Will Ronaldo win his first-ever Champions League title with Real Madrid this season?

Real Madrid sends Champions League message with 6-1 demolition of Schalke

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Two goals each from Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo highlighted a ferocious night at Schalke for Real Madrid. Posting a 6-1 win  in Gelsenkirchen, Spain’s leaders took commanding lead at halftime of the teams’ two-legged, Round of 16 UEFA Champions League matchup, with only a sublimely volleyed goal late from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar providing a blemish to an otherwise perfect night for Carlo Ancelotti’s emerging juggernaut.

The performance came amid a round of decisive results for the competition’s group-winners, yet on the last day of knockout round’s the first fortnight of games, Real Madrid performance proved its most lopsided. Paris Saint-Germain previously held that distinction with a 4-0 victory last week at Bayer Leverkusen. On Wednesday, however, Bayer’s Bundesliga compatriot did Samy Hyypia’s team one worse, conceding five times over the game’s first 69 minutes to embolden El Real’s status as one of the competition’s favorites.

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

Benzema’s finish into the left of Ralf Fährmann’s goal in the 13th minute gave the visitors a lead with their first chance of the match, a margin that doubled when Bale danced through the Schalke defense in the 21st minute before finishing inside the right post.

A spectacular goal from Ronaldo seven minutes into the second half quelled any doubt Spain’s leaders would walk away with the match, with Benzema’s second of the night five minutes later helping to extend Real Madrid’s lead.

Bale and Ronaldo completed their braces in the 69th and 89th minutes, with only late consolation from Huntelaar forging the game’s final margin – a five-goal win that essentially books their place in Champions League’s quarterfinals.

Schalke must still endure a second 90 minutes three weeks from now in  Madrid, but if history is any indication, the game is a mere formality. No team has ever overcome a five-goal deficit to advance in Champions League.

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

A strong start from Schalke that saw Jefferson Farfán try his luck with crosses from the right was blunted as Real Madrid began monopolizing possession. That control, benign for the first 10 minutes, paid off in the 13th minute when Ronaldo put Benzema behind the defense for an easy finish.

Dribbling in from the right, Bale held off a pursuing Kevin-Prince Boateng to find Ronaldo facing away from goal at the top of the arc. A one-timed back heal intended to meet Bale’s run through the defense instead deflected off Schalke central defender Felipe Santana before settling near the spot. There Benzema beat an oncoming Fährmann into the left of goal, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.

Seven minutes later, Real Madrid had their insurance. Benzema, harassing Santana along the right flank, created a turnover that he immediately played back to Bale. Moving toward goal, Bale dribbled around a recovering Santana and left back Sead Kolasinac to create an open shot 14 yards out. Finishing off the right post, Bale put Real Madrid up two in the 21st minute.

Ronaldo nearly added to the visitors’ lead in the 32nd minute only to see Fährmann push his low, 18-yard shot off the left post. Minutes later a cross for an open Benzema at the right post found the Frenchman’s outstretched leg incapable of keeping his shot under the crossbar. Two more saves on Ronaldo in the half’s final moments left Real Madrid’s star sniper off the scoresheet at intermission, with Madrid going into halftime up, 2-0.

source: APSeven minutes into the second half, Ronaldo had his revenge, much of which came at Joel Matip’s expense. Isolated on the Schalke center half at the top of the area in the 52nd minute, Ronaldo provided a flashback to basketball star Allen Iverson’s famous match up with Michael Jordan, with three step-overs sending the Cameroonian international to his left as Ronaldo dribbled in the other direction. With a left-footed blast just inside the far post, Ronaldo added another spectacular goal to his highlight reel, giving his team a 3-0 lead.

Five minutes later, Benzema’s finish from the right of the penalty area increased the visitors’ lead to four, with a finish from Bale near the same spot in the 69th minute giving Real Madrid their second brace of the night. When Ronaldo added his second in the 89th minute, all three of los Blancos starting forwards had scored multiple goals, with only a perfectly executed volley by Huntelaar from 18 yards out in stoppage time giving Schalke a modicum of consolation.

Outshot 23-10, with their guests posting a 11-4 edge in shots on target, the Miners home leg proved a premature end to their hopes of advancing to the competition’s final eight. Undefeated in seven entering the match, Jens Keller’s team had harbored aspirations of preventing Real Madrid from running their unbeaten streak to 27, but after falling behind six goals by the end of regulation time, Schalke’s performance served as the latest example of the growing divide between Champions League’s contenders and filler.

Along the way, Real Madrid made its strongest argument yet that it deserves to be mentioned among the favorites in this competition. While that’s a stature most grant to Bayern Munich (and Bayern, alone), Carlo Ancelotti’s team has emerged as the most likely team to unseat last year’s champions. Undefeated since October, the Merengues continue to improve, making thoughts of a much-coveted decima (10th European title) more realistic as the competition goes on.

While the Round of 16’s reverse legs may yet change that picture, for now, Real Madrid has earned its place behind the holders as favorites in Champions League, their 6-1 victory the most impressive of the fortnight’s results.

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.