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La Liga & Serie A: Ronaldo’s brace paces Real, Juve goes top in Italy

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

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Valencia 1-4 Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace gave Los Blancos a 2-0 advantage heading into halftime, while two late goals for Zinedine Zidane’s group saw Real pull within two points of third place in La Liga. Zidane’s group rebounded well after being knocked out of the Copa del Rey midweek against Leganes. Meanwhile, in Madrid’s last two league matches, Ronaldo and Co. have managed to score 11 goals.

Villareal 4-2 Real Sociedad

A five-goal first half was more than enough excitement in this one, however, it was hosts Villareal that were having most of the fun at the Estadio de la Cerámica. The Yellow Submarine carried a 4-1 lead into the halftime break after Víctor Ruiz, Pablo Fornals, Carlos Bacca and Samu Castillejo each found the back of the net. Diego Llorente and Willian Jose both pulled goals back for Sociedad, however, the damage had already been done by Villareal — who moved five points clear of Sevilla for fifth place in Spain’s top flight.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Deportivo 2-2 Levante
Malaga 0-0 Girona

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Leganes vs. Espanyol (6 a.m. ET)
Atletico Madrid vs. Las Palmas (10:15 a.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Getafe (12:30 p.m. ET)
Barcelona vs. Alaves (2:45 p.m. ET)

Chievo Verona 0-2 Juventus

Two red cards proved to be the extra boost that Juventus needed on Saturday to get past Chievo Verona. Samuel Bastien and Fabrizio Cacciatore were each sent off in the opening hour for the hosts, leaving Chievo tend fend for themselves with only nine men during the final 30 minutes. And that’s when Juve would take advantage. Goals from Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain brought Juve into first place, with the Turin club holding a two-point lead over second-place Napoli — who holds a match in hand.

Sassuolo 0-3 Atalanta

Andrea Masiello’s pinpoint header in the 30th minute kicked off the scoring for Atalanta — who moved into seventh place on Saturday. Meanwhile, Bryan Cristante and Remo Freuler each scored in the final 10 minutes to help cement all three points for the visitors. Sassuolo currently sits in 14th place through 22 matches, six points above the relegation zone.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

SPAL vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Crotone vs. Cagliari (9 a.m. ET)
Fiorentina vs. Hellas Verona (9 a.m. ET)
Genoa vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Bologna (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Benevento (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Lazio (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)

Transfer rumor roundup: Man United on verge of signing Shakhtar’s Fred

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Jose Mourinho is nearing a boost to his attacking midfield, with Brazilian international Fred reportedly on the verge of joining Manchester United.

The 25-year-old midfielder has starred for Shakhtar Donetsk the past five seasons, cementing his place as a starter for the Ukrainian side and impressing in UEFA Champions League matches. Fred follows the likes of Manchester City’s Fernandinho and Chelsea’s Willian as using Shakhtar as a mid-way point between Brazil and the Premier League.

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According to multiple reports in England, Manchester United is in advanced negotiations to sign Fred for a reported transfer fee of nearly $59 million. The singularly-named Fred would be the third-famous Fred to play for Man United, following Freddie Goodwin, who played for the Red Devils from 1954-60 and Fred Erentz, who played from 1892-1902.

Although he is not physically big, Fred could be an Eden Hazard-type player, a tricky midfielder who puts defenders on their heels as he skates past them with the ball.

Here are more transfer rumors and notes from around the Premier League:


FIFA Council member Nyantakyi arrested on return to Ghana

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) FIFA Council member and Ghana Football Association head Kwesi Nyantakyi has been arrested on his return to his home country following a complaint made against him by the Ghanaian president.

Police spokesman David Eklu confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday that Nyantakyi, also a vice president of the Confederation of African Football, is in custody and being interrogated.

[READ: Yaya Toure talks future, playing with Paul Pogba]

Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo asked police to investigate Nyantakyi after the soccer boss allegedly was caught in an undercover documentary promising businessmen access to the president and other senior government officials in return for money.

Nyantakyi was out of the country at the time President Akufo-Addo made the complaint.

Ghana media reported that Nyantakyi, a member of the powerful FIFA Council since 2016 and an influential figure in African football, was picked up by plain-clothes police at the airport in Accra and taken straight to police headquarters.

NFL’s 49ers purchase minority stake in Leeds United

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One of England’s most famous clubs is receiving investment and strategic business connections from one of the NFL’s most famous brands.

Leeds United and the San Francisco 49ers announced Thursday that 49ers Enterprises, an investment arm of the 49ers ownership, has purchased a minority stake in the Championship club. Multiple reports state that the 49ers now own 10-15 percent of the club, but current Leeds chairman Andrea Radrizzani remains the majority owner.

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As part of the deal, 49ers President Paraag Marathe gets a seat on the Leeds United board of directors. Per Leeds, the money invested will stay with the club and be used for the first team, as Leeds looks again to make its way back to the Premier League in next season’s campaign.

An American ownership group investing in England is nothing new, but to identify and purchase a stake in a club with history and a decent chance at making it to the Premier League is impressive. In addition, the York Family, who owns the 49ers, has a net worth in the billions, which could help fund Leeds’ push back into the Premier League.

For the 49ers, this is also a savvy business decision. By investing low in a club in the Championship, they hope that they can experience the financial windfall of playing in the Premier League. This season, clubs made a combined $3.2 billion (with a capital B) thanks to revenue sharing, international and domestic TV rights, and other sponsorship deals.

With even the relegated sides taking home nine figures in revenues from the league, who wouldn’t want to invest and take a cut of that?

Now, only time will tell how long it is before the 49ers influence helps – or hinders, based on the 49ers current state of affairs in the U.S. – Leeds reach the pinnacle of English football.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.