Spain weekend roundup: Takeaways from another Atlético Madrid-Barcelona stalemate

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For some, Saturday’s showdown was anticlimactic, the anticipation leading into the Atlético Madrid-Barcelona showdown failing to translate into the 0-0 final. With both teams dropping points for only the third time,  nothing changed at the top of the Primera División, even if Real Madrid was able to gain two points with their Sunday win at Espanyol. For the third time this season, Atlético and Barça were deadlocked after 90 minutes, slightly increasing the likelihood only goal difference the teams after 38 rounds.

[MORE: Leo Messi can’t quite find the magic; Barcelona and Atletico fight to scoreless draw]

At La Liga’s half-way mark — after a match that was supposed to identify Spain’s favorites — we still haven’t learned which team is better than the other. Saturday’s stalemate did, however, reveal a number of other, smaller things about the Primera’s title race:

1. 270 wasn’t enough – 1-1, 0-0, 0-0. Not only have these teams produced three draws in their 2013-14 meetings (the first two in August’s Spanish Supercopa), but neither side has scored in 204 minutes. At what point do we throw our hands up and say “these teams are equal,” acknowledging any potential goals represent the variance, not a true difference in quality?

We probably aren’t there yet, but if you saw a meaningful difference in Atlético and Barcelona on Saturday, you’re either a.) a fan of one of those teams, or b.) somebody I could really learn something from, because three matches into these teams’ 2013-14 series, there’s no way to tell who’s better.

2. Missed chance for Atleti Even if you think these teams are equal, you can argue Atlético should have done more at home. Being drawn by Barcelona could be seen as dropping points the Blaugrana are likely to build on at home on May 17.

Diego Simeone, however, didn’t seem to agree. At least, judging by his approach, he was fine playing out Saturday’s game to its logical conclusion. Like his counterpart (Gerardo Martino), he never had his team deviate from its game plan, either confident in its ability to break through or unwilling to risk a failure that could give their opponents two more valuable points.

With 19 matches left in the season, with every point so valuable between two teams that will push 100 points this season, that may not have been a risk either coach was willing to take. Whether Simeone comes to regret that will be determined in Catalonia.

3. Another lesson on possession – Barcelona had 69 percent of the ball. They controlled the game, right? No. Atlético’s work and pressure were just as important to how the game played out. Both teams finished with two shots on goal. Neither team looked close to taking the game from the other. Possession was incidental to the result.

4. Set pieces should have meant more for Atlético – Defending set pieces, Barcelona really only have one person capable of marking a significant opposing threat. Sergio Busquets and Dani Alves can try, but it’s Gerard Piqué little else until Carles Puyol returns.

Atlético, on the other hand, have six players within two centimeters of six feet tall, and on Saturday, they won seven corners and three free kicks in the Barcelona half. Yet come full-time, they’d failed to capitalize on any of them, giving those claiming Atlético should have done some fodder.

source: Getty Images5. Gerard Piqué reminded people of his value – Even the world’s best defenders have their detractors. It’s too easy to watch a player on a bad day, see a couple of mistakes, and pass judgment. To a certain degree, that’s the nature of defending, but over the past two years, Gerard Piqué (right) seems to have accumulated more detractors than most. Having to carry the defense in the absences of Carles Puyol, the Spanish international has occasionally faltered.

Saturday was not one of those times. Often isolated on Diego Costa, Piqué was the main reason one of Spain’s leading goal scorers was kept quiet. As best seen on the first half ball that forced Piqué to track Costa into the right channel, Barcelona’s center half seemed a step ahead of his marks, quick to read plays and beat his opponents spots while helping keep flack off Víctor Valdés.

On that play (and on a similar read to his right in the second half), Piqué’s positioning left Costa with a series of low percentage options, both times preventing a shot from testing his keeper.

6. Javier Mascherano continues to be a gamble – This:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtLPHi8T63E]

Let’s set aside the debate as to whether that could have been red, yellow, or nothing (it wasn’t a booking on Saturday). Why does Javier Mascherano continue to put himself in positions to turn games … in a bad way?

Two-footed, going straight into his man, the only thing that saved Mascherano on that play was Arda Turan being so close at the time he committed. Even then, the foul could have seriously hurt the Atlético midfielder, had Mascherano made contact. Once the Barça defender’s feet go out from under him, he loses all influence over whether that contact happens or not.

To paraphrase Charlie Murphy, Mascherano continues to be a habitual dice-roller. Often, you get a quality player who provides a midfielder’s skills in defense. Sometimes, and more often than most players, he takes unjustifiable chances.

Another official may have had Barça playing with 10 for Saturday’s final half-hour.

7. Barcelona is more than Messi, Neymar – When neither Lionel Messi nor Neymar started against Getafe mid-week, it seemed a long shot they’d go 90 against Atlético. Yet given the stakes, many wondered if Tata Martino would still take a chance. When Barça’s South America duo started the game on the bench, people both understood and respected the other gamble he was taking – keeping his best attackers on the bench.

The 0-0 scoreline gives cynics reason to criticize the move, but the silver lining speaks to the quality of Messi and Neymar’s teammates. On the road, against one of the best teams in Europe, and without their two most-talented attackers, the Blaugrana were still able to get a result, one that keeps them at the top of the table. And while this two may have been able to snag additional points for Barcelona, Martino was able to respect their recoveries while keeping his team in first.

8. Atleti better get scoring goals – If Saturday was an indication Barcelona and Atlético may finish this season tied on top, Diego Simeone’s team needs to start scoring goals. They’re five back on goal difference, the likely tiebreaker (if the teams end up even). If Atlético going to claim their unlikely crown, they may need to out-score their more-prolific opposition.

To date, Atleti have allowed 11 goals this season. Barcelona’s allowed 12. Even if Atlético try to make up the five-goal difference by conceding less, there isn’t much room for improvement in that column.

Odds are to catch Barcelona, they’re going to have to be a little more like Barcelona. Barça have scored 53 times so far this year. Atlético (47) need to catch up.

source:  9. Real Madrid was the ‘real winner’ – The instant, post-match analysis was unanimous: Real Madrid were the real winners on Saturday, even if they didn’t play until Sunday. Once they beat Espanyol, however, los Blancos were back within three points of this season’s big two. According to the standings, we have a three-team race.

At the same time, we can’t ignore what we saw from Real Madrid. Failing to score from open play against the league’s 12th-placed team, El Real are still playing like the Spain’s third-best team, and with Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso holding down the middle, it’s not difficult to imagine where Spain’s leaders will be able to given the Merengues problems.

By the math, Real Madrid did “win” this weekend, but seeing how Spain’s top-three performed, there was no change in the power dynamics at the top of the table. La Liga still has two main contenders for the title, with a sleeping giant given extra time to show they can make this a three-team race.

Elsewhere

  • Granada 4, Valladolid 0 – Two goals from Recio left Valladolid in the bottom three come at the end of the weekend, with goals from Jeison Murillo and Youssef El-Arabi piling on to drive Lucas Alcaraz’s team 10th.
  • Athletic Bilbao 6, Almeria 1 – Bouncing back from last week’s loss to Real Sociedad, Athletic got two goals from Ibai Gómez after Mikei Rico, Ander Herrera, Aymeric Laporte, and Artiz Aduriz had already put the game out of reach.
  • Celta Vigo 2, Valencia 1 – A second half brace from Charles reversed Daniel Parejo’s opening goal, ending Celta’s three-match winless run.
  • Elche 1, Sevilla 1 – Christian Herrera’s 82nd minute goal seemed to give Elche its upset, but one minute before full-time, Daniel Carriço equalized, carrying Sevilla’s unbeaten run to seven in league.
  • Getafe 0, Real Vallecano 1 – Alberto Bueno’s 29th minute goal held up as Rubén Martínez’s five saves helped keep Getafe off the scoresheet.
  • Real Betis 1, Osasuna 2 – Nono’s second booking left Real Betis down a man and a goal in the 38th minute. A second half own goal from Jordi Figueras put the game away before Jorge Molina got the home side on the board late.
  • Levante 1, Málaga 0 – Bernd Schuster’s team spent 71 minutes chasing David Berral’s opener, putting up 22 shots along the way. Six saves from Keylor Navas, however, delivered Levante’s sixth win of the season, Málaga now losers of two in a row.

Others
Atlético Madrid 0, Barcelona 0
Espanyol 0, Real Madrid 1

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 19 16 2 1 53 12 41 9-0-0 7-2-1 50
Atlético Madrid 19 16 2 1 47 11 36 9-1-0 7-1-1 50
Real Madrid 19 15 2 2 53 21 32 8-0-1 7-2-1 47
Athletic 19 11 3 5 32 24 8 8-2-0 3-1-5 36
Real Sociedad 18 9 5 4 35 23 12 6-2-1 3-3-3 32
Villarreal 18 9 4 5 32 20 12 4-3-2 5-1-3 31
Sevilla 19 8 6 5 36 30 6 5-2-2 3-4-3 30
Valencia 19 7 2 10 26 31 -5 5-1-4 2-1-6 23
Granada 19 7 2 10 19 25 -6 3-0-7 4-2-3 23
Levante 19 6 5 8 18 27 -9 3-3-3 3-2-5 23
Getafe 19 7 2 10 20 31 -11 4-2-4 3-0-6 23
Espanyol 19 6 4 9 22 25 -3 4-2-4 2-2-5 22
Osasuna 19 6 3 10 17 29 -12 3-2-4 3-1-6 21
Málaga 19 5 5 9 19 24 -5 4-0-5 1-5-4 20
Celta Vigo 19 5 4 10 23 31 -8 2-4-4 3-0-6 19
Almería 19 5 4 10 21 38 -17 2-3-4 3-1-6 19
Elche 19 4 6 9 17 28 -11 2-3-5 2-3-4 18
Valladolid 19 3 7 9 21 33 -12 2-4-3 1-3-6 16
Rayo Vallecano 19 5 1 13 19 45 -26 2-0-7 3-1-6 16
Betis 19 2 5 12 16 38 -22 2-3-5 0-2-7 11

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

MLS Playoffs Preview: 1st round kicks off on Saturday

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After a two-week break, MLS is back, and with some outstanding matchups as the first round of the playoffs kicks off on Saturday.

Here’s a closer look at Saturday’s matchups in the Western Conference and Eastern Conference.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


2. Atlanta United v. 7. New England Revolution — Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Atlanta United begins its title defense against the most successful coach in MLS history, Bruce Arena.

Atlanta United heads into the match at home a bit shorthanded. Miles Robinson suffered a left hamstring strain while on international duty with the U.S. Men’s National Team, leaving veteran centerback Michael Parkhurst to start alongside Leandro Gonzalez Pires. There’s also some questions over whether Ezequiel Barco and Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez will start together in midfield.

All that being said, Atlanta is still one of the best teams in MLS and as long as they have Josef Martinez, they’ll be a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Revs have been a revelation since Bruce Arena took over in May, and no one knows the MLS playoffs more than he. Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou have been terrific this summer for the Revs while the defense, anchored by centerbacks Andrew Farrell and Michael Mancienne and 25-year-old goalkeeper Matt Turner have kept opponents off the board.

Atlanta certainly has the edge here, especially at home, but never count out a Bruce Arena team.

2. Seattle Sounders v. 7. FC Dallas — Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET

Unlike in previous years, the Seattle Sounders never needed to make a patented late-season push to make it into the playoffs. This time, the Sounders were solid throughout, especially thanks to a start that included five wins in six games. With Jordan Morris in peak form and Roman Torres and Kim Kee-Hee patrolling the middle of the backline, Seattle sure looks like an MLS Cup contender. Of course, they’d have to get past LAFC first, no small task.

For FC Dallas, in a way, they’re just happy to be here. It seems like forever, but was less than a year ago when club legend Oscar Pareja left for the Club Tijuana manager spot. In his place was local soccer legend and former FC Dallas academy director Luchi Gonzalez, and with a mostly young squad of players, Gonzalez has proven he could guide them to the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt though that one of the few veterans, Zdenek “Cobra” Ondrášek, has been on fire the last two months and just scored for the Czech Republic against England. The Sounders should take care of business at home, but Jesus Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal can create something out of nothing and could make Saturday’s match interesting/

4. Toronto FC v. 5. DC United — Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

With the regular season concluded and the start of single-elimination matches, we’re on the verge of saying goodbye to Wayne Rooney at any moment, and it could come as early as Saturday.

Thanks to a win and some other favorable results, Toronto FC jumped up in the standings and earned a home playoff match. It doesn’t hurt that it’s been very solid to close out the season, going unbeaten in its last 10 matches – though to be fair, that span only included four wins. Worryingly for TFC is that striker Jozy Altidore didn’t practice on Thursday after missing the international break with yet another muscle injury. However, his Canadian international teammates Jonathan Osorio, Liam Fraser, and Richie Laryea are returning to the club side on a high after beating the U.S.

For D.C. it’s been an up and down last few weeks. They picked up huge wins over Portland and Seattle in the final two months of the season, only to settle for scoreless draws against the porous New York Red Bulls and abject horror show in FC Cincinnati. As always, there will be plenty of pressure on Rooney to produce some magic, and his side will need it if they want to keep their season alive. Toronto, playing at home, has the edge here.

3. Real Salt Lake v. 6. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 10 p.m. ET

Mike Petke was fired by Real Salt Lake in mid-August after serving a two-week suspension for berating the referee – and saying some unacceptable terms – after a Leagues Cup game in July. In his place, interim coach Freddy Juarez has done quite well with the squad, winning seven games in the final three months of the season to cruise into a top-three place and earn a home game in the playoffs.

Former Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers defender Nedum Onuoha has been a rock at the back alongside youngster Justin Glad, and RSL may have the most underrated attack in the league. Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach and Jefferson Savarino have all been brilliant at points this season. If the trio put it together, RSL could be a dark horse for the title.

The Timbers beat expectations a year ago as Giovanni Savarese led his team to another final – his fourth straight final as a coach. It will be an incredible achievement if they make it this time around. Portland has elite offensive capabilities when everyone is firing on all cylanders. Sebastian Blanco, Diego Valeri, and even Dairon Asprilla can create moments of magic, while Jeremy Ebobisse has had a breakout season with 11 goals, though he’s missed a few he’ll want back. The issue is the team defensively, and they’ll have to be on their game to slow to RSL’s front three on the road.

Of course, the Timbers did win both matchups against RSL this season, so even on the road, they should be confident they can get it done again.

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.