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

Report: FIFA president Infantino in hot water

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The more things at FIFA change, the more they stay the same.

According to a bombshell report from The Guardian, FIFA president Gianni Infantino was under investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee before the president disbanded the committee in May. The report states that Infantino spent around $1.16 million on his election campaign, despite declaring publicly he had only spent around $583,000 on flights around the world to meet with national FA presidents.

The report claims Infantino was also being investigated by then committee chairman Cornel Borbely over whether he influenced the election of a new president in the Confederation of African Federations, or CAF.

FIFA rules state that presidential candidates must declare campaign expenditures publicly.

The latest bad press on FIFA follows the arrest of Spanish Football Federation president and UEFA vice president Angel Maria Villar and his son among other national and regional officials on charges of corruption and improper management.

Villar appeared in court on Thursday, and a judge denied he and his son bail.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Liverpool rejects Barca bid for Coutinho, Roma offer for Mahrez turned down

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Liverpool isn’t planning on cashing in on one of the Premier League’s stars this summer.

Jurgen Klopp and Co. gave Barcelona a resolute “no” after Barcelona submitted a transfer bid of more than $93 million for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract with the club in January.

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“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week. “The good news is that actually we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer. That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”

Coutinho signed for Liverpool in 2013 but had a breakout year in 2015-2016, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year. Last year Coutinho became an even more consistent goal-scorer and playmaker, scoring 13 goals with seven assists in 34 Premier League appearances.

Keeping Coutinho is of supreme importance for Liverpool, which is back in the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

(more…)

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.