QPR 2-0 Aston Villa: Austin double hands Villa fifth straight loss (video)

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Charlie Austin scored twice and QPR held Aston Villa to pull themselves off the bottom of the table and pull within two points of escaping the drop zone.

The visitors, meanwhile, have now gone a disastrous 531 minutes without scoring a goal, going all the way back to a ninth-minute score against Liverpool on September 13th. The loss is their fifth straight – shut out in all five – something never been done in Aston Villa history.

Villa started the match at Loftus Road with the most creativity and meaningful possession, and they forced home goalkeeper Robert Green to do some early work on shots from Ashley Westwood and Carlos Sanchez.

So of course, in typical Premier League fashion, QPR struck first on 17 minutes. A long ball from Richard Dunne that covered at least two-thirds of the pitch fell to Bobby Zamora at the edge of the box, and with his back to goal he chested down expertly to Charlie Austin. The 25-year-old ripped a punishing low shot past Brad Guzan to ignite the home crowd.

[RELATED: Watch full match replay of QPR vs Aston Villa]

Villa continued to pound Green’s goal, but the England international performed well, coming off his line multiple times to collect crosses or sweep outside the box. But the half ended without much else to get excited about.

It was quite a typical Villa first half looking at their recent performances, given they have failed to score in a whopping four matches coming into this game.

The second half drudged on and painfully devolved into a dreadful affair at Loftus Road, the antethisis of QPR’s insane loss to Liverpool the weekend before.

[VIDEO: Premier League highlights]

Eventually, substitute Junior Hoilett put an impressive effort on goal from a tight angle that pinged the far post and came out. But QPR would have their second on Hoilett’s revitilazion.

Sanchez gave the ball away in the middle of the pitch with 21 minutes to go, and Eduardo Vargas burst down the right flank. He crossed perfectly to Austin following the play, and he redirected well into the back of the net from point blank range under pressure from Ron Vlaar.

[MORE: Latest Premier League standings]

Villa continued to show some promise forward, as Matthew Lowton whipped a good cross in, but in typical Villa fashion Christian Benteke and substitute Joe Cole both went for the ball and put each other off. The visitors nearly broke their horrific goal streak with 10 minutes to go but Green made two fantastic saves – one with the palms and one with his foot – to keep out Tom Cleverley and Cieran Clark.

Time eventually ran out on a meek and wasteful Villa side without another serious challenge, and QPR pulled themselves off the bottom of the Premier League table into 19th, just a point behind Sunderland and two behind 17th.  Villa, meanwhile, has all but wasted its brilliant start to the season and is now in 15th, just three points beyond today’s opponent.

LINEUPS:

QPR: Green; Isla, Dunne, Caulker, Suk-Young; Vargas (Traore 87′), Sandro, Henry, Fer (Kranjcar 90′); Austin, Zamora (Hoilett 63′).

Goals: Austin 17′, 69′

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Cissokho, Westwood (Cole 70′), Cleverley, Sanchez, Weimann (Bent 70′), Agbonlahor, Benteke.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”

WATCH: Luis Suarez delivers one-of-a-kind back-heel goal

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At 32 years of age and with a 15-year career behind him, Luis Suarez has scored some emphatic goals.

On Saturday, however, he painted a fine piece of art, a goal that became an instant classic the moment the ball came off of his backheel. With Barcelona already up 3-1 against RCD Mallorca, Ernesto Valverde’s men continued to push forward, comfortably and strategically ping-ponging the ball around the defensive-oriented visitors.

And then Frenkie de Jong found the ball at the top of the box.

The Dutch international smoothly placed a through ball, finding Suarez, who with precision and expertise that only he has, belted the ball into the bottom-right corner of Manolo Reina’s goal.

It’s only December, but the Uruguayan’s goal is an automatic La Liga goal of the season contender: