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Zidane wary of game against already relegated Granada

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MADRID (AP) Now is not the time for Real Madrid to get careless.

[ MORE: FIFA lifts Lionel Messi’s four-match ban ]

Zinedine Zidane, the former Madrid great looking to win his first Spanish league title as the team’s coach, said Saturday’s game against already relegated Granada should not be taken lightly.

[ MORE: Manchester City suspended from signing academy players ]

“It will be even more difficult because Granada doesn’t have anything to play for,” Zidane said Friday. “But they are still playing against Real Madrid and they still have quality players.

“You can say that their season wasn’t good because they were relegated, but it’s a team that showed that it deserved to stay in the first division. We have to prepare well and try to do our best.”

Madrid is level on points with Barcelona but trails on the head-to-head tiebreaker. Madrid, however, has four games to play while Barcelona has three, including Saturday’s match against fifth-place Villarreal at the Cam Nou.

“We have to put in our minds that this is a very important game for us,” Zidane said. “If we think that it’s going to be easy, we will be making a mistake. There are few games left and we know that these three points are important for us.”

The game at Granada is considered the easiest in Madrid’s remaining schedule. No team has lost more than Granada this season, with 23 defeats and only four wins in 35 games. Second-to-last in the standings, it has the league’s worst attack with 28 goals scored and the second-worst defense with 74 goal conceded.

Despite highlighting the importance of Saturday’s game, Zidane is expected to rest many of his regular starters ahead of next week’s match against Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League semifinals, when Madrid will be carrying a 3-0 advantage from the first game at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

One of the players expected to skip the game against Granada is Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been rested in several matches recently and has thrived in the final stretch of the season. He scored hat tricks in his last two Champions League games, and nine goals in his last five matches in all competitions.

Ronaldo has scored 12 goals in 11 career matches against Granada, including five in a 9-1 win in 2015.

Zidane has rotated the squad regularly and the players replacing the main starters have kept the team playing well and winning.

“Sometimes the players need to get some rest if we want to peak entering the final stages,” Zidane said.

Madrid is trying to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles since the competition’s format was created in 1992-93. In the Spanish league, it is trying to lift the trophy for the first time since 2012, avoiding its longest title drought since the 1980s.

“We still haven’t won anything,” Zidane said. “We could win one title, or two, or not win anything. The only thing we know is that we have to keep doing what we have been doing so far.”

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Multiple reports: Watford set to hire Gracia as manager

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Watford looks set to appoint Javi Gracia to its managerial position, hours after firing Marco Silva and blaming Everton for the manager.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

Gracia led Malaga to eighth and ninth place finishes in La Liga between 2014-16 before spending last season at Rubin Kazan.

Gracia, 47, has led promotion campaigns in Spain and has plenty of experience with perceived smaller clubs battling the drop zone.

Watford will hope the Hornets don’t reach that point, still five points clear of the drop after flirting with the Top Seven for the first quarter of the Premier League season.

Latest: Sunday medicals for Mkhitaryan, Sanchez

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan has agreed to join Arsenal from Manchester United, clearing the path for Alexis Sanchez to join the Old Trafford set.

[ MORE: 2 Robbies on the deal ]

The BBC is reporting that both players will undergo medicals at their proposed new clubs on Sunday ahead of a straight swap deal.

Sanchez, 29, has scored 80 goals for Arsenal since arriving before the 2014-15 campaign, including 30 last season.

Mkhitaryan turns 30 this summer, and has struggled at Manchester United since posting five assists in his first three matches of the season.

[ MORE: Watford sacks Silva ]

He was, however, a combination of Sanchez and Mesut Ozil in his final season at Borussia Dortmund, scoring 23 goals with 32 assists.

This could be win-win, as Mkhitaryan at his best is a like-for-like replacement for Mesut Ozil should the German leave in the summer and Sanchez is a more proven PL commodity (though his attitude should be a major question for the United room).

Watford fires Silva, blames Everton

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Watford has fired Marco Silva as manager, and it’s blaming Everton.

The Hornets are 1W-2D-8L in their last 11 Premier League matches after Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Leicester City, and have won just three in the league since the Toffees sacked Ronald Koeman on Oct. 23.

[ REPORT: Stoke to add hometown Harrison from NYCFC ]

Watford sat fifth in the table at that point, and has dropped to 10th. That’s five points clear of the drop zone and eight points back of eighth.

Silva was chased hard by Everton, and Watford rejected all advances for the Portuguese boss. The Toffees ended up hiring Sam Allardyce in a move which has also gone south.

Here’s the guts of Watford’s released statement:

The Club is convinced the appointment of Silva was the right one and had it not been for the unwarranted approach by a Premier League rival for his services we would have continued to prosper under his leadership.

The catalyst for this decision is that unwarranted approach, something which the Board believes has seen a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford FC has been jeopardised.

Watford will appoint its ninth manager since the start of the 2012-13 season. It faces Southampton in the FA Cup on Saturday before a midweek league visit to fellow relegation struggler Stoke City on Jan. 31.

Silva is the eighth manager fired since the beginning of the Premier League season, joining Frank De Boer, Craig Shakespeare, Ronald Koeman, Slaven Bilic, Tony Pulis, Paul Clement, and Mark Hughes.

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET