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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 Preview: Conference leaders meet as Philly head west to Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Dillon Powers #8 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The weekend is nearing, which means another full slate of ten matches across Major League Soccer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With Sporting KC and D.C. United kicking things off on Friday night, Saturday is jam-packed with eight matches before the league’s youngest clubs NYCFC and Orlando wrap up the action on Sunday.

Colorado Rapids vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

There’s not a misprint on the table, Colorado and Philadelphia are both at the top of their conferences. After sitting near the bottom of MLS for the past two seasons, Colorado has shocked everyone, currently leading the league in points (27) with the fewest goals conceded (9). On Saturday, the Rapids put their perfect 6-0 home record on the line when they host the Union, who currently lead the East by two points.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Coming off of a massive 7-0 win in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC, the Red Bulls will look to continue trending upwards when they host Toronto FC. Two of the preseason favorites to top the Eastern Conference, both sides are currently tied on points, although the Red Bulls have a game in hand. For Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco will be keen to prove Antonio Conte wrong after being left out of the Italy squad for EURO 2016 after the Italian boss talked down upon MLS.

[ MLS: Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Didier Drogba has scored in each of his last three starts, a streak he will look to keep alive against the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. While Drogba will be looking to score, Montreal must make sure their defense is in top form as the Galaxy have scored a league-high 25 goals through 11 matches.

Elsewhere around MLS

Sporting KC vs. D.C. United — Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.