Eden Hazard

Getty Images

La Liga roundup: Barcelona fall to Levante; Real Madrid held to draw

Leave a comment

Barcelona’s collapse in Levante and Real Madrid draw at home highlight La Liga’s Saturday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Levante 3-1 Barcelona

In seven minutes, Barcelona conceded three goals, all of which came in the second half and handed the league leaders a 3-1 loss against Levante.

The collapse was so palpable that manager Ernesto Valverde couldn’t avoid the fire. The 55-year-old was asked a handful of questions regarding his future with the club. As expected, he didn’t hesitate to defend his job security, stating that Saturday’s loss was like any other.

It wasn’t, though.

Very rare are the times that Barcelona blackouts for consecutive minutes in a game, which was certainly the case on Saturday.

Lionel Messi converted from 12 yards out in the 38th minute, putting the better team ahead minutes before the first half culminated. But just shortly after both sides settled for the final 45 minutes, Levante pounced on a halfhearted Barcelona.

The first, a composed, right-foot finish from Jose Campañi, opened the floodgates. Two minutes later, an old foe, ex-Real Madrid forward Borja Mayoral, put the home side ahead. Five minutes after the second fell, when an opportunistic Nemanja Radoja’s left-footed volley took a deflection from Sergio Busquets and into the back of the net.

With draws from Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, Barcelona remain atop of the league. But the pressure is on, and being tied with Real Madrid with 22 points after 11 games doesn’t help, that’s for sure.

The defending champions look to regain some confidence as they host Slavia Praha in Champions League play midweek, while Levante hope to carry their momentum to the Basque Country as they take on Athletic Bilbao.

Real Madrid 0-0 Real Betis

With the opportunity to surpass league leaders Barcelona, Real Madrid were held to a draw by Real Betis after several close calls (and some controversy).

A spectacular goal from Eden Hazard was called back by VAR. When Los Blancos turned to the officials for a suspicious handball from Zouhair Feddal, the appeal felt short.

Sergio Ramos, who ruled Saturday’s draw as “bittersweet,” had a clear shot on target, only for it to be blocked by Betis’ Joel Robles. More chances appeared for Zinedine Zidane, specifically Ferland Mendy in the dying minutes of the game. The Frenchman’s shot went just wide of Betis’ goal, however.

Tied with Barcelona and only a point ahead of archival Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid host Turkish giants Galatasaray midweek in Champions League competition. Betis, who are slowly but surely building back from a tough start, host Sevilla in the Seville derby.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sevilla 1-1 Atletico Madrid

Espanyol 1-2 Valencia

2019 Ballon d’Or 30-man shortlist released

Getty Images
2 Comments

The first 30 names for the 2019 Ballon d’Or have been released. There are some usuals, there are some surprises, and there are some head-scratchers.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both headline the list as expected, as the two share eleven previous awards between them. Behind them are young stars Kylian Mbappe, Frenkie de Jong, and Matthijs de Ligt, with the latter two having made the Champions League semifinals with Ajax. Another pair of Ajax players also make an appearance as Donny van de Beek and Dusan Tadic impressed in that European run.

The goalkeepers on the list are somewhat contentious. Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson rightly appears, having led the Reds to new heights since joining in the summer of 2017. Tottenham netminder Hugo Lloris also shows up, a curious selection given his down form for Spurs the last two or three years. In fact, Lloris has made the most errors leading directly to goals of any Premier League player in the past three seasons, according to Opta. Alongside those two is Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen who has locked down the starting spot at the Camp Nou each of the last four years.

Other Premier League players on the list include whopping six more Liverpool players in Mohamed Salah, Virgil Van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, Roberto Firmino, and Trent Alexander-Arnold plus Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Manchester City’s five attackers in Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, and Riyad Mahrez.

The most glaring absentee left off the list is Paris Saint-Germain attacker Neymar, who spent much of the year injured or suspended but when on the field put up video game numbers. Considering that France Football hands out the award, his exclusion seems to have a hint of troll to it. Luka Modric, the reigning winner, was also left off the list after struggling over the past year with Real Madrid. Others left off include Paul Pogba, Harry Kane, and N’Golo Kante.

The names on the list seem to heavily favor last year’s Champions League. Players like Tadic, Wijnaldum, and Lloris, for example, are excellent players but would be difficult to argue they deserve a spot in the top 30 players in the world. Meanwhile, players like Neymar, Kane, Lautaro Martinez, Sergio Ramos, Joshua Kimmich, Miralem Pjanic, Angel di Maria, Raul Jimenez, and countless others who either departed the competition early or didn’t appear altogether were an afterthought.

The winner will be announced December 2.

Full 30-man shortlist
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)
Dusan Tadic (Ajax)
Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona)
Sergio Aguero (Man City)
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool)
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona)
Kylian Mbappe (PSG)
Donny van de Beek (Ajax)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus)
Alisson (Liverpool)
Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)
Heung-Min Son (Tottenham)
Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Bernardo Silva (Man City)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
Riyad Mahrez (Man City)
Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli)
Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona)
Raheem Sterling (Man City)
Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
Marquinhos (PSG)
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)

Early Euro qualifiers: Belgium, Netherlands, Russia all win

Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the early slate of Sunday’s Euro 2020 qualifiers, there were little surprises as Belgium, Russia, Hungary, the Netherlands, and Scotland all found the winner’s column.

Liverpool midfielder Giorginio Wijnaldum bagged a first-half brace, including an absolute rocket, as the Netherlands held on for a 2-1 win over Belarus. BATE Borisov midfielder Stanislav Dragun grabbed one back for Belarus soon after halftime, but the visitors held on in Minsk.

[ WATCH: Wijnaldum scores ripper for Netherlands ]

Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt partnered in defense yet again, as they have for 17 of the last 19 Netherlands games, conceding just 17 goals in those 17 matches. Thanks in part to that stellar partnership, Jasper Cillessen had little to do, with Dragun’s headed goal the only shot on target for Belarus in the match, while the Netherlands put seven of their 21 shots on frame.

Michy Batshuayi and Thomas Meunier both found the back of the net as Belgium topped Kazakhstan 2-0 in Astana to remain perfect in qualifying action and keep pace with Russia in Group I. Batshuayi was filling in for an injured Romelu Lukaku, and he latched onto a low back-post cross from Dennis Praet for the opener 21 minutes in. Meunier’s 53rd minute poke came off an absolutely stunning long delivery from Eden Hazard to the far post placed perfectly over the head of the defender. Belgium held 66% possession throughout the match, and while they were only able to put three shots on target, they scored on two of them and held the hosts to just one. Belgium has now scored 30 goals in Euro qualification while conceding just one.

Russia also continued to surge ahead in Group I play one game back of Belgium with a 5-0 demolition of Cyprus in Nicosia. Denis Cheryshev struck nine minutes in to put Russia ahead as he pilfered the ball off the Cyprus back line. The hosts lost Standard Liege defender Konstantinos Laifis to a straight red card, and the rest was elementary. Magomed Ozdoev, Artem Dzyuba, and Aleksandr Golovin all found the back of the net before Cheryshev finished it off with his second of the game in stoppage time. Russia and Belgium have both qualified for the finals, with Russia sitting in second three points behind the perfect group leaders.

Hungary scored 10 minutes in and hung on for a 1-0 victory at home over Azerbaijan. 30-year-old Mihaly Korhut struck a long-distance ripper from well outside the box that appeared to catch goalkeeper Emil Balayev off guard, and the Hungary defense did the rest. RB Leipzig captain Willi Orban and Sporting Kansas City defender Botond Barath held Azerbaijan to just four total shots, including two on target. Meanwhile, despite splitting the possession nearly halfway, Hungary ripped off 23 shots, putting six on target.

Scotland hammered San Marino at home 6-0 behind a first-half hat-trick from Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn. In the pouring rain in Glasgow, McGinn opened the scoring 12 minutes in for his second international goal on a simple cutback and shot from Ryan Christie which clipped McGinn on its way inside the far post. He hit for a second just before the half-hour mark as he poked home a cross by Scott McTominay that was saved into no-man’s land by a diving San Marino goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini. The third featured the highest degree of difficulty as a set-piece delivery into the box was headed by Stuart Findlay towards the far post and McGinn ripped it home on the doorstep under pressure. Lawrence Shankland, Findlay, and Stuart Armstrong finished off the scoreline in the second half, although Scotland has still long been eliminated from qualification in the top-heavy Group I.

Euro 2020 qualifying roundup: Belgium qualifies

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Belgium became the first national team to qualify for the 2020 European Championships and boy did the Red Devils do it in style.

Belgium routed lowly San Marino, 9-0 at the Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels to ensure qualification. Romelu Lukaku scored a brace and assisted on another as Belgium was able to spread the goals around.

[READ: Tactical Analysis – How to Beat Man City]

Seven different players scored for Belgium, plus an own goal from San Marino’s Cristian Brolli. Even Eden Hazard, who set up a pair of goals, didn’t score himself before earning an early break in the 63rd minute.

Nacer Chadli, Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld, Leicester City’s Youri Tielemans, Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke, Yari Verschaeren, and Timothy Castagne all scored along with Lukaku.

Russia thrash Scotland

In what’s becoming the norm, Scotland again succumbed to a crushing defeat. This time it was to Russia, which beat Scotland, 4-0, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.

The Scotland centerback pairing of Liam Palmer and Charlie Mulgrew couldn’t deal with big Russian striker Artem Dzyuba, who finished with a brace. Magomed Ozdoev and Aleksandr Golovin both scored as well to put Scotland away.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s qualifying action.

Thursday’s EURO 2020 qualifying results

Group C

Belarus 0-0 Estonia

Netherlands 3-1 Northern Ireland

Group E

Croatia 3-0 Hungary

Slovakia 1-1 Wales

Group G

Austria 3-1 Israel

Latvia 0-3 Poland

North Macedonia 2-1 Slovenia

Group I

Kazakhstan 1-2 Cyprus

Belgium 9-0 San Marino

Russia 4-0 Scotland

Report: Chelsea linked with $230 million move for Neymar

Getty Images
2 Comments

Chelsea have been linked with a move for Neymar as soon as their transfer ban ends in the summer.

Spanish outlet Don Balon say the Blues want to sign Neymar for $230 million and after an entire year of not spending, Chelsea will certainly have some cash in the bank. But will they really have that much to spend?

Neymar, 27, wanted to leave Paris Saint-Germain this summer but his move to Barcelona or Real Madrid didn’t materialize and the Brazilian superstar is now lambasted by his own fans in the French capital.

It’s clear his move to PSG hasn’t quite worked out, as his main aim was to lead PSG to the UEFA Champions League title. That hasn’t happened and in his own words every PSG home game is now ‘like an away game’ as banners and chants against him are commonplace.

Would Frank Lampard and Chelsea want Neymar at Stamford Bridge?

There’s no doubting his sensational talent and his box office name will certainly generate plenty of extra income and cover a large chunk of the transfer fee and wages. However, Chelsea may struggle to fit in Neymar’s wage demands when it comes to financial fair play.

Per the report, it says that N’Golo Kante could be sold to Real Madrid to help finance the move for Neymar, which would not be popular among Chelsea fans. And even if you take the wages of Willian and Pedro out of the equation, both of whom could leave next summer, this would still take a huge financial package from owner Roman Abramovich. The fact Chelsea’s Russian owner is currently unable to be in the UK has seen spending diminish in recent seasons, but having a year of savings in the bank should help.

Neymar would give the Blues an x-factor and would be the replacement for Eden Hazard, but what would that mean for youngsters Tammy Abraham, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic and Mason Mount?

This doesn’t really fit in with Chelsea’s model of promoting youngsters, but that was probably only a short-term thing anyway as they had to deal with FIFA’s transfer ban.

With money in the bank, Chelsea could probably afford Neymar. But would bringing him to Stamford Bridge, and everything else that comes with signing him, be worth it?

On the pitch he will probably scored 25-30 goals per season and be a huge hit, but off the pitch it has often been another story.

Can we picture Neymar speeding down Chelsea’s Kings Road in his Ferrari after going for a Full English Breakfast on a Wednesday morning? The first part is definitely on brand…