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La Liga: Barcelona restores 7-point lead, Atletico moves second

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Barcelona restored its seven-point lead at the top of the La Liga table with a casual 1-0 victory over Real Valladolid. They held the visitors to zero shots on target at the Camp Nou and Lionel Messi did the job on the other end.

Goalless through the majority of the first half, Messi opened the scoring in the 40th minute by slotting home a controversial penalty given after Gerard Pique was awarded a foul inside the area under pressure from Valladolid defender Michel who stepped in the back of Pique’s legs, but still the Barcelona defender crumpled into a heap quite easily. The referee pointed to the spot, and Messi buried his low effort into the bottom-right past a diving Jordi Masip who guessed correctly but could not reach the shot.

Atletico Madrid also found itself on the right end of a 1-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano as Antoine Griezmann put the visitors through in the 74th minute, scoring a deflected strike served up by Alvaro Morata. The game also marked the return of an injured Diego Costa from two months on the sidelines, coming on for the final half-hour. The win pushed Atletico up to second, above Real Madrid by two with Los Blancos set to play tomorrow.

Real Sociedad moved into seventh with a convincing 3-0 win over Leganes behind a brace from Mikel Oyarzabal. The game was scoreless at halftime but the 21-year-old put the hosts up for good in the 50th minute, with Adnan Januzaj delivering a cross that Oyarzabal headed in. He doubled the lead nine minutes later for his eighth league goal of the season, and Willian Jose added the cherry on top 15 minutes from full-time.

Levante hammered 10-man Celta Vigo 4-1, already 2-0 up when the hosts lost Ryad Boudebouz to a straight red card for a truly absurd tackle, massively late and with his studs showing all the way up near the groin of Borja Mayoral. With Celta Vigo reduced to 10, Jose Luis Morales scored his second of the game just after the hour mark, and Mayoral grabbed one late to finish the scoreline. The result is disappointing for Celta Vigo who have slipped into the relegation battle with seven losses and just one win in their last nine matches.

Pique: Copa-losing Barca still “really hurting” from UCL exit

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Barcelona was the favorite to win La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, and the Copa del Rey for the majority of the season, but only claimed one.

Liverpool’s amazing comeback to beat Barca in the second leg of the UCL semifinals met Saturday’s loss to Valencia in the Copa del Rey Final to give Barca a league title alone.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Even with that La Liga advantage being decisive — Barca carried the table by 11 points over Atletico Madrid and finished 19 ahead of Real Madrid — there’s a very dour mood and promised change for the Camp Nou set.

And Gerard Pique says it all traces back to the loss against Liverpool. From The Liverpool Echo:

“I believe that if we had gotten through at Liverpool, we would have won the treble. We would have come here [to the Copa del Rey final] with a different mood, and I’m convinced we would have won the Champions League final, but that is football. We are really, really hurting.”

There are hints of a massive clear-out at Barcelona, with Lionel Messi and Pique two of the only safe bets to stay. When will Barca get over it?

Brazilian team tangles in locker room futmesa (video)

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It was defense versus attack in the Brazil dressing room.

Neymar and Gabriel Jesus squared off with international teammates Filipe Luis and Ederson in a game of futmesa/table soccer this week.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

Neymar and Filipe Luis are used to be on different sides of the field from their time in La Liga, while Jesus and Ederson are teammates at Manchester City.

Brazil is hosting this summer’s Copa America and is the favorite to win its first tournament since 2007, when it claimed its fourth in five tries.

It’s really impressive stuff for us normal to subpar athletes, even if standard for those with such deft talent.

Quite a winner from Man City’s young striker.

Jovic could see himself in Premier League, Serie A

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Maybe Luka Jovic’s presumed move to Real Madrid won’t happen this summer.

Or at all.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

The Eintracht Frankfurt striker has been tipped for a move away from the Bundesliga after another strong campaign, and taking the center forward reins from Karim Benzema at Real Madrid.

Several outlets reported the deal as done, but Jovic isn’t speaking that way (or at least the Serbian is throwing us off the scent.

From Goal.com:

“In terms of the physique, the Bundesliga is very demanding, but after the games against Chelsea or Inter Milan, I personally had the feeling that I could feel even better [playing] in the Premier League or Serie A. … The way the teams play there suits me better.”

Jovic scored 27 times in 48 appearances for Frankfurt, adding seven assists at the tender age of 21. Ten of those came in the Europa League, and we’re not talking about flooding the nets of minnows; Jovic scored against Chelsea (twice), Marseille (three), Lazio (two), and Inter Milan (once).

Report: Chelsea, Real $38M apart on Hazard

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How much for Hazard?

Real Madrid are willing to pay $127 million, no small fee, to bring Eden Hazard from Chelsea, but that’s well off the Blues’ evaluation according to Sky Sports.

Chelsea sees Hazard’s price as $165 million. Belgian writer Kristof Terreur told Sky that Hazard wants his future sorted by June 4.

[ MORE: Bayern wins double ]

The Blues’ superstar is entering the final year of his contract, and could begin negotiating with other clubs in January and leave on a free transfer.

Hazard turns 29 in January. He recorded 19 goals and 16 assists in 51 matches this season, his best output in a Blues uniform.

The report says Chelsea feels no pressure to sell Hazard, but it would be a surprise if it dug in its heels too deeply considering the state of the Belgian’s contract.

Even for Chelsea, letting over $100 million walk out the door is wild, and for all Hazard’s won with Chelsea there’s also been consternation under several managers and a more than occasional habit of disappointing on the table.