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La Liga: Griezmann scores no. 25 in Atleti’s win to stay 3rd

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann kept Atletico Madrid focused on a strong finish to the Spanish league on Saturday despite its looming Champions League semifinal with Real Madrid.

Griezmann struck late in the second half at Espanyol to earn a 1-0 victory that kept Atletico in third place, three points ahead of Sevilla, and on course for a return to Europe’s top competition next season.

Atletico moved within four points of second-place Barcelona, which visits leader Real on Sunday trailing the pace-setter by three points. Real also has a game in hand as it tries to win the domestic title for the first time since 2012.

On Friday, Atletico and Real were drawn to face each other for a third time in four seasons in the Champions League. Real won the other two meetings in the finals of 2014 and 2016.

While Atletico has two league matches against Villarreal and at Las Palmas over the next week, its hopes for silverware rest squarely on their European clash with Madrid beginning on May 2 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“2017 is shaping up better than 2016,” Atletico manager Diego Simeone said. “We are defending well and finding the moments to win games. I am sure we could perhaps play better, but the team is winning. There is still a ways to go before the semifinals.”

At Espanyol, Simeone made only one change in his starting 11 from the team that drew at Leicester on Tuesday to advance in the Champions League on a 2-1 aggregate score.

His side, however, showed little signs of weariness against an Espanyol that won four straight at home.

Griezmann decided the contest in Barcelona dominated by both defenses in the 73rd minute when he used one touch of his left boot to volley home a rebound of a strike by Saul Niguez that came off a defender.

The goal was his team-leading 16th in the league and 25th overall.

“We knew we would have a difficult time against a team that is so good at home,” Griezmann said. “But we tried until the end and then held on.”

Cedric Bakambu scored twice, including the stoppage-time winner apparently with his hand, to ensure Villarreal strengthened its hold on fifth place and a Europa League berth.

Villarreal created several scoring opporunities but needed Bakambu to slot home the opener in the 68th.

Leganes was close to grabbing a late draw when Miguel Guerrero struck in the 90th, but Bakambu appeared to use his hand to redirect Jonathan Dos Santos’ cross into the net two minutes later.

The result left Leganes winless in seven matches and clinging to the final spot above the relegation zone.

“He scored with his hand,” Leganes goalkeeper Iago Herrerin said. “We are fighting for our lives. It was impossible not to see it.”

Villarreal coach Fran Escriba acknowledged Bakambu “touched the ball with his hand” after watching replays, but “I didn’t see it live.”

Sandro Ramirez continued his good scoring form, ensuring a third win in four rounds to dispel any relegation fears for Malaga. The former Barcelona forward has scored in all three of those victories.

Ramirez blasted in his own rebound from a free kick just minutes after Jose “Recio” Garcia headed the hosts in front in the 36th.

Before he scored, Ramirez’s powerful free kick struck Valencia’s Ezequiel Garay in the head, leaving him visibly groggy as he remained on the turf. The defender underwent tests at a hospital that indicated mild head trauma. He was released from the hospital soon after the tests.

Last-place Osasuna couldn’t have done much more to crush its fans’ spirits than go up by two goals only to concede twice in the final 11 minutes.

The draw left Sporting also in the drop zone at four points from Leganes and safety with five rounds left.

Premier League Power Rankings: Jumbled at the top

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Few people truly believe Spurs will catch Chelsea in the race for the Premier League title, but that’s not what Power Rankings are about, are they?

[ MORE: PL Player Power Rankings archive ]

Not to us. Our PLPR’s have always been about how a team’s current form melds into their overall season, and that just may be enough for us to put a new team up top for the first time in a while.

That’s if we don’t change our mind by the time we finish filling out the chart…


TEAM RANKING
source:
20 (20) Sunderland: Stewing on their plight through the weekend, and daydreaming of burying derby mates Middlesbrough next time out.
200px-Middlesbrough_crest 19 (19) Middlesbrough: Single-handedly making the argument for offense, Boro’s decent defense hasn’t been helped nearly enough by those outside of Alvaro Negredo.
source:
18 (18) Swansea City: Guidolin goes defense? Swans lose. Bradley goes for broke? Swans lose. Clement tries a bunch of things? Swans show signs of life for a bit… but only a bit. Swans lose.
Hull City logo 17 (16) Hull City: #BeTwoPointsBetterThanSwansea doesn’t go great on a shirt or a Tweet, but it’s the strategy.
logo_westham
16 (15) West Ham United: Need a summer of rest and a transfer window in a bad way.
source: 15 (13) Bournemouth: After a 3-week gauntlet of Liverpool, Chelsea, and Spurs, “Home to Boro” probably looks amazing on the fixture list.

14 (14) Burnley: If there was a home Champions League (6th best record), Burnley would be headed for Europe. Only problem? The Clarets are two losses away from a winless season away from Turf Moor.
source: T-11 (12) Crystal Palace: Tip of the cap to ol’ Sam Allardyce. We just wish he was willing to take a little bit of credit.
source: T-11 (9) West Bromwich Albion: “ALRIGHT BOYS, WE’RE GONNA GET TO 40 POINTS OR SO, THEN WE’LL DISTRIBUTE POINTS TO EVERYONE ELSE THE REST OF THE WAY. LET’S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” Tony Pulis in August, probably.
source: T-11 (17) Stoke City: Finally back in the win column, Stoke rises
10 (10) Leicester City: With the Champions League era over, can we all agree that Leicester, unfettered by Europe, will probably win the league next season? Arsenal’s next.
source: 9 (7) Southampton: Man City loss reminds us that Virgil Van Dijk was really important.
source: 8 (11) Watford: Winners of three-in-four and that loss came to Spurs, who look capable of outracing a fighter jet right now.
source: 7 (8) Arsenal: Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are the main reasons the Gunners aren’t comfortably seventh or worse.
6 (5) Everton: We know the Toffees can dust the lower half of the table, but they really need to beat Chelsea or Arsenal in the run-in to engender any Top Four confidence for next season.
source: 5 (4) Liverpool: Quietly (?) unbeaten in seven.
Logo_Manchester_City
4 (6) Manchester City: For the first time since their red-hot start, City is starting to consistently show what a Pep Guardiola team can be in the Premier League. Will summer reinforcements allow them to do it for a full year?
source: T-2 (3) Manchester United: Still have not lost in league play since October 23rd.
source: T-2 (1) Chelsea: Yes, they are going to win the league. No, we wouldn’t pick them on a neutral field against Spurs right now. Yes, they’ll probably prove us wrong at Wembley this weekend.
source: 1 (2) Tottenham Hotspur: The best team going right now, just too late to make a difference to the title fight. Probably. Right?

Juventus upends Barcelona to reach Champions League semifinals

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Barcelona looked for a second straight miracle comeback in the 2016/17 Champions League, but it was not to be as the stout Juventus defense held up under heavy fire for a 0-0 draw, seeing the Italians move into the semifinals with a 3-0 aggregate advantage.

The Spanish giants held much of the possession throughout the match, with Juventus happy to absorb the pressure. Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci lived up to their reputation as one of the world’s best central defensive partnerships, while Alex Sandro and former Barcelona full-back Dani Alves did the work on the flanks.

Lionel Messi had the best early chance with a wide open shot near the penalty area on 20 minutes, but couldn’t direct it goalwards, firing just wide right, leaving Luis Enrique baffled at the missed opportunity. There was a scary moment just before halftime when Messi went up for an aerial challenge and was undercut by Miralem Pjanic, landing square on his cheek. Messi recovered from his fall as his cheek began to bleed, and he returned for the second half with a bandage.

Juventus had opportunities as they built themselves into the game, with Juan Cuadrado proving the most dangerous. On the other end, Juventus defenders continued to usher the Barcelona attackers into wide areas of the box, forcing them to shoot from tight angles.

Sami Khedira was booked for hauling down Luis Suarez past the hour mark, meaning he is suspended for the semifinal first leg. As the final whistle blew, it marked an enormous 530 minutes since Juventus last conceded a goal in Champions League play, a 9th minute goal by Sevilla back in November.

West Brom 0-1 Liverpool: Firmino rescues cagey Reds

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  • Firmino scores on stroke of HT
  • Liverpool moves into third
  • WBA lose third in a row

If you removed the team crests from the jerseys, it would be hard to tell who was Liverpool and who was West Brom as Roberto Firmino provided the difference for the visitors at the Hawthornes on Sunday.

West Brom, known for its cagey attack and set-piece prowess, conceded on the stroke of halftime as the Brazilian striker headed home off a free-kick. Liverpool’s overall performance was spotty as they struggled in possession and delivered sloppy passes, but the result is all three points.

Liverpool’s first opportunity came on 15 minutes, as they countered after winning the ball on the mid-line. Philippe Coutinho found Roberto Firmino streaking to his left, but the Brazilian’s shot was dragged just inches wide after striking an off-balance effort with his left foot.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Baggies were consistently dangerous from set-pieces throughout the first half as expected, and they came close on 23 minutes following a free-kick as Matt Phillips lofted a ball to Nacer Chadli unmarked at the back post, but he whiffed on the volley attempt, and the ball fluttered harmlessly out of play.

Hal Robson-Kanu, who had a half-chance in the opening minutes to send alarm bells through the Liverpool defense, had another opportunity just past the half-hour mark, but he couldn’t get on the end of the pass over the top despite wriggling free on net.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

It seemed a sleepy first half would come to a merciful close with both teams struggling in possession and looking to compensate with wayward long-balls covered well by defenders. However, the Reds would change that on the stroke of halftime as a James Milner free-kick swung into the penalty area, and while it struggled to beat the first man, Lucas worked hard to meet the ball with his head and flick it towards net where Firmino was there to meet it at point-blank range and power a header in for the opener.

Liverpool got the best chance out of the break as Firmino crossed to Milner unmarked on the back post but the England international skied it over the bar in a moment where he should have scored.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Simon Mignolet was required to preserve the lead as Matt Phillips got free down the left edge of the box, but the Liverpool goalkeeper charged him down to smother the chance with 10 minutes to go.

Things exploded in stoppage time as West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster came forward for a pair of corners, causing utter chaos as Liverpool tried both times to score in the open net. Alberto Moreno‘s half-court effort was wide as he turned down help to his right, and Foster had to race back and attempt a tackle on Georgino Wijnaldum as the game closed.

Liverpool’s win gives them a nine-point cushion in Champions League play, and they jump Manchester City into third place. Meanwhile, West Brom has lost three in a row, without a win since March 18th victory over Arsenal.

Watch Live: West Brom vs. Liverpool (Lineups & Live Stream)

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Liverpool continues the fight for a Champions League place as they travel to the Hawthornes to take on West Bromwich Albion at 8:30 a.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

With Manchester United lurking six points behind and two games in hand, the Reds will feel the pressure to pick up a result here. They have a mostly fit squad, although Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, who have missed out in recent weeks, are still on the mend.

[ WATCH LIVE: West Brom vs. Liverpool live online at NBCSports.com ]

Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho return to the lineup after being left as substitutes last time out. Their return is a big boost for a Liverpool side that has seen little consistency since the turn of the new year thanks to a host of injuries. Slowly, with the squad returning to fitness, manager Jurgen Klopp has an increasing number of first-choice options at his disposal.

On the other end, West Brom is fully fit, and manager Tony Pulis has chosen an attacking lineup with Hal Robson-Kanu leading the way. The Baggies have flown under the radar this season, sitting in eighth position, albeit a large gap of 10 points between themselves and the teams above them.

However, things have sputtered for West Brom with little to fight for down the stretch, as they’ve garnered just four points of their last 18 possible, and have failed to score in three consecutive matches, a streak of 285 minutes, with their last goal being Craig Dawson‘s second in a 3-1 win over Arsenal.

LINEUPS

West Brom: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Brunt, Fletcher, Yacob, Livermore; Phillips, Chadli; Robson-Kanu.
Subs: Myhill, M Wilson, Nyom, Morrison, McClean, Rondon, Field.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Lucas, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Can, Wijnaldum, Coutinho, Firmino, Origi
Subs: Karius, Moreno, Grujic, Sturridge, Alexander-Arnold, Woodburn, Gomez.