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La Liga: Real Madrid wins in Zidane’s return, Atletico stunned

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Zinedine Zidane returned to Real Madrid, and it was like he never left.

The Frenchman made sweeping changes in his first starting lineup, bringing Keylor Navas, Gareth Bale, Isco, and Marcelo all back into the 11 as Madrid stormed to a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo at the Bernabeu.

All four players had seen diminished playing time under Santiago Solari, blamed by fans and media for the team struggles, but Zidane gave them a reprieve, and it bore immediate fruit. Isco scored the opener in the 62nd minute to put Madrid up for good, and Bale put the game away 15 minutes later. The defense, meanwhile, held Celta Vigo to just one shot on target as they fall for the fifth time in their last six matches.

The win pulled third-placed Madrid within two points of cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid in second, an important result that preceded a shocking 2-0 loss by Atletico as they fell on the road at Athletic Bilbao. The game was scoreless – right in Atletico’s wheelhouse – until the 73rd minute when an awkward Atleti turnover in their own defensive third led to an Inaki Williams tap-in to break the deadlock. Kenan Kodro finished it off in the 85th minute and Atleti is now looking over its shoulder at Real Madrid just two back.

Meanwhile, a few places back, Alaves pulled within one point of a Champions League place as they topped Huesca 3-1 behind a brace from Jonathan Calleri. His opener in the 11th minute was cancelled out minutes later by Ezequiel Avila to make it 1-1, and the scoreline stayed there until the 80th minute. Substitute striker John Guidetti put Alaves up with 10 to go, and then Calleri bagged his brace six minutes later to put the game away.

Finally, Girona jumped Leganes in the table with a 2-0 win thanks to a double by Portu, continuing the club’s rise up the table. They had fallen as far as 16th, but a five-game stretch with three wins and a draw has brought them back up to 13th and within two points of a top-half spot.

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.