Real Madrid stumbles at Valladolid (and what it does to La Liga’s title race)

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This year more than most, England and Spain’s title races have reminded us not to take anything for granted. That’s a step forward from last year, when races across Europe’s five biggest leagues were decided by May. This year, however, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City have taken turns in the driver’s seat in the Premier League, seemingly emulating the shuffle between Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid in Spain.

La Liga’s race took another subtle, unexpected turn today when Real Madrid dropped points at relegation-embattled Real Valladolid. Despite starting the day in 18th place, Valladolid was able to earn a draw from the Champions League finalists, with an 85th minute goal from Osorio making the Merengues pay for their inability to build on Sergio Ramos’s 35th minute opener.

Real Madrid had 62 percent of the ball. They out-shot Valladolid 21-6, but perhaps resting on their early goal, the Merengues only put three of their shots on target. With the one shot Valladolid managed on Iker Casillas, Osrio beat the Real Madrid keeper on a ball sent in after a corner, adding another turn to La Liga’s best title race in years.

Coming off a weekend in which Spain’s big three earned a combine two points, the suddenly has a wide open feel, particularly with the table’s top two teams destined to face-off on the last day of the season. Here’s what Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, and Real Madrid have in store over the season’s last 2 games:

(All matches played on May 11 and 18)

Atlético Madrid (currently 28-4-4, 88 pts.)

  • versus Malaga
  • at Barcelona

Malaga is currently in 13th place, has lost two in a row, and have nothing to play for. In the teams’ first meeting of the season, Atletico claimed a 1-0 win, with Koke’s winner coming in the 70th minute. Switching from Andalusia to the Vicente Calderon, Atletico would normally be good bets to improve on that result, but after their weekend loss at Levante, anything seems possible for the Colchoneros.

Forecast: Win, draw – 92 points

Barcelona (27-4-5, 85 pts.)

  • at Elche
  • versus Atletico Madrid

Saturday’s draw with Getafe left the team’s title hopes in tatters, but one point between the Madrid teams on Sunday meant Barcelona actually gained ground on Atletico. The big question is whether the team has the confidence to complete this title push. The Blaugrana have two wins in six and haven’t won by more than one goal since April 5. They’ll need to be at their best to claim their first win of the season from Atletico, even if we haven’t seen that level since March 23’s win at Real Madrid.  Sunday’s trip to Elche, a team they beat 4-0 in Catalonia, should help.

ForecastWin, draw – 89 points

Real Madrid (26-6-4, 84 pts.)

  • at Celta Vigo
  • versus Espanyol

Two points from Atletico, and Real Madrid’s title hopes end. Their ideal scenario: Atleti go loss-draw, taking from Barcelona on the final day. If that happens, the Merengues can stay on track for a three-trophy season, provided they win out. Real Madrid  has won its last three against Celta and has taken three straight 1-0s from Espanyol.

ForecastWin, win – 90 points

2-year doping ban upheld for Finland, CSKA Moscow player

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld a two-year ban for CSKA Moscow midfielder Roman Eremenko for a positive test for cocaine.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

CAS says the ban imposed by UEFA was “appropriate” and dismissed the Finland international’s appeal.

[ MORE: Vertonghen says Spurs need to “level up” like rest of PL contenders ]

The ban will expire on Oct. 5, 2018, when Eremenko will be 31.

Eremenko tested positive after playing in a Champions League game for CSKA Moscow against Bayer Leverkusen last September. The 2-2 result was not affected despite Eremenko scoring CSKA’s second goal.

Born in Moscow, Eremenko grew up in Finland and has represented its national team 73 times.

Webb says De Jong would have been sent off with video review

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NEW YORK (AP) Howard Webb says he would have given Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong a red card in the 2010 World Cup final if a video assistant referee had been in place.

The retired English referee showed De Jong a yellow card in the 28th minute for his karate kick into the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso. Hired in March to oversee video technology for professional soccer in the U.S. and Canada, Webb held a media seminar Friday ahead of its Aug. 5 launch in Major League Soccer.

Webb says: “Yes, it was a clear red card. It was a clear and obvious error on my part not to send the player off, and VAR would have been able to recommend a review to me, and I would have been able to make the right call.”

Now 46, Webb was a Premier League referee from 2003-14. He worked the Champions League and World Cup finals in 2010, became director of referees at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and started in March as manager of video assistant referee operations for the Professional Referee Organization.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City 0-1 Atlanta United (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Friday night’s effort at Orlando City Stadium wasn’t the prettiest for either side but Atlanta United will gladly take three points from the fixture as the Central Florida venue proved to be a fortress once more. The Lions were far superior in their attacking threats throughout the match, testing USMNT and Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan on multiple occasions. However, it was Hector Villalba that proved to be the difference when he blasted a long-distance effort to beat Joe Bendik in the 86th minute. Atlanta extends its unbeaten streak to four matches with Friday’s decision, keeping Tata Martino’s side in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, while Orlando City moves into fifth.

Three moments that mattered

36′ — Guzan stands tall, denies Rivas — Carlos Rivas thought he scorched this one (and he did…), but Brad Guzan acted like it was nothing as he held his ground to make the stop.

39′ — Spector gets ripped off by Guzan — The U.S. goalkeeper is at it again… What a save!

86′ — Villalba unleashes stunner to propel Atlanta — Sometimes it just takes one good hit as a striker.

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Man of the match: Brad Guzan

Goalscorers: Hector Villalba (86′)

Report: Man City adding Mendy to continue backline restoration

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Fresh off of completing a record deal to help bolster the club’s back line this summer, Manchester City is back at it with the Premier League season looming.

[ MORE: Alvaro Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

The Citizens are reportedly on the brink of signing Monaco left back Benjamin Mendy to yet another world-record fee — which will total over $67 million.

Confirmation of the deal has yet to be announced by either team, but L’Equipe is reporting that the Citizens are hot on the 23-year-old’s trail in adding to their pricy back four.

Manager Pep Guardiola and Man City have not been shy readjusting their defensive unit over the past year, adding expensive first-team choices John Stones and Kyle Walker.