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

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.