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

Totti leaves future uncertain before final match with Roma

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ROME (AP) Francesco Totti has finally announced that Sunday’s match against Genoa will be his last with Roma after an incredible 25-season career with his hometown club.

Whether the 40-year-old Totti will continue playing with another squad remains anyone’s guess.

The 2006 World Cup winner opened his future to questions by releasing a carefully worded statement on Thursday.

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“Roma-Genoa, Sunday 28th May 2017. The last time I can wear Roma’s jersey,” Totti said. “I can’t tell you in a few words how much these colors meant, mean and will always mean to me.

“I just feel that my love for football never fades; it’s a passion, my passion. It’s so deep I can’t imagine not fueling it any longer. Ever. From Monday I’m ready to go again. I’m ready for a new challenge,” Totti added.

The first part of Totti’s statement inferred that it wasn’t his decision to end his Roma career but that of the club, by not offering him a contract for next season.

Totti has not hidden his difficult relationship with Roma coach Luciano Spalletti, who has used Totti mainly as a last-option substitute.

However, Spalletti is widely expected to follow former Roma sporting director Walter Sabatini to Inter Milan; while Sassuolo coach Eusebio Di Francesco, a former teammate of Totti’s, could move to Roma.

The second part of Totti’s statement, when he mentioned a “new challenge,” inferred that Totti is considering ending his career with another club.

Miami FC, which plays in the second-tier NASL and is managed by Totti’s former teammate with the national team, Alessandro Nesta, and co-owned by Paolo Maldini – another former Italy teammate – appears to be the most attractive option.

James Pallotta, Roma’s American owner, has offered Totti an unspecified management position.

As for Sunday, Totti is not expected to start.

While the match at the Stadio Olimpico was sold out for Totti’s goodbye, Roma enters the final match of the season still looking to seal second place in Serie A and a direct berth into the Champions League.

Roma is one point ahead of third-place Napoli, which will play at Sampdoria.

Totti has appeared in 785 matches in all competitions with Roma, third all-time in Italy for most games with a single club behind only Maldini (902 with AC Milan) and Javier Zanetti (858 with Inter Milan).

Totti is also second all-time in goals scored in Serie A with 250, 24 short of the record that Silvio Piola established from 1929-54. No other active player has more than 200.

But statistics don’t tell the entire story for Totti, a cultural icon perhaps more linked with his club and city than any other player in Italian history.

Born in the working-class San Giovanni section of Rome, Totti made his debut for Roma at the age of 16 way back in 1993.

In 1998 at the age of 22, Totti became the youngest ever Serie A captain.

At the 2000 European Championship, Totti’s chipped “Panenka” penalty against the Netherlands highlighted his talent and audacity.

A year later, Totti led Roma to its third Serie A title and was the centerpiece of a celebration inside the Circus Maximus attended by a crowd estimated at 1 million.

After a spitting incident with Denmark’s Christian Poulsen at Euro 2004 slightly tarnished his image, Totti regained respect within the national team by returning from a broken leg to help Italy win the 2006 World Cup – playing with a metal rod and about 10 support screws inside his left ankle.

In 2007, Totti led Serie A with a personal-high 26 goals and earned the Golden Shoe award as the top scorer in Europe.

In 2015, Totti scored twice as Roma came back from two goals down to earn a draw with Lazio in the city derby, then took a selfie with Roma’s fans in the background.

A final highlight came in February, when Totti scored in added time to give Roma a 2-1 win over Cesena and a spot in the Italian Cup semifinals.

On Sunday, Totti’s career will be honored with an extensive post-match celebration at the Olimpico.

Whether or not there will be more highlights next season – somewhere – remains to be seen.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Transfer rumor roundup: Morata flying to Milan, Carvalho to Newcastle

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Alvaro Morata is one of the hottest properties on the planet. Like James Rodriguez, he doesn’t get the time at Real Madrid he’d receive at most other clubs in the world. And like James, he’s been linked with plenty of clubs including Premier League powers Chelsea and Manchester United.

[ MORE: Man City medical for Silva ]

But Italian site Gazzetta says Morata will skip over the Premier League for a return to Serie A, this time heading to AC Milan. The ex-Juventus star, 24, scored 20 goals in 42 appearances for Real this year.

Morata is said to be flying to Italy, hours after Marca claimed that Jose Mourinho would insist on his inclusion in any deal for David De Gea.

Newcastle United is the latest club linked to Portuguese center midfielder William Carvalho, and the Magpies are said to be looking into a $78 million bid. The 25-year-old Sporting CP dynamo is a regular in the transfer rumor mill, and has 31 caps for Portugal. The Angola-born Carvalho played nearly every minute of Portugal’s EURO 2016 winning run.

Sevilla: Agreement with Sampaoli to leave for Argentina job

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Argentine managerial wizard Jorge Sampaoli is coming home.

Sevilla announced that Sampaoli is leaving the club after one season to take charge of the Argentina national team, with La Albiceleste’s World Cup fate hanging in the balance.

Sampaoli won 50 percent of his matches at Sevilla, leading the side to the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 in addition to finishing fourth in La Liga.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

He previously led Chile to its first Copa America crown.

Sevilla said the agreement to let him go will be signed on Thursday, allowing him to oversee Argentina’s next World Cup qualifier in late August. Argentina sits fifth in the CONMEBOL table, just two points out of second.

It heads to Uruguay before hosting Venezuela, with the remaining qualifiers versus Peru and away to Ecuador.

FA Cup Final preview: Desperate Arsenal meets Double-seeking Blues

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  • Clubs split PL series
  • Chelsea’s Conte aims for double
  • Chelsea 8W-3D-2L vs. Arsenal since 2012

Arsenal and Chelsea face off with a trophy on the line for the fourth time this century when the London sides hit Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup Final.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield, the first silverware match-up between the two sides since the 2007 League Cup Final in Wales. The Blues won that one, 2-1, while Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: Conte open to contract extension ]

A win would be Arsenal’s third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, and Arsenal would be thrilled to put something shiny in its trophy case following a season of tumult at the Emirates Stadium which ended without UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.

Conte knows Arsenal is desperate for something good.

What they’re saying

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on what a win could mean“We wanted to finish higher up in the league, there is no doubting that. We cannot hide from that and we need to own up to that. The FA Cup is a big trophy, one we want to win and which would definitely boost morale going into next season.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the match: “If you ask me who is the favorite now, I can tell you it is Arsenal because Arsenal now has the possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this reason, we must play with great patience. We must find in ourselves the right motivation, the right anger because the game can be very difficult for all of these reasons.”

Prediction

Could go either way, with many players not just glory-hunting but in the shop window. Will Alexis Sanchez be the difference maker? Mesut Ozil? Maybe, but we think Chelsea ratchets up the intensity one more time and claims a double with a 2-1 win.