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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

Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.