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La Liga roundup: Barcelona earns crazy win, Atletico keeps pace

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Barcelona faced adversity against Valencia at the Nou Camp, but they fended off pesky Valencia 4-2 on a pair from Lionel Messi and one each by Luis Suarez and Andre Gomes.

The first half was wild. Eliaquim Mangala headed home a corner to put Valencia ahead inside the opening half-hour, but it wasn’t long before Suarez hit back to draw back level. It appeared to be crumbling for the visitors when Mangala picked up his second yellow card for a pull-back Suarez in the box, both earning Barcelona a penalty and seeing Valencia down a man. Messi bagged the penalty before the break for a 2-1 lead, but Valencia struck back not a minute later as Munir El Haddadi scored on the stroke of halftime to make it 2-2 at the break.

The pivotal moment came in the 52nd minute as Neymar was clean through, but Diego Alves made an incredible save to keep the game level. Moments later, Messi put Barcelona in front with his 25th La Liga goal, skirting two defenders and beating Alves to his near post. That put Barcelona 3-2 up, and they finished it off against the tiring visitors with one from Andre Gomes with two minutes to go.

Atletico Madrid scored a massive victory by beating Sevilla at home 3-1. Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, and Koke all scored to give the home side all three points, a huge win that closed the gap with Sevilla in third at just two points. Griezmann’s goal was especially pretty, a left-footed rocket on a free-kick just outside the box that clipped the underside of the bar and cannoned in.

The loss likely shuts the book on any outside shot Sevilla may have had at the La Liga title, now sitting eight points back of Real Madrid, who also has a game in hand.

Elsewhere, Celta Vigo had struggled to translate its solid Europa League performances into sustained league form, but they managed to this weekend with a 1-0 win over Deportivo. Iago Aspas in particular is on a roll, and he scored the lone goal in the game, his sixth goal in his last nine games across all competitions. Aspas managed to slip by three defenders unnoticed at the back post, and Claudio Beauvue met him with a cross for the 74th minute goal.

Sporting Gijon got a big win in a huge relegation matchup, winning 3-1 to move onto 18 points, just one back of their opponents. They’re still seven points off safety, but they now have some life in the fight. All three of Sporting’s goals came in a seven-minute span just past the hour mark.

Finally, Malaga continued to struggle, finishing with a scoreless draw against 17th placed Leganes. Malaga has won just one league match since November 26th.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Liverpool rejects Barca bid for Coutinho, Roma offer for Mahrez turned down

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Liverpool isn’t planning on cashing in on one of the Premier League’s stars this summer.

Jurgen Klopp and Co. gave Barcelona a resolute “no” after Barcelona submitted a transfer bid of more than $93 million for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract with the club in January.

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“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week. “The good news is that actually we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer. That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”

Coutinho signed for Liverpool in 2013 but had a breakout year in 2015-2016, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year. Last year Coutinho became an even more consistent goal-scorer and playmaker, scoring 13 goals with seven assists in 34 Premier League appearances.

Keeping Coutinho is of supreme importance for Liverpool, which is back in the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

(more…)

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.