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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

Ranieri returns to Leicester to say final goodbyes

SWANSEA, WALES - FEBRUARY 12:  Claudio Ranieri manager of Leicester City looks on prior to the Premier League match between Swansea City and Leicester City at Liberty Stadium on February 12, 2017 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Claudio Ranieri was at Leicester City’s training ground one final time on Saturday morning as he said goodbye to members of his former staff and his former players.

Let that sink in.

[ MORE: Ranieri – “My dream died”

Ranieri, 65, was sacked by Leicester on Thursday, just nine months after delivering the Premier League title (the first top-flight title in their 132-year history) for the Foxes.

Leicester are currently languishing just two points off the bottom of the PL table, one point and one place above the relegation zone, and have lost five-straight PL games as well as failing to score in six-straight games.

[ MORE: Latest news on Ranieri

It has been widely reported that the players met with the owners to state they were unhappy with Ranieri following the 2-1 defeat in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at Sevilla on Wednesday. Less than 24 hours he was fired by Leicester’s owners.

Speaking briefly to the media as he left the training ground on Saturday, Ranieri remained classy until the very end.

“I feel good now, because of what we achieved at Leicester,” Ranieri said. “I hope it happens again but it will be very difficult.”

He was then asked by reporters outside the training ground if it was emotional saying goodbye to his former players.

“No it was normal,” Ranieri said, before driving off.

Shortly after he departed the training ground Leicester’s Thai owners then arrived in a helicopter as they flew in for talks with the players and caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare.

His firing has sparked outrage across the soccer world as the beloved Italian manager who led the 5000-1 shots from relegation fodder to title glory last season was ruthlessly cast aside. Yes, Ranieri’s Leicester are in a relegation scrap, but surely he deserved a chance to turn it around in the final 13 games of the season?

Now, the Leicester job is a poisoned chalice with Roberto Mancini, Alan Pardew and even former boss Nigel Pearson being touted as Ranieri’s successor. Nobody seems to want to take the job.

With the players under heavy scrutiny for their role in Ranieri’s sacking they’ll be under more pressure to perform against Liverpool on Monday at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Ranieri’s name is sure to be sung loud and proud by the Leicester fans as they make their feelings known to the players and the owners about what has happened over the past few days.

US advances in qualifying for Under-20 World Cup

LEIGH, GREATER MANCHESTER - OCTOBER 05: Tab Ramos, Head Coach of USA looks on prior to the Under 20s Four Nations Tournament match between Germany and the United States at Leigh Sports Village Stadium on October 5, 2016 in Leigh, Greater Manchester.  (Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images)
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The United States advanced to the second round of qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup as Sebastian Saucedo scored twice Friday in a 4-1 win over St. Kitts and Nevis at Tibas, Costa Rica.

Brooks Lennon and Jonathan Lewis also scored for the U.S., which plays Mexico on Monday and El Salvador on March 3 in the second round. The top two teams in each second-round group of the North and Central American and Caribbean region qualify for the Under-20 World Cup, to be played in South Korea from May 20 to June 11.

Lennon, loaned this month from Liverpool to Real Salt Lake, put the Americans ahead in the 16th minute with his fourth goal of the tournament, poking in Jeremy Ebobisse’s cross from 7 yards. Lewis, who is with New York City FC, doubled the lead four minutes later after Lennon’s corner kick to the top of the penalty area was volleyed toward goal by Eryk Williamson. Justen Glad missed an attempted shot from near the penalty spot, and the ball rolled to an unmarked Lewis.

Salt Lake’s Saucedo added goals in the 35th and 41st minute on a 25-yard shot and a 27-yard free kick.

Romario Martin beat U.S. goalkeeper JT Marcinkowski in the 77th after a poor American backpass. Jonathan Klinsmann, the son of former U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, started the first two games for the U.S.

The U.S. (2-1) and Group B winner Panama (3-0), which beat the Americans 1-0 last weekend, both advanced.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
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WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.