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La Liga: Messi bags incredible hat-trick, Villareal earns vital win

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That guy Lionel Messi’s pretty darn good.

Barcleona hammered Real Betis 4-1 behind an utterly stunning hat-trick from Messi to restore its 10-point lead atop the La Liga table.

Messi was fabulous the entire match, completing 51 of 57 passes, including eight of nine inside the penalty area, and created three chances outside of his three goals. He opened the scoring in the 18th minute, depositing a classic free-kick into the top-left corner. Just before halftime, Luis Suarez did wonderful one-on-two work down the middle and fed a charging Messi through the back line for the finish in front of net.

In the 63rd minute, Suarez contributed to the scoreline with a stunning one-on-four breakaway that left three defenders on the ground in his wake before he slotted past Pau Lopez. To finish things off, Messi grabbed his hat-trick in the 85th minute with the best of the bunch, blasting a one-touch left-footed strike from a tight angle that curled up and over Lopez and into the far corner, an absolute beauty fitting of the moment.

The home Real Betis fans saw the brilliance in the accomplishment, so much that they cheered Messi to the point where he gave back the love postgame. “I don’t remember a night like this,” Messi said to beIN Sports after the match. “I’m very grateful for the way the fans responded here.”

Real Valladolid earned all three points in stunning fashion with a 2-1 comeback win with both goals coming in stoppage time. Fabian Orellana put Eibar in front in the 54th minute, but Daniele Verde bagged a penalty in the first minute of added time after a VAR review, and Sergi Guardiola was on hand to earn the win in the 93rd minute winner.

Sevilla scrapped to a 1-0 victory over Espanyol in a game that featured 25 total shots but just six on target split both ways, with both teams finishing down a man. Wissam Ben Yedder scored the game’s only goal, coming from the spot after Mario Hermoso clearly bundled over Andre Silva right on the left edge of the area. The game finished with both Sergi Darder and Juan Soriano receiving red cards after the final whistle to cap off an otherwise dull match.

Meanwhile, Valencia and Getafe played to a 0-0 draw that featured just three total shots on target, allowing Sevilla to climb three points ahead of Valencia in sixth, a point back of fifth-placed Alaves and three behind fourth-placed Getafe.

Finally, Villareal took care of Rayo Vallecano 3-1 with a second-half comeback. The visitors went in front in the 20th minute at El Madrigal, with Mario Suarez producing a fabulous header that picked out the far corner from a good distance out. Yet, in the 50th minute, it all began to go wrong for Rayo as Emiliano Velazquez unluckily deflected a cross right to Karl Toko Ekambi waiting on the doorstep for the finish.

Ekambi picked out his brace just two minutes later on a wonderful feed from Vicente Iborra right through the channel for the one-on-one finish. As the game wore on, Villareal killed things off in the 88th minute via Gerard Moreno thanks to a brilliant long-distance switch by Manuel Morlanes. The win pushed Villareal four points clear of the drop in 17th place, while Rayo Vallecano remained in 19th, two back of Celta Vigo in 18th and seven from safety.

LAFC’s Adama Diomande voluntarily enters MLS’s health program

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles FC forward Adama Diomande has entered Major League Soccer’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

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MLS announced Diomande’s voluntary decision Friday.

Diomande won’t play for LAFC at least until the program’s doctors complete their evaluation and he is cleared by program officials.

The 29-year-old Norwegian scorer has eight goals and seven assists in 25 appearances this season, including 15 starts. He has played a valuable complementary offensive role alongside MLS scoring leader Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Report: Netherlands FA to meet with Sergiño Dest ]

Diomande is in his second MLS season after joining LAFC from Hull City. He also previously played under LAFC coach Bob Bradley in Norway.

LAFC (19-4-7) has clinched the Western Conference title, and it leads the overall MLS table by seven points despite a four-game winless streak.

Premier League Preview: Newcastle v. Brighton

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  • Early-season relegation battlers meet on Saturday
  • 18th-place Newcastle to host 16th-place Brighton
  • Brighton won at Newcastle, drew at home last season

Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion, a pair of Premier League sides with just two wins from the first five weeks of the season between them, will meet at St. James’ Park on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for what could prove to be a retrospective relegation six-pointer when May rolls around.

Each side replaced its manager — Steve Bruce for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle; Graham Potter for Chris Hughton at Bright — in the summer and neither of the new bosses has had a particularly enjoyable start to the 2019-20 campaign. Brighton won on the opening day of the season, but have taken just two points from the following four games. Newcastle lost their first two games, won their third, and have drawn and lost again since. It’s the kind of form that’ll see both sides stuck in the high-teens of the PL table if they don’t find their footing in the coming weeks.

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Things are particularly worrying for Newcastle, who didn’t they’d be without Benitez until the end of June and didn’t appoint Bruce until mid-July. Key players had already left the club and reinforcements for few and far between. Forward Joelinton joined for $50 million and is one of four players with a single goal scored thus far.

Last week was nearly fruitful for the Seagulls, until the conceded a stoppage-time equalizer and settle for a point at home against Burnley. Summer signing Neal Maupay bagged his second goal for Brighton earlier in the game, giving Potter a potential trump card over a handful of other relegation-threatened sides without a consistent goalscorer.

Injuries/suspensions

Newcastle: OUT – Matt Ritchie (ankle), Florian Lejeune (knee), Dwight Gayle (calf); QUESTIONABLE – DeAndre Yedlin (groin)

Brighton: OUT – Leandro Trossard (groin), Jose Izquierdo (knee), Ezequiel Schelotto (knee)


Projected lineups

Newcastle: Dubravka – Krafth, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Willems – Almiron, Hayden, Shelvey, Atsu – Joelinton

Brighton: Ryan – Duffy, Dunk, Webster – March, Stephens, Propper, Burn – Gross, Maupay, Murray


What they’re saying

Joelinton, on Andy Carroll: “It’s always great to have experienced players in the group, and he’s one of them. He can help the club, he can help the young players. Andy Carroll has scored a lot of goals in the Premier League, and it’s great to be playing alongside him. He’s a calm guy. I still haven’t spoken to him a lot because my English isn’t great! But every day he’s trying to help. He’ll help me before the games, he’ll give me positional advice and suggest what I’ve done both good and bad.”

Graham Potter, on the trip to Newcastle: “Newcastle away is a tough game just like all the others. We don’t target particular matches — it’s about what we need to do to get a positive result. They have an experienced manager who I came across last year and he’s someone I have a lot of respect for. They have good quality players and we know it can be a hostile environment, it’s a big club and we know we have to play well to get something.  Steve has a lot of games under his belt – he’s had a lot of success and he’ll understand the challenge that lies ahead.


Prediction

Newcastle haven’t scored multiple goals in a game yet this season, and they’ve conceded twice as many as they’ve scored (four). It’s hard to trust them to be anything resembling consistent from game to game. It wouldn’t be surprising if they battled to a boring 0-0 draw, or conceding three times before halftime. It’ll probably be closer to the former, a 1-1 stalemate.

AC Milan announces internal anti-racism task force

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan has announced it will establish an internal task force to address racism in Italian football.

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The club says the task force will be supported by “an external consultancy” and “develop a program of activities to increase awareness, monitor and address racist behavior on social media and in the stadium, and drive the adoption of global best practices on diversity and inclusion.”

The move comes after reports of racist chants directed at Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who is black, during a match at Hellas Verona last weekend.

Milan says the anti-racism initiative will be launched during Saturday’s derby against Inter Milan.

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Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racist chants in a match at Cagliari this month.

Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis, who is South African, says: “Italian football needs to wake up and take a strong stance against racist behaviors. AC Milan will take a leadership position on this issue. . We believe that we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to address this issue.”

Slow start dooms Southampton again: ‘We lost the game in first half’

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Slow starts are, ironically, quickly becoming the story of Southampton’s Premier League season. It happened again on Friday, resulting in a 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry

[ Premier League Previews: Leicester City v. Tottenham | Man City v. Watford ]

Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. In those four games, they have taken just one point. When scoring the game’s first goal, they have two wins and two clean sheets.

It would appear that Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side is set up to play one way, and one way only. Speaking after Friday’s defeat, Hasenhuttl lamented his side’s slow start, conceding that the game was all but lost when they fell 2-0 behind in the 35 minutes — quotes from the BBC:

“The finish was not important anymore. If you lose 2-1 or 3-1 it does not make too much difference. We lost the game in the first half.

“In the second half, we were sharp. Had about 26 shots to six from Bournemouth but the most important stat is the goals. They scored three, we scored once.

“We weren’t aggressive enough and too easy in the first half. It is not easy to be 1-0 down after 10 minutes. We had a lot of blocked shots and misses near the post. It was a good performance in the second half but without a result.

“For the second goal was had a lot of players in our attacking box so it was not easy to defend.

“We showed a good reaction because we knew we needed to be brave. We changed our shape and were aggressive for the second ball. It gave us 64% possession and we had a lot of shots. Maybe we didn’t deserve to take something because of our first half.”

Southampton’s next chance to start a game quickly will come in an away bout with Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday.