Shipped from Abroad, Spain: Valencia as the latest Real Madrid-Barcelona barometer


On Sunday, Shakhtar Donetsk was claiming the headlines in one of Europe’s most oppressive duopolies while Cristiano Ronaldo’s recalcitrance stole the spotlight in another. After a La Liga match day that saw Real Madrid get its first victory (3-0 over Granada) while Barcelona claimed an important three points from visiting Valencia, Ronaldo’s undefined displeasure with Real higher ups has people speculating whether CR7 could move from the Bernabeu. This is the type of stuff we talk about when the transfer window closes.

Barcelona’s result against Valencia, however, deserves a little more attention. A 1-0 victory at the Nou Camp, the three points initially look like the home team holding serve, even if Valencia again showed their quality with another inspired road performance. Barcelona remains perfect through three rounds (the only unblemished team in Spain), giving Real Madrid a five-point deficit to go with their Supercopa.

More important than the points gap are the corresponding results. Valencia represents the giants’ first shared opponent, both having played Los Che at home. Where the varying strength of opening schedules can see small sample records distort a team’s quality, comparing shared opponents serves as a quick and easy way to establish a level playing field. Even after teams complete a turn through the league, looking at differing results helps describe where trophies are won and lost (especially when the top two teams are unlikely to drop many points).

El Real opened the season with a 1-1 draw against Valencia, a 42nd minute equalizer from Jones snatching a point while the defending champions were held scoreless over the match’s final 80 minutes. Two weeks later, an Adriano rocket from 24 yards into Alexis’s upper-left hand corner was the only thing separating Barça and Valencia at Camp Nou. In terms of the title race, Barcelona’s now claimed two points Real Madrid will have to make up elsewhere.

Last season, there were nine places Barcelona dropped points were Real did not. There were five places Real gave points back to Barcelona:

Sept. 9 – at Real Sociedad, 2-2 (Real won 0-1 on Oct. 29)
Sept. 21 – at Valencia, 2-2 (Real won 2-3 on Nov. 19)
Oct. 22 – vs. Sevilla, 0-0 (Real won 2-0 on Apr. 29)
Nov. 6 – at Athletic, 2-2 (Real won 0-3 on May 2)
Nov. 26 – at Getafe, 1-0 (Real won 0-1 on Feb. 4)
Jan. 9 – at Espanyol, 1-1 (Real won 0-4 on Oct. 2)
Jan. 28 – at Villarreal, 0-0 (Real drew 1-1 on Mar. 21)
Feb. 11 – at Osasuna, 3-2 (Real won 1-5 on Mar. 31)
May 12 – at Real Betis, 2-2 (El Real won 2-3 on Mar. 10)

Sept. 18 – at Levante, 1-0 (Barcelona won 1-2 on Apr. 14)
Sept. 21 – at Racing, 0-0 (Barça won 0-2 on Mar. 11)
Mar. 18 – vs. Malaga, 1-1 (Barça won 4-1 on May 2)
Mar. 21 – at Villarreal, 1-1 (Barça drew 0-0 on Jan. 28)
Apr. 8 – vs. Valencia, 0-0 (Barça won 5-1 on Feb. 19)

The places where points were dropped to Valencia and Villarreal end up canceling out, the opposite team giving back points in the same or the reverse fixtures. Take those out and also ignore the Clasicos (where each team won on the road) and you’re left with three places the league champions gave points to Barcelona. (Interestingly, last year’s slips to Valencia were ultimately inconsequential.)

Though this comparison tells us far more about 2011-12 than this year’s race, it gives us a vague idea of the margins in Spain’s title race. Over the last three seasons, the team that won the league has dropped points in seven, eight, and six matches – already a small window. When you factor in the possibility of dropping points in the same matches, the remaining space to make up ground becomes as razor thin.

The Valencia results represent that first fissure between Barcelona and Real Madrid. If this season is anything like last’s, a handful of small distinctions will determine who claims the Primera División.

Elsewhere in Spain:

  • Celta da Vigo, returning to the first division after a five-year absence, got their first win of the season, 2-0 over visiting Osasuna (who finished the match with ten men). After a surprising seventh place finish last season, Osasuna is without a point through three rounds. Though they gave Barcelona a scare last week, Los Rojillos have been shut out on trips to Celta and Deportivo La Coruña, two teams that were playing in the second division last season.
  • Málaga’s plucky start continued with a 1-0 victory over Real Zaragoza. With support abandoning the club earlier this summer (and Santi Cazorla having to be sold at a loss to Arsenal), it was unclear what would come of a club once thought to be the best hope to break the top two. But Manuel Pellegrini has his team qualified for the Champions League group stage, and having allowed only one goal through 270 Liga minutes, Málaga may not be destined for collapse. After three rounds, the Andalusians sit third.
  • Just above them are Mallorca, whose only blemish of the season is a 1-1 draw at Málaga. In Saturday’s last match, a late goal from Víctor Casadesús downed visiting Real Sociedad, 1-0. While the victory failed to inspire, it was evokative of last year’s team that still finished eighth while scoring only 42 goals.
  • Two teams saw perfect records vanquished. Rayo Vallecano stays unbeaten after a 0-0 draw Sunday to visiting Sevilla, while newly-promoted Real Vallodolid had the unfortunate luck of visiting Bilbao just as Athletic Club has decided to get its act together. After losing their first two matches, Athletic won 2-0 on Sunday.
  • Levante, having scored once in their first two games, came back from a two-goal deficit, scoring their final goal in stoppage time (while down a man) to defeat visiting Espanyol 3-2. Espanyol is now 0-3-0 (W-L-D) while giving up a league-high seven goals.
  • And finally, Depor stayed undefeated, drawing with visiting Getafe, 1-1. Riki’s sixth minute goal meant La Coruña had scored six times in their first 186 minutes since promotion. Getafe was able to keep them quiet for the rest of the night.

Three key questions for USMNT in March


The United States men’s national team returns to competitive action with an interim coach at the wheel and a spot in the CONCACAF Nations League finals still uncertain.

The Yanks clobbered Grenada at home in their first CNL group match but could only manage a 1-1 draw with El Salvador thanks in no small part to a sloppy pitch and a red card. The USMNT was also down several first-choice players including Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna.

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The U.S. will be favored to advance and will hope to be in the catbird seat following Friday’s match with Grenada at Kirani James Athletic Stadium in St. George’s.

Grenada lost 3-1 to El Salvador away but drew Los Cuscatlecos at home and need to beat the visiting U.S. to qualify for Gold Cup.

But the USMNT’s aforementioned 1-1 draw with El Salvador looms large: Even if the Yanks were to falter in Grenada, they’ll be the Group D winner by beating Los Cuscatlecos on March 27 in Orlando.

Three key questions for USMNT in March

1. Center forwards still needed, but is there anyone ready for the task? The Nos. 1, 2, and 3 non-Reyna-related question for Gregg Berhalter when the World Cup ended was why he chose his center forwards, how he used them, and why they didn’t score goals. Haji Wright was the only CF to score at the World Cup and that was the first center forward goal in six USMNT matches. Jesus Ferreira scored four the previous game, but that was against Grenada and the FC Dallas star has three more goals in his 15 other caps. And Timothy Weah, a danger up top when called upon but often a wide man, is injured and will miss the international break.

So where will interim coach Anthony Hudson turn against Grenada and El Salvador?

World Cup cut Ricardo Pepi is back and so is Daryl Dike.

Meet the candidates and their forms:

  • Pepi, 20, is on loan at Dutch side Groningen from Augsburg. He started off hot with Groningen and has nine goals, though he’s scoreless in his last three matches.
  • Dike, 22, is fit and firing for West Bromwich Albion, where he’s scored four times in his last five Championship appearances, all starts.

This is one of those “prove it” camps, with Christian Pulisic and Giovanni Reyna among those helping to cue up chances for their center forwards. If you’re not gonna get the job done against Grenada and El Salvador, you’re missing the boat.

2. Who steps into the Tyler Adams role? Tyler Adams has unflinchingly been Leeds’ most consistent and steady player in a year of tumult, and he’s proven the same time and again in a USMNT shirt.

But he’s not here!

So there will be no “MMA” midfield of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, and Adams. The first two pieces are here from Leeds and Valencia, but it’ll be a third piece to complete the trio. Luca de la Torre of Celta Vigo and Alan Sonora of Juarez have been called into camp and Johnny Cardoso is the most defense-minded of the bunch if the team is to go “like-for-like.” Cardoso, 21, is starting for Internacional in Brazil, who trails only Gremio on the Gaucho table.

3. What’s the state of mind? Look, the “youth soccer” and “extremely childish” incident has made for plenty of discussion online, but the U.S. group seemed plenty bonded after Giovanni Reyna’s World Cup camp incidents had happened but were yet to be exposed by Gregg Berhalter at a “private” speech.

So, in theory, Reyna will arrive back into a USMNT camp in need of consistent effort and good attitude but as a member of the fold. The problem may be that the fold thought it left the World Cup with Berhalter either returning as head coach or with a search being conducted for a new coach.

It turns out, it’s only mostly the latter; Berhalter remains a candidate for the U.S. job and has been in Europe to see his “former” players. His assistant, Anthony Hudson, remains in charge of the first team on an interim basis and who can really know how much input Berhalter may currently have on the group.

All of that said, the USMNT is better than both of its opponents, regardless of venues, and should look superior to them even without Adams and Weah. Should is still pretty conditional, so let’s see what statement comes out of these two games in the favorites role, because it’s going to be quite a while before the Yanks are a clear underdog again.

Italy vs England: How to watch live, stream link, team news


England will begin their EURO 2024 quest the same way they finished their heartbreaking EURO 2020 campaign: facing Italy, now two-time champions of Europe, on Thursday.

[ LIVE: EURO 2024 qualifying scores – Italy vs England ]

The two European giants faced off in the 2020 final (in the summer of 2021) at Wembley Stadium in London, and it was the Italians who triumphed in the penalty shootout after playing to a 1-1 draw after regular time and extra time.

Italy and England are joined in Group C by Ukraine, North Macedonia and Malta. The sides that finish 1st and 2nd in the group will qualify for next summer’s tournament in Germany.

[ MORE: USMNT upcoming schedule – Nations League, friendlies, Gold Cup ]

Here is everything you need for Italy vs England. 

How to watch Italy vs England live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 3:45pm ET, Thursday (March 23)
Stadium: Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, Napoli

Italy squad

Goalkeepers – Gianluigi Donnarumma (Paris Saint-Germain), Alex Meret (Napoli), Claudio Carnesecchi (Cremonese), Wladimiro Falcone (Lecce)

Defenders – Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Inter Milan), Francesco Acerbi (Inter Milan), Emerson Palmieri (West Ham), Giovanni Di Lorenzo (Napoli), Leonardo Spinazzola (Roma), Alessio Romagnoli (Lazio), Rafael Toloi (Atalanta), Giorgio Scalvini (Atalanta), Alessandro Buongiorno (Torino)

Midfielders – Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain), Jorginho (Arsenal), Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan), Bryan Cristante (Roma), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma), Matteo Pessina (Monza), Sandro Tonali (AC Milan), Davide Frattesi (Sassuolo)

Forwards – Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Gianluca Scamacca (West Ham), Vincenzo Grifo (Freiburg), Wilfried Gnonto (Leeds), Simone Pafundi (Udinese), Mateo Retegui (Tigre)

England squad

Goalkeepers – Jordan Pickford (Everton), Fraser Forster (Tottenham), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)

Defenders – Kyle Walker (Manchester City), John Stones (Manchester City), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Ben Chilwell (Chelsea), Reece James (Chelsea), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace)

Midfielders – Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Declan Rice (West Ham), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea)

Forwards – Harry Kane (Tottenham), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Phil Foden (Manchester City), James Maddison (Leicester), Ivan Toney (Brentford)

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The Anfield Wrap on Liverpool ahead of U.S. tour: ‘They are in a new phase’


Liverpool are still in the hunt for a top four finish but Jurgen Klopp is now in charge of a big rebuilding process as the Reds are in ‘a new phase’ as they transition from the German’s first seven years in charge.

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That is the view of Neil Atkinson from The Anfield Wrap (TAW) and it will be intriguing to see how Klopp reshapes his playing philosophy, adds to his squad and how it all slots together over the next few years.

TAW are bringing their show to North America with their ‘TAW Live’ tour taking place from Wednesday, Mar. 22 to Monday, Mar. 27, with shows in Toronto, Detroit, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

TAW host Neil Atkinson joined Brad Thomas and Drew Dinsick on NBC Sports’ Soccer Pub to discuss what he thinks of topsy-turvy Liverpool this season and what their identity could become in the future.

Klopp has ‘never had to do this’ before

“I think this is the key question for the next phase of Jurgen Klopp,” Atkinson said. “He has never had to do this before. He’s done seven years at Mainz, seven years at Dortmund and he’s now done seven years at Liverpool. Jurgen has signed his new deal and is staying until 2026 and now what he’s got to do is transition this football team in a way he hasn’t had to do in the past.

“I think that is an interesting challenge. Sides get used to the way you play and players themselves can become a little bit stale and there is also you yourself and how you see the game and how you’re going to interact with the game as a manager. I don’t think he’s had to do this in any of his other jobs. He’s done unbelievable jobs everywhere he has been, including Liverpool, but this is a new phase.”

Transition has arrived for the Reds. But what will it look like?

“The key question for Liverpool is Liverpool are clearly in transition, that is clear and apparent. That happens to a lot of sides and some sides manage to change and stay at the top, Liverpool haven’t managed to succeed in that. Last season they were beginning that process and last season you saw a bit of transition from Liverpool but not as much as you’ve seen now and they haven’t managed to stay at the top and the Champions League this campaign.

“What is it moving to? Is it simply different players? Or is he looking to change his approach a little bit? Is he looking to add creativity to the side? What does that come at the expense of? I think that is a key question. On the whole I feel like talk of Liverpool’s overall demise is vastly overstated. I think it is a side that will right itself. There have been injury issues this year, I don’t think a number of the players and coaching staff have had their best season by any stretch of the imagination, but I think they will come back strong.”

Top four finish essential this season

“I’m of the view that as long as they can find a way to a top four finish then I feel they will summer strongly and they will be able to come out of the other side and we will really be able to see what the next phase of Jurgen Klopp’s blueprint is. I am absolutely certain he has a blueprint and has a way he wants this team to play and knows which players he wants to keep and move on. I think we will see that again in the summer and Liverpool come again. But it is important for Liverpool to come top four.”

New deadline looms for Manchester United bids


A new deadline is looming for potential new owners of Manchester United, as our partners in the UK at Sky Sports say the deadline for second offers is Wednesday, March 22.

They add that up to eight bids are expected, while INEOS owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has told The Wall Street Journal he won’t pay a ‘stupid price’ for the Red Devils.

The Glazer family continue to explore either the full or partial sale of the Premier League giants.

It has been widely reported by ESPN and Sky Sports that two bids, one from Ratcliffe and another led by Qatari Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, are the frontrunners as the Glazers look at all of their available options.

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Over the last few months the American family have been seeking potential investors in Manchester United and they have not been short of suitors.

Presentations have been taking place between potential new owners and investors and the Man United hierarchy over the last few weeks.

The latest updates

Two bids have now taken center stage as they arrived before the first, well-documented, deadline.

One is from INEOS owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who failed to buy Chelsea last year but was always said to prefer a bid for his boyhood club Manchester United.

“How do you decide the price of a painting? How do you decide the price of a house? It’s not related to how much it cost to build or how much it cost to paint. What you don’t want to do is pay stupid prices for things because then you regret it subsequently,” Ratcliffe told The Wall Street Journal.

Another bid is led by Qatari Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, who is seeking full control of the club and is the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank as his father was the former prime minister of Qatar.

The Glazer family bought United in 2005 for $1.4 billion and it is believed they are now asking over $7.3 billion for a full sale of the club.

Statement from INEOS

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS confirmed they have ‘submitted a bid for majority ownership of Manchester United’ and went into more detail on their plans.

“We would see our role as the long-term custodians of Manchester United on behalf of the fans and the wider community. We are ambitious and highly competitive and would want to invest in Manchester United to make them the number one club in the world once again.

“We also recognise that football governance in this country is at a crossroads. We would want to help lead this next chapter, deepening the culture of English football by making the club a beacon for a modern, progressive, fan-centred approach to ownership. We want a Manchester United anchored in its proud history and roots in the northwest of England, putting the Manchester back into Manchester United and clearly focusing on winning the Champions League.”

Statement from Qatari bid

The Qatari bid, led by Sheikh Jassim, promised that their offer is ‘completely debt free’ and they want United to become ‘the greatest football club in the world’ during their stewardship of the club.

“The bid will be completely debt free via Sheikh Jassim’s Nine Two Foundation, which will look to invest in the football teams, the training center, the stadium and wider infrastructure, the fan experience and the communities the club supports.

“The vision of the bid is for Manchester United Football Club to be renowned for footballing excellence, and regarded as the greatest football club in the world.”