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La Liga: Barcelona unbeaten after 29 games; Ronaldo scores 4

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Man United vs. Spurs in FA Cup semis; Chelsea-Southampton]

Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

Updated numbers for Barcelona’s current unbeaten run in La Liga: 29 games this season; 36 dating back to last season. The quest for the unbeaten league season is now just nine games from reality.

Perhaps even more impressive than the W-D-L record is their defensive record: 13 goals conceded in 29 games (they’ve also scored 74 and have a +61 goal differential).

Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Bilbao saw Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Co., go 11 points clear in the title race and all but secure their third title in four seasons, thanks to results elsewhere (see below).

Paco Alcacer opened the scoring after just eight minutes, and Messi made it 2-0 right on the half-hour mark (his league-leading 25th goal of the season; 34 in all competitions).

Real Madrid 6-3 Girona

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged four goals of his own to bring his season total to 22 (32 in all competitions), now second ahead of Suarez and three behind Messi for the Golden Boot, and in the process push Real Madrid (60 points) to within four points of Atletico Madrid in the race for second.

Ronaldo scored goals no. 1, 2, 4 and 6 for Madrid, with tallies from Lucas Vazquez and Gareth Bale sprinkled in between.

Villarreal 2-1 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid were the last side within touching distance of Barca — “just” eight points back coming into the weekend — but that’s no longer the case following a late collapse and a 2-1 defeat away to fourth-place Valencia.

Antoine Griezmann put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot in the 20th minute, but Enes Unal bagged an equalizer in the 82nd and the game-winner in the 91st. Atleti finished the game with 10 men after Vitolo was sent off in the 92nd minute.

Real host Atleti in the Madrid derby on April 8, a game which will go a long way towards crowning this season’s runners-up.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia 3-1 Alaves (Saturday)
Leganes 2-1 Sevilla
Real Betis 3-0 Espanyol (Saturday)
Celta Vigo 0-0 Malaga
Real Sociedad 1-2 Getafe (Saturday)
Levante 2-1 Eibar (Friday)
Deportivo La Coruña 1-1 Las Palmas (Saturday)

UEFA Champions League: Who’s the favorite?

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Keeping in mind that the draw means everything, who should be considered the front-runner to win the UEFA Champions League?

Most bookmakers have Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City just ahead of Barcelona, with Real Madrid third, but something about that doesn’t feel right.

[ MORE: Barca-Chelsea recap | Chelsea reacts ]

It comes as little surprise that Sevilla and Roma are considered the longest shots, but that shows just how tricky these quarterfinals will be for favorites: There are no teams from leagues outside the Big Four, no club who beat up on their domestic opponents and slipped through due to simple draws.

The field fits fairly neatly into three groups: Longshots, hopefuls, and favorites. Do you agree with where we draw the lines?


8. Sevilla – It’s difficult to pore over their matches against Manchester United and not see how another team would’ve found a way past La Liga’s mainstays. Even given their European tournament acumen, it’d be stunning to see a “no name” crew keep running without a favorable draw.

7. Roma – Beat out Chelsea for the group stage crown by keeping a trio of clean sheets at home against the Blues, Atletico Madrid, and Qarabag. Their road form in the tournament has been poor, however, and perhaps this is Roma reaching its experience and talent level for this particular rodeo (It’s worth noting Roma’s been better on the road than at home in Serie A). I Lupi cannot afford another first leg like the 2-1 loss in Ukraine.


6. Liverpool –  Reds fans love an argument, especially when the quality of their side is questioned, but Jurgen Klopp‘s men have yet to be tested by a top side in this tournament. The closest they’ve come were 2-2 and 3-3 draws with Sevilla, and blowing out a Porto side which kept one clean sheet in a relatively weak Group G. That’s not to say the Reds don’t have the ammo — Naby Keita would be nice — to win the whole thing, but to place them any higher would be wishful thinking.

5. Bayern Munich – Can score on you from any numbers weapons and in every sort of way, but there’s something about the first go-round without Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso which gives us pause when it comes to rating Bayern higher than Juve. That’s not to say Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, and Javi Martinez cannot pull their weight in leadership, but Bayern just sits behind the Top Four.

4. Juventus – Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Ruled out as over the hill, Juventus finds its league and tournament form as the season grows and meets its reputation with form down the stretch. Are you betting against The Old Lady?


3. Manchester City – With loads of respect to Barca and Bayern, Man City is the deepest team in the tournament and their system is such a challenge for teams that don’t see it often. I can’t quite label them the favorites, even if I feel City is the strongest team in the tournament. Honestly: I love watching this team operate, but I’ve gotta see them do it here.

2. Barcelona – Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez up front, Andres Iniesta turning back the hands of time in the middle of the park while Samuel Umtiti rises to meet the levels of defensive stalwarts Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets. Canny and creative, will Barca seal La Liga too soon to keep its edge in the UCL?

  1. Real Madrid — No, they aren’t in fine form, nor is there real reason to believe they’d handle their business against City or Barcelona more than twice out of 10 outings. Well, no real reason besides experience. But this club has won the last two, and three of the last four. Even if you dropped their first six titles from the less challenging European Cup era, Real would still be second all-time in titles (to AC Milan’s seven). Team-wise, they might be fifth in the field for me, but I’ve learned that Real rarely disappears in this tournament.

Conte, Courtois, Alonso know why Barca beat Chelsea: Messi

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Marcos Alonso gave a lot of answers in his post-match comments following Chelsea’s ouster at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Turns out he only really needed the first four words.

[ MORE: Match recap | Quarterfinal field set ]

“They have Lionel Messi and I think they were the better team even though we competed well in both games. If we concede easy goals and miss the chances, then it is very difficult against this team,” Alonso said.

Messi had two goals and an assist in the 3-0 second leg win, and scored in the first leg after entering the tie goal-free in his career versus Chelsea.

In a word, he was incredible.

Italian defender Alonso was one of several players, with Willian and N'Golo Kante sure to be mentioned by many, to put in industrious efforts in the loss, but the critical focus will be on a near invisible Eden Hazard and off-balance goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Both of Wednesday’s goals were put between the legs of Courtois. He wasn’t pleased.

“I don’t think we deserve to be out, but individual mistakes cost us in both legs. The first goal, I did not expect Lionel Messi to shoot from that angle and I was too late in closing my legs. It was a mistake on my part.

“I played against Messi a lot of time. I have already conceded goals like that before. The weakest point is between the legs or a goalkeeper, it is annoying, I cannot hide inside, I have to be a man and come out. I made some good saves too but we go out with conceding four goals from four mistakes.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte pointed to a possible penalty when Alonso was taken down in the box, but mostly lavished praise on the Argentine wonder.

“Tonight (and) in the two legs, Lionel Messi made the difference,” Conte said. “We are talking about the best player in the world.”

“Over the two legs we were a bit unlucky,” he continued. “We hit the post four times. In our best moment today they scored. They were very clinical. We created many chances. We are talking about a player (Messi) that every season he scores 60 goals. We are talking not about a top player but a super top player. He made the difference. We have no regrets. I must be pleased for the commitment. They gave everything tonight. We didn’t deserve to lose 3-0.”

In the film “Billy Madison,” Billy forces an awkward noise out of his instrument and points to his rival Eric after the latter’s virtuoso violin performance and just says, “He’s good.”
Something like that.

Messi roasts Chelsea with virtuoso performance

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
  • Messi scores in 2nd minute (video)
  • Then assists Dembele, 20
  • Alonso hits post
  • Messi completes brace, records 100th UCL goal

Lionel Messi put a pair of goals through the legs of Thibaut Courtois and Ousmane Dembele also scored as Barcelona worked Chelsea 3-0 at the Camp Nou on Wednesday to advance to UEFA Champions League quarterfinals by a 4-1 aggregate score line.

The tie was 1-1 after the first leg at Stamford Bridge, but Messi scored the fastest goal of his career to put the reigning Premier League champions on the back foot.

Messi scored his 100th Champions League, and only Cristiano Ronaldo is in front of him on the all-time table with 117 goals. Ronaldo is two years and four months older than Messi.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The Barcelona mega star started a combination play and deposited a deflected pass between the legs of Thibaut Courtois from a very tight angle.

Chelsea didn’t go away, and Barca showed it can counter just as well as it possesses when Messi took advantage of a turnover from former teammate Cesc Fabregas.

Messi danced down the left and cut across the 18 to find Dembele. The teenager took a touch and blasted past Courtois for 2-0.

Luis Suarez was denied by Courtois in the 28th as Barcelona threatened to turn the second leg into a runaway.

The Blues nearly found a goal in the 45th minute when Marcos Alonso whipped a free kick off the post, but Chelsea would need to find a pair in the second half in order to reach the quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

A giveaway forced Courtois to deny Suarez in the 48th minute, as Barcelona aimed for the third goal which would make a quarterfinal berth a virtual certainty.

Olivier Giroud drew a yellow card in protest when the referee denied Marcos Alonso’s shouts for a penalty kick.

Messi then did his thing again, beating Courtois through the legs in the 64th minute.

UEFA Champions League quarterfinal field set; Draw Friday

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The UEFA Champions League is down to eight now that Bayern Munich and Barcelona sealed their customary places amongst the final octet.

There are three outfits from La Liga, two from the Premier League, two more from Serie A, and one from the Bundesliga.

[ WATCH: Messi megs Courtois for the first time ]

While UEFA would surely like to save as much drama as possible for the final — Manchester City vs. Barcelona comes to mind — there’s a chance for four dream ties in the next two rounds, which will be drawn Friday morning.

The field
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
Real Madrid

What would be the dream draw? Well, the following would sure be fun…

— Barcelona vs. Real Madrid — No explanation needed

— Roma vs. Juventus — All Italian tie

— Manchester City vs. Bayern Munich — Pep, meet Jupp.

— Sevilla vs. Liverpool — 2016 Europa League final rematch