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Isco gets second chance at Madrid with Zidane back in charge

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Among the 60,000-plus spectators packed into the Santiago Bernabeu for the return of Zinedine Zidane, nobody seemed happier than Francisco “Isco” Alarcon.

Having his old coach back in charge has given Isco a second chance to salvage his career at Real Madrid- and his status as one of Spain’s top talents.

During Zidane’s nine-month hiatus from coaching, Isco went from title-winner to soccer outcast. It had gotten so bad for Isco under the recently fired Santiago Solari that he had to watch several matches from the stands.

But with Zidane back in charge, so was Isco.

The playmaker scored the opening goal of the 2-0 win over Celta Vigo on Saturday to end a horrendous run of four consecutive home losses for Madrid that led to Solari’s exit.

Isco was among several members of Zidane’s “old guard” to recover their spots in the starting 11 after seeing their playing time diminish during Solari’s 4 1-2 months in charge. Others included Marcelo and Gareth Bale, who combined for Bale to score Madrid’s second goal, and Marco Asensio, who set up Isco’s goal, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who had become a backup to Thibaut Courtois.

“Nobody is going to take away what they have done here,” Zidane said about his veteran players. “Keylor is very good, and what can I say that you don’t already know about Marcelo, Isco and Bale? They looked good to me, Isco got a goal. I will count on them all because they have shown positive things.”

But none of that group of players had been treated as coldly as Isco had by Solari, who didn’t start him once in the 17 Spanish league matches that he coached.

Having helped Madrid win the Champions League four of the last five years, the 26-year-old Isco was until recently considered the future midfield star of the Spanish national team. But his absence from Madrid led to Spain coach Luis Enrique dropping him from his squad for the team’s first two European Championship qualifiers later this month.

Being rescued from obscurity does not mean that Isco has definitely reclaimed an important role on Zidane’s team, however. Zidane used to play Isco often enough, but he never included him in his core group of players who always started if healthy.

And almost nobody’s place is safe at Madrid following a disastrous season that included a humbling round-of-16 exit from the Champions League to Ajax and a record of three losses and a draw in their four meetings with fierce rival Barcelona. Madrid president Florentino Perez will want to overhaul his team this summer, meaning some of its current members will be sold.

Isco, and the rest of his teammates, have 10 league games left to convince Zidane and his boss that they deserve to be part of next season’s rebuilding effort. They appear to have nothing else to play for, trailing Barcelona by 12 points in the Spanish league.

“There will be changes, but I will not be looking at these games if everyone does well … to see if they stay or leave,” Zidane said.

Isco, if he wants to stay, can only hope that Zidane’s words do not mean the club has already made its decision on his future.

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

La Liga: Real Madrid win to stay within striking distance of 2nd

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: PSG crowned Ligue 1 champions with five games left ]

Real Madrid 3-0 Athletic Bilbao

Karim Benzema bagged a hat trick (WATCH HERE) β€” his 19th, 20th and 21st goals of the league season (second-most, 12 behind Lionel Messi) β€” to send Real Madrid to a comfortable victory over Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu. The result also keeps Los Blancos within four points of capital rivals Atletico Madrid in something of a battle for second place behind runaway leaders Barcelona.

Benzema has scored 10 goals in his last seven La Liga appearances, a run in which Madrid have complied a 5W-1D-1L record. Benzema failed to score in Zinedine Zidane’s re-debut as Madrid manager, but has scored eight goals in five games since.

Sunday’s game marked the 300th league appearance for midfielder and 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric in a Real Madrid shirt.

Getafe 3-0 Sevilla β€” WATCH HIGHLIGHTS

Sevilla’s hopes of returning to the UEFA Champions League following a one-year hiatus took a serious hit on Sunday, as Pablo Machin’s side was hammered by Getafe, the side which now occupies fourth place, two points ahead of them. Getafe continue to enjoy their meteoric rise through the Spanish ranks, as they were competing in the second division this time two years ago.

Two of the three goals the scored on Sunday came from the penalty spot, as Jaime Mata and Jorge Molina converted in the 35th and 45th+4′, respectively. Molina completed the scoring eight minutes into the second half.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis v. Valencia (in progress)
Levante 2-2 Espanyol
Villarreal 2-1 Leganes

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 ]