Spain Roundup: Barca cruises to re-congest top of table after Madrid derby draw

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It was another match day to remember in Spain, as two La Liga giants battled to a thrilling Madrid derby draw that enabled Barcelona to leap back into second place.

In a match that saw 26 shots, one of the first went into the goal as Karim Benzema scored for Real Madrid in the third minute and threatened to make the affair more business as usual. Atletico won on the road when the two clubs matched up in September but Real countered two Copa Del Ray wins that added up to a 5-0 final score.

But the home club countered with style, adding goals from Koke and Gabi Fernandez before the end of the first half and unwittingly setting the stage for the heroics of a player you may have heard of: Cristiano Ronaldo, who latched onto a loose ball and equalized in the 82nd minute.

The 2-2 draw maintained Real Madrid’s three-point lead over Atletico and opened the door for Barcelona to climb to within a point of the table leaders, which they did with a stylish 4-1 win over Almeria.

Nearly 59,000 were at Camp Nou to watch Barca jump out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Alexis Sanchez and Lionel Messi, the latter of whom nearly added an acrobatic header that shot wide of the goal. Angel Trujillo struck for Almeria about three minutes after the Messi goal, as the Blaugrana appeared a bit sloppy after building the early lead.

It was the man rumored for NYCFC in 2015 that gave Barca a two-goal cushion in the 83rd minute, as Carles Puyol finished a headed Messi rebound that hit the bar. Xavi made it four in the 89th minute.

Aside from the obvious advantage Real Madrid has — a one-point lead on Barca and three on Atletico — Barcelona has the added difficulty of having to face both clubs in the race, while Real and Atletico are done with the derby for the season.

Elsewhere

  • Bilbao 4-0 Granada – Friday night saw Bilbao stay on track for Champions League soccer thanks to an Aritz Aduriz hat trick, while Granada sits 15th.
  • Malaga 1-1 Valladolid – Roque Santa Cruz’s early goal was enough to keep the hosts from giving up full points in this relegation six-pointer, while Daniel Larsson was the equalizing hero for the visitors.
  • Levante 2-0 Osasuna – Early tallies from Papakouli Diop and Ruben Garcia give the hosts a comfortable lead before a 61st minute red card to Victor Casadesus livened things up. Levante sits eighth, with Osasuna in 12th.
  • Getafe 0-0 Espanyol – Getafe now four points ahead of the drop zone, while Espanyol’s dreams of the Europa League seem less realistic.
  • Elche 1-0 Celta Vigo  – 21-year-old Carles Gil plays the hero for the home team, as the visitors are now just one point ahead of No. 13 Elche after the loss.
  • Vallecano 1-0 Valencia – Joaquin Larrivey scored the winner about a half-hour from the finish to provide a huge upset for the home team, who can now see safety from its tie for 18th place.
  • Sevilla 1-0 Real Sociedad — Long-rumored for England, Kevin Gameiro played the hero off the bench for Sevilla with a second-half strike, as the home side pulls to within five of the visitors.
  • Villarreal 1-1 Real Betis — The home team lost its lead after a red card to Uche Ikechuwku open the door for heroics from Ruben Castro, who headed Betis into just its third point on the road this season. They are still 11 points away from sniffing safety.

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Real Madrid 26 20 4 2 73 26 47 11-0-1 9-4-1 64
Barcelona 26 20 3 3 74 21 53 12-0-1 8-3-2 63
Atlético Madrid 26 19 4 3 61 21 40 11-3-0 8-1-3 61
Athletic 26 15 5 6 49 30 19 10-3-1 5-2-5 50
Villarreal 26 13 5 8 47 31 16 7-4-3 6-1-5 44
Real Sociedad 26 12 7 7 46 36 10 8-3-1 4-4-6 43
Sevilla 26 10 8 8 44 41 3 6-3-4 4-5-4 38
Levante 26 9 9 8 26 31 -5 5-5-3 4-4-5 36
Valencia 26 10 5 11 38 37 1 7-2-4 3-3-7 35
Espanyol 26 9 6 11 29 32 -3 6-2-5 3-4-6 33
Celta Vigo 26 8 6 12 32 37 -5 3-6-4 5-0-8 30
Osasuna 26 8 5 13 24 39 -15 5-2-5 3-3-8 29
Elche 26 7 8 11 23 37 -14 5-4-5 2-4-6 29
Granada 26 8 3 15 22 36 -14 4-1-8 4-2-7 27
Getafe 26 7 6 13 23 40 -17 4-5-5 3-1-8 27
Málaga 26 6 8 12 24 35 -11 5-2-6 1-6-6 26
Almería 26 7 5 14 25 46 -21 4-4-4 3-1-10 26
Valladolid 26 4 11 11 28 44 -16 3-6-3 1-5-8 23
Rayo Vallecano 26 7 2 17 26 59 -33 4-0-9 3-2-8 23
Betis 26 3 6 17 21 56 -35 3-3-7 0-3-10 15

Mourinho delighted to have “engine of the team” Pogba back

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One takeaway which has been made 100 percent clear — in case the first four games of the season weren’t enough — is this: Manchester United are, in every way imaginable, a different team when Paul Pogba is on the field.

[ RECAP: Pogba’s star (re)turn lifts United past Newcastle ]

Pogba returned to action on Saturday and paced Man United to a 4-1 thumping of Newcastle United. After the game, United manager Jose Mourinho wasted little time in pointing the finger as Pogba, acknowledging he’s the player that makes the Red Devils tick — quotes from the Express:

“Paul Pogba is different class. Paul and Nemanja Matic grew up together at the start of the season and are the engine of the team. It was in Paul’s hands, how many minutes to play until he began to feel fatigued. It was a great performance from him.

“I know that strikers depend on goals for confidence and happiness. I was really happy to see him score his goal.

“We go match to match — we can only play Manchester City twice in a season. In those games we will try to take points — outside of those fixtures we are not in control.”

As for another returning superstar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, we shouldn’t gloss over the fact that he returned from a torn ACL in just seven months. The original period for recovery was pegged at nine months.

“I am pleased for the three three points, the quality of our performance after Newcastle’s goal, that mentality to react without panic and in a positive way, and obviously the return of injured players is always nice, especially in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s case. His was such a dramatic injury. To see him back is a great emotion”

The gap between United and City is currently eight points, but 26 games remain. There is time, but Mourinho’s men can afford to drop very few points the rest of the way.

Man United 4-1 Newcastle: Pogba’s star (re)turn

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  • Red Devils fall behind early
  • Pogba’s return: goal, assist
  • Gayle’s goal, Yedlin’s assist
  • Martial, Smalling flip the score before HT

It was like Paul Pogba hadn’t been away for even one day of the last 10 weeks, as the French superstar returned from a hamstring injury and inspire Manchester United’s 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Zlatan Ibrahimovic also returned from the torn ACL he suffered in April, making his first appearance in seven months — two months ahead of schedule — as a 77th-minute substitute.

Saturday’s rout wasn’t always straightforward and easy for Man United, as the final score might deceive.

Newcastle struck first in an action-packed, goal-filled first half. U.S. national team right back DeAndre Yedlin tallied his first assist of the PL season, as he sped to the end line and cut a low cross toward the penalty spot, finding the late-arriving Dwight Gayle for a gentle finish

The lead lasted 23 minutes, until Pogba marked his return to action with a delightful assist for Anthony Martial‘s equalizer. Pogba danced past Isaac Hayden, raced toward the end line and floated a delicate ball to the back post, where his compatriot headed home.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Right on the stroke of halftime, United went 2-1 up after Chris Smalling headed home Ashley Young‘s lofted cross to the back post. Smalling remained forward after a short corner Young acres of space to pick his head up and hit the right ball.

United required only nine minutes to double their lead, and it was Pogba, once again proving his worth to the side, who got the goal. Romelu Lukaku floated a cross to Marcus Rashford at the back post, and Rashford’s cushioned header dropped the ball into no-man’s land. Pogba reacted quickest. 3-1. Pogba’s back, and so is United’s swagger.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Seconds after Pogba was subbed — without incident — Lukaku pounced on Florian Lejeune‘s botched clearance inside his own penalty area and slammed a left-footed shot past Robert Elliot.

As exciting as the performance and result were, it was only enough to keep United on pace — eight points back — with Premier League leaders Manchester City, who also won on Saturday.

Jurgen Klopp hails “perfect day” for Liverpool

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Jurgen Klopp has had far from an ideal week but his Liverpool side ruthlessly dispatched Southampton at Anfield to end it on a high note.

[ MORE: Liverpool batter Saints ]

Klopp was sent to hospital earlier this week when he felt unwell but the German coach was given a big boost as Mohamed Salah scored twice in the first half, which included a stunning opener, and Philippe Coutinho finished Saints off in the second half as the Reds eased to victory and stayed in touch with the chasing pack behind runaway leaders Manchester City.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Klopp was happy with what he saw from his side after he was fit enough to be on the bench on Saturday.

“Difficult game, Southampton are a really good football side. It was an open game, we had more chances before we scored. We need to be patient in a lively way,” Klopp said. “The first goal, wow, I have nothing to do with the goal and the second was a fantastic pass and Mo Salah makes great runs. We could have scored more often but it was a perfect day for us.”

Klopp, 50, sees his side just three points off second place after 12 games of the Premier League season, while his side remain firm favorites to qualify for the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.

So far, so good.

Yes, Man City will take some catching (and a collapse of their own) but Liverpool’s aim should be to secure a second-straight top four finish and go from there.

With Sadio Mane, Salah, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in the form they showed on Saturday, plus a fifth clean sheet in six PL games this season at Anfield, the defensive woes Klopp’s team have faced away from home this season aren’t troubling them at home.

Next up is Chelsea at home for Liverpool, which will be a supreme test of their newfound defensive solidity at home. Their results against title contenders this season have been up and down with a draw against Manchester United, hammerings at Tottenham and Man City and a thrashing of Arsenal at home.

Liverpool’s clash against top four rivals Chelsea is followed by five winnable games before they travel to Arsenal on Dec. 22.

Between now and then we will see if Liverpool’s season will amount to more than just a top four challenge. Saturday’s shellacking of a lackluster Southampton may have been “perfect” but a much tougher test awaits next week against a rejuvenated Chelsea side who have Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard purring in attack

Can Liverpool’s oft-fragile defense cope? We are about to find out.

Burnley’s Barnes: “Can we finish the season now?”

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Ashley Barnes broke his season duck in classy fashion, scoring and adding an assist as Burnley stayed in the thick of the race for Europe with a 2-0 win over Swansea City at Turf Moor on Saturday.

[ RECAP: Burnley 2-0 Swans ]

The win shouldn’t be a surprise, as Burnley is humming in style. The Clarets entered the day with a win at Chelsea and draws at Liverpool and Spurs, so why would a visit from Swansea lead to anything than three points.

It’s dream world, really.

From the BBC:

“We’re on a fantastic run. We’re working hard every day and today we were different class.

“Can we finish the season now? No, I’m kidding. there’s still a long way to go and we need to pick up as many points as possible.”

Every win makes more and more believers of the Burnley Football Club. Perhaps more important to the Clarets, each win makes it less likely that Sean Dyche will leave the club for a better gig (Everton), at least right now.