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The new fan’s 2014/15 guide to picking a new Premier League club

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Must read preface: For several years on my own site and then on a Western New York soccer blog, I’ve given prospective fans of the Premier League a guide to choose a team. In no way do I claim to give anything other than an opinionated overview that I believe to be a fair representation of clubs whose history far outlives even my fandom of the beautiful game.

[MORE: Interactive team selector from NBC’s Premier League All Access]

But the fact remains that people need to know what they are getting into, as I know personally of a fan or two now attached to insufferable clubs. They had no idea that their love for a brown ale or clever nickname would lead to a lifetime of supporter misery.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

I almost always advocate choosing a club that isn’t already a giant because that’s my background, but do what feels right. Maybe you’re a Yankees or Cowboys fan who enjoys feeding off the hate of others. By all means, continue onward!

So without further adieu, I submit to you my 2014/15 beginners guide to selecting a Premier League team.

source: Getty Images

1. Arsenal
Last championship: 2003-04
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Gunners
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Tottenham, Chelsea
Comparison: New York Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Gooners… they are everywhere. From Piers Morgan to Prince Harry, Steve Earle to Jay-Z, there’s a bountiful group of celebrity fans and it seems impossible to go to a soccer gathering without meeting an Arsenal supporter. There’s some magic to the club, for sure. French manager Arsene Wenger fashions players who play the game with flair and the club has begun to spend again after paying off a great deal of debt. With Mesut Ozil last year and Alexis Sanchez (and more?) this year, the Gunners are looking for a title fight.

2. Aston Villa
Last championship: 1980-81
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Villians
Location: Birmingham
American players: GK Brad Guzan
Biggest rivals: West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City (championship)
Comparisons: Chicago Bears, Calgary Flames
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Great slogan, cool color scheme and some solid players: there are far worse teams to select than Aston Villa. Conceptually, Villa as a strong English side is appealing on a few levels and there’s history to prove the Birmingham team deserves a winner, but manager Paul Lambert has struggled as much as his predecessors and almost had the ignominy of seeing his club relegated for the first time in its history. He’s on the hot seat, and the return to health and form of Christian Benteke is a massive concern.

3. Burnley
Last championship: 1959-60
Years in Premier League: 2/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Clarets
Location: Lancashire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Blackburn Rovers (championship)
Comparisons: Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Chiefs
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The Clarets have enjoyed local support regardless of what league they’ve fallen into — a headline on a bio I looked into was labeled ‘Decline and Near Oblivion’ — and fans know what they are up against in attempting to survive a season in the Premier League. Still this is a 130-plus year-old club with a rich, rich history. Rooting for Burnley to stay up is a hobby most PL buffs could get into… can you?

source: Getty Images4. Chelsea
Last championship: 2009/10
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Blues
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, QPR
Comparison: Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Redskins
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Team’s loaded. LOA-DED. They have four EPL titles and some Champions League glories as well, and look fit to build on that this season. Maniacal genius Jose Mourinho enters season No. 2 with his own cast of characters, a process that began in earnest with the pick-up of midfielder Nemanja Matic last January. Here’s what I said last year, “Honestly, if the Blues put the pedal to the floor this year, they have the talent and depth to put up some record-setting or tying marks in wins, goals, goals allowed… everything.” That was wrong, but it hasn’t changed for this year; The addition of Diego Costa makes them a viable contender for the PL title and Europe.

You could do worse than choosing a club in London, as it is an incredible city to visit. Aside from my distaste for John Terry, they are a decent choice. Chelsea is going to be good — if not great — for a long, long time.

5. Crystal Palace
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 7/23
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Wimbledon
Comparisons: New Jersey Devils, Memphis Grizzlies
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Palace is a truly intriguing option. They seem to be a real working-class London club, a statement backed up by the management of Tony Pulis. I love their modern crest, though they aren’t new jacks. Australian mid Mile Jedinak is a great man to have in the middle of the park, and the addition of Brede Hangeland will make them even harder to play against this season.

6. Everton
Last championship: 1986-87
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Toffees, The School of Science
Location: Liverpool
American players: GK Tim Howard
Biggest rivals: Liverpool
Comparison: Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos
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It’s hard not to like Everton, especially under borderline genius Roberto Martinez. Provided Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman don’t drop off, and we see continued development for Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley, Everton will compete again for a UEFA Champions League slot. With a classy kit/color scheme and a fun rivalry with Liverpool, they are a good choice for new fans. Plus…. American World Cup hero Tim Howard is their longtime starting netminder.

7. Hull City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 4/23
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Kingston upon Hull
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Grimsby Town, Scunthorpe United
Comparisons: Toronto Raptors, Cincinnati Bengals
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Hull under Steve Bruce is an interesting club in that you really never know what you are going to get. The Tigers ran to the FA Cup final and gave Arsenal a scare before ultimately going down to defeat. They’ve already used their first European run to get into the playoff round by beating Trencin, and now have a winnable set-up against Belgian club Lokeren. They are true underdogs, not only in Europe but in England. If you can put up with owner drama — Assem Allam wants to change the team’s brand — you can probably enjoy rooting for a smaller club like Hull.

8. Leicester City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 9/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Foxes
Location: Leicester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Comparison: Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Orioles
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Leicester — or Lie-cester, as Ted Lasso would say — rolled through the Championship last season on 102 points, more than any team outside of Newcastle in the past decade. The Foxes are four-time FA Cup and three-time League Cup winners, and I personally dig the ‘Foxes’ nickname. Forty-six of their 108 seasons in football have been in England’s top flight, and it would be cool to see Leicester stick around for a while.

source: Getty Images9. Liverpool
Last championship: 1989-90
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Reds
Location: Liverpool
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Everton, Manchester United
Comparison: Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Flyers
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Really, it’s fair to call Liverpool the most storied club in the EPL, both title-winning (they have 18) and horrific (their supporters have been involved in two of the biggest tragedies in football history). Like Manchester United, now is a time to jump on board the Liverpool train if you want to join a big club. Liverpool has its return to the UEFA Champions League this year and came oh, so close last season before slipping up in the season’s penultimate fixture. And now, with Luis Suarez gone, perhaps there’s less villainy to choosing the Reds.

10. Manchester City
Last championship: 2013/14
Years in Premier League: 18/23
Nickname: Citizens
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Comparison: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Angels
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Manchester City is a cluster of fun. They have great money, talent and depth, and if you like Oasis you’re in even more luck (The Gallagher Brothers are massive fans). If you pick Man City now, you’re joining a good deal of perceived bandwagoneers — rightly or wrongly — but if baby blue is your hue, don’t let anyone convince you it’s any worse than choosing any other of the giant clubs in the world. Soccer’s money now. We have to deal with it. The reigning champs and winners of two of the last three, City will be a big club for a long time barring unforeseen advances in energy manipulation. Also consider that there will be a natural connection to NYC FC in MLS.

11. Manchester United
Last championship: 2010-11
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Red Devils
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City
Comparison: New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, New England Patriots
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Now is an okay time to get on board with Manchester United and not just feel like you’ve jumped on a bandwagon. You’re a new soccer fan, and the team was a relative shambles last year. New manager Louis van Gaal has a great resume and the club is and will be loaded. United has England’s best talent (Wayne Rooney) and Holland’s captain in Robin van Persie. It will take just a couple great signings, center back and physical midfielder, for an immediate boost back into UEFA Champions League competition.

source: Getty Images12. Newcastle United
Last championship: 1926-27
Years in Premier League: 21/23
Nickname: Magpies
Location: North England
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Sunderland, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Chicago Cubs, Buffalo Bills
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Call them a combination of the Chicago Cubs and the Buffalo Bills, as Newcastle is a rich club that has only been the bridesmaid for years upon years. One of the biographies on the team’s history — and a great read at that — is entitled “Fifty Years of Hurt” (Yup). My goodness have they had hard luck and heartbreak along the way. This club has taken an absolute beating yet continues to find ways to rebound, most recently with a decent performance during their return to the top flight in 2010/11. It’s a miserable team to support, let’s be honest, but head butting manager Alan Pardew has a slew of new talent this season, and is set to tease his fans with another Top 10 run.

13. Queens Park Rangers
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 7/23 (Return: 2014/15)
Nickname: Hoops, The R’s
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brentford, Chelsea, Fulham
Comparison: New York Mets, Brooklyn Nets
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Harry Redknapp guided the club into the Championship and then back into the Premier League in two years time, though his big budget and playoff success were bigger components than consistency. The opinionated boss should have no trouble adapting his veteran club to the Premier League, but could face problems if he struggles to do so. In talking to a QPR blogger for a piece I’m working on, he maintained that Loftus Road is the “most vocal ground in the country” on its best days, and that the club’s jersey is the best going. Judge for yourselves, but a London club, as stated before, does provide great travel opportunities.

14. Southampton
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 16/23
Nickname: Saints
Location: Southampton
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Comparison: Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Athletics
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A club that has seen major glory, including an FA Cup win, but also been through the depths of despair following a relegation and administration allllllll the waaaaaay down to League One… now into a third-straight season in the Premier League. But wait!! The Saints have sold a bevy of their young talent and move forward with a bunch of question marks. Many are tabbing them as relegation favorites, but experienced players like Fraser Forster and Shane Long have joined an influx of new PL talent for manager Ronald Koeman. Hold on, this will be an interesting year to ride the St. Mary’s Express.

source: AP15. Stoke City
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 7/23 (Return 2008-09)
Nickname: Potters
Location: Stoke-on-Trent
American players: DF Geoff Cameron, MF Brek Shea
Biggest rivals: Port Vale
Comparison: Green Bay Packers (without the titles), Portland Trailblazers
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Loads of respect for the fans of Stoke, a club that has smartly moved up the Premier League pecking order. Moving from Tony Pulis to Mark Hughes carried a few bumps in the road, but the Potters were really moving by the end of last season. Bringing in defender Phil Bardsley and Barcelona attacker Bojan Krkic help both ends of the pitch, while they carry under-the-radar players Marko Arnautovic and, yes, the USMNT’s Geoff Cameron. As a new fan, you can adopt Stoke City and feel pretty decent about not hopping the major club bandwagon but also not worrying about falling out of the league.

16. Sunderland
Last championship: 1935-36
Years in Premier League: 14/23
Nickname: Mackems, Black Cats
Location: Sunderland, Tyne-upon-Wear
American players: FW Jozy Altidore
Biggest rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Sacramento Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs
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There’s decent tradition in Sunderland to go with a good manager in Gus Poyet, but it’s incredible that they even survived their moribund last season. American forward Jozy Altidore can still play a big role in their season, and their new relationship with DC United is also cause for raised American eyebrows. Another fun fact: their nickname isn’t an actual word (Mackem is short for Make Them, abbreviated).

17. Swansea City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 4/23
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Location: Wales
American players: MF Kristian Scott (reserves)
Biggest rivals: Cardiff City
Comparison: Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Suns
PST’s Premier League season preview

A big time rugby area, Swansea is also indicative of the a travelers dream: friends have told me it’s a gorgeous place to visit. They’ve played a good deal of free-wheeling football and I certainly wouldn’t mind supporting the Swans under Garry Monk, a longtime club man who kept the team alive last season. Sure, they dealt with a bevy of training ground drama, but Swansea has the feel of a club that could stay up for a while.

18. Tottenham Hotspur
Last championship: 1960-61
Years in Premier League: 23/23
Nickname: Spurs
Location: London
American players: GK Brad Friedel, DF DeAndre Yedlin (next season)
Biggest rivals: Arsenal
Comparison: Washington Capitals, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Cowboys
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Spurs are a good team to pick. They have an awesome name, a cool-albeit-goofy logo and they play in London, so visiting them is an A-plus idea. Tottenham hates Arsenal, so it’s a good bet for vitriol as well. Spurs also have a ton of extremely likable and/or exciting players: Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela among them. There’s also terrific French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and his American backup, Brad Friedel. There’s really a terrific tradition in North London and perhaps they’ve moved from being “so close” to being truly elite again.

19. West Bromwich Albion

Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 9/23
Nickname: Baggies, West Brom
Location: West Midlands
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Aston Villa, Wolverhampton
Comparison: Milwaukee Brewers, Indiana Pacers
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I’ll let Wikipedia show you why I have respect for the fans of this club:

“Albion have always enjoyed loyal and passionate support… Supporters of the team celebrate goals by bouncing up and down and chanting “Boing Boing”. This dates back to the 1992–93 season, when the team was promoted from the new Second Division. In recent years fans of the team have celebrated the end of each season by adopting a fancy dress theme for the final away match, including dressing as vikings in 2004 in honour of Player of the Season Thomas Gaardsøe. In 2002–03 Albion’s fans were voted the best in the Premier League by their peers, while in the BBC’s 2002 “national intelligence test” Test the Nation, they were found to be ‘more likely to be smarter than any other football supporters, registering an average score of 138′.”

source: Getty Images20. West Ham United
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 19/23
Nickname: Hammers, the Irons
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Millwall, Leyton Orient
Comparison: Philadelphia 76ers, Oakland Raiders
PST’s Premier League season preview

The Irons are forever blowing bubbles, but in recent years have had to worry about blowing their season. West Ham is a proud club that has played some boring soccer under boss Sam Allardyce. To be fair, their last few seasons have featured injuries to big purchase Andy Carroll, and this year they’ve added Enner Valencia to what should be an okay attack should Kevin Nolan stay in form, healthy and unsuspended.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)