La Liga

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La Liga & Serie A: Suarez, Messi pace Barca; AC Milan tops Bologna

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Villareal 0-2 Barcelona

The visitors struggled to break down Villareal’s back line throughout the opening 45 minutes, but the Blaugrana were aided by Raba’s second-half dismissal on Sunday. From there, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez helped Barca pick up its 12th win of the season and restore the club’s five-point lead over Valencia.

Messi’s goal — his 525th for the club — matched Gerd Muller’s Barca record on Sunday, while the finish was his 18th in all competitions this season.

Real Betis 0-1 Atletico Madrid

Saul Niguez scored his second goal of the La Liga season to help give Atletico an important road victory against Real Betis. Atleti now sits third in Spain’s top flight, but remains six points behind league leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 0-2 Malaga
Levante 1-2 Athletic Bilbao

AC Milan 2-1 Bologna

Giacomo Bonaventura scored twice on Sunday to give AC Milan a victory at the San Siro. The midfielder opened the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes, before Simone Verdi’s finish in the 23rd minute leveled the match for Bologna. Bonaventura tabbed his second goal of the day in the 76th minute to give the Rossoneri a win and keep the team inside the top seven. Milan currently sits on 24 points through 16 matches.


Elsewhere in Serie A

Chievo Verona 0-0 Roma
Napoli 0-0 Fiorentina
SPAL 2-2 Hellas Verona
Udinese 2-0 Benevento
Sassuolo 2-1 Crotone

Ronaldo celebrates Ballon d’Or with brace in Real Madrid rout

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated his fifth Ballon d’Or award by leading Real Madrid to victory on Saturday, while Valencia kept the pressure on Spanish league leader Barcelona.

Ronaldo presented his trophy for the best player in football to Real Madrid’s fans then scored twice as Sevilla was routed 5-0 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Ronaldo received the honor on Thursday in Paris, his fifth trophy equaling Barcelona rival Lionel Messi.

After soaking up the ovation before kickoff from his fans, Ronaldo went on to have his best performance in the league this season. His brace earned him another loud round of applause when he was substituted late.

Second-place Valencia needed a late penalty converted by Dani Parejo to see off Celta Vigo 2-1 and pull to within two points of Barcelona before the pacesetter visits Villarreal on Sunday.

Madrid moved into third place, five points behind Barcelona.

Sevilla entered the game in the Spanish capital tied on points with a Madrid side that was without first-choice defenders Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal and midfielder Casemiro, who were all suspended for one match, and injured center back Raphael Varane.

But with Ronaldo and company on song, Zinedine Zidane’s bunch decided the match with five goals before halftime.

Two of Madrid’s reserve players who got starts to patch up its defense, Nacho Fernandez and 19-year-old Achraf Hakimi, scored for the hosts.

“We can be pleased because it’s not easy to score five goals against Sevilla,” Zidane said. “I am happy for Cristiano and for the players who hadn’t played many minutes because they played well.”

Madrid will take a break from La Liga and travel to the United Arab Emirates to dispute the Club World Cup next week as the Champions League winner.

Sevilla’s nightmare started in the third minute when Simon Kjaer failed to clear a corner kick. Instead, the ball hit teammate Luis Muriel in the shoulder and bounced toward the goal, where Fernandez only had to direct it in.

For his first goal, Ronaldo received a silky smooth pass by Marco Asensio and shot home.

Then a handball by Jesus Navas to block Marcelo’s pass in the area sent Ronaldo to the penalty spot. Goalkeeper Sergio Rico anticipated the direction but Ronaldo’s powerful shot bounced off his gloves and body before going in.

The goals were only Ronaldo’s third and fourth through 11 league games. That low tally contrasts with his performances in the Champions League, where he became the first player to score in all six group matches.

The goals were also Ronaldo’s 26th and 27th in 18 career games against Sevilla.

After Rico saved strikes by Luka Modric and Ronaldo he could not deny Toni Kroos.

Hakimi rounded off the demolition.

Sevilla defender Gabriel Mercado apologized to the team’s supporters for what he agreed was its worst outing of the season.

“We ask our fans to forgive us,” Mercado said. “We need to be very self-critical to correct what went wrong.”

Valencia bounced back from its first loss of the season, to Getafe, by fending off a Celta side that was threatening to take points from its visit to Mestalla Stadium.

Valencia started strong; striker Simone Zaza jumped high at the near post to head in Parejo’s corner kick. Zaza’s 10th league goal made him the second leading scorer behind Messi on 13.

Iago Aspas netted his ninth goal to pull Celta level just after halftime, and Celta was in control until Pablo Hernandez fouled Nacho Gil in the area.

Parejo’s penalty slipped under goalie Ruben Blanco, who didn’t get enough hand on the ball.

“I don’t go crazy over wins or losses, I am interested in our dynamic and my team’s dynamic right now is extraordinary,” Valencia coach Marcelino Garcia Toral said.

Promoted club Getafe once again proved hard to beat as it climbed into seventh place after drawing with Eibar 0-0.

Getafe has lost only once in its last seven league matches.

Deportivo edged Leganes 1-0 at home for its first victory in five rounds, letting it move three points above the relegation zone.

Ronaldo self-proclaims himself “best player in history”

AP Photo/Paul White

The never-ending Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi debate over which one is the world’s top player seems to take a different turn on a weekly basis as both goalscorers continue to amaze supporters.

[ MORE: Don Garber talks #SaveTheCrew and more at MLS State of the League ]

However, the edge might have to sway in Ronaldo’s favor after the Portuguese international and Real Madrid winger took him his fifth Ballon d’Or trophy on Thursday, equalling Messi’s total.

While the soft-spoken Messi usually sits back and doesn’t field questions regarding the debate, Ronaldo doesn’t display any such shyness.

“I’m the best player in history, in the good moments and the bad ones,” he told France Football. “I respect everyone’s preferences, but I’ve never seen anyone better than me. I have always thought that. No footballer can do the things I can. There’s no player more complete than me.

“I play well with both feet, I’m quick, powerful, good with the head, I score goals, I make assists. There are guys who prefer Neymar or Messi. But I tell you: there’s no-one more complete than me.

“No-one has won as many individual trophies as me. And I’m not speaking just of the Ballon d’Or. That says something, doesn’t it? It’s not just a result of the work I do in the gym, like some people think. It’s the sum of many things. Legends like Floyd Mayweather and LeBron James don’t get to their perfect level by chance. Many factors coincide. To be at the top and to stay there, you have to have more talent than the others.”

Despite Ronaldo’s countless accolades, the Portuguese attacker says that there was a time in his career when he felt a bit down, but he picked himself back up and found his best form again.

“I won the Ballon d’Or before Messi, then he overtook me and won four in a row,” he said. “I’m not going to hide from you that I was sad and angry. I went to the award ceremonies and I never won. At one point, I was even demotivated. I had no desire to go. To be there for the photo didn’t interest me.

“Then, little by little, thanks to those close to me, I told myself that in life there is a beginning and an end. And in football what counts is the finish, not the start. I was patient. And I won four other Ballons d’Or.”

While Ronaldo’s goalscoring totals dipped a bit in 2016/17, the Real attacker’s ability to show for both club and country surely accounted for a big part in his Ballon d’Or triumph.

[ MORE: By the numbers, a closer look at the 2017 MLS Cup final ]

The 32-year-old helped Portugal qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while also guiding Los Blancos to a third UEFA Champions League crown in four seasons, to go along with the club’s La Liga title.

Who are the favorites to win the UEFA Champions League?

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The bookies have a tendency to know the market, and the bookies like the chances of a new UEFA Champions League winner.

Both clubs would break a four-year Spanish hold on the trophy, but who are they and where do the rest fit (more or less, we checked several sites)?

[ UCL: Final 16 set ]

Sixteen teams remain alive in the tournament, and Real Madrid have won three of the last four (Barcelona the fourth). They place third and fourth on the list.

Here’s how the oddsmakers say it’ll go.

16. Basel
15. Shakhtar Donetsk
14. Besiktas
13. Sevilla
12. Porto
11. Roma
10. Liverpool
9. Chelsea
8. Tottenham Hotspur
7. Juventus
6. Manchester United
5. Bayern Munich
4. Barcelona
3. Real Madrid
2. Manchester City
1. Paris Saint-Germain

Now PSG is certainly a wonder team, and both they and Man City have made deep runs into the tournament before, but it’s a little wild to see them as favorites. Granted that Man City is averaging 4:1 compared to Real’s 5:1 and Barca’s 6:1 (PSG is 7:2), but it says something about how convincing Pep Guardiola‘s men have looked this season.

La Liga & Serie A: Barcelona, Real Madrid both settle for draws

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 2-2 Celta Vigo

The result wasn’t one that Barcelona would have hoped for, but it was an injury that was the biggest news for the Blaugrana. Samuel Umtiti is expected to be sidelined for up to two months after pulling with a hamstring injury, which could be a big blow to Barca’s back line.

Goals from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez had Barcelona leading 2-1 heading into the final half hour of play, but Maximilliano Gomez’s equalizer in the 70th minute ensured Celta Vigo would come away with a point.

Barcelona’s lead over second-place Valencia is down to five points. Valencia will play on Sunday against 12th-place Getafe.

Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Real Madrid

Saturday proved to not be much better for Barca’s bitter rivals, as they came away with a draw as well. Sergio Ramos’ late red card was the icing on the cake for a match that saw Real struggle to capitalize off of its chances. Both sides managed four shots on target, and Cristiano Ronaldo had difficulty breaking down the Bilbao back line without Gareth Bale in the lineup.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Atletico Madrid 2-1 Real Sociedad
Sevilla 2-0 Deportivo La Coruna

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Leganes vs. Villareal — 6 a.m. ET
Getafe vs. Valencia — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Espanyol — 12:30 p.m. ET
Las Palmas vs. Real Betis — 2:45 p.m. ET

Torino 1-1 Atalanta


Second-half substitute Josip Ilicic helped Atalanta pick up a point on Saturday and remain in 10th place in Serie A. The two clubs remain level on points with 20 through the first 15 matches of the season. Torino went ahead right before halftime when defender Nicolas N’Koulou headed home a Adem Ljajic cross.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Benevento vs. AC Milan — 6:30 a.m. ET
Bologna vs. Cagliari — 9 a.m. ET
Fiorentina vs. Sassuolo — 9 a.m. ET
Inter Milan vs. Chievo Verona — 9 a.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Lazio — 2:45 p.m. ET