Iago Aspas

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Messi scores 1st goal of season as Barca beats Sevilla 4-0

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BARCELONA, Spain — Lionel Messi has ended his mini-scoring drought as Barcelona finds its winning stride.

Messi curled a left-footed free kick over the wall and into the net for his first goal of the season to wrap up Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Sevilla in the Spanish league on Sunday.

The soccer great thrust his finger in the air before pumping his fist in celebration after scoring in the 78th minute. Messi had gone scoreless in his previous four appearances after being sidelined for five games with injuries.

Messi’s 37th goal in 38 career meetings with Sevilla was also his first since he won his record sixth FIFA player of the year award last month.

“We know how important Leo is for this team and what he means to us,” Barcelona midfielder Arturo Vidal said. “If he is playing well it helps us a lot.”

Luis Suarez put Barcelona on the winning path for a second time this week after netting with a bicycle kick in the 27th despite Sevilla having dominated the game before then. On Wednesday, the Uruguay striker had sparked a 2-1 comeback over Inter Milan in the Champions League with a superb volley before he added a fine second goal.

Vidal and Ousmane Dembele added two more goals against Sevilla in the next 10 minutes to turn what had been a tightly contested start into a demolition.

After a stuttering start to the season while Messi was out injured, Barcelona’s fourth straight victory in all competitions lifted it into second place and two points behind leader Real Madrid. Barcelona will host Madrid on Oct. 26.

Atletico Madrid slipped to third – one point behind Barcelona – after being held 0-0 at Valladolid, its third scoreless draw in four rounds.

“It was a complicated match and the score by halftime was a bit exaggerated,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We had more firepower than they did. After scoring the first goal we created danger practically every time we reached their area.”

Barcelona finished with nine men after referee Mateu Lahoz sent off Ronald Araujo on his debut after making contact with Sevilla’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez with only the Barcelona goalkeeper to beat. Replays showed minor contact between the two players.

Demebele was then shown a direct red, for criticizing Lahoz’s decision by saying he was “very bad.”

NIGHT TO FORGET

The last time Sevilla coach Julen Lopetegui came to Camp Nou, his Real Madrid team had been routed 5-1. He was fired a day later.

One year later, Lopetegui must have been at a loss to see his team trailing 3-0 at halftime after it had outplayed Barcelona in the first 25 minutes, largely thanks to Lucas Ocampos’ powerful runs down the right flank and on-target passes.

Sevilla’s Luuk De Jong, however, had a night to forget. After goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made an excellent save against his point-blank shot off a pass by Ocampos, the striker had three glaring misses.

Lopetegui looked on in disbelief when De Jong’s header off another Ocampos cross failed to go in – a minute before Suarez whipped in Nelson Semedo’s cross at the other end.

De Jong’s bad Fortune continued after halftime when he stole the ball to leave himself in a perfect position, only to hit the post. He has yet to score since joining Sevilla in the offseason.

“It was a painful and undeserved loss,” Lopetegui said. “We were missing our finishing touch. De Jong did a lot of things very well, just as the team did, but to win at Camp Nou you have to play well and have a bit of luck.”

TOOTHLESS ATTACK

Atletico’s three-prong attack of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata wasn’t able to unsettle the modest Valladolid.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone sent on Angel Correa and Thomas Lemar for Felix and Morata, but they only slightly improved the attack. Atletico’s best scoring chance came in the 82nd when substitute Correa hit the upright.

Valladolid striker Sandor Ramirez squandered his side’s only good opportunity in the first half when he sent a penalty kick, that he had earned, high over the crossbar.

“It was very hard game, they play very well as a tight unit,” Simeone said. “(It was) a game that ended in a draw that we didn’t want, but we gave it our all.”

OTHER GAMES

Getafe fought back once Real Sociedad was reduced to 10 men to win 2-1 in San Sebastian, leaving Sociedad in fifth place just ahead of Sevilla.

Iago Aspas broke his seven-game scoring drought and gave Celta Vigo a 1-0 win over Athletic Bibao.

Espanyol fell second to last after losing 2-0 at Mallorca.

La Liga: Barcelona draws nearer to title, Celta Vigo runs from relegation

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Barcelona remained nine points clear at the top of the La Liga table with five matches remaining thanks to a 2-1 home win over Real Sociedad.

Clement Lenglet beat his mark Mikel Merino in the air, scoring a header off a corner just before halftime to put Barcelona up, and after Real Sociedad leveled things up just after the hour mark, Jordi Alba was on hand to restore the lead with a right-footed blast low past Geronimo Rulli who reacted late on the shot through traffic.

Down the other end of the table, Celta Vigo earned a critical win in the relegation battle, knocking off Girona 2-1 on a 69th minute winner by former Southampton attacker Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan international worked a tiny bit of space before delivering a fabulous curler that tucked in the far corner. That proved the difference after Iago Aspas and Portu had cancelled each other out on either side of the break. The win allowed Celta to rise up to 14th, three points above the drop with a crowded group below them.

Atletico Madrid extended its lead in second place with a 1-0 win over Eibar, needing an 85th minute breakaway goal by Thomas Lemar to seal the deal. That pushed them seven points ahead of Real Madrid, with Los Blancos still set to play on Sunday. It also saw Atletico keep pace with Barcelona, although it would take a massive collapse down the stretch by the leaders for Atletico to have a shot at the title.

Finally, Rayo Vallecano drew nearer to relegation with a 0-0 draw against Huesca at home, leaving them four points back of 18th placed Real Valladolid and five shy of safety. Rayo could only muster three shots on target of the 16 efforts they ripped off, failing to create many truly big chances.

Sterling leads England to 3-2 Nations League win over Spain

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Raheem Sterling has heard the criticism that he can’t finish chances, and he has responded. On the field, that is.

Behind a double from Sterling, England toppled Spain 3-2 with a vicious counter-attack that juxtaposed Spain’s sleepy, wasteful attack on Monday in Sevilla. The match marked the first time that Spain has ever conceded three or more goals in a competitive home match.

The Manchester City winger was the first on the scoresheet just 18 minutes in as England flowed forward on a counter-attack and with the two-on-three break, Marcus Rashford delivered a beautiful feed to Sterling who blasted his effort past a statue-like David De Gea. The break was actually started way back with Jordan Pickford, who touched past a charging defender and delivered an absolute bullet of a pass to Harry Kane just before the midfield stripe.

Spain dominated possession throughout the match, but they suffered from similar ills as this summer’s World Cup, unable to produce enough dangerous moments and embarrassing failures at the back. England, on the other hand, was happy to sit back and pick its spots on the break, and they were clinical when given the chance.

Marco Asensio skied a shot over the bar in the 18th minute, and Spain would rue its wastefulness as England would double its lead on the half-hour mark. Rashford was the one to finish it off on the counter this time, taking a pinpoint feed from Kane and volleying the bouncing ball into the back of the net after leaking behind the defense and beating Jonny to the spot.

Sterling would grab England’s third before halftime as England would display a bit of venomous half-court play. Kieran Trippier did the heavy lifting with a brilliant chip over the Spanish back line, finding Kane who had snuck behind Sergio Ramos and slid to meet the ball, tapping in front of net for Sterling who finished from the doorstep with ease.

Spain held a whopping 77% of the possession in the first half, but could only muster two shots on target out of 10 total efforts. In the second half, the pressure would finally pay off as the white-hot Paco Alcacer picked up a consolation on a corner in the 58th minute, heading in the goal on his first touch after coming off the bench to replace Iago Aspas. Alcacer has become an ultimate super-sub this season, scoring 10 goals for club and country in just 277 total minutes.

The home fans were livid when a penalty was not given as Jordan Pickford grappled with Rodrigo before completing a tackle in the 63rd minute, but only a corner was given. Spain pushed harder as the second half wore on, and Alcacer came close to a second with five minutes left as he struck a shot against his own man.

Spain bagged a second in the 97th minute with literally the final kick of the match, as Marco Asencio crashed a shot against the bar, and while Nathan Chalobah on his England debut cleared momentarily, it was sent back in by Dani Ceballos to the head of a diving Sergio Ramos. There was no more time for an equalizer, however, as the referee brought the game to an end even before the ensuing kickoff.

The competitive home loss is the first for Spain in 15 years, and it means England moves ahead of Spain to the top of Nations League League A Group 4 by a one-point margin.

La Liga: One half of Madrid is happy, the other is not

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

[ MORE: Serie A: Cristiano Ronaldo still scoreless, but Juventus still perfect ]

Real Madrid 4-1 Leganes

Julen Lopetegui’s Real Madrid improved to a perfect 3-for-3 record on the season with a mostly comfortable victory over Leganes at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Gareth Bale scored his third goal in as many games to put Los Blancos ahead after just 17 minutes before Guido Carillo converted from the penalty spot to pull the visitors back to level terms in the 24th. The score would remain 1-1 until halftime, but not much longer than that.

Karim Benzema bagged a 13-minute brace — heading home the first in the 48th minute, and finishing off a clever one-two with Luka Modric in the 61st — that would prove to be the difference on the day. Sergio Ramos added the fourth, from the penalty spot, in the 66th minute.

Video review was required to confirm Benzema’s first goal, and while it’s a bit of a buzzkill with regard to post-goal celebrations, Ramos feels it’s a necessary sacrifice for the good of the game.

“It is true that the goal celebration is somewhat muted (after the wait), but I have always said that I am in favor of , because it was a goal that had been disallowed,” he said after the game. “I am sure that one day it will be our turn to be on the other end of things, but it is positive.”

Celta Vigo 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Saturday wasn’t so joyous for the other half of Madrid, as 10-man Atleti suffered a 2-0 defeat away to Celta. The game was well and truly in hand before Stefan Savic’s 70th-minute red card, though, as Maxi Gomez and Iago Aspas hit Los Rojiblancos for a goal each during the first seven minutes of the second half.

Atleti boss Diego Simeone doesn’t see the result as a reason to panic, but more of a wake-up call so early in the season. He also shoulders the blame for his side’s poor start to the second half.

“It is a good wake-up call. Above all for me,” he said after the game. “I am responsible for our start to the second half because the second half depends a lot on what the manager says at halftime.”

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Valencia — 6 a.m. ET
Alaves vs. Espanyol — 10:15 a.m. ET
Barcelona vs. Huesca — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Sevilla — 2:45 p.m. ET

Akinfeev: Russia ‘not trying to hide’ playing for PKs

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Igor Akinfeev’s nine-save performance over 120 minutes took the next step in penalty kicks.

[ RECAP: Spain 1-1 (3-4 PKs) Russia ]

The Russian goalkeeper 32 stopped Isco’s third attempt and then made a terrific leg save on Iago Aspas‘ final effort as Russia knocked Spain out of the World Cup.

Here’s what he said on FOX’s broadcast, through an interpreter:

“I’m exhausted because you saw that practically for the whole second half and 30 extra minutes, we just defended and tried to get them away from our goal. We weren’t trying to hide it.”