Spain: Diego Costa’s double and the $52 million that could decide La Liga

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo usually dominate La Liga’s scoring charts, but through 17 rounds of this season’s competition, a Brazilian-cum-Spaniard is setting the pace, scoring goals at a rate that would press a healthy Messi to keep up. But with the Argentine icon sidelined for Barcelona, it’s up to Ronaldo to challenge Atléitco Madrid’s Diego Costa for the Pichichi, a race the 25-year-old striker leads after two goals on Saturday. The brace gave Atleti a 3-2 win over visiting Levante, vaulting Costa to 18 goals on the season.

Costa, on to track to represent Spain in his native Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, gave Atlético their first lead in the 47th minute, beating Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas in the lower-left corner with a volley off Gabi’s restart. Thirty minutes later, converting a penalty conceded by Rubén García, Costa secured Atleti’s 15th win in 17 games, temporarily moving the colchoneros to the top of the Primera Division.

“He had another great game,” Atlético head coach Diego Simeone said after the game. “He continues to show that if the Ballon d’Or deadline had been extended a bit, he would probably have been in the fight for it.”

Barcelona would reclaim their league lead on Sunday, the Blaugrana’s 5-2 win at Getafe keeping Gerardo Martino’s team top on goal difference, but Costa would finish the weekend first on the league’s scoring chart. With Ronaldo only scoring once in Real Madrid’s 3-2 win at Valencia, Costa has a one-goal lead on the Pichichi favorite, Messi’s hamstring injury having opened the gate for a new champion.

If the tabloids are to be believed, however, Costa’s quest for the crown could end at some point next month. As all players in Spain do, the 25-year-old has a release clause, but because the two-time Brazilian international’s rise has been particularly steep, his clause doesn’t reflect his current value.

Whereas most release values are prohibitively high, Costa’s is just over $52 million. While that price prevents most from dreaming of swiping Costa, it may not prevent a team like Chelsea or Arsenal from unlocking that door in January. If Costa wants to pursue a huge payday, Atlético may not be able to stop him.

As Manchester United found out this summer, activating a release clause from beyond Spain’s borders can be tricky, but with Costa’s value having peaked while teams like Chelsea need a number nine, that $52 million could loom particularly large in two Spanish races. Not only could Costa’s quest for the Pichichi end if his release clause is triggered, but Atlético’s challenge of Barcelona could fade if its star elects to cash in on his newfound success.

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Pedro Rodríguez’s eighth, ninth, and 10th goals of the season vault him to Barcelona’s team lead, with the defending Spanish champions winning 5-2 on Sunday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Barcelona, Real Madrid complete perfect weekend for top three

One day after Atlético had taken first place, Barcelona and Real Madrid did their parts to maintain pace, Spain’s traditional big two pushing the league’s title-contending trio forward with wins at Getafe and Valencia.

Barcelona dug a hole for themselves by conceding twice within 15 minutes in Madrid but fired back through Pedro Rodríguez by halftime. The Spanish international scored three times in 10 minutes to give Barcelona a lead going into the break, one Cesc Fábregas would build on with a second half brace. Matching Atlético’s 15-1-1 mark, Barcelona reclaimed first place, their +37 goal difference besting Atleti by two.

[MORE: Pedro hat-trick in nine minutes gives Barcleona comeback win]

In Sunday’s final match, Valencia pulled back two Real Madrid leads, Pablo Piatti answering Ángel Di María in the first half before Jeremy Mathieu rebuked Ronaldo in the second. Had Jesé given Los Che more than eight minutes to respond, El Real may have conceded again, but after a 3-2 win at the Mestalla, Carlo Ancelotti’s team stays within five of the top.

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Christian Stuani scored twice as Espanyol went up four on Valladolid. (Photo: Getty Images)

Elsewhere

  • Elche 1-0 Malaga – Ignacio Camacho’s first goal since Jan. 16 had the visitors up after six minutes, a lead which became much easier to defend when Damián Suárez earned a second yellow in the 60th. The teams combined for four shots on goal.
  • Villarreal 1-2 Sevilla – One point in their last three means the honeymoon’s over for the Yellow Submarine, who fall to sixth after their loss on Saturday. Sevilla got goals from Cala and Carlos Bacca before being reduced to 10 after Cala’s 86th minute red card. Jérémy Perbet converted the ensuing penalty, but Villarreal still fell to their second straight loss.
  • Real Betis 0-1 Almeria – A winnable game for Betis turned into the cellar dwellers’ 11th loss of the season when they were unable to pullback Ramón Azeez’s fourth minute goal.
  • Espanyol 4-2 Valladolid – For the second time this season, Espanyol explodes for four, with goals on either side of halftime from Christian Stuani complemented by Sergio García’s fifth minute penalty conversion and Victor Sánchez’s second half tally. Once up 4-0, Espanyol conceded to Javi Guerra and Victor Pérez in the final 15 minutes.
  • Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Rayo Vallecano – Athletic have a four-point cushion ahead of fifth place Real Sociedad after Mikel Rico’s 66th minute goal broke a 1-1 tie, sending Ernesto Valverde’s team to their third win in four.
  • Celta Vigo 1-1 Osasuna – Coming off a disappointing 3-0 Monday loss at Valladolid, Luis Enrique’s team never found net, Lolo’s 34th minute own goal pulling back Emiliano’s Armenteros’s 17th minute opener for Osasuna.

Standings
(all teams have played 17 matches)

1. Barcelona, 46 pts.
2. Atlético Madrid, 46 pts.
3. Real Madrid, 41 pts.
4. Athletic Bilbao 33 pts.
5. Real Sociedad, 29 pts.
6. Villarreal, 28 pts.
7. Sevilla, 26 pts.
8. Getafe, 23 pts.
9. Espanyol, 22 pts.
10. Valencia, 20 pts.
11. Granada, 20 pts.
12. Levante, 20 pts.
13. Malaga, 20 pts.
14. Elche, 17 pts.
15. Celta Vigo, 16 pts.
16. Almeria, 16 pts.
17. Osasuna, 15 pts.
18. Valladolid, 15 pts.
19. Rayo Vallecano, 13 pts.
20. Real Betis, 10 pts.

At the half: Injuries taking their toll on UCL final

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Liverpool came out with a furious pace in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, but the Reds suffered a massive blow heading into halftime despite their match with Real Madrid remaining scoreless.

Leading goalscorer Mohamed Salah was guided off the pitch by the Reds training staff, after suffering an apparent shoulder injury at the half hour mark.

Meanwhile, Real had its own injury scary just minutes after when right back Dani Carvajal left the game with a leg injury.

The Reds had their share of early chances, including Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s blast that forced a quality save out of Keylor Navas, but the Premier League side couldn’t break the deadlock.

Real seemed to benefit significantly from Salah’s absence though, and Los Blancos nearly took full advantage in the latter stages of the first half.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s close-range header was saved well by Loris Karius, before Karim Benzema’s follow-up attempt went in the back of the net, but was ruled offside.

45 more minutes to play.

Mohamed Salah injured in Champions League final

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Mohamed Salah‘s involvement in the UEFA Champions League final lasted less than 30 minutes.

Salah, Liverpool’s leading goalscorer with 44 goals in all competitions this season, landed heavily on his left shoulder after a challenge with Sergio Ramos.

The Egyptian forward tried to get up but couldn’t shake off the injury and was in tears as he walked off the pitch in the European final.

Ramos will no doubt receive plenty of questions as to his role in Salah’s injury as the Spanish defender made sure Liverpool’s main man hit the floor hard and locked his right arm in during the duel.

All of the focus will now be on Salah to see if he can be fit enough to play for Egypt at the World Cup this summer.

Salah is the main man for the Pharaohs, as he helped them qualify for their first World Cup since 1990.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba to Real? Man City eyes Isco

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Pro Soccer Talk takes a look at some of the day’s biggest transfer stories, including Manchester United possibly parting ways with one of its most-known stars.

[ MORE: PST ranks all 23 current MLS managers ]


Paul Pogba‘s return to Old Trafford has been anything but routine, and it appears his relationship with manager Jose Mourinho is severely damaged.

Don Balon suggests that United would be willing to include Pogba in a deal that sends the France international to Real Madrid, along with a large transfer sum, assuming Madrid parts ways with Toni Kroos.

The Red Devils paid over $118 million to sign Pogba back from Juventus, however, the midfielder has struggled to influence United with just 11 league goals over two seasons.


Staying in Manchester, Pep Guardiola isn’t done building his stacked roster.

Mundo Deportivo is reporting that Guardiola and Manchester City are readying a bid of over $90 million to sign Real Madrid and Spain international Isco.

Isco, 26, has become one of the biggest creators in Real’s attack over recent seasons, however, the Spaniard is reportedly growing tired of the Santiago Bernabeu.


Finally, Borussia Dortmund’s interest in Michy Batshuayi was made known this past season, and the German giants are prepared to bring the Belgium international in on a full-time basis.

Dortmund is currently in negotiations with Chelsea to make Batshuayi’s deal a permanent one in Bundesliga.

During his time with the German side, Batshuayi totaled nine goals in all competitions, including seven in league play.

LIVE, UCL final: Real Madrid v. Liverpool

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This is it. The curtain comes down on the domestic season in Europe as Real Madrid and Liverpool clash in the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine.

[ LIVE: Champions League final

In sunny conditions in the Ukrainian capital, the two highest-scoring teams in the UCL this season meet with Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah the danger men.

For Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid, they’re aiming for a third-straight European title which would hammer home their dominance on the European stage once again. Real seeking their 13th title to extend their own record of European trophies is a daunting prospect for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool…

That said, with Mohamed Salah having the season of dreams the Anfield club believe destiny is playing its part once again as they’re in their first European final since 2007. Klopp has lost all five of his major finals as a manager and surely his luck has to change some time soon.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action from Kiev live, while we will have reaction and analysis right here on Pro Soccer Talk.


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