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.

UEFA bans Samir Nasri six months for IV treatment

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Former Premier League midfielder Samir Nasri has been banned for six months by European governing body UEFA for receiving an intravenous drip treatment in Los Angeles, California in December 2016.

[ MORE: Guardiola hails Man City as trophy haul begins ]

During the time in question, Nasri was on loan from Manchester City with Spanish side Sevilla.

Nasri reportedly received the treatment upon an initial diagnosis from his ex-girlfriend Dr. Sarabjit Anand. He later traveled to LA for the treatment, where a private medical company known as the Drip Doctors, set up the IV drip for Nasri.

The IV was said to have contained sterile water containing 50 milliliters of micronutrient components, which given in an infusion over the span of six hours is considered illegal by the World Anti-doping Agency.

Nasri is without a club at this time, after last appearing for Turkish club Antalyaspor in January. The 30-year-old left the side this winter after making just eight appearances in all competitions.

PSG suffers big blow as Neymar stretchered off against Marseille

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With an important run of fixtures upcoming, including a UEFA Champions League date with Real Madrid, the Parisians received disappointing news on Sunday.

[ MORE: Guardiola hails Man City as trophy haul begins ]

Despite picking up a 3-0 victory against Marseille, Paris Saint-Germain suffered a massive blow in the second stanza after Neymar was stretchered off the pitch with a right leg injury in the 81st minute.

The Brazilian international appeared to twist his ankle upon landing on the ground after going in for a challenge, although there was no contact when the attacker went down in agony.

Minutes after suffering the apparent ankle injury, Neymar was carried off the field on a stretcher by medical staff, raising questions about his availability in the coming weeks.

PSG faces a crucial run of matches, including Wednesday’s French Cup match against Marseille and their second leg UCL fixture against Real Madrid.

Unai Emery and his side currently trail 3-1 against Los Blancos, as the tie heads back to Paris for the second meeting.

This season, Neymar has tallied 28 goals in all competitions for the Parisians, including six finishes in the UCL, so his potential absence would be a huge blow to PSG’s hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals.

La Liga & Serie A: Griezmann hat-trick paces Atleti, Milan tops Roma

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Sevilla 2-5 Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann’s hat-trick helped pace Atletico on Sunday as Diego Simeone and Co. continue to apply pressure to Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Atleti remains seven points behind the Blaugrana in Spain’s top flight, after picking up its 17th victory of the season. The visitors scored twice in the first half with finishes from Diego Costa and Griezmann, before Koke and two more goals from the Frenchman extended the lead to 5-0.

Meanwhile, Sevilla did manage to pull back two late goals through Pablo Sarabia and Nolito, however, it was too late to complete a comeback.

Valencia 2-1 Real Sociedad

A brace from Santi Mina pulled Valencia to within two points of Real Madrid for third place in La Liga. The defeat for Sociedad keeps the bottom half side in 14th place, however, the side has a 10-point cushion above the relegation zone.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Malaga
Villareal 1-0 Getafe

 


Roma 0-2 AC Milan

A big victory for the Milan side has Gennaro Gatusso’s men back in contention for a top five place in Italy. Second-half strikes from Patrick Cutrone and Davide Calabria helped pace the visitors, as Roma suffered a big blow in the title race. Roma now sits 16 points behind league leaders Napoli, while already having lost earlier in the week to Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League.

 

Elsewhere in Serie A

Crotone 2-3 SPAL
Fiorentina 1-0 Chievo
Hellas 2-1 Torino
Sampdoria 2-1 Udinese
Sassuolo 0-3 Lazio
Juventus vs. Atalanta (POSTPONED)

Usain Bolt claims he’s signed with professional team

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A former world-record sprinter is set to take his opportunity as a soccer player, however, he won’t reveal which club just yet.

[ MORE: Three things from Man City’s Carabao Cup triumph ]

Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt revealed on Sunday that he has signed a contract with a professional side, although the 31-year-old wouldn’t state which club or where the side resides.

The veteran runner retired from track and field last year after winning eight Olympic gold medals in his career.

Bolt has been connected with several major European clubs in the past, including Manchester United — whom he has been a lifelong supporter of — and Borussia Dortmund.

Bolt was set to have a trial with the German side next month, although it’s unlikely that the Jamaican will have that chance now that he’s signed with a team.

Last month, he also trained with South African side Mamelodi Sundown.