Diego Costa

Looking at the run-in for La Liga’s title contenders

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If you’ve followed the campaign in Spain, you know league-leading Atlético Madrid will face defending champions Barcelona on the last day of the season. It’s been harped on all year. Ever since it became clear Atlético would sustain a title challenge,* May 17 has been circled in big red Sharpie on our mental calendars.

*Let’s also acknowledge how cool is it that we finally have a different title race. The circuit’s been plagued by the perception that it’s Barça, Real Madrid, and a bunch of sadness. That’s always a been gross exaggeration, with the distance between the top two and the pack feeding the delusion. If Atlético can establish itself as a consistent Champions League presence, embracing all the financial rewards that go with it, Diego Simeone may prove one of the most important people in the league’s history – somebody that redefined how the division is perceived by the world.

With their recent struggles, however, the Blaugrana may be no more than spoilers come round 38, given the holders are currently four points behind Atleti. With new injury concerns compound waning form and uncertainties at the club, Barcelona are drifting in the face of a tough run-in, one that sees fourth place Athletic at the Nou Camp this weekend.

Here are the three title contenders’ closing scheduled, with our thoughts on how the race could unfold.

Third place: Barcelona (78 pts.)

Apr. 20 – vs. Athletic
Apr. 27 – at Villarreal
May 3 – vs. Getafe
May 10 – at Elche
May 17 – vs. Atlético Madrid

Outlook: Given the team’s depressed spirits, the next two games couldn’t come at a worse time. Both teams Barcelona would normally beat, both capable of pulling an upset, Athletic and Villarreal are catching Barcelona at the right time. Unless they snap out of their funk, the Blaugrana will be out of the title race in two weeks. Prediction: 10 points, finish with 88.

Second place: Real Madrid (79 pts.)

Apr. 23 – vs. Bayern Munich
Apr. 26 – vs. Osasuna
Apr. 29 – at Bayern Munich
May 4 – vs. Valencia
May 6 – at Real Valladolid
May 10 – at Celta Vigo
May 17 – vs. Espanyol

Outlook: Even with some Champions League congestion (the italicized games), Real Madrid should win out. Their only road games are against teams in the bottom half, with eighth place Valencia the toughest challenge they’ll face at home. Knowing they’ll need to run the table to make Atlético’s game in Barcelona matter, los Blancos should be able to avoid pitfalls, even if the two-day turn around from Valencia to Real Valladolid seems harsh. Prediction: 15 points, finish with 94.

First place: Atlético Madrid (82 pts.)

Apr. 18 – vs. Elche
Apr. 22 – vs. Chelsea
Apr. 27 – at Valencia
Apr. 30 – at Chelsea
May 5 – at Levante
May 10 – vs. Málaga
May 17 – at Barcelona

Outlook: Though Atleti close the season with Barcelona, the team hasn’t lost to the holders all year (five games). Not on their two trips to the Nou Camp. Not when the defending champions were playing well. Even in those circumstances, Atlético’s managed at least a draw with Barcelona.

Perhaps a bigger concern: that trip to Valencia. Sandwiched in between Champions League matches, the game could prove challenging for a squad that’s not used to pursuing titles. Given all the other unprecedented heights Simeone’s side has met, however, winning at the Mestalla is manageable. Prediction: 13 points, finish with 95.

Note: Atlético Madrid wins the head-to-head tiebreaker with Real Madrid, having taken four points from the teams’ head-to-head meetings in league this season.

MLS All Star Game preview: Zelalem, Xhaka will play; Kaka the MLS captain

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is seen in the stand prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
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Fans tuning into the MLS All Star Game on Thursday will get a look at USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem and new Arsenal star Granit Xhaka.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger confirmed the news Tuesday as he met the media along with Petr Cech and Jack Wilshere ahead of Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.

How much they’ll play is unknown, just that Zelalem will be in the lineup and Xhaka will “play a part”.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

Earlier, Major League Soccer announced that Kaka will captain the side, and that FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta and L.A. Galaxy back Jelle Van Damme have been added to the roster to replace Matt Besler and plan for the possible absence of Liam Ridgewell.

MLS has won the last two All Star Games, and the last two against Premier League competition.


Arsenal

Goalkeepers: Petr Cech, David Ospina, Emiliano Martinez

Defenders: Hector Bellerin, Krystian Bielik, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal

Midfielders: Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock, Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Gedion Zelalem

Forwards: Chuba Akpom, Joel Campbell, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott


MLS All Stars

GOALKEEPERS: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution), Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Kaká (Orlando City SC), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)

Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), David Villa (New York City FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

UEFA Champions League roundup: Stanciu’s stunner, five draws, more

BUCHAREST,ROMANIA - AUGUST 19: Nicolae Stanciu of FC Steaua Bucuresti  in action during the UEFA Champions League first leg play-off match against between FC Steaua Bucuresti  and PFC Ludogorets Razgrad on August 19, 2014 in Bucharest,Romania . (Photo by Daniel Mihailescu/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
Photo by Daniel Mihailescu/EuroFootball/Getty Images
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We were treated to a pair of very different but still aesthetically pleasing goals as the first legs of the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League kicked off on Tuesday.

Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk and Monaco are three of the biggest teams playing at this stage of the tournament, with the first two playing today and one featuring in the goals in question.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

That was Ajax, as PAOK’s Djalma Campos took a walk around wandering Ajax goalkeeper Jesper Cilleseen and cut a goal home from a tricky, tricky angle.

The Dutch legends came back to draw 1-1, but gave up a quality road goal to its Greek visitors.

Romanian powers Steaua Bucharest found themselves a thrilling free kick goal in a 1-1 draw at Sparta Prague.

Nicolae Stanciu is the goal scorer in question, the 23-year-old who’s scored four goals in 7 appearances for the Romania national team since breaking through this season.

This is how he did it today:

Tuesday’s first legs
BATE Borisov 1-0 Dundalk
Ludogorets Razgrad 2-2 Red Star Belgrade
Sparta Prague 1-1 Steaua Bucharest
Partizani Tirana 0-1 Red Bull Salzburg
Viktoria Plzen 0-0 Qarabag
Rostov 2-2 Anderlecht
Shakhtar Donetsk 2-0 Young Boys
Ajax 1-1 PAOK
Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 Dinamo Tbilisi

PSG signs Argentine midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Rosario

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PARIS (AP) French champion Paris Saint-Germain has signed attacking midfielder Giovani Lo Celso from Argentine club Rosario Central on a five-year deal, making him new coach Unai Emery’s fourth signing since replacing Laurent Blanc last month.

The 20-year-old Lo Celso, who operates best as a probing playmaker behind the strikers, scored twice for Rosario last season.

No financial details of the deal were given.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

In recent weeks, PSG has signed France winger Hatem Ben Arfa, Poland midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak and Belgium right back Thomas Meunier.

Lo Celso says he hopes to “follow in the footsteps” of countrymen Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore – who are key players for PSG.

Before joining up with his new teammates, however, Lo Celso will play for Argentina at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics next month.

Coup for Koeman? Everton agrees to Gueye’s release clause

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 02: Idrissa Gueye of Aston Villa controls the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on April 2, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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If you’ve read this space at all, you’ll know PST is very high on Aston Villa box-to-box midfielder Idrissa Gueye.

Only N'Golo Kante registered more successful tackles than Gueye in last season’s Premier League, and that came on a Villa side which endured its first PL relegation.

[ MORE: Sounders, Schmid part ways ]

Gueye, 26, has a release clause of $9.3 million, and according to Sky Sports it’s now been met by two teams: Marseille and Everton. Reports say Gueye prefers to stay in England, so Ronald Koeman could have a huge addition to his squad.

It’s not overstating it to say Gueye could revolutionize the Everton squad, allowing players like Ross Barkley even more freedom and giving terrific cover. Gueye has a better offensive acumen than we saw with Villa, and is an invaluable part of Senegal’s set-up.