MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 04:  Real Madrid CF president Florentino Perez gives a speech as he comunicates the dismissal of Rafael benitez and announces Zinedine Zidane as new Real Madrid head coach at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on January 4, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid’s public spat with a mayor after game postponed

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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s only opponent this week has been off the field.

Unable to play over the weekend because its Spanish league game at Celta Vigo was postponed by bad weather, Real Madrid traded blows with a local mayor who accused it of improperly pressuring to play the game despite security concerns.

Upset with the mayor’s comments, Madrid released an official note condemning the “inappropriate” and “totally inaccurate” statements.

Sunday’s match was called off after Vigo authorities deemed Balaidos Stadium unsafe for spectators because of damage caused to the roof by heavy wind.

“I expected cooperation from a team of Madrid’s grandiosity, not pressure,” Vigo Mayor Abel Caballero said Monday. “It’s only a football match. Even for Madrid, it’s only a football match. In my opinion, there was an improper controversy prompted by Real Madrid.”

The postponement created problems for Madrid because of an already tight schedule that includes decisive games in the Spanish league and in the last 16 of the Champions League. The club already had a game in hand in the league, at Valencia, because of its participation at the Club World Cup in December.

“Real Madrid regrets the unfortunate statements made by the mayor of Vigo, in which he states that this club disregarded the security measures required for the (match) to go ahead,” the club said. “Not only are the mayor’s comments inappropriate, they are also totally inaccurate, because at no point in time did Real Madrid question the security measures in place at Balaidos.”

Madrid said it merely proposed alternatives to avoid having the game postponed, including closing the affected seating section under the damaged roof and looking at playing at a nearby stadium.

“These proposals were made with a view to avoiding the postponement of the fixture from negatively impacting upon the four competitions, given the knock-on effect it would cause between them, as well as the massive financial losses suffered by television channels from around the world, which will have an impact on future tenders for the sale of broadcasting rights,” Real Madrid said.

Celta was also affected by the postponement because it is playing in the Europa League and in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey. Celta was expected to use its second-stringers against Madrid in the league, however, so a new date could play into its advantage.

“Madrid isn’t happy because we eliminated them in the Copa (quarterfinals),” Caballero told the Spanish sports daily Marca on Tuesday.

Celta coach Eduardo Berizzo said the club obviously would rather play a team other than Madrid, but dismissed the notion that the game was called off because of that.

“The game would have been suspended regardless of the opponent because it was unsafe for the fans,” Berizzo said. “I still don’t have the ability to make it rain.”

Celta’s opponent in the Copa del Rey, Alaves, also complained of the game’s postponement, saying it gave its rival an unfair advantage because it didn’t have to play any matches after last week’s first leg in Vigo, which ended 0-0. It wanted Wednesday’s second leg played at a different date so “both teams would play under equal conditions.” Its demand was not granted.

The Spanish league defended all the decisions taken regarding the game in Vigo, saying they were based on requests made by local authorities and with the safety of players and public in mind.

“Abel Caballero said the game couldn’t be played and gave his reasons for it,” league president Javier Tebas told the daily AS. “Those who have doubts about the mayor’s decision can make a complaint against him.”

The match between Celta and Madrid wasn’t the only one that had to be suspended because of bad weather in northern Spain. Friday’s match between Deportivo La Coruna and Real Betis also had to be called off because of damage caused by heavy wind at Deportivo’s Riazor Stadium.

The games have not yet been rescheduled.

“The calendar is very tight,” Tebas said. “But we will find a solution.”

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Leicester face Sevilla; Juve head to Porto

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City applauds the crowd in defeat after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first legs take place on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City of the Premier League head to Spain to face Sevilla in the UCL last 16 despite Claudio Ranieri‘s men battling for survival in the Premier League. The Foxes, as always, are the big underdogs in Spain as Sevilla have won the UEFA Europa League in each of the past three seasons and Jorge Sampaoli’s side are battling for the title in La Liga.

As for Leicester, they’re just two points off the bottom of the PL as they haven’t scored in their last six outings and have lost five on the spin as well as being dumped out of the FA Cup by third-tier Millwall at the weekend. So yeah, Sevilla head into this game as the heavy favorites and will hope to take a healthy lead to the King Power Stadium with them in two weeks time.

In the other UCL clash on Wednesday FC Porto host Juventus as the Portuguese and Italian giants collide at the Estadio do Dragao. Porto finished behind Leicester in the group stage, while Juv battled it out with Sevilla and clinched top spot. Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain top of Serie A and will look to Gonzalo Higuain to deliver the goals away from home. It promises to be an intriguing tactical battle in northern Portugal.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Wednesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Sevilla vs. Leicester City – 2:45 p.m. ET
FC Porto vs. Juventus – 2:45 p.m. ET

Man United’s stroll at Saint-Etienne comes at a cost

SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 22:  Jose Mourinho, manager of Manchester United looks on before the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg match between AS Saint-Etienne and Manchester United at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on February 22, 2017 in Saint-Etienne, France.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Manchester United beat Saint-Etienne 1-0 in their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg clash on Wednesday, but Jose Mourinho will be more concerned by injuries picked up ahead of the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

[ MORE: Mkhitaryan, Carrick injury updates ] 

The Red Devils advanced to the last 16 of Europe’s second-tier club competition after a resounding 4-0 win on aggregate against the Ligue 1 side but with goalscorer Henrikh Mkhitaryan hobbling off in the first half and Michael Carrick removed in the second half, Mourinho will have some injury problems to sort out ahead of this weekends final against Southampton at Wembley.

Eric Bailly was sent off for two quick yellow cards in the second half but that didn’t impact the outcome as United cruised into the Round of 16 which will be drawn on Friday.

United have now lost just one of their last 25 games in all competitions. They are well and truly on a roll.

[ MORE: Europa League scoreboard ] 

United controlled the early stages and went ahead after 15 minutes when Juan Mata picked the ball up on the left flank, drifted inside and picked out Mkhitaryan’s run as the Armenian playmaker flicked home. 1-0 to United on the night as the Red Devils led 4-0 on aggregate.

Mata again got free down the left in the first half and his cross hit two Saint-Etienne defenders and almost went in, while Mkhitaryan hobbled off soon after clutching his hamstring.

With Marcus Rashford coming on for Mkhitaryan, he almost made it 2-0 as Ashley Young‘s cross just evaded him. At the other end Saint-Etienne barely threatened as Loic Perrin sent a tame header in on goal which Sergio Romero saved easily.

In the second half United spurned good chances as Marouane Fellaini fired into the side-netting with teammates wide-open and then Paul Pogba went down in the box easily under a challenge. Zlatan Ibrahimovic then fired a shot just wide after another good break from Rashford as United dominated proceedings with link-up play between Pogba and Ibrahimovic imperious.

Carrick was then taken off with Bastian Schweinsteiger coming on in his place as it appeared that United’s veteran midfielder had a calf issue.

Bailly was then shown two quick yellow cards around the hour mark (he will miss their next European game) which saw United play out the game with 10-men and that buoyed the home side slightly.

However, United coasted through to the last 16 with Rashford and Ibrahimovic going close to doubling their lead late on in front of a raucous home crowd.

Vietnamese players banned for two years after penalty protest

INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Flag bearer, Hoang Quy Phuoc of Vietnam arrives during the Opening Ceremony ahead of the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon Asiad Main Stadium on September 19, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
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The Vietnamese Football Federation has imposed two-year bans on two players and suspended a coach for three years after their team was involved in a bizarre penalty protest during a league match on the weekend.

[ MORE: China or MLS for Rooney? ]

Long An players were furious at a late penalty awarded by referee Nguyen Tr?ng Thu to Ho Chi Minh City when the score was locked 2-2 late Sunday.

After initially walking off the pitch, the players returned to the field but goalkeeper Nguyen Minh Nhut turned his back as the penalty was taken, conceding a goal.

The whole team then stood motionless and allowed Ho Chi Minh City to score two more goals as the margin blew out to 5-2.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

In a statement, the VFF said that Mimh Nhut and captain Huynh Quang Thanh would banned for 24 months, “Due to disrupting the match, not respecting the decision of the referee and causing damage to the reputation and honor of the Vietnam Football Federation.”

Coach Ngo Quang Sang has been banned for three years, as has club chairman Vo Thanh Nhiem, who quit following the game.

Zaza scores stunning goal for Valencia vs. Real Madrid

TURIN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 23:  Simone Zaza (C) of Juventus FC celebrates after scring the opening goal during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and Frosinone Calcio at Juventus Arena on September 23, 2015 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Simone Zaza scored a stunner for Valencia against Real Madrid in La Liga.

Yes, that Simone Zaza.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

The Italian international striker, 25, spent the best part of six months on loan at West Ham United this season and just didn’t look interested as he failed to score in 11 appearances in all competitions. That prompted Slaven Bilic and the Hammers to cancel his loan deal from Juventus and the forward then joined Valencia in La Liga in January.

Fans of West Ham will be scratching their heads when watching the video below as Zaza swiveled and smashed home a perfect volley to put Valencia 1-0 up against Real at the Mestalla on Wednesday.

Simply sublime.