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Solari says Bale, Real Madrid ready for Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Everyone at Real Madrid, it seems, is fully prepared to face Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinals.

Even Gareth Bale.

Bale’s commitment to the team has been called into question since he failed to celebrate his goal over the weekend, pushing teammate Lucas Vazquez away before heading back to midfield. His attitude sparked a wave of criticism, and rumors he was at odds with the rest of the team.

But with two consecutive matches coming up against Barcelona this week — the first on Wednesday with a spot in the Copa del Rey final on the line — Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari was quick to diffuse any notion of problems within the squad.

“We are 100 percent focused on tomorrow’s match,” Solari said Tuesday. “Bale and the rest of the players are fully focused. We are all united and we have the same goal, which is to make it to the final.”

Real Madrid has an away-goal advantage going into the match at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium after a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou in the first leg three weeks ago.

Wednesday’s match will be the second of three between the rivals in less than a month. The teams will meet again at the Bernabeu on Saturday in the Spanish league, where Barcelona has a comfortable seven-point lead over Atletico Madrid and a nine-point advantage over Real Madrid.

Barcelona is the defending league champion, and it will be going for an unprecedented fifth straight Copa del Rey title. Madrid won the league in 2017, but hasn’t won the cup competition since 2014, when it beat Barcelona in the final.

Bale hasn’t played often as a starter with Madrid, losing his place on the lineup to young Brazilian forward Vinicius Junior.

Bale appeared to be upset when Solari chose Marco Asensio as the first substitute in the 2-1 win at Levante on Sunday. After seeing he was not picked, the Wales forward stopped warming up and went back to the bench, staying there for a few minutes until Solari finally asked him to enter the match.

He scored the team’s second goal from a penalty kick and did not celebrate, moving Vazquez away from him and only briefly touching hands with other teammates as he returned to midfield.

The image of Bale “escaping” from Vazquez made it on some front pages in Spain the next day, and forced Solari to evade several questions about him in his news conference on Tuesday.

Veteran left back Marcelo recently had talked about how he still can only communicate with Bale in English, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois mentioned that the forward recently missed one of the group dinners because he wanted to go to sleep early.

Bale practiced normally with the rest of the squad on Tuesday, though, with nothing indicating he would not be included in the squad for the match. It wasn’t likely he would start, however. In the first leg, Solari began with Vinicius Junior in the lineup and Bale on the bench.

A player certain to start on Wednesday is Lionel Messi, who is coming off a stellar performance in Barcelona’s 4-2 win against Sevilla over the weekend, when he scored a hat trick and set up another goal to rebound from a series of poor performances. Messi did not play the entire first leg against Madrid because of a right leg injury.

Solari said there was no reason to fear Messi, regardless of how well he was playing.

“That doesn’t exist for those who compete in soccer,” Solari said. “Those who compete are always out there to battle.”

PSG wins French league after 2nd-place Lille fails to win

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain clinched the French league title without kicking a ball as second-place Lille could only draw 0-0 at Toulouse on Sunday.

Lille had to win to have any chance of catching PSG, but PSG is now 16 points ahead of its only rival with five matches left after this weekend.

After failing to clinch the title in the past three matches, drawing one and losing two, PSG can celebrate the eighth title in its history ahead of its home game against Monaco later Sunday.

It is PSG’s sixth title in the last seven seasons, with only Monaco in 2017 breaking PSG’s dominance.

Although the title was long expected from a side scoring 92 goals in 32 games so far, it took longer than it should have.

PSG could have won it three games ago, but drew 2-2 at home to Strasbourg when a win would have clinched it.

Then PSG needed a draw at Lille last Sunday, only to lose 5-1 in the club’s heaviest defeat since Qatari investors QSI took charge of the club in June 2011.

A win away to Nantes would have sufficed, too, on Wednesday night only for PSG to lose 3-2 .

The 10 goals conceded in those three games made for PSG’s worst defensive record during a three-game spell since 1985.

Also Sunday, striker Kalifa Coulibaly scored twice as 13th-place Nantes beat 17th-place Amiens 3-2.

Later, Saint-Etienne needed a draw at Reims to move above Marseille and into fourth place.

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

Klopp hails Liverpool mettle in face of “proper banana skin”

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Jurgen Klopp knows that more than a few clubs would’ve slipped up Sunday at Cardiff City, given the hosts’ desperation and the visitors’ midweek triumph, but his Reds stood up to the test.

[ RECAP: Cardiff 0-2 Liverpool ]

Liverpool beat Cardiff City 2-0, scoring a pair of second half goals to go back atop the Premier League before Manchester City plays its final match-in-hand of the season in a midweek Manchester Derby.

“It was prepared to be a proper banana skin and we knew that, the boys were unbelievable,” Klopp said after his team kept a second consecutive clean sheet.

He insists that he’s not feeling pressure as Liverpool may need to win every one of its matches and get help to capture its first Premier League crown.

“I only know about me and I didn’t feel it (the pressure) we have to do it like we do it. We cannot change it. The boys try really with all they have, we only speak about the things we have to do. Their attitude is outstanding and it’s a tough season but a very positive one as well.”

Liverpool has two banana skins left, a visit from Huddersfield and trip to Newcastle, closing out the league slate with Wolves at Anfield.

Benteke leads Palace surprise at Arsenal (video)

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  • Benteke scores first goal since April 28, 2018
  • Zaha nabs ninth of season
  • Ozil goal forges brief deadlock

Christian Benteke scored a goal and added an assist as Crystal Palace handed much-changed Arsenal a 3-2 set back at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.

Wilfried Zaha and James McArthur also scored for the Eagles, while Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang posted Arsenal’s goals.

The win boosts Palace into 12th with 42 points, while Arsenal remains fourth with 66.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Roy Hodgson‘s men took a surprising early lead through a strangely surprising source, given that Benteke was once a prolific and danger scorer.

With room to operate, the Belgian turned a header past Bernd Leno to put the Eagles on top.

Palace was fortunate not to concede a penalty through an Aaron Wan-Bissaka handball in the box, and Cheikhou Kouyate saw two bids to beat Leno saved by the keeper.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal needed less than two second half minutes to equalize, with Iwobi finding Lacazette with a deft outside-of-the-boot pass. The Frenchman slid Ozil through on goal, and Ozil blasted it near side for a 1-1 score line.

Palace restored its lead thanks to a Benteke flick toward Zaha, with the Ivorian going around Shkrodan Mustafi before beating Leno.

And then it was 3-1, a 69th minute corner kick from Luka Milivojevic finding the back of the goal when James McArthur redirected a header into the goal.

Aubameyang needed a fortunate bounce to line up his shot, but deserved every bit of his 77th minute goal.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Liverpool handles its business in Wales (video)

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  • Wiljnaldum scores opener off corner
  • Milner converts Salah-won penalty
  • Cardiff cannot finish chances

Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner scored to put Liverpool back atop the Premier League following a 2-0 defeat of Cardiff City on Sunday.

Neil Warnock‘s Bluebirds had their chances but simply lacked quality in finish. They remain three points back of Brighton and Hove Albion in the race to avoid relegation.

Liverpool is a point ahead of Man City before Wednesday’s Manchester Derby at Old Trafford.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino broke the Cardiff back line, but Neil Etheridge closed down to help force the Brazilian to fire over the goal.

It was mostly Liverpool’s game, but Oumar Niasse need nearly luck into an in-tight finish after Victor Camarasa flubbed a shot into his path. Alisson Becker tipped it over the bar.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Wijnaldum put the Reds on top about 12 minutes into the second half when he wrapped his right foot around a bounding set piece to send it flying past Etheridge.

Henderson’s would-be goal was blazed over the goal in the 61st minute. It wasn’t quite a sitter, but there was certainly some beckoning goal.

Cardiff’s Sean Morrison missed his second significant chance of the match off a 64th minute corner kick.

Roger East awarded a penalty kick to Liverpool when Morrison manhandled Mohamed Salah in the box. Milner rarely misses from the spot.

Etheridge made a tremendous save on Salah in the 90th.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]