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Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Stoke City 3-1 Hull City: Shaqiri stunner highlights big win (video)

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  • Shaqiri buries long range goal
  • Crouch, Arnautovic also scored
  • Hull still two points safe

Xherdan Shaqiri‘s absolute stunner put an exclamation point on Stoke City’s 3-1 win over Hull City at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Marko Arnautovic and Peter Crouch also scored for the Potters, who sit 11th with 39 points. Harry Maguire had Hull’s goal, and the Tigers finish the day two points ahead of Swansea in 17th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Mark Hughes saw his side go up 1-0 with a bullet, as Arnautovic held off the mark of Harry Maguire to dribble across the top of the box before unleashing a vicious bar-down strike past Eldin Jakupovic.

The Austrian almost had two when Xherdan Shaqiri chipped him in on goal, but Arnautovic’s side volley was hit with too much power and flew over the frame.

Saido Berahino thought he had a Stoke goal from a Ryan Shawcross pass, but the latter’s stop-start before playing the ball had Berahino offside.

Oumar Niasse was stopped from action by Lee Grant‘s presence on a should-have-been equalizer in the 22nd minute, a cross left wanting through the six. Grant then made a two-handed stop of Lazar Markovic in the 25th.

Stoke wasn’t moved by the moments of worry, and Arnautovic had yet another chance to score only to cut his shot wide of the frame from an acute angle.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Maguire found the equalizer just after the break, after Stoke came out of the break in dodgy fashion. Positioned at the back post, Maguire ran onto a loose ball and punched it behind Grant to make it 1-1.

Jakupovic slapped away a strong diving header from Jon Walters in the 60th minute, and Peter Crouch couldn’t get over the rebound to restore Stoke’s lead.

Crouch was the man to make it 2-1 after all, the giant veteran rising to head a terrific Walters cross beyond the reach of a flying Jakupovic.

Shaqiri would finish the scoring off a feed from Arnautovic, burying a goal of the year candidate from well beyond the 18. Laser.

Premier League roundup: Chelsea’s fun in sun; Irons nab big win

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Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea are looking strong as the Premier League season hits its stretch run, but we begin with our ride through the day’s PL action with safety first.

West Ham United 1-0 Swansea CityRECAP

Cheikhou Kouyate‘s low finish of an incisive West Ham sequence lifts the Irons eight points clear of the 18th place slot occupied by Swans.

Bournemouth 1-3 ChelseaRECAP

An own goal, a long ball, and a free kick: Chelsea found three different ways to take down the Cherries on a gorgeous day in Southern England. The Blues restored their 7-point table lead over Tottenham with goals produced by Eden Hazard, Marcos Alonso, and Diego Costa (the Spaniard forcing an own goal). For Bournemouth, Joshua King‘s goal was all it could muster in a game effort.

Manchester City 3-1 Hull CityRECAP

This was more of the Man City we expected from Pep Guardiola, as the hosts eased to this win. Only a poor reaction from Claudio Bravo stopped this from being a clean sheet.

West Bromwich Albion 0-1 SouthamptonRECAP

Jordy Clasie tore the proverbial cover off the only goal of this one, and West Brom has seemingly again hit a post-safety wall with no wins in three.

Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 WatfordRECAP

Spurs look as good as any team in the world right now, even considering Watford’s myriad injuries. Dele Alli and Eric Dier scored, and Heung-Min Son nabbed a brace to stay seven points back of Chelsea.

Stoke City 1-2 LiverpoolRECAP

Sickness cost Philippe Coutinho a start, but his introduction into the game changed it dramatically. Coutinho and fellow sub Roberto Firmino combined to make amends for Jon Walters‘ early goal as Liverpool won at the bet365 Stadium.

Middlesbrough 0-0 BurnleyRECAP

Boro wasted several chances to aid its Premier League safety push, and remains six points back of safety.

MLS (late-night) roundup: Cubo bags a hat trick; MNUFC win a game!

Photo credit: Houston Dynamo / Twitter: @HoustonDynamo
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With four MLS Saturday afternoons/evenings officially in the books, only 30 more to go…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Houston Dynamo 4-1 New York Red Bulls

It’s probably time we start calling Erick Torres by his nickname, “Cubo” (cube, as a reference to the size and shape of his head), once again. After a disastrous first season in Houston, and a subsequent loan to Cruz Azul, who decided against making the signing permanent, Torres is starting for new-old head coach Wilmer Cabrera, and the goals are flowing.

The 24-year-old entered Saturday’s game against New York with a goal in three straight games. 41 minutes into the game, the streak was extended to four. 15 minutes later, he had a brace. 35 minutes after that, Torres completed his first MLS hat trick with a sensational free kick.

As far as early-season MVP candidates go, Torres threw his name into the hat — alongside the likes of David Villa and Justin Meram — with his fourth, fifth and sixth goals of the season, after four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s (afternoon) roundup: Villa, Schweinsteiger, Meram stellar ]


Minnesota United 4-2 Real Salt Lake

After four minutes, everything was beginning to feel all too familiar to Minnesota players, coaches and fans alike — less than 240 seconds on the clock, they were a goal down after Luke Mulholland slotted home from the top of the box. This time, though, the deficit was short-lived, as Kevin Molino headed home from close range in the 16th minute.

Then, the strangest pair of things occurred in unison: the Loons stopped leaking goals, and starting bossing the game themselves. Christian Ramirez bagged his third and fourth goals of the season, 10 minutes apart early in the second half, and the score was 3-1. Johan Venegas added a fourth, just in case, and Adrian Heath had staved off unemployment for an additional week in charge.

[ MORE: Sporting KC rookie got GOT by Vermes, teammates’ April Fools’ prank ]


Vancouver Whitecaps 4-2 LA Galaxy

A game that could have easily featured 10 goals, Vancouver’s 4-2 victory over LA had just six instead. Still, the track meet at BC Place trumped anything and everything on offer elsewhere in MLS.

Cristian Techera opened the scoring in the 19th minute, but Romain Alessandrini equalized with his first MLS goal seven minutes later. The Frenchman put LA 2-1 ahead after four more minutes.

Then, even quicker than Alessandrini’s brace had put LA in front, Fredy Montero (his first goal since returning to MLS) and Matias Laba turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead, in the 66th and 67th minutes. Laba notched a brace of his own with an exclamation-point header in the 87th minute.

[ MORE: San Diego’s April Fools’ prank — Footy McFooty Face ]


D.C. United 2-1 Philadelphia Union

D.C. achieved a pair of firsts on Saturday: they scored a goal, and they won a game. Jose Guillermo Ortiz took care of the first first, and Luciano Acosta (from the penalty spot) secured the second first. C.J. Sapong pulled one back for Philly with 20 minutes to play, and so nearly made it 2-2, if not for the heroics of Bill Hamid.

Elsewhere in MLSAFTERNOON ROUNDUP

New York City FC 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes
Chicago Fire 2-2 Montreal Impact
Columbus Crew SC 2-0 Orlando City SC

Argentina feels World Cup pressure; Brazil set to party

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SAO PAULO (AP) Argentina was the runner-up in the last World Cup. This time it’s under rising pressure just to qualify.

That pressure will be felt even more in its match Tuesday against Bolivia in the thin air of La Paz, which is located in the Andes at 3,650 meters (11,900 feet) altitude.

Argentina has not won a match there since 2005, upping the stakes a bit more.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

Meanwhile, South American rival Brazil will gear up for possible early qualification if it beats Paraguay in Sao Paulo. To advance, the South American group leader needs a victory and a few other results to fall its way. But win or lose, Brazil is heading for the World Cup in Russia with five rounds of qualifying remaining.

Argentina cannot be so confident.

Second-placed Uruguay faces a winnable match at lowly Peru, and fourth-placed Colombia has a real test at fifth-placed Ecuador. Sixth-placed Chile welcomes last-placed Venezuela in Santiago, hoping to climb back into qualifying position.

With five rounds to go, Brazil has 30 points – more than enough to secure a spot in previous World Cups. Uruguay has 23 and Argentina 22.

With Brazil almost sure to advance – and Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru struggling at the bottom – that leaves six teams fighting for the three remaining automatic spots for Russia. Another South American team could also advance in a playoff.

[ MORE: Wood looks ahead to working with Arena, praises Klinsmann ]

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ARGENTINA

Argentina put on a poor performance on Thursday, but managed to beat Chile 1-0 in Buenos Aires after a controversial penalty was conceded and converted by Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

The visitors will miss suspended Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano, which is making coach Edgardo Bauza think of dramatic changes to the team.

Before the win against Chile and the loss of Mascherano, Bauza was considering a defensive 5-4-1 formation in La Paz, hoping to save his players’ energy and capitalize on the ball-holding Mascherano. Now he may be forced into a more offensive formation that relies less on counterattacking.

Bolivian coach Mauricio Soria, who spared some of his main players in the 1-0 defeat at Colombia on Thursday, said his team will not be intimidated by the Argentine stars and should push hard against them. His team will be rested and in familiar surroundings.

“We hope we can make them feel a lot of their fears,” Soria said.

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BRAZIL

After the impressive thrashing of Uruguay 4-1 in Montevideo, Brazil is so close to the World Cup spot that many players are already looking for new challenges as Brazil chases it sixth World Cup title.

For the spot to be assured, Brazil needs to beat Paraguay and see Venezuela overcome Chile in Santiago. Also, Colombia needs to get its first win at Ecuador in 20 years.

Even if the “official” qualification doesn’t come, there will surely be a party at Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

Coach Tite, who has won seven straight games in qualifiers since he took over in September, had his best days at Corinthians. He won two Brazilian championships, one Copa Libertadores, and the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup title after a 1-0 victory over England’s Chelsea in Japan.

Defender Fagner, also a Corinthians player, will replace suspended Dani Alves.

“I feel no pressure, I want to enjoy every moment of this,” Fagner told reporters.

If he doesn’t do well, Tite has already brought Sevilla’s Mariano for a test.

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COLOMBIA

The Colombia vs. Ecuador match could be key to the aspirations of both teams: Colombia has 21 points, and Ecuador has 20.

The disappointing performance in the 1-0 victory over Bolivia on Thursday is making Colombia fans worry that their team might not qualify for the World Cup. The game in Quito promises to be even more complicated now that coach Jose Pekerman’s side has lost its best striker to injury. Luis Muriel had a right-leg injury and will likely be replaced by Miguel Borja or Carlos Bacca.

History does not favor Colombia: it has been 20 years since Colombia last beat Ecuador at the Atahualpa stadium.

Ecuador also has problems for the key clash. Striker Miller Bolanos and midfielder Christian Noboa will be out and their replacements are not yet set.