Charles, Gustavo Cabral

Spain roundup: Anyone wanna win a title? Barca, Real, Atleti stumble

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Our editor Joe Prince-Wright asked if there was a punishment for winning La Liga, and that question seems even more relevant on Sunday after the big three collected two out of nine points for the second consecutive week.

Barcelona — yes, Barcelona — could not find a goal on the road at Elche. Despite the Blaugranas out-attempting the hosts 20-6, and holding Elche to zero shots on frame, the teams shared the points with a 0-0 score line.

Real Madrid seized that opportunity by… losing at Celta Vigo. Thirty-year-old Charles Dias de Oliveira scored on both sides of halftime as the hosts beat a Real side 2-0 who did not play Gareth Bale or Cristiano Ronaldo.

And so there was Atletico Madrid with an opportunity to clinch its first La Liga title since 1996 with a win at home against Malaga. This was a visiting side that had claimed two points from its last five matches against Atleti.

But they couldn’t find the goal after 45 minutes, and Samuel’s goal in the 65th minute had the home side on the ropes. Atletico was down 1-0, but managed an equalizer less than 10 minutes later when Jose Sosa’s cross was nodded home by Toby Alderweireld. It was the first La Liga goal of the season for the 25-year-old Belgian, and it was a big one.

The match ended 1-1, which means a draw next week at Barcelona will suffice for Atleti to win the league, but who’s betting against Barca now? With Atleti and Real still setting up for a UEFA Champions League final on May 24, Barca only has to focus on 90 minutes next weekend to win its fifth La Liga crown in six seasons.

ELSEWHERE

  • Real Betis 4-3 Valladolid — Just when it looked Betis has licked the stamp on its miserable season, the condemned side scored in stoppage time to keep the visitors in relegation danger.
  • Villarreal 4-0 Rayo Vallecano — The ma
  • Levante 2-0 Valencia— Massive ro
  • Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Real Sociedad — Twenty-five total shots but just two goals as the sides share points.
  • Getafe 1-0 Sevilla — There’s no substitute for desparation; Getafe is three points safe after outshooting the No. 5 team in the table 14-4 en route to the win. Sergio Escudero picks up the lone goal in the 70th minute.
  • Espanyol 1-1 Osasuna – This draw coupled with Almeria’s win keeps Osasuna into the final relegation space heading into the final weekend.
  • Granada 0-2 Almeria– The visitors leapt over their No. 17 in the table hosts to join the ranks of the temporarily safe on goals from Verza and Aleix Vidal.

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 37 28 5 4 76 25 51 15-4-0 13-1-4 89
Barcelona 37 27 5 5 99 32 67 16-1-1 11-4-4 86
Real Madrid 37 26 6 5 101 37 64 15-1-2 11-5-3 84
Athletic 37 20 9 8 66 39 27 13-4-2 7-5-6 69
Sevilla 37 17 9 11 66 51 15 10-4-4 7-5-7 60
Real Sociedad 37 16 11 10 61 53 8 11-4-3 5-7-7 59
Villarreal 37 16 8 13 58 43 15 9-6-4 7-2-9 56
Celta Vigo 37 14 7 16 48 52 -4 6-7-6 8-0-10 49
Levante 37 12 12 13 35 42 -7 7-6-6 5-6-7 48
Valencia 37 12 10 15 49 52 -3 9-3-6 3-7-9 46
Rayo Vallecano 37 13 4 20 45 78 -33 8-0-10 5-4-10 43
Espanyol 37 11 9 17 40 48 -8 7-5-7 4-4-10 42
Málaga 37 11 9 17 38 46 -8 7-2-9 4-7-8 42
Elche 37 9 13 15 29 47 -18 6-8-5 3-5-10 40
Almería 37 11 6 20 43 71 -28 6-5-7 5-1-13 39
Getafe 37 10 9 18 33 53 -20 6-6-7 4-3-11 39
Granada 37 11 5 21 31 56 -25 7-1-11 4-4-10 38
Osasuna 37 9 9 19 30 61 -31 5-5-8 4-4-11 36
Valladolid 37 7 15 15 38 59 -21 6-9-3 1-6-12 36
Betis 37 6 7 24 35 76 -41 5-3-11 1-4-13 25

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 8.41.39 PM

As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 8.41.49 PM

Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.