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

Barcelona defends Messi over “unfair” suspension

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi’s four-match international suspension for insulting a linesman was “unfair and totally disproportionate.”

[ MORE: Messi handed ban by FIFA ]

Barcelona released a statement Wednesday expressing “its surprise and indignation” with FIFA’s decision to sideline the playmaker for so long following the incident in Argentina’s win over Chile in World Cup qualifying last week.

The punishment was announced before Argentina lost at Bolivia 2-0 Tuesday, a result that left the two-time champions at risk of not qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Barcelona says it “wishes to reiterate its support for Leo Messi, an exemplary player in terms of conduct both on and off the field.”

Pending an appeal, Messi will only be available to play in Argentina’s final qualifier, on Oct. 10 against Ecuador.

World Cup hopes back on track: What next for USMNT?

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After a four-point haul over the past week in their two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. national team is back on track and heading in the right direction.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Bruce Arena led the USMNT to a thumping 6-0 win over Honduras last Friday and then a gutsy 1-1 draw in Panama on Tuesday in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, as the Hexagonal standings will now look a lot better to U.S. fans who saw their team sitting bottom of the pile for the past four months following defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job.

So, the “Road to Russia” is looking a little less daunting for the U.S. but there are still tough tests ahead in the months to come in World Cup qualifying as well as a Gold Cup campaign on home soil in July.

First let’s look at the standings in the Hex. Ah, that’s better but things are now very tight aside from Mexico running away with things.

With six games to go the U.S. currently occupies the play-off spot as the top three teams in the Hex standings will qualify automatically for the World Cup and the fourth-place team has to play against the fifth-place team from qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation region.


Mexico — 10 points (+4 GD)
Costa Rica — 7 points (+4)
Panama — 5 points (0)
———————
USA — 4 points (+1)
———————
Honduras — 4 points (-5)
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points (-4)


And these are the USA’s six remaining qualifiers as they aim to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

June 8: vs. Trinidad and Tobago
June 11: at Mexico
September 1: vs. Costa Rica
September 5: at Honduras
October 6: vs. Panama
October 10: at Trinidad and Tobago

The first three games at crucial. If the U.S. manages to get seven points from those three matches, that’s magical. Even six points by beating T&T and Costa Rica on home soil would be superb. Yet, if the U.S. drops points to one or both of T&T and Costa Rica, that puts so much pressure on themselves to pick up wins on the road at Honduras and T&T in two of their final three qualifiers. That would not be an ideal scenario.

Still, heading into the past week the aim for the U.S. was to get back on track in qualifying and give themselves a chance of making the 2018 World Cup. They’ve done that. Now, the hard work begins.

Chelsea chase Alexis Sanchez; Man United want Dier

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The summer transfer rumors are heating up long before the heat of summer arrives…

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

On Wednesday it is being claimed by the Guardian that Alexis Sanchez has become Chelsea’s “No.1 target this summer” as the Arsenal and Chile forward has yet to sign a new deal with the Gunners.

Per the report, Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has drafted up a shortlist of the players he wants to sign this summer and Sanchez is at the top of the Italian managers wishlist as he is also close to signing a new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Sanchez, 28, has a deal at Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but if the north London club fails to agree a new deal with him this summer (as well as Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger, but that’s another story…) then they’ll have to sell him on or risk losing him for nothing as a free agent next season.

The striker scored twice for Chile in their 2018 World Cup qualifying win over Venezuela on Tuesday and has been essential all season long to Arsenal, scoring 18 goals and adding nine assists after playing through the middle on his own for much of the campaign.

Would Arsenal really sell Sanchez to a PL rival? It wouldn’t be ideal but it’s not like they haven’t done that in the past. Think of Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy.

The thought of Sanchez on one wing with Diego Costa up top and Eden Hazard on the other wing at Chelsea should be enough to get Arsenal to offer their star man whatever cash he wants — the report states he wants $310,000 a week which would almost double his current $160,000 a week salary — when they sit down to discuss the new deal at the end of this season.


Elsewhere in north London, Tottenham Hotspur’s versatile defender Eric Dier has been linked with a $50 million move to Manchester United this summer.

According to Neil Ashton of the Sun, Dier, 23, is being lined up to replace Michael Carrick in the holding midfield role at United.

Now, Tottenham are notoriously tough to do business with and chairman Daniel Levy will not want to lose one of his top prospects and an England international to a direct rival in the Premier League.

That said, Dier has been used in multiple positions by Spurs this season and Mauricio Pochettino appears to prefer Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele as the holding midfielders and the emergence of Harry Winks has seen Dier’s importance questioned by some.

The fact that Dier can play in holding midfield or anywhere across the back line will also suit Moruinho who likes to have a smaller squad to work with and per the report the Portuguese boss has been a long-time admirer of Dier. His power to break up the play and also use he ball safely could work very well alongside Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera.

PHOTOS: Bizarre Cristiano Ronaldo statue unveiled

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Hang on, is that really meant to be Cristiano Ronaldo?

On Wednesday the Portugal and Real Madrid legend had Madeira Airport named after him just outside his hometown of Funchal and during the ceremony a bust of his head was put on show.

Except, it looked horrendous…

Take a look for yourself in the photos below. See.