Gareth Bale

Real Madrid beat Barcelona to win Copa del Rey, as Bale’s brilliance seals it

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Real Madrid beat arch rivals Barcelona 2-1 in the Copa del Rey final on Wednesday, as Carlo Ancelotti won his first trophy as Real manager.

Gareth Bale was the hero as his stunning solo goal five minutes from time gave Madrid the win. Barca have now suffered three defeats in a row as Gerardo Martino’s team are stuck in a rut.

Barcelona trailed for most of the game, as Angel Di Maria’s 11th minute strike put Real 1-0 up in the latest installment of El Clasico. However Marc Bartra’s header made it 1-1 with 20 minutes to go before Bale’s moment of brilliance handed his side the silverware. Real have now won the Copa del Rey 19 times.

Predictably the game started at a frantic pace as Isco was booked within three minutes for a nasty challenge on Barcelona winger Neymar. The first real chance of the match arrived within five minutes, as Gareth Bale was set free down the left and drilled a powerful shot across goal that just missed the far post. The Welshman had a right-footed effort deflected wide moment later, as Real started the game superbly.

They were rewarded for that great start after 10 minutes, when a flowing counter-attack saw Bale play the ball to Karim Benzema who clipped a pass to set Di Maria free and the Argentine attacker finished with a low shot that squirmed over the line to put the capital club ahead.

Barcelona gradually came back into the game as the first half wore on, with Cesc Fabregas whipping the ball across goal but none of his teammates could get on the end of it. The game continued to ebb and flow but Real almost had a second just before half time as Bale played in Isco on the edge of the box but Sergio Busquets came from nowhere to make a last-ditch block to stop the shot.

source: AP
Bale was a constant thorn in Barca’s side, as the Welshman tore their makeshift defense apart.

After the break Real continued to dominate as Bale surged forward but smashed his right-footed shot into the side netting and the Welsh international also had a goal chalked out as Real piled on the pressure.

Just when you thought Barcelona were running out of ideas, young central defender Bartra headed home superbly after Pepe let him slip free. Bartra was only in the team because Barca’s usual center half pairing of Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique were injured and the 23-year-old certainly came up big when it mattered most.

With that goal came a seismic shift as Barcelona piled on the pressure but Real hit back late on to retake the lead with a stunning solo goal. That man Bale came up with a sensational piece of athleticism in the 85th minute, as he sped past Bartra on the halfway line and even though he was being fouled his speed took him clear of Barca’s defense before he toe-poked the ball into the net and wheeled away in jubilation.

Late on Barca had a superb chance to level things after Xavi played in Neymar but the Brazilian winger smashed his effort off the post as Real clinched the first trophy of the Spanish season.

LINEUPS

Barcelona: Pinto, Alves, Mascherano, Bartra (Sanchez, 88′), Alba (Adriano, 46′), Sergio, Xavi, Iniesta, Neymar, Messi, Fàbregas (Pedro, 61′)

Goal: Bartra (68′)

Real Madrid: Casillas, Pepe, Ramos, Coentrão, Benzema (Verane, 90′), Bale, Xabi Alonso, Carvajal, Modric, Di María (Illarremendi, 88′), Isco

Goals: Di Maria (10′), Bale (85′)

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.

Saga over: Saido Berahino finally has a new home (video)

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What in the world is the transfer rumor mill going to do without Saido Berahino?

Linked with a move away from West Brom for the better part of two years, the English striker has been freed from the bad graces of Tony Pulis and has joined Stoke City on a five-and-a-half year deal.

[ MORE: Liverpool hires Steven Gerrard ]

Berahino, 23, was sold for $15 million, a fee that could rise as high as $19 million. West Brom has previously rejected bids from Spurs amongst others that reached as high as $31 million.

It’s a smart, calculated risk for Mark Hughes and Stoke, who have not been able to get over the mid-table hump and encroach on European competition. Berahino scored 14 PL goals in 2014-15, a figure that rose to 20 when including all competitions.

Now could this mean Bojan Krkic is indeed off to Middlesbrough? We’ll wait to see if it’s a domino move for the Potters, and also if we one day yearn for the dulcet tones of Pulis screaming, “Saido!”, again and again, on the West Brom touch line.

Moyes says new Sunderland buys won’t be big difference makers

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - JANUARY 17: David Moyes, Manager of Sunderland (L) speaks to Jermain Defoe of Sunderland (R) before he comes on during the Emirates FA Cup third round replay between Burnley and Sunderland at Turf Moor on January 17, 2017 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Sunderland boss David Moyes isn’t expressing the emotions of an optimistic man.

The former Everton, Manchester United, and Real Sociedad manager says his transfer budget is “limited with a big L” and that any names in the transfer market are not the players he’s allowed to pursue.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

Sunderland has been linked with Phil Jagielka, Leonardo Ulloa, Robbie Brady, The Chronicle did report that free agent Joleon Lescott has been training with the team.

Even worse, Sunderland’s two most impactful players, Jermain Defoe and Patrick Van Aanholt, have been reported as targets for other PL sides and may prefer to leave the Northeast.

From The Chronicle:

“I’d be kidding you on if I said the players we are going to bring in in January are going to massively make a big difference because first of all, we probably couldn’t get that level of player and secondly, we probably wouldn’t have the finances to do that.

“To suggest that the player we bring in would be making a big difference, I think, wouldn’t be correct.”

Woof. That’s a tough pill for already beleaguered Sunderland supporters to swallow, and will only cause more unrest from a fan base that has been to know to leave a match early. Sunderland are far from dead in the water, but Swansea, Hull, and Palace are all making moves as it looks more and more like a four team race for 17th. Is Sunderland doomed?