL Final in United States? ]

The Holidays welcomed their first child earlier this month, and Jrue left the Pelicans preseason to help his wife.

The BBC added this tidbit:

Unbelievably as a three-year-old, she had open-heart surgery to repair a defect and went on to become one of the world’s most respected football players.

Get well soon, Lauren.

WATCH: FC Dallas rocket goal sends Guatemalan rainwater flying off net

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Carlos Lizarazo #22 of FC Dallas looks on during the second half of an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
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Carlos Lizarazo’s ridiculous rocket shook rain off the net in an aesthetically pleasing CONCACAF Champions League goal on Thursday.

The Cruz Azul loanee struck a vicious shot for FC Dallas’ fifth goal, which boosted out of the No. 8 seed for the quarterfinals after a 5-2 win at Suchitepéquez in Guatemala.

[ MORE: PST talks with FCD’s Hedges, Zimmerman ]

Lizarazo, 25, had two goals in 10 appearances for FCD heading into the game, with both coming in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.