El Clasico Preview: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid

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  • Real Madrid have beat Barcelona 92 times in official matches, while Barca has tallied 89 wins (49 draws)
  • Lionel Messi has scored 21 goals in 29 Clasicos and is the highest scorer of active members in both squads
  • Both sides have played 229 Clasicos since the two met in the Spanish Cup in 1902 (The Independent)

Undoubtedly, El Clasico features two teams among the world’s best, and when they face each other in front of millions of supporters and television viewers, a huge spectacle arises.

Earlier in the season at the Bernabeu, Neymar opened the scoring in the 4th minute and stunned the Real faithful, who were given comfort after Cristiano Ronaldo equalized on a penalty kick ten minutes before the half. And from that point on, two unanswered goals from Pepe and Karim Benzema had Los Blancos walking away with a 3-1 victory.

Luis Suarez made his starting debut then and provided the assist for his side’s only score. Benzema’s spectacular performance was the obvious takeaway in this one.

Real and Barca meet tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET, switching home turf over to Camp Nou, and many believe this contest will tell a different tale, as Real have staggered lately to win only two of their past five matches.

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A frustrated Ronaldo has watched his Ballon d’Or showings fall to the wayside in 2015, netting only seven goals and three assists since the year’s beginning. Benzema and Gareth Bale, the other men in Real’s attacking trio, have also wrestled with unfavorable form.

Meanwhile, Barca have won 18 matches and drawn two, and Lionel Messi has out dueled his rival in Madrid by brandishing magnificent play, burying 18 goals and adding 11 assists from the start of 2015.

Sitting atop La Liga, Barcelona’s confidence is high, and Real—only one point behind the Catalans—will fight hard to remain within striking distance of the title.

Get ready for quite the contest in northeastern Spain.

What they’re saying

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique on approach to match (FC Barcelona official website): “We’ll try to carry on doing what we have done up to now, which is create more chances than the opposition, control the pace of the game, have players in the right place at the right time, control our emotions and push each other in the right direction…We like to control the ball and, as much as possible, do so in the opposition’s half.”

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema on dealing with nerves (Yahoo! Sport): “We know that there’s a lot of pressure, but that’s normal because it’s a huge match. Every player who loves football wants to play in it. We’re going to prepare well for the match, all together, to go to Barcelona and win…We’re Real Madrid. To score again like I did in our first meeting of the season, I need a bit of luck and nothing else.”

Match injuries/absences

Dani Alves and Jordi Alba are both back from short suspensions for Barcelona. Sergio Busquets may be back as well after sitting out for three games due to an ankle injury sustained in Barca’s Copa del Rey match vs. Villarreal. Defender Thomas Vermaelen is still eyeing his return in April.

Meanwhile, for Real, it’s James Rodriquez that will not perform because of his broken foot, while Luka Modric could get the start, with Isco and Toni Kroos also all-clear for the match.

Prediction

It’s seems that based on present form, Barcelona is the favorite to win, but Real players know the odds are against them. Barcelona 2-2 Real Madrid.

Russia banned from 2020 Olympics, 2022 World Cup

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Russia has been banned from competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voted unanimously to ban the nation from international sport for four years for doping offenses.

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Individual Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral banner at this summer’s Olympics. The men’s national soccer team will also still be allowed to compete at the 2020 European Championship, where they will be one of the 12 host nations this summer.

The punishment was agreed by WADA’s executive committee at a special meeting at the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland. It is the most severe sanction yet against the country after accusations of systemic doping and deleting laboratory evidence.

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WADA president Sir Craig Reedie said, “For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.

“As a result, the WADA executive committee has responded in the strongest possible terms, while protecting the rights of Russian athletes that can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent acts.”

Cruzeiro relegated from Brazilian top flight for first time

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Brazilian side Cruzeiro was relegated from the top flight for the first time in the club’s 98-year history following a 2-0 defeat to Palmeiras on the final day of the season.

Cruzeiro required victory and a loss by Ceara at Botafogo to stay safely in the Brazilian Serie A, but neither came to pass.

Palmeiras midfielder Ze Rafael scored in the 58th minute to send the visitors on their way, with fellow midfielder Dudu finished things off in the 84th minute. Referees ushered the players off the field immediately after the conclusion of the match as Cruzeiro fans rioted in the Mineirao stadium, ripping out seats, setting off smoke bombs, and clashing with police.

Cruzeiro finished 17th in the 20-team table, three points back of Ceara in 16th. In the Brazilian top flight, the bottom four teams are relegated. CSA, Chapecoense, and Avai were also relegated. Cruzeiro had won the Brazilian Serie A as recently as 2013 and 2014, winning four titles in its history. They also have six Copa do Brasil titles, most recently winning the league cup in 2017 and 2018.

Flamengo ran away with the championship, finishing on 90 points, 16 points clear of second-placed Santos and third-placed Palmeiras who both finished level on 74 points. Palmeiras had challenged for the title, but fell off at the end of the season with a five-match winless run through November.

Premier League Preview: West Ham United v. Arsenal

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Two struggling London sides meet Monday when West Ham United hosts Arsenal (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The sides might’ve expected they’d be within close proximity at this point on the fixture list, but two wildly disappointing seasons means the three points between the Gunners and Irons comes with the former in 11th and the latter 16th.

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It’s been nine matches since Arsenal beat someone, 11 since it happened in the Premier League. West Ham hasn’t been much better, winning once in its last 10.

Freddie Ljungberg has yet to win as Arsenal interim boss, while West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini could see his current stint in London end without more results like the Nov. 30 win at Chelsea.

Monday versus Arsenal would qualify.


Injuries/suspensions

West Ham United: OUT —  Jack Wilshere, Lukasz Fabianski, Manuel Lanzini, Winston Reid. QUESTIONABLE — Michail Antonio.

Arsenal: OUT — Dani Ceballos. QUESTIONABLE — Rob Holding.


Probable lineups

West Ham United: Martin; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Balbuena, Fredericks; Rice, Noble, Yarmolenko, Anderson, Snodgrass, Haller.

Arsenal: Leno; Kolasinac, Sokratis, Luiz, Bellerin, Xhaka, Torreira, Ozil, Pepe, Aubameyang, Lacazette.


What they’re saying

West Ham’s Antonio sees an opportunity: “The only three teams that are really performing are Liverpool, Leicester and Man City. Everyone else is getting beaten, and it means we’ve had a missed opportunity so far this season. We started the season off brightly, the best start we’ve had for four years, but then we’ve had a slump. Everyone’s having a slump and this is our slump. Now it’s time for us to start turning up. We’ve been in this situation before and we know how to dig in and pull ourselves up again.”

Arsenal’s Ljungberg on setting targets: “I don’t think we should stop talking about the top four, but for us it’s about concentrating on what we’re doing here now and not look up, down, sideways. We just need to work on our own game and our own confidence.”


Prediction

Really, you wouldn’t want to predict anything from these sides right now besides goals. We’ll give an edge in desperation to the hosts and a 2-2 draw.

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

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Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.