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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

Mourinho slams “very bad” VAR decisions

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Jose Mourinho was not happy with the VAR decisions as Tottenham drew 0-0 away at Watford on Saturday.

Spurs had Paulo Gazzaniga to thank for grabbing a point at Vicarage Road as he saved Troy Deeney‘s second half penalty kick in a feisty encounter in Hertfordshire.

Speaking to BT Sport after the game, Mourinho hit out at VAR as he was asked about Ignacio Pussetto clearing the ball off the line in stoppage time as it seemed like Tottenham would clinch all three points.

“I know it was only a couple of millimetres but goal-line technology does not make mistakes like VAR. We have to accept it was not a goal,” Mourinho said. “I talk about Tottenham’s performance separate from refereeing and VAR decisions because I prefer not to comment. I leave the VAR decisions to the pundits. Gazza did a job for us and it’s an important save. I think we deserve to win this match. To lose would have been too harsh on the boys.”

So, what did Mourinho really think about VAR?

Grab your popcorn.

“They did not discuss that one that should have been a penalty and then they looked at one that was clearly not,” Mourinho said. “That’s also alongside the red cards that should have been. Very bad decisions. I love goal-line technology, I respect that.”

There were certainly some feisty tackles coming in from the likes of Doucoure and Capoue in central midfield with Japhet Tanganga caught late by Doucoure and VAR was used but no red card, or even a yellow, was shown, which would have seen the Frenchman sent off soon after as he picked up a quick yellow for another poor challenge.

Lucas Moura and Spurs wanted a penalty kick in the first half for a handball by Craig Cathcart in the penalty box and with a penalty given against Jan Vertonghen in a similar situation, you could argue that Mourinho was correct. However, Cathcart was a lot closer to the ball than Vertonghen was and had little time to react and his arm was in a natural position.

The big takeaway here: Mourinho clearly doesn’t like VAR.

With Spurs eight points off the top four, and potentially more than that after their rivals play this weekend, it appears Mourinho is now more focused on slamming officials and decisions against his team rather than their top four hopes.

It’s good to have the real Mourinho back.

Watch Live: Six Premier League games at 10am

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Six Premier League games are live at 10 a.m. ET with Arsenal and Man City in action, and you can watch every single game live online as some huge clashes are set up across the table.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Southampton host Wolves, Aston Villa travel to Brighton, Man City host Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Norwich square off in a relegation six-pointer, West Ham host Everton and Sheffield United travel to Arsenal.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for the six games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Arsenal v. Sheffield United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Aston Villa – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Man City v. Crystal Palace – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Norwich v. Bournemouth – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton v. Wolves – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Ham v. Everton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

Watford, Tottenham in stalemate

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Watford and Tottenham Hotspur drew 0-0 at Vicarage Road on Saturday as Paulo Gazzaniga saved Troy Deeney‘s penalty kick.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Both teams had big chances to win it in a scrappy, feisty game but Nigel Pearson and Jose Mourinho both seemed fairly happy with a point at the final whistle.

With the point Watford move two points clear of the relegation zone on 23 points, while Spurs are eight points off the top four.


3 things we learned

1. Spurs not able without Kane: Tottenham didn’t muster a shot on target in the second half and they lacked cutting edge in attack. There were plenty of nice touches from Lamela, Dele Alli and Son but you didn’t feel like a goal was inevitable when they attacked. That is because Harry Kane is out injured and Spurs have now gone three Premier League games without a goal and Kane has missed two and a bit of those. That is no coincidence. Mourinho will now be knocking on Daniel Levy’s door to bring in a new striker in January to bolster his lackluster attack.

2. Watford steady but miss big chance: They are unbeaten in their last six games in the Premier League, the first time they’ve ever done that, but Pearson and Watford will be feeling a little miffed they didn’t make it four wins on the trot. Deeney’s missed penalty kick was the big moment but Watford hung in there, battled hard and although they didn’t create too many clear cut chances, they looked solid and steady. Watford play Villa, Everton and Brighton in their next three ahead of a really tough run of games so they need to get points on the board as quick as they can while they’re in this good form.

3. Tottenham’s defense still shaky: Don’t let the clean sheet fool you. Tottenham were still all over the place at the back. Vertonghen gave away a penalty kick, Alderweireld was bullied by Deeney and their full backs had a tough time locking down Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu. With Kane out and goals hard to come by Mourinho will need to rely on his defense to keep plenty of clean sheets if they’re going to have any chance of finishing in the top four or going deep in the Champions League. He won’t be holding his breath.

Man of the Match: Ismaila Sarr – Could be a big blow for for Watford as he seemed to pull his hamstring late on, as the Senegal winger gave Tanganga a torrid outing. His pace, power and clever passing and crosses caused Tottenham problems.


Early on Lucas Moura called for a penalty kick for a handball on Craig Cathcart but played continued and Gerard Deulofeu broke free but his shot was just wide.

Spurs started brightly and looked dangerous through Son but Watford were also a threat on the counter once they got going as Ismaila Sarr blazed over from a good position.

Son’s deflected shot was well saved by Foster and the game turned into an edgy, disjointed affair with plenty of yellow cards dished out.

Dele Alli then did brilliant to play in Moura but Foster saved well as Tottenham’s front four were looking bright and interchanging well as Son smashed a shot over.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Both teams had big chances after the break as Doucoure was played in by Sarr but couldn’t convert, then Dele Alli nodded Son’s superb cross over the bar. Troy Deeney’s shot was deflected wide as the game turned into an open encounter.

Given the touchy nature of the game it was inevitable a melee would break out at one point as Doucoure and Winks were both booked for their part in a large scuffle between both sets of players.

Son then raced clear but smashed over the bar from a tight angle but Watford then passed up a glorious chance to go ahead. Jan Vertonghen was booked for a handball when blocking Gerard Deulofeu’s shot and after a VAR check confirmed the penalty kick, Gazzaniga saved Deeney’s spot kick to keep the scores level.

Sarr pulled up injured which will be a big worry for Watford but Ignacio Pussetto came on to make his Premier League debut and made a big contribution.

Late on Spurs created a couple of half chances as Lamela couldn’t bundle the ball over the line twice, with Pussetto the hero as he cleared, as Watford held on for a point.

Klopp hits out at Man United’s style of play

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Liverpool host Manchester United this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Premier League leaders welcome their bitter rivals to Anfield.

This will be feisty, on and off the pitch, as United hope to put a spanner in the works of Liverpool’s procession towards the 2019-20 Premier League title.

These comments from Jurgen Klopp about Man United’s counter-attacking style of play could spice things up in the dugout too.

“It’s strange when you play against a high, high quality team as United still are, and they play the way they play,” Klopp said. “It makes life really difficult. We had it with Tottenham. That’s not normal, how can you expect that? On the other side the counter attacks are of the highest level in the world.

“I don’t say they only counter attack but it’s a main thing they do. People may want to see that as criticism, it’s not, but it’s just a description of the situation that makes life for us more difficult.”

With Liverpool 14 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, now is a good time for Klopp to tell other teams how they should be playing. That is what he is doing here.

Liverpool’s style is absorbing and easy on the eye. Their high-pressing and speedy attack sees them swarm over teams and totally involve their fans and it is fun to watch. Man United this weekend, and Spurs last weekend, know they can’t match Liverpool’s well-oiled, blood and thunder machine so they sit back and counter. And that can be almost as exciting when it’s right.

Can you blame opposing teams for playing this way against Liverpool? No. But what Klopp is trying to do here is suggest that the quality of players United and Spurs possess means they should be more ambitious and on the front foot rather than playing on the counter. What a rascal.

Klopp isn’t quite stirring things up but from a position of strength he is lending his view on the tactics of other teams and what he would do if he was in charge of them.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won’t change his plan against Liverpool. Everybody wants to play like Liverpool but Man United have a different style and that worked well to nullify Liverpool’s threat in their 1-1 draw at Old Trafford earlier this season. With Marcus Rashford a major doubt that will be tough to replicate on Sunday but as Klopp’s Liverpool go all out for the win, United will happy to sit back and counter.