Offshore drilling, Spain: at Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 2

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Man of the match: It’s hard to separate the match’s two biggest stars, each posting braces, but Cristiano Ronaldo got his goals on the road, helping his team to a valuable point at their arch rivals.

In the 23rd minute, Ronaldo blasted a left-footed shot into the small, near-post window he was generously given at Victor Valdes, staking Real and early lead. Then, with his team down 2-1 in the second half, a burst from the left wing sent him past Martin Montoya and behind Barcelona’s defense, where he put a Mesut Özil pass behind Victor Valdes for the point-winning goal.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Real Madrid played as well as they have at the Nou Camp during the post-Frank Rijkaard era. They were clearly the better side for over the first half hour. Although Barcelona was still controlling the ball, the decisiveness of Real’s play left the Catalans looking less confident than normal.
  • And perhaps they had reason to worry, given who Tito Vilanova was forced to start at the back. Carles Puyol was out. So was Gerard Piqué, which make the decision to start Alex Song on the bench even more surprising. Instead, Vilanova dropped Sergio Busquets into central defense to play along side Javier Mascherano.
  • Well, kinda. In the defensive phase, Busquets would drop into a back four. In transition and attack, Barcelona’s normal defensive midfielder was playing in front of the line, even occasionally venturing into attack. When Barcelona scored their equalizer in the 31st minute, it was Busquets’ presence in the box that helped create chaos.
  • By the second half, Busquets was staying out of the defense. Adriano (on the left) and Montoya (right) were flanking Mascherano in a back three.
  • Its hard to say whether Barcelona’s defensive tactics contributed to the first goal. Daniel Alves (who started at right back but quickly came off) was playing far more narrow than we’re used to seeing him, perhaps trying to maintain a narrow back three until Busquets made up the numbers. Alves came into the middle to help on Karim Benzema, leaving Ronaldo alone after Benzema fed a ball into the left of the box.
  • Real’s second goal could have also been a product of the makeshift defense. Was Montoya’s slow reaction and Mascherano’s inability to cover a product of the ad hoc tactics?
  • When you dominate possession, you can take more chances in defense. The opposition’s going to have less time to exploit you. Today, Real Madrid only had 30 percent of the ball.
  • That would have ben enough if José Mourinho’s team was executing their counters with their usual efficiency. Something was off today, though. They lacked their usual sharpness. None of their attackers were getting the ball in dangerous spots. Ángel Di María had a very quiet day.
  • Benzema, however, did not. Real’s No. 9 had two very good chances in the first half, one of which went off the post. Given Real’s strong start and Benzema;s opportunities, Los Merengues should have been up two when Messi equalized.
  • That equalizer came in the 31st minute, when poor defending on a Pedro Rodríguez cross left Lionel Messi with an easy finish from inside the six-yard box. The most notable gaff: Pepe elevating only to lose his balance and fall to the ground as the deflected cross dropped right to Messi.
  • Early in the second half, Messi completed Barcelona’s turnaround, drawing a foul just above the arc before beating Iker Casillas with a beautiful dipping shot.
  • The culprit on the play was Xabi Alonso, who never seems to have an impact in these matches. His lunging tackle on Messi was always destined to draw a whistle.
  • Alonso lacks the foot speed to keep up with Messi and Andres Iniesta (who had a great game, also). In the game for his passing, Alonso’s only contributions seem to be bad fouls and yellow cards. Mourinho would have been better served by Michael Essien or Luka Modric.
  • Even though Ronaldo would find an equalizer, Barcelona controlled the second half. They were finally able to bring Messi into the match, building trough him throughout the match’s final 35 minutes. This led to numerous chances where Messi’s dribbling would push back the defense before he played it left to Iniesta, who would then go wide to Jordi Alba (playing as a left winger) for try to hit a runner through Real’s line.
  • After bringing Essien on for Di María late, Real’s defense was able to hold out, the big moment of danger coming when Pedro tested the cross bar.
  • Overall it was a great Clasico, with only a late winner keeping it from being one of the series’ best.
  • As it concerns the standings, the draw may serve Barcelona well, having carried an eight-point lead on Real Madrid into this match. With only seven rounds gone, however, it’s too early to tell the significance of Barça’s lead. If Real Madrid wins at the Bernabeu, today’s result will look like points lost.

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.


Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.


Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.


Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?

Netherlands forward Rob Rensenbrink dies at age 72

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Rob Rensenbrink, the forward who was centimeters away from delivering the Netherlands a World Cup title in 1978, has died at age 72, the Dutch football association said Saturday.

“We have heard with sadness of the death of football legend Rob Rensenbrink,” the association said in a tweet.

Rensenbrink played most of his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge and Anderlecht, where his weaving runs earned him the nickname “Snake Man.” He also played briefly for the Portland Timbers in the United States in 1980.

He was a regular for the Netherlands national team in its period of dominance in the 1970s.

He played 46 times and scored 14 goals for the Dutch team known for its slick, position-swapping “total football.”

But he will always be best remembered for the goal he didn’t quite score in the 1978 World Cup final.

With the scores tied at 1-1 between the Netherlands and host Argentina and the seconds ticking away in injury time of the final in Buenos Aires, Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post. The match went to extra time and Argentina scored twice to win 3-1.

It was the second straight World Cup final defeat for the Netherlands, which has appeared in three finals and lost them all.

Rensenbrink was diagnosed with a muscle disease in 2012 and died as a result of the illness, according to Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Anderlecht said he died Friday night.

“Thanks for everything Robbie!” the Belgian club wrote on its website. “We will never forget you.”

Serie A roundup: Ilicic powers Atalanta in historic win over Torino (video)

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Atalanta’s historic and overpowering win over Torino highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Torino 0-7 Atalanta

Josip Ilicic scored a hat-trick, including a center-line strike, as Atalanta humiliated Torino 7-0 on Saturday, handing the hosts their worst home loss ever in Serie A play.

With only nine men on the field towards the end of the match for Turin-based side, Atalanta were able to capitalize, elevating their goal count to 57 goals in 21 games this season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who are back in Champions League contention, lead the league in goals.

Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who scored a minute before the break, added to Ilicic’s first of three. A three-goal advantage after the first 45 minutes foreshadowed what Torino was going to encounter in the second half: more goals.

Eight minutes into the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s bout at the Olimpico di Torino, Ilicic quick-fired two more past an exposed Salvatore Sirigu.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Luis Muriel took the field for the visitors. And just six minutes after his first foot on the natural surface, the Colombian striker had a brace to his name.

“All we can do is apologize,” Torino coach Walter Mazzarri said. “In so many years of my career I had never had such a game.”

In fourth place with 38 points, Atalanta look to increase their seven-goal performances this season to three as they host struggling Genoa in a weeks time. Torino, on the other hand, meet AC Milan on Tuesday in the quarterfinal’s of the Coppa Italia.

Elsewhere

SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa