Spain: Barcelona, Real Madrid take advantage of Atlético’s slip, leaving three tied on points atop La Liga

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This is what everybody’s been waiting for. During those improbable opening months when they played beyond their talent. During a winter that’s seen Atleti claim La Liga’s top spot, obliging onlookers to mention them along side Barcelona and Real Madrid. During all those moments when people were forced to reconsider their instincts about Atlético Madrid. After 22 rounds, Diego Simeone’s team had almost dispelled the notion they were the third of two title contenders.

Then came the last five days. Mid-week at Real Madrid, the Colchoneros were undone by two own goals – unfortunate deflections that left Simeone’s side down three ahead of the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal. Though it was only their second loss in all-competitions this season, the result was enough to leave Atlético with little realistic chance of defending their Copa title.

On Saturday, it got even worse. During a trip to Almería that should have been near-automatic three points, Atlético were held to one shot on goal. Their defense nearly overcame that shortcoming, but with 80th minute goal from Verza, the home side finally had their unlikely lead. When the Almería midfielder doubled his team’s lead from the spot six minutes later, an Atlético side that’d just seen their goalkeeper sent off was destined for their second straight loss.

If the defeat at the Bernabéu was disappointing, Saturday’s loss was unnerving. Against El Real, the team could point to a tough opponent, some own goal misfortune, debatable refereeing and an early red card as a series of unfortunate events. On Saturday, the only unfortunate thing was Atlético’s play. In the heat of a three-team title race, Atleti may have lost three points they can’t afford to give up.

Of course, we won’t know until the end of the season, but should Atlético end up just short of their first title in 18 years, it will be hard to avoid looking at the Almería result without saying “they knew they had to win that game.”

Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the 100-point hypothesis

source: APFor Atlético to pay for the Almería slip, La Liga will have to maintain the type of title race that demands perfection. Toward that end, one hundred points has been the implicit target all season, yet after recent slips by Barcelona and Atleti, no team remains on track for that plateau. With 57 points through 23 rounds, all three title contenders are on course to finish with 94 points.

This weekend, however, both Barcelona and Real Madrid finally looked capable of resuming a 100-point pace. Barcelona, with a potentially tricky trip to the Sanchez Pizjuan, extended Sevilla’s newfound slump. Responding to an early goal from Alberto Moreno, Barça scored three times before the hour, with Lionel Messi’s double leading the Blaugrana to a 4-1 win. Thanks to their league-leading goal difference, Barcelona’s reclaimed first place.

Real Madrid put in their own four-star performance on Saturday, albeit with slightly more drama against visiting Villarreal. Goals by Gareth Bale (7′), Karim Benzema (25′), and Jesé (64′, starting for the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo) had the Merengues up 3-1 late. Giovani Dos Santos, however, brought the Yellow Submarine back into the match, burying a 27-yard free kick just inside Diego López’s right post, giving the Bernabéu reason to pause. Seven minutes later, however, when Benzema found his second of the match, Real Madrid had their final margin, securing the 4-2 win that moved them into second on goal difference.

Amid recent, flawed form, Barcelona and Real Madrid each put in one of their most impressive performances of the new calendar year. Whereas Barcelona looked vulnerable mid-week against Real Sociedad and were unable to execute in the final third, Sunday saw them rout a struggling but ultimately decent Sevilla. This was old Barcelona; or, at least, the Barcelona of fall.

And Real Madrid, who have struggled to score against non-Real Betis teams with their new 4-3-3, final broke through against a quality opponent. There was no own goals. there were no early red cards. They put up four against a Villarreal side still harboring hopes of a Champions League return.

La Liga’s leaders have slowed down, but after convincing weekend results, Barcelona and El Real may be ready to resume an unforgiving pace. After their worst week of the season, Atlético need to prove they can keep up.

Elsewhere

  • Espanyol 1, Granada 0 – Javier Aguirre’s team overcame the 30th minute dismissal of Víctor Álvarez thanks to Héctor Moreno’s late winner, sending Granada to their third straight loss.
  • Valencia 5, Real Betis 0 – What slim hope Real Betis had after changing coaches last month undoubtedly dissipated at the Mestalla, where two goals from Paco Alcácer help keep the verdiblancos 10 points from safety.
  • Rayo Vallecano 4, Málaga 1 – Unable to covert last week’s win at Sevilla into momentum, Málaga were throttled in Madrid, their 10-man side trailing by four goals after 62 minutes . The Andalusians now sit 17th, three points from the drop.
  • Osasuna 2, Getafe 0 – Oriel Riera’s sixth minute opener helped Osasuna end a two-game slide, with Roberto Torres’s late insurance leaving Getafe winless since Dec. 17.
  • Valladolid 2, Elche 2 – Two late goals by Osorio salvaged a draw for the hosts after Coro and Manu del Moral had the visitors up two after 65 minutes.
  • Real Sociedad 0, Levante 0 – La Real miss their chance to make up ground on sixth place Villarreal, with seven saves from Keylor Navas giving Levante their second straight 0-0 result.

Monday
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Club

Others
Almería 2, Atlético Madrid 0
Sevilla 1, Barcelona 4
Real Madrid 4, Villarreal 2

Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 23 18 3 2 63 17 46 10-0-1 8-3-1 57
Real Madrid 23 18 3 2 65 24 41 10-0-1 8-3-1 57
Atlético Madrid 23 18 3 2 56 16 40 10-2-0 8-1-2 57
Athletic 22 13 4 5 42 28 14 9-3-0 4-1-5 43
Villarreal 23 12 4 7 44 27 17 7-3-2 5-1-5 40
Real Sociedad 23 10 7 6 42 34 8 7-3-1 3-4-5 37
Sevilla 23 8 7 8 42 41 1 5-2-4 3-5-4 31
Valencia 23 9 4 10 36 35 1 6-2-4 3-2-6 31
Espanyol 23 8 5 10 26 29 -3 6-2-4 2-3-6 29
Levante 23 7 8 8 22 30 -8 3-5-3 4-3-5 29
Celta Vigo 22 7 4 11 29 35 -6 3-4-4 4-0-7 25
Elche 23 6 7 10 22 34 -12 4-3-5 2-4-5 25
Getafe 23 7 4 12 22 36 -14 4-4-4 3-0-8 25
Osasuna 23 7 4 12 21 37 -16 4-2-5 3-2-7 25
Almería 23 7 4 12 24 41 -17 4-3-4 3-1-8 25
Málaga 23 6 6 11 23 33 -10 5-1-5 1-5-6 24
Granada 23 7 3 13 20 30 -10 3-1-8 4-2-5 24
Valladolid 23 4 9 10 26 39 -13 3-5-3 1-4-7 21
Rayo Vallecano 23 6 2 15 25 52 -27 3-0-8 3-2-7 20
Betis 23 3 5 15 20 52 -32 3-3-6 0-2-9 14

Diego Costa on Luis Suarez: “I’ll fight, he can bite!”

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Diego Costa – Luis Suarez is a frightening partnership up top for Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone, and it appears that Costa has a plan to cause havoc.

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Costa, 31, is known for irritating opposition players and being a master wind-up merchant. With Suarez arriving from Barcelona last week and scoring two and adding an assist off the bench on his debut as Atletico hammered Granada 6-1, it is fair to say Costa is looking forward to playing with the Uruguayan forward.

“He is very good, one of us can do the fighting and the other can do the biting,” Costa said.

Oh, Diego. That is absolute gold.

Costa is, of course, referring to Suarez having a penchant for taking a nibble out of his opponent. Suarez, 33, has been banned for biting players while play for Ajax, Liverpool and Uruguay and although we don’t condone that behavior, it allowed Costa to make that comment, tongue-in-cheek.

Whether or not Suarez will be happy about his past discrepancies being plastered across headlines thanks to his new Atleti teammates is another matter.

And whether or not Costa and Suarez will play up front together is an intriguing topic, as Alvaro Morata was sold to Juventus by Atletico to fund the move for Suarez and it is believed Costa may have to move on too.

Costa did score the opener for Atletico on Sunday and the arrival of Suarez could kick him on as he looks to get back to his best. Diego Simeone coaching an Atletico team led by a forward partnership of Diego Costa – Luis Suarez is something pretty much everyone wants to see. Aside from opposition defenders.

Scoring goals has been a problem for Atletico over the last few seasons as Simeone’s side continue to be solid in midfield and at the back but creating and putting away chances has been tough since losing Antoine Griezmann. If they can score more this season, they will seriously challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for the La Liga title.

With Joao Felix pulling the strings, Costa and Suarez should have plenty of chances to feast on…

If that doesn’t work, they can go with Diego’s plan.

Man City to sign Ruben Dias for $84 million

Ruben Dias to Manchester City
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Ruben Dias to Manchester City has been confirmed by Benfica, as the Portuguese international center back will complete his $84 million transfer to the Premier League.

Given their 5-2 mauling at home against Leicester City on Sunday, City need defensive help. Big time.

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Dias, 23, is regarded as one of the best central defensive players in Europe and Pep Guardiola’s Man City have moved swiftly to try and address their defensive issues.

In a statement on their website, Portuguese giants Benfica confirmed the sale of Dias as the formalities of the move will now be ironed in the coming days.

“In the first statement (10:59 pm) it informed that it had reached an agreement with Manchester City for the sale of the central defender Ruben Dias for 68 million euros, plus an additional 3.6 million euros, depending on the achievement of objectives related to the sporting performance of the English club. This agreement is dependent on the signing of the player’s sports labor contract with Manchester City.”

Benfica also announced that they have bought Man City defender Nicolas Otamendi, 32, for $17.5 million to replace Dias.

“In the second statement (11 pm) Sport Lisboa e Benfica – Futebol, SAD informed that it has reached an agreement with Manchester City for the signing of the central defender Nicolas Otamendi for 15 million euros. This agreement is dependent on the signing of a sports labor contract with the player and the completion of medical examinations.”

After spending $53 million on center back Nathan Ake already this summer, Guardiola is still trying to fill a Vincent Kompany sized hole in his defense. 12 months on, Man City are still struggling defensively.

Kalidou Koulibaly was linked with a move to Man City but it is believed they couldn’t agree a deal with Napoli and have instead gone for Dias. With Aymeric Laporte close to a return to full fitness, there is no doubt Man City’s defense will improve in the coming weeks and months.

And my goodness, it has to. If Pep Guardiola’s side have any chance of winning the Premier League and challenging for the Champions League they simply have to get better at the back, and the current players have shown they aren’t up to the task. An upgrade on their current full backs will be needed as well as Dias and Ake.

Dias is a confident defender on the ball, which will suit City, but more importantly they need him to hit the ground running and be a dominant defender.

Liverpool – Arsenal: How to watch, start time, odds, predicted lineup

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Liverpool – Arsenal: Two heavyweights clash at Anfield on Monday (Watch live at 3pm ET online via Peacock) as both team have a perfect record with two wins from two so far.

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Reigning champions Liverpool have perhaps been more impressive as they’ve beaten upstarts Leeds United and then Chelsea, while Arsenal eased past Fulham but struggled past West Ham.

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When it comes to Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta, their playing philosophy as managers could not be more different as Arsenal beat Liverpool on penalties at Wembley to win the Community Shield last month.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of a massive early-season clash as Arsenal look to put down a marker.


Team news: Liverpool – Arsenal (INJURY REPORT)

Liverpool will be hoping center back Joe Gomez will be fit after he missed the win at Chelsea last weekend, while this game will come too soon for fellow defender Joel Matip. Judging by the early reports, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson should also be fit to start.

Arsenal could have Kieran Tierney back fit for this game, which would be a big boost. Pablo Mari, Calum Chamberls, Gabriel Martinelli and Shkodran Mustafi all remain out injured.


Predicted lineup

Liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Van Dijk, Robertson; Wijnaldum, Thiago, Henderson; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Arsenal (3-4-3): Leno; Holding, Gabriel, Tierney; Bellerin, Ceballos, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles; Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Understandably Liverpool are the heavy favorites (-210) given their long unbeaten home record at Anfield. That said Arsenal (+520) do seem a high price after they beat Liverpool during ‘Project Restart’ and also in the Community Shield final. The draw at +360 is intriguing and the value perhaps lies there.

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Liverpool – Arsenal prediction

Arsenal have a lot more grit under Arteta and they ware capable of bending but not breaking. This is a huge test for them, though, and Gabriel against the fluid front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane will be his biggest test yet. Arsenal have the attackers to make the most of any more slack defending from Liverpool but I expect Klopp’s side to have just too much in midfield and attack. Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal.


How to watch Liverpool – Arsenal stream and start time

Kickoff: 3pm ET Monday
TV Channel: Peacock
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

Fulham - Aston Villa
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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

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Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

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Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock