Cristiano Ronaldo

La Liga season preview, predictions: Can anyone outlast Real Madrid?

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Last season, La Liga closed up shop with its first champion not named Barcelona or Real Madrid since 2004. Manager Diego Simeone led Atletico Madrid to the mountain top, their 90 points enough to outlast the usual names.

But Simeone has lost Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois amongst others in his search to repeat, while both Real and Barca have loaded up in the transfer market (a task especially important to the latter, who won’t be able to make another transfer between the end of this window and January 2016).

[ RELATED: Torres in, Jimenez out for Mexico friendlies vs. Chile, Bolivia ]

La Liga would seem as unbalanced as ever, with 10 teams within 10 points of relegation and no one within 17 points of the ‘Big Three’, but is that an illusion? Who will win the league, who can make a charge and who will go down? Glad you asked…

Relegation battlers: Eibar and Cordoba are both making their first trips through La Liga in a long, long time. In Eibar’s case, it’s the first ever trip to the top flight, while Cordoba last played 42 years ago. Deportivo La Coruna is back after one year in the Segunda Division.

All three will struggle to stay up, but Almeria and Getafe both barely escaped with their safety last season. Can Rayo Vallecano replicated its second half of the 2013/14, and avoid the garbage dump that was the first half? Throw in Elche and Granada, and almost half the teams in the league could go down without qualifying as a major surprise.

source: AP
Can Sevilla improve on Europa League triumph?

The challengers: Athletic Bilbao finished in fourth place, 20 back of the title and 17 back of the third slot, and have not done much to replace the loss of Ander Herrera to Manchester United. Sevilla finished fifth and won the UEFA Europa League, though you get the feeling their place in La Liga would’ve been higher without the focus on winning Europa.

Real Sociedad faces major challenges to replicating its success, as Claudio Bravo, Antoine Griezmann and Haris Seferovic all skipped town, while Valencia made enough intriguing additions to move forward.

If you’re looking for a dark horse, try Malaga. They lost Wily Caballero but ably replaced the Man City-bound keeper with Mexican World Cup star Guillermo Ochoa, while also adding Arthur Boka from Stuttgart, Roberto Rosales from Twente and Luis Alberto on loan from Liverpool. Another dark horse is the aforementioned Rayo Vallecano, which has added Gael Kakuta and Alejandro Pozuelo.

The title tilters: Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti faces the challenge of dealing with an embarrassment of riches after his club picked up James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas to its already jacked lineup (and what if Angel Di Maria doesn’t leave?).

Atletico added Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic and Raul Jimenez, but may end up struggling to stay with Barcelona and Real thanks to the adjustment period. Barcelona will be very strong once Luis Suarez returns from his four-month ban, but also faces a bit of uncertainty as names like Ivan Rakitic, Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen acclimate to the Camp Nou and their teammates learn to live life without Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.

Predicted order of finish (2013/14 finish)
1. Real Madrid (3)
2. Barcelona (2)
3. Sevilla (5)
4. Atletico Madrid (1)
5. Villarreal (6)
6. Valencia (8)
7. Malaga (11)
8. Rayo Vallecano (12)
9. Athletic Bilbao (4)
10. Celta de Vigo (9)
11. Espanyol (14)
12. Levante (10)
13. Real Sociedad (7)
14. Granada (15)
15. Getafe (13)
16. Almeria (17)
17. Cordoba (N/A)
18. Deportivo La Coruna (N/A)
19. Elche (16)
20. Eibar (N/A)

Strong pressure helped ease Gunners to five-goal performance

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Arsenal continues to apply pressure at the top of the Premier League, and Saturday’s performance at the London Stadium showed just how dangerous the Gunners can be away from home.

[ MORE: Chelsea makes it 8 in a row; Arsenal, Spurs combine for 10 goals ]

The Gunners took advantage of several West Ham mistakes on the afternoon, including a first-half turnover that sent Alexis Sanchez into the penalty area before setting up a simply tap-in finish for Mesut Ozil.

[ MORE: Carroll says Arsenal can “punish mistakes” instantly ]

Arsene Wenger‘s side went on to score four more times in Arsenal’s 5-1 rout against the Hammers, and Frenchman suggested post match that much of his team’s success was due to their willingness to high press and force West Ham into mistakes.

“I think overall we had a strong team performance for 90 minutes with very few weak periods,” Wenger said. “There’s only one regret that we didn’t take our chances in the first half and that it was 1-0 up at halftime and how it plays on the mind when you can play for that.

“But we maintained the pressure on West Ham and overall we finished in a really strong way. We were always dangerous because we won it quickly back. When we were on the breaks because we we always looked patiently to make the difference.”

Sanchez led the Gunners on the day with a hat-trick, bringing his goal total on the season up to 11. The Chilean has largely helped Arsenal become one of the PL’s most dangerous attacks, with the Gunners having scored the most goals in England’s top flight through 14 matches (33).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

When asked about the prospect of putting up big score lines on a consistent basis, Wenger said that while every game possesses different challenges he is quite pleased with Arsenal’s road form this season.

“I think every game gives you a different problem,” Wenger said. “But at the moment it looks we score more goals away from home than at home. Is that because your opponent comes a bit more out? Is that because you play with a bit more freedom?

“That will be interesting to analyze that. Do we play with a block that is less deep away from home? If you look at our results away from home they’ve been very convincing.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

As Wenger noted, the Gunners have done very well notching goals away from the Emirates Stadium in 2016. In seven away matches thus far in PL play, Arsenal has tallied 18 goals on the road in comparison to the team’s 15 at home.

PL Saturday roundup: Chelsea routs Manchester City; Spurs put up five

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Chelsea players applaud supporters after their 3-1 win in the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte‘s side continues its recent path of destruction atop the Premier League, while the rest of England looks to keep up with the Blues.

Chelsea battled back in the second half on Saturday to defeat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium to extend the club’s PL unbeaten streak to eight matches.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Elsewhere, Tottenham notched five goals in their rout of Swansea City, while Arsenal comfortably handled West Ham United at the London Stadium.

Here, we take a look back at Saturday’s action from around England’s top flight.

Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea — RECAP

Eight straight victories have Chelsea atop the PL, and the biggest now becomes: who will be the club that stops Conte’s Blues? An unlikely own goal from Gary Cahill gave the Citizens the lead on the stroke of halftime, but a thunderous comeback from the visitors helped give Chelsea three points at the Etihad. Goals from Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard rung throughout Manchester in the second stanza, however, Costa’s exit from the match will surely be monitored by the Blues.

Additionally, City will play shorthanded moving forward after Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho picked up red cards during a late scuffle that ensuing following the Argentine’s rash tackle on David Luiz.

Tottenham 5-0 Swansea City — RECAP

Spurs couldn’t have drawn it up better following last week’s disappointment at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham received great contributions from Harry Kane and Christian Erikson, who each netted braces on the day, while Heung-Ming Son delivered a stunning acrobatic effort to help the hosts rout Bob Bradley‘s team. The Swans sit bottom of the PL table on nine points and have conceded 31 times in their opening 14 matches.

West Ham 1-5 Arsenal — RECAP

The Gunners had no troubles with West Ham on Saturday as Arsene Wenger‘s side moved up to second place behind a five-spot from one of the PL’s top attacks. Alexis Sanchez paced the Gunners with a hat-trick, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil also scored for the visitors at the London Stadium. Andy Carroll provided the lone moment of consolation for West Ham after Dimitri Payet‘s free kick smacked off the crossbar and onto the head of the Englishman.

Crystal Palace 3-0 Southampton — RECAP

Fraser Forster put the Saints behind in the first half after a tremendous mistake in front of his own net, leaving Christian Benteke with one of the easiest finishes he’ll ever have. The former Liverpool striker added a second and James Tompkins also got in on the scoring for the Eagles as Alan Pardew‘s men snapped a six-match losing streak.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Leicester player Andy King (c) reacts as Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford makes a last minute save to deny Leicester a draw during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Leicester City at Stadium of Light on December 3, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City — RECAP

Jermain Defoe continues to be the talisman for the Black Cats, however, Sunderland’s good fortunes began off of a Robert Huth own goal. The Foxes pulled a goal back in the 78th minute through Shinji Okazaki but Leicester continued its struggles on Saturday with its seventh loss of the campaign. Sunderland has now won three of its last four matches, bringing David Moyes‘ side up to 18th in the table.

West Brom 3-1 Watford —  RECAP

Tony Pulis‘ side has quietly made some noise in 2016, and while West Brom likely won’t pull off a Leicester-like feat this season the Baggies currently find themselves in sixth place as the halfway point nears. Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt netted in the first half for the hosts before Matt Phillips scored late to ensure all three points would go in favor of the Baggies. Despite nabbing a goal in the second half, Watford’s chances of picking out a result were halted when Roberto Pereyra was sent off.

Stoke City 2-0 Burnley — RECAP

Jonathan Walters and Marc Muniesa helped propel Stoke up ninth place on Saturday with their victory at the Brittania Stadium. For Muniesa, the goal marked his first in the PL. Burnley drops to 14th place following the loss, and the Clarets sit just three points above the relegation zone.

Carroll: Arsenal can “punish mistakes” in blink of an eye

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal scores their thrid goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Slaven Bilic and West Ham have had anything but an ideal start to the 2016/17 Premier League season, and Saturday’s result against Arsenal was a humble reminder of how far the club must come if they are to compete with England’s big boys.

[ MORE: Sanchez scores sensational hat-trick against Hammers ]

Despite Andy Carroll‘s late consolation for the Hammers seven minutes from time, Arsenal built up a throttling 5-1 victory at the London Stadium, leaving West Ham in 17th place.

[ MORE: Chelsea make it eight straight after comeback win at the Etihad ]

West Ham has now conceded nine goals in its previous two matches in all competitions, and have also failed to muster up a victory in six straight fixtures.

For Carroll, the English striker chalked the result up to Arsenal’s ability to punish West Ham when they became sloppy with the ball.

“It was a tough game and disappointing with the way it went. I was ready to come on at 1-0 but they went and scored,” Carroll said. “Their first was a little mistake and we got punished. You saw at the end how teams like Arsenal punish mistakes.”

Angelo Ogbonna cost West Ham in a big way during the first half after committing a turnover to Alexis Sanchez, who then set up Mesut Ozil for an easy tap-in near goal.

The Hammers had trailed 1-0 heading into the final 20 minutes, but Sanchez notched the first of his three goals in the 72nd minute and then proceeded to complete his hat-trick in a span of 14 minutes.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

While Bilic and co. will certainly be deflated following Saturday’s home defeat, Carroll believes the Hammers can turn things around with a simple shift in mentality.

“I’m feeling good but at times like this we need to focus on the team, rather than individuals. We have to improve,” Carroll said.

“We’ve got a good group and I’m sure we can pull ourselves out of it, but at the minute we’re in a tough spell.”

Bundesliga wrap: Top Five all win, RB Leipzig still leads by three

From left, Hertha Berlin's John Anthony Brooks, Peter Pekarik, Julian Schieber and Salomon Kalou celebrate after the German Bundesliga soccer match between Hertha BSC Berlin and 1. FSV Mainz 05 in Berlin, Germany, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. Berlin defeated Mainz by 2-1. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
AP Photo/Michael Sohn
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Bayern Munich took an easy-enough win from Mainz on Friday, putting pressure on new boy leaders RB Leipzig ahead of their Saturday tilt vs. Schalke.

Not a problem.

[ MORE: 2 red cards for teammate fight ]

RB Leipzig 2-1 Schalke

A Timo Werner penalty put the leaders ahead less than three minutes into the match, though Schalke rallied to equalize before allowing an own goal just after halftime. Both of the last two goals came through Sead Kolasinac in a roller coaster performance.

Leipzig remains unbeaten through 13 games, a remarkable achievement for a newly-promoted sign (although that’s a loaded statement given the big investment in the club).

Borussia Dortmund 4-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

Raffael’s early goal in the “Battle of the Borussias” failed to deter the hosts, who saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang net his 14th and 15th goals of the Bundesliga season (in 12 matches!).

USMNT teammates Christian Pulisic and Fabian Johnson subbed into the game for the hosts and visitors respectively, both in the 78th minute with the score line already 4-1.

Wolfsburg 2-3 Hertha Berlin

American center back John Brooks completed a game-high 93 passes as Hertha Berlin kept pace with the table’s top two sides with a late win over 10-man Wolfsburg.

With the score 2-2, Paul Seguin was sent off for his second yellow card in 11 minutes, with Hertha hero Salomon Kalou nabbing a winner in stoppage time. Seguin had scored earlier, but the red will be better remembered.

Elsewhere
Mainz 1-3 Bayern Munich
Hoffenheim 4-0 Koln
Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 Freiburg
Werder Bremen 2-1 Ingolstadt
Darmstadt vs. Hamburg — 9:30 a.m. EDT Sunday
Augsburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 RB Leipzig 13 10 3 0 29 11 18 5-1-0 5-2-0 33
 Bayern Munich 13 9 3 1 29 9 20 5-2-0 4-1-1 30
 Hertha BSC Berlin 13 8 3 2 22 13 9 6-0-0 2-3-2 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 13 6 7 0 25 14 11 4-3-0 2-4-0 25
 Borussia Dortmund 13 7 3 3 31 15 16 5-2-0 2-1-3 24
 Eintracht Frankfurt 12 7 3 2 18 10 8 4-2-0 3-1-2 24
 1. FC Köln 13 6 4 3 18 12 6 4-2-0 2-2-3 22
 FC Schalke 04 13 5 2 6 18 15 3 4-0-2 1-2-4 17
 Bayer Leverkusen 13 5 2 6 20 21 -1 3-2-2 2-0-4 17
 FSV Mainz 05 13 5 2 6 23 25 -2 3-1-2 2-1-4 17
 SC Freiburg 13 5 1 7 17 25 -8 4-0-2 1-1-5 16
 FC Augsburg 12 3 4 5 10 14 -4 1-2-3 2-2-2 13
 Mönchengladbach 13 3 4 6 13 22 -9 3-3-1 0-1-5 13
 Werder Bremen 13 3 2 8 17 32 -15 3-0-4 0-2-4 11
 VfL Wolfsburg 13 2 4 7 12 18 -6 0-2-5 2-2-2 10
 Darmstadt 12 2 2 8 11 24 -13 2-2-2 0-0-6 8
 FC Ingolstadt 04 13 1 3 9 10 24 -14 0-2-4 1-1-5 6
 Hamburger SV 12 0 4 8 8 27 -19 0-2-4 0-2-4 4

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