Abraham leads Chelsea past Watford; Pulisic scores again

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Tammy Abraham had a goal and an assist as Chelsea won its fifth-straight Premier League outing, getting another goal from Christian Pulisic in a 2-1 win over Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Chelsea will finish the weekend with a six-point cushion on fifth place, now sitting third with 23 points.

Watford got a late penalty from Gerard Deulofeu, awarded by VAR, to score its goal. The Hornets remain dead last with five points through 11 matches.


Three things we learned

1. Abraham the genuine article: The Championship loan high-flyer might’ve entered this season with five Premier League goals from a Swansea City loan, but his bonafides are undoubtable now. Abraham calmly converted Jorginho‘s amazing early cross before setting up Pulisic for a goal in the second half. The 22-year-old now has nine goals and two assists in just over 800 league minutes this season.

2. Watford a one-man show: Maybe a long-awaited return for Troy Deeney can do the trick for winless Watford, but every single promising moment of Saturday’s match came from Gerard Deulofeu. There are other players with promise, including Will Hughes, but Roberto Pereyra, Abdoulaye Doucoure, and Andre Gray were absent. That had a lot to do with trying to meet Chelsea’s attacking energy, but it doesn’t make it any easier to be a Watford supporter.

3. Pulisic keeps league run going: The American winger was charged with being very active in the wide areas and took a satisfactory first half to another level when he doubled Chelsea’s lead. Pulisic adjusts his back post to cut in front of Christian Kabasele and add a fourth goal to his Premier League collection.

[ MORE: Pulisic Watch ]

Man of the Match: This one is tough. Mateo Kovacic was a beast, and Abraham weighed in on both goals. But Pulisic’s stat line was also complete, and he honestly was as important as any Blue. Ben Foster really was the reason this match wasn’t a blowout. We’re going to give it to Abraham.


[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

Too easy.

That’s the only way to describe Chelsea’s opener, with Jorginho sweeping a cross around the back of Watford’s back four and Abraham timing his run to pop the ball over a charging Ben Foster for 1-0.

Chalobah fired a shot to Kepa Arrizabalaga after Kurt Zouma mishit a cross in the 16th minute.

Pulisic headed Willian‘s corner toward the back post in the 19th minute, but Ben Foster leapt backward to make a fantastic fingertip save.

Gerard Deulofeu drove a shot wide of the far post in the 39th.

Foster made another fine save when Mason Mount tore into an effort from distance just before halftime.

Deulofeu led another break after halftime, but it ended with a superb block from Kurt Zouma.

Willian cued up a Chelsea chance, but Foster made a good stop on a Mount rip.

If anyone was going to get Watford on the board, it was Deulofeu. VAR said he was caught by Jorginho, sending the Spaniard to the spot in the 80th. He rolled it in.

Kepa Arrizabalaga made a diving save on a flying Foster header — yes, you read that right — on the final play of the night.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona, Real Madrid remain level on points after wins (video)

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Routine wins from league favorites Barcelona and Real Madrid, highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Barcelona 5-2 RCD Mallorca

It was a special night at Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Fresh from winning the Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time, Lionel Messi was greeted by his three children on the field, who handed him a shinny, golden ball – given yearly to the best player in the world – prior to the first whistle.

From that point on, it was evident that it would be all smiles for everyone tied to the defending champions at the stadium (and for those watching remotely) on Saturday.

 

That was the case.

Antoine Griezmann – a topic of conversation due to lack of productivity at Barcelona this season – kicked off the game with a solo run and subsequent goal in the seventh minute, opening the floodgates.

As a celebration of his latest, individual accomplishment, Messi showcased the power and precision of his left foot at the tune of a hat-trick. The Argentine ace scored twice in the first half and another in consolation time, putting his season total mark at a league-best 12 goals.

The moment and goal of the night (possibly of the season) didn’t directly involve Messi, however. With a daring, emphatic and genius back-heel strike, not only did Luis Suarez put the home side up 4-1, but cemented himself in the ballot for best goal of the season.

With 34 and a better goal differential than Real Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of La Liga ahead of their clash with Inter Milan on Tuesday, while Mallorca hope Ante Budimir can score another brace; this time against a struggling Celta Vigo next weekend.

Real Madrid 2-0 Espanyol

With goals from Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane, Real Madrid comfortably cruised past a struggling Espanyol.

With the majority of Real Madrid in Espanyol’s final third following a recovered free-kick attempt, Benzema charged his way into the box before laying off a ball to Varane, who not a proven goalscorer whatsoever, placed the ball into the back of the net with ease.

It was the 37th minute, and the home side were up 1-0 against a poor Espanyol.

With a notable superior style at hand, Los Blancos continued to surge forward. Opportunities at goal were generated but the ball wouldn’t go past ex-Real Madrid ‘keeper Diego Lopez.

Then, in the 79th minute, Benzema registered his 11th goal of the season, finishing an off-balance pass from Federico Valverde inside the box.

Winners in their last La Liga bouts, Real Madrid now prepare for their Champions League Group Stage finale against Club Brugge midweek. Espanyol, despite being in the drop zone, host CSKA Moscow in their Europa League Group Stage finale. The Catalonian club lead Group H with 11 points after five matches.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Granada 3-0 Alaves

Levante 2-4 Valencia

Ancelotti’s future uncertain after Napoli draws at Udinese

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ROME (AP) Carlo Ancelotti’s future as Napoli coach is uncertain after his team failed to beat Udinese on Saturday in Serie A.

The 1-1 draw extended Napoli’s winless run to nine matches in all competitions. Piotr Zelinski saved Napoli with a late goal that salvaged a point for the visitors.

Amid reports that Ancelotti could soon be fired, Napoli, which had won its last six league matches against Udinese, went a goal down after a counterattack which was finished by Kevin Lasagna in the 32nd minute.

Napoli improved after Fernando Llorente replaced an uninspired Lorenzo Insigne in the second half. It equalized after a good combination between Dries Mertens and Zielinski, who wrongfooted the Udinese ‘keeper with a shot into the bottom corner.

Also, Atalanta twice came from behind after Samuel Di Carmine’s two goals to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 with a late winner from Berat Djimsiti, who volleyed home from close range.

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

Kyle Walker: City catching up to Liverpool ‘difficult’ after derby loss to United

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After a crushing 2-1 loss to archrival Manchester United at home, 14 is the new magic number for Pep Guardiola and company.

14 is the number of points that Manchester City trail league leaders Liverpool by, an uphill battle that is influencing many people on the outside looking in to think that City’s chances of lifting the league’s silverware for a third straight season are officially done and dusted.

That’s not the narrative that is occupying Kyle Walker‘s train of thought, however. Speaking on behalf of his City teammates and himself, the defender is keen on fighting until they’re mathematically out of contention for the title, regardless if the standings show that Liverpool have yet to suffer a defeat this season after 16 matches.

“Can’t fault the manager,” Walker told Sky Sports following City’s second Premier League loss in five games. “He has won numerous trophies. I can’t put my finger on it. It is going to be difficult, Liverpool are on fire. They [Liverpool] are getting wins and we are not. It is a big gap but we will fight until the end.”

A consolation goal from Nicolas Otamendi in the 85th minutes wasn’t enough for the Cityzens, who endured a fourth league loss this season, matching last season’s number of losses throughout 38 games.

After the dispiriting derby day performance from City, the defending champions stand at 32 points after 16 bouts, the lowest point haul for Guardiola in his 11-year top-flight management career.

No team in league history has overcome a 14-point deficit. Since late October, City are yet to record a clean sheet, an apparent issue that Walker believes he and the rest of the team’s defenders need to address in order to return to old ways.

“Us as defenders need to hold our hands up,” he said. “We need to keep clean sheets and strikers maybe need to put more away. They had a game plan and it worked. They have quick players in quick areas and they are going to hurt you on the counter. Credit where credit is due, they stepped up today. Fair play.”

WATCH: Luis Suarez delivers one-of-a-kind back-heel goal

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At 32 years of age and with a 15-year career behind him, Luis Suarez has scored some emphatic goals.

On Saturday, however, he painted a fine piece of art, a goal that became an instant classic the moment the ball came off of his backheel. With Barcelona already up 3-1 against RCD Mallorca, Ernesto Valverde’s men continued to push forward, comfortably and strategically ping-ponging the ball around the defensive-oriented visitors.

And then Frenkie de Jong found the ball at the top of the box.

The Dutch international smoothly placed a through ball, finding Suarez, who with precision and expertise that only he has, belted the ball into the bottom-right corner of Manolo Reina’s goal.

It’s only December, but the Uruguayan’s goal is an automatic La Liga goal of the season contender: