Spain roundup: Business as usual as top three post multi-goal victories

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The top of La Liga’s table remains unchanged, though for one day, Madridistas were allowed to indulge last week’s speculation Real Madrid had become title favorites. With their 2-0 win at home on Saturday against Granada, Carlo Ancelotti’s team temporary captured first place in Spain, and whilea  scoreless first half further the impression El Real’s still more promise than product, their 53 points briefly put that promise at the top of the table.

Barcelona and Atlético Madrid corrected that on Sunday. In the day’s finale, Barcelona’s attacking three (Lionel Messi, Pedro Rodríguez, Alexis Sánchez) combined for two goals and three assists, pushing Málaga within two points of the drop with a 3-0 win at the Nou Camp. Two hours early, Atlético had completed their win at relegation-embattled Rayo Vallecano, with Arda Turan’s (pictured) double fueling a 4-2 win in Vallecas. The results left Spain’s two favorites atop the Primera División with 54 points, only goal difference slotting Barcelona ahead of Atleti.

For some, Real Madrid has become the favorite, having already visited the Nou Camp earlier this season. Because the year’s second Clasico is at the Bernabéú, the Merengues have to be favorite to pass Barcelona. And if they’re good enough to move ahead of Barcelona, they’re certainly good enough to beat out Atlético Madrid.

The problem is that “good enough” part. At no point this year has Real Madrid been on the same level as Barcelona and Atlético. It was evident in their 2-1 loss at the Nou Camp. It was evident when they lost 1-0 at home to Atlético. For all of their talent and prestige, Real Madrid  have never been the equal of their two title rivals. Whether you judged by overall record, head-to-head results, or the eye test, los Blancos have been the third of three.

That impression was reinforced this weekend despite the Merengues temporarily going first. While Atlético were pouncing on Rayo and Barcelona bursting past Málaga, Real was again struggling to translate their edge in talent onto the scoresheet.

They have a little over a month until they visit the Calderón. Over the next six weeks, something could click. If it does, Real Madrid could very well claim their second title in three years. They aren’t that far away from playing to their potential, a potential they flashed last week.

Right now, however, what we see with our eyes reinforces what we’ve seen in the results, what we see in the standings. Real Madrid are contenders – strong ones, at that. But they’re not favorites. The favorites remain tied at the top.

Elsewhere

  • Celta Vigo 4, Real Betis 2 – After giving up five goals last week to Real Madrid (and firing head coach Juan Carlos Garrido), Betis give up four to a team that was averaging just over a goal per game. The Verdiblancos are 10 points back of safety.
  • Valladolid 1, Villarreal 0 – Jesús Rueda’s 40th minute goal was enough to pull Valladolid within two points of 17th. In the process, the Yellow Submarine fall five points back of the last Champions League spot.
  • Valencia 2, Espanyol 2 – Espanyol’s only two shots on goal helped send the game into halftime even, a scoreless second half keeping the teams within a point of each other in the middle of Spain’s standings.
  • Sevilla 2, Levante 3 – Keylor Navas’s stellar form continued as the Costa Rican goalkeeper held Sevilla despite the home side’s 28-7 eye in shots (10-6, shots on goal). The performance bought time for late goals from Loukas Vyntra and Simão to steal full points for Levante, with Sevilla’s eight-game unbeaten run ending in surprising fashion.
  • Almeria 1, Getafe 0 – Jonathan’s goal four minutes after halftime vaults Almeria three points clear of the drop, with Getafe’s winless streak reaching seven games.
  • Osasuna 1, Athletic Club 5 – The weekend’s biggest win saw two goals from Aritz Aduriz combine with single goals from Markel Susaeta, Ibai Gómez, and Kike Sola, strengthening the Lions’ hold on fourth.

Others
Real Madrid 2, Granada 0
Rayo Vallecano 2, Atlético Madrid 4
Barcelona 3, Málaga 0

Monday
Real Sociedad vs. Elche

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 21 17 3 1 57 13 44 10-0-0 7-3-1 54
Atlético Madrid 21 17 3 1 52 14 38 9-2-0 8-1-1 54
Real Madrid 21 17 2 2 60 21 39 9-0-1 8-2-1 53
Athletic 21 13 3 5 41 27 14 9-2-0 4-1-5 42
Villarreal 21 11 4 6 39 22 17 6-3-2 5-1-4 37
Real Sociedad 20 9 6 5 38 30 8 6-2-1 3-4-4 33
Sevilla 21 8 7 6 39 34 5 5-2-3 3-5-3 31
Levante 21 7 6 8 22 30 -8 3-4-3 4-2-5 27
Espanyol 21 7 5 9 25 27 -2 5-2-4 2-3-5 26
Valencia 21 7 4 10 28 33 -5 5-2-4 2-2-6 25
Granada 21 7 3 11 19 27 -8 3-1-7 4-2-4 24
Getafe 21 7 3 11 22 34 -12 4-3-4 3-0-7 24
Celta Vigo 21 6 4 11 27 34 -7 3-4-4 3-0-7 22
Osasuna 21 6 4 11 18 34 -16 3-2-5 3-2-6 22
Almería 21 6 4 11 22 40 -18 3-3-4 3-1-7 22
Málaga 21 5 6 10 19 27 -8 4-1-5 1-5-5 21
Elche 20 5 6 9 19 28 -9 3-3-5 2-3-4 21
Valladolid 21 4 7 10 24 37 -13 3-4-3 1-3-7 19
Rayo Vallecano 21 5 1 15 21 51 -30 2-0-8 3-1-7 16
Betis 21 2 5 14 18 47 -29 2-3-6 0-2-8 11

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

whufc.com
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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.