Ronaldo brace, Jesé injury highlight Real Madrid’s Champions League victory over Schalke

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In a game that had all of its drama sucked out three weeks ago, Real Madrid and Schalke gave the Bernabéu’s support and an impressive visiting contingent a look at each club’s future. Yet on a day when a huge part of that future was stretchered off early, the meaninglessness of Tuesday’s game took center stage. Real Madrid, entering the day’s festivities up 6-1, added a 3-1 to their total. After a game in which neither El Real nor Schalke cared too much about the day’s result, the Merengues are still through to UEFA Champions League’s quarterfinals.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the day’s scoring in the 21st minute when Gareth Bale, on in the eight minute for the injured Jesé, set up first goal of the night. Ten minutes later, a deflection from Sergio Ramos off Tim Hoogland’s long distance shot caught Iker Casillas wrong-footed, allowing Schalke to equalize.

In the 74th minute, Ronaldo added his second, blasting home a shot from beyond the penalty area to make it 2-1. One minute later, Álvaro Morata registered his first Champions League goal, with Bale picking up his second assist of the night.

It’s the fourth straight year Real Madrid has made the final eight, but with early news of a cruciate injury to Jesé circulating by match’s end, the day’s result took on a slightly different context. Though Cristiano Ronaldo ran his season’s goal total to 41, with 13 coming in seven Champions League appearances, the Merengues are left waiting for news on the extend of their 21-year-old’s injury.

The incident occurred early as Schalke challenged the aspiring Spanish international in the right corner. Though Jesé was eventually stretchered from the field, he initially returned and seemed able to continue. By the eighth minute, however, Bale’s number was being raised by the fourth official, signaling the start to worries about the young star’s knee.

It wasn’t long before Bale, originally scheduled to rest, made an impact. Running onto the end of a Morata through ball, Bale get behind the Schalke defense to the right of goal. His square ball into the six for an oncoming Ronaldo allowed the Portuguese star to convert his 12th goal of the competition.

Ten minutes later, Schalke had tied it up, with an unexpected source bringing them to 1-1. Tim Hoogland, allowed to carry the ball to within 26 yards from his right back position, let go of a speculative shot that caught the bottom of Sergio Ramos’s outstretched boot. The deflect gave Casillas no chance to stop Schalke’s second goal of the tie.

In the second half, Ralf Fährmann stops on Ronaldo and Isco gave the impression the Royal Blues could make it to full-time at 1-1. Then, a two-goal outburst just before the 76th minute mark put the game away for the hosts.

The first came from Ronaldo, whose drive from outside the penalty area caught Fährmann’s lower left corner to put Real Madrid in front. A minute later, Bale set up Morata in front of an open net to give the 21-year-old striker his first Champions League goal.

The outburst only added to what was already an embarrassing final score. Schalke, who had entered the day down five, carried no misconceptions about their fate. No matter what, they were going out of Champions League, part of the reason they pulled striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar at half time.

But with their second half capitulation, the Miners leave Spain 9-2 (agg.) losers, with Real Madrid having further established themselves as the team most likely to keep Bayern Munich from a second straight title.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.