Spain roundup: Barcelona, Atlético draws bring Real Madrid within one of first

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Real Madrid started the new year a distant third in Spain, two draws and two losses in 17 games leaving Carlo Ancelotti’s team five points behind Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. Now, three games later, the Merengues have cut that gap to one, with Saturday’s match at Real Betis finally hinting at an ability to keep up with the competition.

Sitting in last place, the Verdiblancos wouldn’t normally be a good litmus test for a title aspirant, but with Real Madrid’s attack failing to get out of first gear since the calendar turned, Saturday’s style points were just as important as the bottom line. The team needed to prove their switch to a 4-3-3 formation could be a fruitful one, particularly after the set up failed to ignite fireworks against Espanyol and Osasuna.

On Saturday, however, those fireworks started after 10 minutes. That’s when Cristiano Ronaldo began an onslaught that would leave Real Madrid up 3-0 at halftime. Building on Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema’s goals, Ángel Di María scored just after the hour, with Álvaro Morata adding the final near full-time. For the first time since doing it back-to-back in November, los Blancos scored five times in a game, with five different goal scorers making this more than just a Ronaldo-led explosion.

On Sunday, Betis parted ways with head coach Juan Carlos Garrido, his dismissal highlighting the downward spiral being experienced in Seville. Still, this was Betis’s worst lost since visiting Atlético in late October, something that highlight’s Real Madrid’s performance. Although the Betícos have been poor, they’ve rarely been this bad. Real Madrid deserves credit for that.

source: APBarcelona, Atlético draw Real near

The big payoff for the Merengues came on Sunday when Barcelona and Atlético were unexpectedly tripped up. Dropping points for only the fourth time this season, Spain’s two front-runners brought El Real within a point of the top, with draws to Levante and Sevilla leaving each club on 51 points for the season.

Barcelona’s result was the slightly more one surprising, and not only because Levante entered the weekend in 12th place. Held scoreless after Gerard Piqué’s 19th minute equalizer pulled back Loukas Vyntra’s opener, the defending champions couldn’t take advantage of a team that’s allowed 27 goals in 19 rounds. Despite 74 percent possession and six shots on goal, the Blaugrana were left with a 1-1 draw, leaving the door open for Atlético to claim first place.

To walk through that door, however, the Colchoneros would have to beat a Sevilla side that hasn’t lost in league since Nov. 2. After 17 minutes, however, Atlético were on their way, getting an early opener from David Villa. For the next 55 minutes, the score would remain 1-0, but after Juanfran was whistled for a foul in the penalty area, Ivan Rakitic’s ninth goal of the season brought the teams back to even footing. Despite seeing Alberto Moreno red carded in the 89th minute, Sevilla would hold on for the 1-1 draw.

Barcelona’s result tempers the impact of Atlético’s disappointment, but having known at kickoff that their title rivals dropped points, Sunday’s game became a must win for Atleti – a rare chance to gain ground on a team that rarely drops points. Instead, Atlético stayed even with Barcelona, second place on goal difference. In the process, they helped rekindle Real Madrid’s title hopes.

Elsewhere in Spain

  • Málaga 0, Valencia 0 – First half opportunities settled into a second half stalemate as Bernd Schuster’s team creeped ever-closer to a relegation battle.
  • Elche 2, Rayo Vallecano 0 – Raúl Baena’s 18th minute red card allowed Edu Albácar to open the scoring from the spot, with Javier Márquez providing insurance in the 79th minute.
  • Granada 0, Osasuna 0 – The visitors failed to put a shot on target while Asier Riesgo kept all three Granada shots out, leaving both teams stuck in the middle of La Liga’s table.
  • Espanyol 1, Celta Vigo 0 – A game short on chances was decided two minutes from time when Sergio Garcia, with the match’s only clear opportunity, found a corner to give the Catalans their seventh win of the season.
  • Villarreal 2, Almeria 0 – The Yellow Submarine return to the top four on the back of goals from Ikechukuwu Uche and Bruno, the second coming from the spot in the 87th minute.

Others
Real Betis 0, Real Madrid 5
Levante 1, Barcelona 1
Atlético Madrid 1, Sevilla 1

Monday
Athletic Club vs. Real Valladolid

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 20 16 3 1 54 13 41 9-0-0 7-3-1 51
Atlético Madrid 20 16 3 1 48 12 36 9-2-0 7-1-1 51
Real Madrid 20 16 2 2 58 21 37 8-0-1 8-2-1 50
Villarreal 20 11 4 5 39 21 18 6-3-2 5-1-3 37
Athletic 19 11 3 5 32 24 8 8-2-0 3-1-5 36
Real Sociedad 20 9 6 5 38 30 8 6-2-1 3-4-4 33
Sevilla 20 8 7 5 37 31 6 5-2-2 3-5-3 31
Espanyol 20 7 4 9 23 25 -2 5-2-4 2-2-5 25
Valencia 20 7 3 10 26 31 -5 5-1-4 2-2-6 24
Granada 20 7 3 10 19 25 -6 3-1-7 4-2-3 24
Levante 20 6 6 8 19 28 -9 3-4-3 3-2-5 24
Getafe 20 7 3 10 22 33 -11 4-3-4 3-0-6 24
Osasuna 20 6 4 10 17 29 -12 3-2-4 3-2-6 22
Málaga 20 5 6 9 19 24 -5 4-1-5 1-5-4 21
Elche 20 5 6 9 19 28 -9 3-3-5 2-3-4 21
Celta Vigo 20 5 4 11 23 32 -9 2-4-4 3-0-7 19
Almería 20 5 4 11 21 40 -19 2-3-4 3-1-7 19
Valladolid 19 3 7 9 21 33 -12 2-4-3 1-3-6 16
Rayo Vallecano 20 5 1 14 19 47 -28 2-0-7 3-1-7 16
Betis 20 2 5 13 16 43 -27 2-3-6 0-2-7 11

Pulisic urged to remain at Borussia Dortmund

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After his two goals and a glittering performance for Borussia Dortmund in their 3-1 win against Liverpool in Charlotte, NC on Sunday, Christian Pulisic is once again turning heads.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars in Dortmund win ]

The 19-year-old U.S. national team star took plenty of time off this summer and it looks to have paid dividends already as he’s been sharp in Dortmund’s opening two games of their preseason tour of the USA as he also won a penalty kick in a 1-0 win against Manchester City last week.

Yet along with his displays of powerful runs, clever passing and clinical finishing come more rumors that the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Manchester United is scrambling to buy him for around $70 million this summer.

His teammate at Dortmund, Marco Reus, has urged Pulisic to remain at Dortmund.

“Christian is a good guy, he has so much quality,” Reus told ESPN. “I hope he plays [for Dortmund] for many, many more years, but we will see over the next few years.”

This is becoming an often asked question in U.S. soccer circles. Where is best for Pulisic to develop into a truly world-class talent?

He is well on the way to becoming that already at Dortmund with regular minutes under his belt in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League and at a club where young players are given a chance to flourish.

With two years left on his current contract, Pulisic is sought after by the Premier League big boys not only because of his obvious talent on the pitch but his marketability off the pitch with U.S. fans desperate for a new USMNT hero.

Pulisic seems settled and happy at Dortmund whenever we’ve spoken to him and his father, Mark, has said recently that there’s nothing in the reports that he is moving to the PL this summer. Yet with Jurgen Klopp talking Pulisic up over the past few days and the attacker from Hershey, PA delivering, the hype around Pulisic seems to be gathering steam once again after an up and down 2017-18 campaign.

Right now remaining at Dortmund seems his best option but another season of ripping it up as a teenager will no doubt keep the rumors growing.

UCL, Europa League third round qualifying draw

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The third qualifying round draw for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League took place on Monday, with some intriguing clashes set up for the next few weeks.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

Premier League side Burnley face Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen in their Europa League second qualifying round game this week and if the Clarets are victorious they now know they will face Turkish outfit Istanbul Basaksehir.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]  

The likes of Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gokhan Inler and Arda Turan all play for Basaksehir who finished third in the Turkish Super Lig last season, just three points behind first-place Galatasaray.

Celtic will play against AEK Athens if they get past Rosenborg in their UCL second qualifying round ties, while there is a big clash set up in the UCL third qualifying round in the League Path as Benfica play against Fenerbahce.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

Below is a look at the draws in full for the UCL and Europa League third qualifying rounds.


UEFA Champions League (to be played August 7/8, 14)

Champions path
Celtic (SCO)/Rosenborg (NOR) v AEK Athens (GRE)
Salzburg (AUT) v Shkendija (MKD)/Sheriff (MDA)
Crvena zvezda (SRB)/Sūduva (LTU) v Legia Warszawa (POL)/Spartak Trnava (SVK)
Kukes (ALB)/Qarabag (AZE) v BATE Borisov (BLR)/HJK Helsinki (FIN)
Astana (KAZ)/Midtjylland (DEN) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)/Hapoel Beer-Sheva (ISR)
CFR Cluj (ROU)/Malmo (SWE) v Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)/Vidi (HUN)

* clubs who lose in this round qualify for the Europa League champions path playoff round

League path
Standard Liege (BEL) v Ajax (NED)/Sturm Graz (AUT)
Benfica (POR) v Fenerbahce (TUR)
Slavia Praha (CZE) v Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
PAOK (GRE)/Basel (SUI) v Spartak Moskva (RUS)

* clubs who lose in this round qualify for the Europa League group stage


UEFA Europa League, third qualifying round (to be played August 9, 16)

Champions path
Ludogorets Razgrad (BUL)/Vidi (HUN) v Zrinjski (BIH)/Valletta (MLT)
Legia Warszawa (POL)/Spartak Trnava (SVK) v F91 Dudelange (LUX)/Drita (KOS)
Sutjeska (MNE)/Alashkert (ARM) v CFR Cluj (ROU) v Malmö (SWE)
Olimpija Ljubljana (SVN) v Crusaders (NIR) v BATE Borisov (BLR)/HJK Helsinki (FIN)
Shkendija (MKD)/Sheriff (MDA) v FC Santa Coloma (AND)/Valur Reykjavík (ISL)

Cork City (IRL) v Celtic (SCO)/Rosenborg (NOR)
Spartaks Jurmala (LVA)/La Fiorita (SMR) v Crvena zvezda (SRB)/Suduva (LTU)
The New Saints (WAL)/Lincoln Red Imps (GIB) v Astana (KAZ)/Midtjylland (DEN)
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)/Hapoel Beer-Sheva (ISR) v APOEL (CYP)/Flora Tallinn (EST)
Torpedo Kutaisi (GEO)/Vikingur (FRO) v Kukes (ALB)/Qarabag (AZE)

Main path
Tobol Kostanay (KAZ)/Pyunik (ARM) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR)/Radnicki Nis (SRB)
Dunajska Streda (SVK)/Dinamo Minsk (BLR) v Zenit (RUS)
Ajax (NED)/Sturm Graz (AUT) v Dundalk (IRL)/AEK Larnaca (CYP)
St. Gallen (SUI)/Sarpsborg (NOR) v HNK Rijeka (CRO)
İstanbul Basaksehir (TUR) v Aberdeen (SCO)/Burnley (ENG)

Zorya Luhansk (UKR) v Braga (POR)
Hapoel Haifa (ISR)/FH Hafnarfjordur (ISL) v Atalanta (ITA)/Sarajevo (BIH)
Genk (BEL)/Fola Esch (LUX) v Shakhtyor Soligorsk (BLR)/Lech Poznań (POL)
Viitorul (ROU)/Vitesse (NED) v PAOK (GRE)/Basel (SUI)
Nordsjælland (DEN)/AIK (SWE) v Partizan (SRB)/Trakai (LTU)

Hibernian (SCO)/Asteras Tripolis (GRE) v Molde (NOR)/Lac (ALB)
Hajduk Split (CRO)/Slavia Sofia (BUL) v Rudar Velenje (SVN)/FCSB (ROU)
Sevilla (ESP)/Ujpest (HUN) v Zalgiris Vilnius (LTU)/Vaduz (LIE)
Sigma Olomouc (CZE) v Kairat Almaty (KAZ)/AZ Alkmaar (NED)
Balzan (MLT)/Slovan Bratislava (SVK) v Rapid Wien (AUT)

Djurgarden (SWE)/Mariupol (UKR) v Ventspils (LVA)/Bordeaux (FRA)
CSKA-Sofia (BUL)/Admira Wacker Modling (AUT) v Stjarnan (ISL)/Kobenhavn (DEN)
Olympiacos (GRE) v Luzern (SUI)
Osijek (CRO)/Rangers (SCO) v Chikhura Sachkhere (GEO)/Maribor (SVN)
Gornik Zabrze (POL)/Trencin (SVK) v Feyenoord (NED)

Jagiellonia Białystok (POL)/Rio Ave (POR) v Gent (BEL)
Spartak Subotica (SRB)/Sparta Praha (CZE) v Brondby (DEN)
Ufa (RUS)/Domžale (SVN) v Budapest Honved (HUN)/Progres Niederkorn (LUX)
B36 Torshavn (FRO)/Besiktas (TUR) v LASK (AUT)/Lillestrom (NOR)
Zeljeznicar (BIH)/Apollon Limassol (CYP) v Dinamo Brest (BLR)/Atromitos (GRE)
Leipzig (GER)/Hacken (SWE) v U Craiova (ROU)

Mourinho on Man United: “We are not a team”

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Manchester United drew 0-0 with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer on Sunday and it’s safe to say Jose Mourinho didn’t seem impressed.

The stalemate at Levi’s Stadium continued Mourinho’s theme of complaining about the players he doesn’t have at his disposal as many are still on a break after the World Cup and won’t link up with United until they return to the UK ahead of the Premier League season starting on August 10.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Mourinho had the following to say on United’s second consecutive draw after their 1-1 result against Liga MC side Club America on Thursday.

“We are not a team. We’re a group of players from different teams,” Mourinho said. “Some are first-team, some under-23s, some coming from loans and going on loan, some are younger, under-18s. We don’t have a team to play much better than we did but [it’s] one more training session.”

That assessment is fair enough, preseason is about practice rather than results, but these sessions are about to step up with games against AC Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid in the next week.

Mourinho still has the likes of Juan Mata, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera and now Alexis Sanchez on tour after the latter sorted out a visa issue. Hardly just the U-18 team.

He’s missing Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Maraoune Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Marcus Rashford and Victor Lindelof after their deep runs at the World Cup this summer, plus David De Gea, Marcos Rojo and new signing Fred. So, he does have a point about United’s options being depleted for preseason.

But he’s known this would be the case for months and the likes of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City seems delighted to give youngsters a chance rather than focus on all of his stars who won’t return until right at the start of the PL season.

If United have a slow start to the PL campaign, I wonder what Mourinho will point to as the main reason for that…

Comedy result becomes a reality: East Fife 4, Forfar 5

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Read this out loud, East Fife 4, Forfar 5 – Yes, that was tough. Well, a famous comedy sketch from Eric Morecambe has become a reality. With soccer scores read out on television in the UK on a Saturday afternoon due to zero live games being shown on television during that window, fans have been hoping to hear the score East Fife 4, Forfar 5 or vice versa, for many years. Now, it’s happened. 

LONDON (AP) The result of a Scottish League Cup Group B match has become a case of life imitating art after Forfar Athletic beat East Fife in a penalty shootout.

It was East Fife 4, Forfar 5 – a favorite tongue-twisting fictional result of the late British comedian Eric Morecambe.

The British list and read soccer results with the home team first, followed by the away team.

The BBC has reported the result as a first in head-to-heads featuring the teams, although it wasn’t entirely as Morecambe would have liked. The match finished 1-1 before Forfar won 5-4 on penalties.

The BBC says there’d been at least one near miss in the past, with the wrong team at home when Forfar beat East Fife 5-4 in 1964.