Gareth Bale

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La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

Madrid plays Atlético in Super Cup final in Saudi Arabia

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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The Spanish capital’s two soccer powerhouses will face off on Sunday thousands of kilometers from Madrid in the final of the new-look Spanish Super Cup.

Real Madrid plays Atletico Madrid in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to decide the winner of the first edition of a revamped tournament.

The Spanish federation expanded the competition to four teams – instead of two – and moved it from the start of the season to its midpoint. The federation was not deterred by human rights activists and European football’s governing body who criticized it for taking the mini-competition to Saudi Arabia on a three-year deal reportedly worth 120 million euros ($134 million).

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin had recommended for European soccer teams not to play in countries “where the basic rights of women are not respected.”

Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales has tried to deflect the criticism by highlighting that opening the games to women spectators was part of the deal to play in the country.

Coach Ernesto Valverde, whose Barcelona team was beaten by Atletico 3-2 in Thursday’s semifinal, has publicly said that the games are about making more money.

Amnesty International organized a small peaceful protest in front of the Saudi Arabia embassy in Madrid on Wednesday to call for the release of women activists who have been fighting for their rights in Saudi Arabia.

On the field, and despite the limited interest the games have drawn back in Spain, the semifinals offered some exciting contests. Madrid showed off the quality of its midfielders to overcome injuries to its forwards in a 3-1 win over Valencia on Wednesday, while Atletico stunned Barcelona with two late goals.

Traditionally the Super Cup was the league vs. cup winner. Barcelona won last season’s Liga, while Valencia claimed the Copa del Rey.

Madrid will still be without the injured Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard. Against Valencia, manager Zinedine Zidane successfully experimented with a line-up loaded with five midfielders, and three of them- Toni Kroos, Francisco “Isco” Alarcon and Luka Modric – found the net.

Zidane, however, was tight-lipped over whether he would repeat the formula against Atletico at the King Abdullah stadium.

“I am not going to tell you how we are going to play,” Zidane said Friday. “The important thing is that we play on the attack, not with a certain scheme. The important thing is to have a balanced side.”

This will be the third time the crosstown rivals have met since the end of last season. Atletico embarrassed Madrid 7-3 in a preseason game in the United States in July. They then drew 0-0 at Atletico’s stadium in a Spanish league match in September.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone said that his two most in-form players, goalkeeper Jan Oblak and forward Angel Correa, have recovered from knocks they received against Barcelona. Oblak made several saves to keep his team alive against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona until Alvaro Morata and Correa struck to flip the score.

“Madrid is a team that we know very well,” Simeone said. “They transmit the sensation that they have to win, and then they do so. We are both teams that are extremely motivated to win this cup and we will both use all our weapons to win this game.”

Zidane’s experiment pays off

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MADRID — Without some of his best forwards, Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane trusted his midfielders to get the job done.

Zidane used five players in the midfield to make up for the absence of forwards Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup against Valencia on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, and it paid off handsomely.

Madrid had one of its best games of the season, cruising to a 3-1 victory and advancing to Sunday’s final against either Barcelona or Atletico Madrid.

Zidane used newly arrived Luka Jovic as the lone striker up front. Instead of adding forwards Lucas Vazquez, Rodrygo or Vinicius Junior on the flanks, he packed the midfield with Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde and Casemiro.

Kroos, Isco and Modric each scored to give Madrid the comfortable victory at King Abdullah Sports City.

“We always like to try new things,” Zidane said. “We could have used two forwards, but we decided to bring Isco and Modric toward the middle and give more space to the fullbacks. It’s an attacking-minded lineup. The important thing is that we pressured our opponent on its field. We wanted to make things difficult for them from the start.”

The tight midfield kept Madrid in control throughout the match, dominating Valencia by constantly threatening in attack while not conceding much ground defensively. Madrid ended with more than 60% of ball possession and exchanged a team season-high 798 passes.

“We were in control,” Casemiro said. “It was an experiment to play with five midfielders and we showed that it can be done.”

Zidane said the good performance against Valencia does not guarantee he will use the same formation again.

“It was the choice today, but we may change things again for the next match,” Zidane said. “We need to get some rest before we start preparing for the final.”

Benzema, Madrid’s leading scorer with 16 goals in all competitions, didn’t make the trip to Saudi Arabia because of a left hamstring injury, while Bale stayed home because of a throat infection. Hazard has been nursing an ankle injury since last year.

The Spanish Super Cup is being played in a “Final Four” format for the first time. Previously, only the Spanish league winner and the Copa del Rey champion participated. Madrid made it this year as the third-place finisher in the league after Spanish champion Barcelona lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final.

Madrid is seeking its eighth Spanish Super Cup title. Barcelona is the competition’s most successful club with 10.

Spoils split in dud El Clasico

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The first El Clasico of the season was a relative dud, though Real Madrid made another statement of strong defense in a 0-0 draw with Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

Barca dropped points at home for the first time this season, but maintains its table edge on goal differential. All La Liga sides have now played 17 matches, with Barca and Real five points clear of third place Sevilla.

The visitors out shot Barcelona 17-9, and had 46 percent of the ball on the day.

[ MORE: Dest scores beauty for Ajax ]

Zinedine Zidane’s suddenly stingy defense kept Barca out of the box for much of the game. Real has only allowed 12 goals in 17 La Liga matches this season after allowing 46 in 38 last campaign.

Barca produced the only big chances of the match aside from an offside Gareth Bale goal, but had little aside from Lionel Messi.

The Argentine great completed a remarkable 8 of 9 dribbles but missed a scoring chance. Luis Suarez was quite poor in the draw, Antoine Griezmann slightly better in his Clasico debut.

Real’s tactics became more and more reliant on the counter attack as the game wore on, and Gareth Bale ripped a shot off the outside netting in the 68th.

Bale had the ball in the back of the goal in the 72nd, but was whistled offside.

The jailing of nine Catalan separatists caused an initial postponement of the match, and perhaps the midweek legs cost both teams some class.

The match was originally scheduled for Oct. 26, and La Liga officials were so angry at the move of a marquee television match to midweek that they appealed to the courts.

STANDINGS

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 17 11 3 3 43 20 23 7-1-0 4-2-3 36
 Real Madrid 17 10 6 1 33 12 21 6-2-0 4-4-1 36
 Sevilla 17 9 4 4 21 17 4 4-2-2 5-2-2 31
 Getafe 17 8 6 3 26 16 10 5-3-1 3-3-2 30
 Atlético Madrid 17 7 8 2 18 10 8 5-3-1 2-5-1 29
 Real Sociedad 17 8 4 5 28 20 8 4-2-2 4-2-3 28
 Athletic Club 17 7 6 4 19 12 7 6-2-1 1-4-3 27
 València 17 7 6 4 27 24 3 4-5-0 3-1-4 27
 Granada 17 7 3 7 24 22 2 5-1-3 2-2-4 24
 Osasuna 17 5 8 4 22 20 2 3-4-1 2-4-3 23
 Levante 17 7 2 8 22 26 -4 4-2-2 3-0-6 23
 Betis 17 6 5 6 24 29 -5 5-2-2 1-3-4 23
 Villarreal 17 6 4 7 30 25 5 3-4-1 3-0-6 22
 Alavés 17 5 4 8 18 24 -6 4-3-2 1-1-6 19
 Valladolid 17 4 7 6 14 20 -6 2-4-1 2-3-5 19
 Eibar 17 4 4 9 15 28 -13 3-0-5 1-4-4 16
 Mallorca 17 4 3 10 18 30 -12 4-2-3 0-1-7 15
 Celta Vigo 17 3 5 9 14 25 -11 2-3-4 1-2-5 14
 Leganés 17 2 4 11 12 28 -16 2-1-6 0-3-5 10
 Espanyol 17 2 4 11 12 32 -20 0-2-7 2-2-4 10

UCL wrap: 4-goal Lewandowski just unfair; PSG comes back at Real

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Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester City joined Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Juventus in the knockout rounds at the conclusion of Tuesday’s action in the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAPS: Man City-Shakhtar | Spurs-Olympiacos ]

Paulo Dybala scored a gorgeous goal, PSG erases a 2-goal Real Madrid lead in 3 minutes, and Robert Lewandowski is currently the best center forward on Earth.

Read on…


Red Star 0-6 Robert Lewandowski Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski only had an assist in Bundesliga play this weekend, so you kinda figured something special was headed to Serbia.

Red Star Belgrade trailed 1-0 at the break when the powerful Polish forward took control with a haul of four goals (Corentin Tolisso scored the sixth marker).

This man is insane. It takes a lot to put up a UEFA Team of the Year worthy performance in a world with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Kylian Mbappe (Lewandowski has never claimed a First Team spot), but look at these numbers in all competitions:

20 matches
27 goals
1 assist

So selfish. Ten of those goals have come in five UCL matches, as he’s scored multiple times against every team in the group.

Real Madrid 2-2 Paris Saint-Germain

A thriller here, with controversy to boot.

Karim Benzema completed a brace in the 79th minute to put the hosts, seemingly, in control of the match.

Unfortunately for the Bernabeu, it was just cruise control and PSG tapped the brakes via two goals in four minutes.

Kylian Mbappe — who else? — made it 2-1 in the 81st and Pablo Sarabia scored an incredible strike in the 83rd. Gareth Bale smashed the post with a gorgeous free kick in stoppage time, and the game ended at 2.

It could’ve been much worse for Real despite the blown 2-goal lead, as a red card to Thibaut Courtois was removed via VAR due to a touchy foul on Idrissa Gana Gueye in the build-up.

Juventus 2-0 Atletico Madrid

It takes a lot to break down a Diego Simeone defense. This, however, will do the trick. Paulo, Paulo, Paulo Dybala had himself a moment on a day.

Too hot for the keeper’s hands, apparently:

Galatasaray 1-1 Club Brugge

Amazing stuff at the end, and not just because Krepin Diatta scored a point-winning equalizer in the second minute of stoppage. Diatta was shown a second yellow card for taking off his shirt, while teammate Clinton Mata was shown a second yellow as well for snapping the corner flag pole with a celebration.

WATCH that here.

Elsewhere

Atalanta 2-0 Dinamo Zagreb
Lokomotiv Moscow 0-2 Bayer Leverkusen