Lionel Messi

Spain roundup: Messi hat trick highlights penalty-filled ‘El Clasico’ for the ages

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A match rife with controversy, excitement, embellishment and goals, goals, goals pushed Barcelona one point back of Real Madrid, now locked in a tie for first place with Atletico Madrid.

After a first half of epic proportions found Sunday’s El Clasico knotted up at 2, La Liga giants Barcelona and hosts Real Madrid doubled down on the excitement in a second half befitting of the hype.

The first tally of the second half found Ronaldo winning a controversial penalty after some boot-to-boot contact with Dani Alves that appeared to occur just outside the box. He finished low and hard to the left of Valdes to restore Madrid’s lead, 3-2 in the 55th.

But the PK shoe was on the other foot eight minutes later as Sergio Ramos picked up a red card for Real Madrid. If the first decision carried controversy, this one was that and then some, as Neymar was free of Ramos when he appeared to trip over his own two feet, literally, inside the box. Lionel Messi finished and it was 3-3.

Dani Alves’ strong strike in the 74th minute beat the keeper but struck the post hard as Barca poured forward against Real’s 10 men.

Barca won the match’s third penalty in the 84th minute, when Xavi collided with Xabi Alonso inside the box. Messi converted his hat trick but more importantly launched Blaugrana within a point of both Madrid teams.

You have to feel a little bit for Atletico Madrid, who dispatched Real Betis 2-0 on the road earlier on Sunday. Braian Rodriguez saw red in the 55th minute for the hosts, and Diego Costa and Gabi scored in the second half to give them 70 points on the season, temporarily vaulting Atletico into a first-place tie with Real.

Elsewhere

  • Celta Vigo 0-2 Malaga — A brace from Ignacio Camacho staked the road side to its lead before a red card to Duda made it 10 men and “hold on tight.” They did.
  • Granada 1-0 Elche — Yacine Brahimi’s 63rd minute goal was later helped out by a red card to Elche as Grenada pulled into 11th place and relative safety in the survival fight.
  • Valladolid 1-1 Rayo Vallecano 1 — An own goal was offset by Alberto Bueno before half, but the draw keeps the visitors safe and the hosts three points behind in 18th place.
  • Osasuna 1-2 Sevilla — Carlos Bacca’s penalty conversion in first-half stoppage time held up as the match-winner as Sevilla moves into fifth for at least a day.
  • Valencia 2-1 Villarreal – Javi Fuego outdoes Giovani dos Santos two goals to one, but the visitors still hold a six-point advantage between the 7th and 8th place teams.
  • Espanyol 0-0 Levante – An 88th minute red to Levante’s Víctor Casadesús didn’t provide enough time for the hosts to find a winner.
  • Athletic 1-0 Getafe — Markel Susaeta played hero with a 40th minute tally
  • Almeria vs. Real Sociedad – Monday

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 29 22 4 3 66 21 45 12-3-0 10-1-3 70
Real Madrid 29 22 4 3 80 30 50 12-0-2 10-4-1 70
Barcelona 29 22 3 4 85 25 60 13-0-1 9-3-3 69
Athletic 29 16 7 6 52 32 20 11-3-1 5-4-5 55
Sevilla 29 13 8 8 53 44 9 7-3-4 6-5-4 47
Real Sociedad 28 13 7 8 49 39 10 9-3-2 4-4-6 46
Villarreal 29 13 6 10 49 36 13 7-5-3 6-1-7 45
Valencia 29 11 6 12 41 40 1 8-3-4 3-3-8 39
Levante 29 9 10 10 26 35 -9 5-5-4 4-5-6 37
Espanyol 29 10 7 12 32 34 -2 7-3-5 3-4-7 37
Granada 29 10 4 15 28 39 -11 6-1-8 4-3-7 34
Celta Vigo 29 9 6 14 33 41 -8 3-6-6 6-0-8 33
Málaga 29 8 8 13 28 36 -8 5-2-7 3-6-6 32
Rayo Vallecano 29 9 3 17 33 63 -30 5-0-9 4-3-8 30
Elche 29 7 9 13 24 41 -17 5-5-5 2-4-8 30
Osasuna 29 8 5 16 25 50 -25 5-2-7 3-3-9 29
Getafe 29 7 7 15 26 46 -20 4-6-5 3-1-10 28
Valladolid 29 5 12 12 31 49 -18 4-7-3 1-5-9 27
Almería 28 7 5 16 27 52 -25 4-4-5 3-1-11 26
Betis 29 4 7 18 23 58 -35 4-3-8 0-4-10 19

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

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Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola

MLS Cup Final preview: Seattle, Toronto battle subzero temps for first Cup

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley walks off the field after a training session, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Toronto, for the MLS Cup soccer championship. Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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  • First MLS Cup Final for both
  • Sounders all-time 7W-2L-2T
  • TFC joined in 2007, Seattle 2009

It’ll be in the high twenties (-1 Celsius) when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders kick off the MLS Cup Final on Saturday night in Ontario (Kickoff is Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT).

Combine the visible breath and slight chance of snow with a BMO Field which has been relentlessly loud throughut TFC’s playoff run, and we have the makings of an all-timer.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS Cup roundtable ]

Toronto and Seattle met up at the same venue on July 2, the 1-1 draw perhaps a bit deflated by the absence of Clint Dempsey for Seattle and TFC’s American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Seattle superstar Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t there, either, still weeks away from arriving from Boca Juniors.

This is the second MLS Cup Final at BMO Field, after Colorado defeated FC Dallas in 2010. TFC men Drew Moor and Clint Irwin were part of the championship-winning Rapids in that one.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris greets fans who gathered to send off the team after MLS soccer training, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders were scheduled to travel to Toronto later Wednesday to prepare to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle’s Jordan Morris (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

[ MORE: PST’s Michael Bradley interview ]

Toronto will bring star power to go with a challenging formation; While accolades rightly go to Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco, the Reds’ 3-5-2 under Greg Vanney features versatile wide men in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow.

Seattle is powered through Nicolas Lodeiro, the ex-Boca Juniors playmaker who has been nearly as effective as Giovinco (albeit with a smaller MLS sample size). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the ex-TFC man, has been very good at the back, but can the Sounders’ back line handle Altidore and Giovinco?

The metronomes could be the difference. Bradley’s been good for TFC, but Osvaldo Alonso gave an MLS MVP caliber performance this season.

[ MORE: PST talks with Ozzie Alonso ]

What they’re saying

Toronto FC keeper Irwin on the weather: “It’s probably the most difficult part. As a field player, you can move around. You’re warmer, more active. At this point, there’s not much we can do other than bundle up, and I’ll stay moving back there.”

Seattle forward Jordan Morris on Lodeiro“The first thing Lodeiro said to me is, ‘When I get the ball, you just run.’ I think of him like a quarterback.”

Prediction

Look to the engine rooms here. Alonso is a handful and a magnificent passer of the ball. On his day, Bradley is even better. Will it be? Neither player will shirk from pressure. We’re thinking extra time after a 1-1 match. And Toronto’s depth and home field will propel it to a 2-1 win.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Manchester City clears the ball from Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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  • Man City leads all-time 53W-29D-28L
  • Leicester took 4 of 6 pts last season
  • MCFC won previous four

To cure what ails, Leicester City has to knock off one of the top contenders to its Premier League throne: Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com).

There are some advantages for Leicester, though, as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are suspended for their red cards picked up the loss to Chelsea. Pep Guardiola used Pablo Zabaleta next to Fernando in the UCL draw with Celtic, and looks set for the same come Saturday.

Leicester rested the majority of its starters in a 5-0 loss at Porto this week, following up a 2-1 setback at Sunderland that left the champs just two points ahead of the 18th and 19th placed clubs in the PL.

What they’re saying

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri on the task at hand: “I was waiting for a period like this. Now it’s important to react with a big effort together from the team. That is my focus now. We have to be focused on these matches until Christmas Day. We have to get points. We need points and we have to fight. This part of the season is our key moment. I think every match gives us an opportunity. We have to fight. I repeat, we have to fight.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on Zabaleta’s positional change“But I think Pablo Zabaleta can play in the middle – he is very experienced and he can play there as he did very well against Celtic. I think in the last years of his career he’ll play more in the middle and it gives us another option.”

Prediction

As much as the injuries hurt Man City, there’s certain harm in the wounded unit that fell 3-1 to Chelsea. We believe the Foxes will strike, but Kelechi Iheanacho has proven more than a suitable fill-in for Aguero. Man City 2-1.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]