AP Photo/Paul White

Real Madrid draw Villarreal; Bale makes case to start UCL final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Real Madrid showed Liverpool its strengths and weaknesses a week before their Champions League final.

Madrid squandered first-half goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in drawing at Villarreal 2-2 on Saturday in its last match before attempting to win Europe’s most coveted trophy for a third year in a row.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane aligned what could be his starting 11 for the final against Liverpool, except for giving 20-year-old son Luca Zidane his competitive debut in goal.

Zidane left striker Karim Benzema on his bench in favor of starting Ronaldo and Bale alone up front and playing Francisco “Isco” Alarcon along with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos as playmakers in front of holding midfielder Casemiro.

Madrid showed the same dominant form that has taken it to another Champions League final in the first half at Villarreal.

But after Ronaldo and Modric were replaced by Benzema and Lucas Vazquez with half an hour remaining, Zidane’s bunch displayed the same complacency and faulty defending that scuttled its Liga title defense months ago.

The draw in the final round meant Madrid finished the Spanish league in third place behind Atletico Madrid and champion Barcelona.

Bale opened the scoring with a solo effort in the 11th minute, and Ronaldo headed in a superb cross by Marcelo just after the half-hour mark.

Fifth-place Villarreal outplayed the visitors in the second half and leveled through goals by substitutes Roger Martinez in the 70th and Samuel Castillejo in the 85th.

“We played a very, very good first half, with determination, scoring goals, but the second half was the exact opposite,” Zidane said. “The important thing is that we didn’t have any injuries and can now rest well for next weekend. We are only thinking about winning the final.”

Bale, who struggled for most of the season to make Zidane’s first-choice 11, has finished the season strong and appears to have earned a spot in the Champions League final.

His opener against Villarreal, created when he let Modric’s pass run through as he spun around his marker, was his 14th goal in the last 10 rounds.

“Gareth has never given up,” Zidane said. “He has trained well. Nothing has changed. The only difference is that now he is scoring.”

Ronaldo’s goal was his 26th in the league. Barcelona’s Lionel Messi leads the competition with 34.

Castillejo snatched the draw after he raced behind Marcelo to receive a lobbed pass from Rodrigo Hernandez. Luca Zidane, who normally plays for Madrid’s reserve team in the third divison, stopped his initial chipped shot but Castillejo slotted the rebound into the open net.

Saudi Arabia midfielder Salem Al Dawsari made his Liga debut as a second-half substitute for Villarreal.

Pogba: Brighton was “hungrier” than Man Utd

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Jose Mourinho said Manchester United was “really, really, really down” at halftime of their 3-2 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reacts ]

His captain, Paul Pogba, didn’t let those vibes temper his efforts to turn the game around, though he admits his Red Devils weren’t up to the challenge.

“They had more hunger than us and the result is the right one for them,” he said.

Pogba said he was disappointed in his performance, and the team’s mentality.

From the BBC:

“I will always try. I know I lost a lot of balls which shouldn’t happen. I tried, I kept pushing, that’s my personality. I tried to help the team as much as possible. It didn’t happen today.

“Brighton prepared the game very well. Maybe we didn’t have the attitude to break them, to kill them when we had to kill them and to go through the lines. That’s a lesson we have to keep in mind.”

There have been warning bells ringing at Manchester United for some time, and Old Trafford will be a nightmare if the Red Devils don’t answer them against Spurs a week from Monday.

Pogba was far from the main problem on Sunday. He set Romelu Lukaku up for what could’ve easily been the opening goal of the game — and usually would be — with a delightful through ball, and influenced the game on several occasions aside from his converted penalty kick.

But with Fred struggling and Nemanja Matic absent, Pogba was needed more in his 2017-18 role and couldn’t dominate defensively. That’s a tall ask down 3-1, but he has to stop the match from getting to that point.

EDIT: Here’s video and some more thoughts from Pogba after the match:

“Everybody likes to play against United. Obviously they want to beat us, they want to win. We need to be more focused,” he said. “Obviously much better than today. I’m not a superhero to see the future but obviously we need to play much better than today.”

Mourinho: Man Utd was “really, really, really down” at halftime

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Many could hardly wait for Jose Mourinho to take the microphone after one of Manchester United’s worst performances under the mercurial manager.

Unless they were hoping for a small jab at referee Kevin Friend for not letting United send one more ball into the fray, Mourinho was a bit of a letdown by design.

[ MORE: Match recap | Pogba reacts ]

“When I speak of individual performances you don’t accept it,” Mourinho said on NBCSN. “The players, the pundits are very critical when I’m asked to go in that direction. I’ll be happy to analyze my players’ performances when they are good. … When I cannot do that, don’t push me to the other side.”

Mourinho also rejected any comment on United’s inability to purchase one of his center back targets.

“The window opens on the first of January. It’s closed.”

What he did say was that Brighton did not let United off the hook for a number of mistakes in the defeat at the Amex Stadium.

And he did not have a clue United would have a bad day.

“I was not expecting obviously big mistakes because we are not speaking about small mistakes,” he said. “Big mistakes, we made big mistakes and we were punished by that. There’s a normal tendency to lose a little bit of the confidence and the direction of the game plan.”

“You go into halftime where the players were really, really, really down.”

United and Mourinho could be in a huge hole if after their first Top Four test of the season next week, when the Red Devils host Spurs on Monday, Aug. 27.

With all due respect to crafty Brighton veteran forward Glenn Murray, Harry Kane would’ve had a field day on Sunday.

Manchester United baffled by Brighton

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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Brighton and Hove Albion stunned a haphazard Manchester United 3-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

The win puts both teams at 1-1, with the Gulls getting goals from Glenn Murray, Pascal Gross, and Shane Duffy. Romelu Lukaku scored for United in the first half, before Marouane Fellaini drew a Paul Pogba-converted penalty.

Manchester United next meets Spurs at Old Trafford, while Brighton travels to Liverpool.

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Pogba played Romelu Lukaku through on goal, but the Belgian’s hard low strike zipped wide of the near post.

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage, and it would be a big dig for United.

Lukaku made it 2-1, rewarding for a fine first half-hour with a knockdown header from Luke Shaw‘s partially blocked shot.

But a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.

Mourinho completed his substitutions early, taking off Anthony Martial, Andreas Pereira, and Juan Mata for Marcus Rashford (HT), Jesse Lingard (HT), and Marouane Fellaini (60′).

United snapped to life with 16 minutes to play, Paul Pogba forcing Mathew Ryan into a flying parry.

But only a Fellaini-won penalty arrived deep in stoppage time, with Pogba converting his effort.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Murray scores beauty as Brighton thumping Man Utd at half (video)

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Might we have an upset on our hands at the Amex Stadium?

Manchester United trails Brighton and Hove Albion on a deft goal from Glenn Murray against the run of play and a quickfire addition to the score line from Shane Duffy.

[ STREAM: Brighton-Man Utd ]

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage.

Lukaku answered with a headed goal, but a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.