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Spain roundup: Chaos with Barcelona, and hitting pause on the Seville Derby

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That Barcelona couldn’t summon a sense of urgency for its trip to Granada was the big surprise, moreso than the actual result. Even to the best teams, games like Saturday’s 1-0 loss happen. It’s rare, and it’s always noteworthy, but Barcelona’s not immune to upsets. One or two times per year, David finds his mark.

What’s truly noteworthy about the loss is its place in the bigger story. After being eliminated from Champions League mid-week against Atlético Madrid, players noted how difficult it’s been to concentrate on soccer, given the turmoil around the club. The transfer ban, change in presidents, and diminishing results are starting to weigh on the team, a stress that may have contributed to Saturday’s result. Even though every match between now and season’s end should be considered a must-win, Barcelona couldn’t summon enough to get the result.

Losing for the fifth time this year, Barça’s already accumulated as many league losses as they’ve had the last two years combined. With one more defeat (say, on the season’s final day, to Atlético), Barcelona will have  more losses than at any time since Pep Guardiola was hired in before the 2008-09 season. If the team’s inability to make Champions League’s semifinals wasn’t warning enough, a potential finish outside the top two for the second time in 11 years should remove all doubts. Barcelona’s in trouble.

Not that Saturday’s display wasn’t enough. Down after a Yacine Brahimi goal in the 16th minute, Barcelona still exerted their typical dominance, controlling 81 percent of the possession while accumulating 29 shots. Still, a team with the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar, Pedro, Cesc Fábregas, Andres Iniesta, and Alexis Sánchez should break through, and while one of two slips per year can be expected, Barcelona’s slipping more than they have since Frank Rijkaard was in control.

At the end of that tenure, Barcelona tore down the house and got back to its roots. Guardiola came in and saw the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco out the door.

As Barça’s struggles continue and uncertainty engulfs the team, the temptation to hit the rest button may become too much to ignore.

Divergent paths meet a final time in Seville

With Sevilla making a final push to track down Athletic for the league’s final Champions League spot, the Rojiblancos 2-0 win over rival Betis was expected. At the bottom of the standings, Betis has long been destined for the second tier, with Sunday’s result leaving them 10 points from safety. Unless the clubs meet in Copa del Rey, this will be the last Seville Derby for foreseeable future.

Before Betis was last relegated at the end of the 2008-09 season, the Seville Derby was like most major inner-city rivalries: a slightly acrimonious one. During the Verdiblancos two years in the second division, however, the teams discovered a certain mutual dependence, one that bred respect. While it’s not quite the symbiosis we associate with Celtic and Rangers in Scotland, theirs is a very important relationship, particularly in the financially precarious world of Spanish soccer.

When Pepe Mel brought Betis back to the first division, a struggling Sevilla was able to enjoy a renewed, more civil derby, something that adds another layer of pathos to this year’s decline. Destined for another drop, Betis will also put a temporary pause on one of the best rivalries in the Spanish game, a halt that will hurt both clubs.

Elsewhere

  • Osasuna 0, Valladolid 0 – Two teams looking to scrape together points played out a scoreless draw, one that allows each to finish the weekend above the drop. Combining for two shots on goal, the two sides completed a very Serie A-esque affair, undoubtedly to the chagrin of Getafe and Almeria.
  • Celta Vigo 2, Real Sociedad 2 – Sociedad’s wane from the battle for fourth continues after a 10-man Celta found a late equalizer from Santi Mina, leaving La Real winless in three. Eight points back of fourth place Athletic, Sociedad is now in the league’s last Europa League spot.
  • Villarreal 1, Levante 0 – A Jérémy Perbet’s goal five minutes into second half stoppage time lifts the Yellow Submarine into sixth place, with a Europa League spot looking a near certainty in Villarreal’s return to the first division.
  • Real Madrid 4, Almeria 0 – Goals from Ángel Di María, Gareth Bale, Isco and Álvaro Morata more than made up for the continued absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, with the Merengues staying within three points of rival Atlético at the top of the league.
  • Valencia 2, Elche 1 – Goals from Pablo Piatta and Daniel Parejo bookended Coro’s 28th minute equalizer, and while Antonio Barragán was sent off late in stoppage time, Los Che still ended their three-game winless run.
  • Getafe 0, Atlético Madrid 2Diego Costa was carried off after colliding with the left upright on Atleti’s game-sealing goal, with the win leaving Diego Simeons’s team three points clear at the top.
  • Espanyol 2, Rayo Vallecano 2 – Diego Colotto’s 88th minute equalizer salvaged a point for the home team, but another valuable result for Paco Jémez’s team has los Vallecanos six points clear of the drop.

Others

Granada 1, Barcelona 0
Real Betis 0, Sevilla 2

Monday

Athletic vs. Malaga

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 33 26 4 3 72 22 50 14-3-0 12-1-3 82
Real Madrid 33 25 4 4 94 32 62 14-0-2 11-4-2 79
Barcelona 33 25 3 5 92 27 65 15-0-1 10-3-4 78
Athletic 32 17 8 7 55 35 20 11-3-2 6-5-5 59
Sevilla 33 16 8 9 61 47 14 9-3-4 7-5-5 56
Villarreal 33 15 7 11 52 38 14 8-6-3 7-1-8 52
Real Sociedad 33 14 9 10 56 50 6 10-3-3 4-6-7 51
Valencia 33 12 8 13 46 46 0 9-3-5 3-5-8 44
Espanyol 33 11 8 14 37 42 -5 7-4-6 4-4-8 41
Levante 33 10 10 13 30 41 -11 5-5-6 5-5-7 40
Málaga 32 10 8 14 35 40 -5 6-2-8 4-6-6 38
Celta Vigo 33 10 7 16 36 49 -13 4-7-6 6-0-10 37
Granada 33 11 4 18 30 46 -16 7-1-9 4-3-9 37
Rayo Vallecano 33 11 4 18 39 70 -31 7-0-9 4-4-9 37
Elche 33 8 11 14 27 44 -17 6-6-5 2-5-9 35
Osasuna 33 9 7 17 28 53 -25 5-4-7 4-3-10 34
Valladolid 33 6 14 13 32 50 -18 5-8-3 1-6-10 32
Getafe 33 8 7 18 29 51 -22 4-6-7 4-1-11 31
Almería 33 8 6 19 34 64 -30 5-5-6 3-1-13 30
Betis 33 5 7 21 28 66 -38 4-3-10 1-4-11 22

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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