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′)

Report: Chelsea’s Diego Costa, Antonio Conte agree truce

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20:  Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea celebrates victory with Diego Costa after the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Chelsea at Riverside Stadium on November 20, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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The feud is over. For now.

[ MORE: New rules stop Costa move

After Diego Costa was left out of Chelsea’s traveling squad for the win at Leicester City last weekend, he has been training on his own amid reports of a back injury which his manager Antonio Conte

It seems very likely that this situation was about much more than a back injury as Costa and Conte reportedly had a bust-up on the training ground, while links surrounding a big-money move to China continue as Costa’s agent, Jorge Mendes, was seen visiting owners of Chinese Super League clubs last week.

A report in The Times states that Costa and Conte have decided to put their differences aside and the Spanish international is back in contention to start against Hull City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

It was also stated that although everyone is buddy-buddy for now, Costa could still leave in the summer as his volatile nature is far from impressing Conte who continues to stamp his authority not only on the players but the entire club.

It’s clear Conte is boss but he can’t have Costa undermining him as seems to have been the case over the past week and it was also the case earlier on in the season when Conte demanded Costa remained on the pitch.

That said, Costa’s importance to Chelsea can’t be understated as he is the join-top goalscorer in the Premier League with 14 goals and he’s added another five assists this season. With reports linking Chelsea with a summer move for Alvaro Morata, it appears Conte is already trying to plan for life without Costa.

Can the Blues win the PL title this season without Costa’s goal and presence up top? Despite a seven-point lead, probably not. That’s why Conte calling a truce in his instance makes sense.

That said, he now has six months or so to line up a long-term replacement for Costa.

The cracks have been papered over for now. But how long will it be until two fiery characters collide once again?

Lionel Messi discusses his Barcelona future

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the Copa del Rey round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Athletic Club at Camp Nou on January 11, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has addressed speculation linking him with a move away from the only club he has ever known.

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Messi, 29, has been at Barcelona since the age of 13 and the Argentine superstar has won every possible trophy with the Catalan giants, plus has been crowned the World Player of the Year on five occasions.

Time for a new challenge?

Reports had suggested that Barcelona have wanted to start talks over a new contract with Messi for quite some time but with just 18 months left on his current deal, Messi and his representatives are yet to hold talks.

“I have always said that Barcelona has given me everything and I am here for as long as they want me to be,” Messi said in Coach magazine.

Hmm.

Messi also spoke about his former manager and mentor, Pep Guardiola, and his challenging start to life in the Premier League as manager of Manchester City.

“It is a very competitive league, last season showed that, so it makes it very difficult to predict,” Messi added. “Of course Pep is a very successful coach, he will be adjusting to the league, but I am sure that he will be successful.”

Will Messi be part of Pep’s success at City?

It is obvious Barca will want him to stay but if a huge offer comes in for Messi from Man City this summer, or others in the Premier League, then surely he will think twice about it.

If Pep can coax Messi to join him at City, who can clearly afford him, then it would be another glittering star in their attacking line. That said, if Guardiola is going to be successful then he’ll have to add plenty more quality in defense as City currently sit 10 points off leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go in the PL season.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

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Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

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Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

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The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.