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La Liga: Valencia strengthens European position, Valladolid takes massive late blow

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Valencia earned a massive three points in the race for a European place as they topped Levante 3-1 thanks to a brace from Santi Mina. The 23-year-old directed a pinpoint header inside the far post on just two minutes in to give Valencia the lead at home, and while the rest of the first half was uneventful, the second half began with excitement, especially for Valencia winger Carlos Soler.

The 22-year-old saw a Levante corner deflect off his foot and into the back of his own net to level the score 56 minutes in, then just a minute later he assisted Goncalo Guedes with a fabulous back-heel as the hosts went back in front.  Six minutes later, Soler was also involved in Valencia’s third as his shot from a tight angle was saved and fell right to Mina on the doorstep for a simple tap-in.

Real Valladolid was in position to pull themselves out of the relegation zone, leading Getafe 2-1 and up a man, but the visitors snatched a last-gasp draw as an Oscar Plano foul in the penalty area sent Jorge Molina to the spot in the 96th minute, and he buried the penalty to level the score at the death. The loss of two points is massive for the hosts as they now remain in 18th place, failing to climb out of the drop. All three points would have sent them above Celta Vigo into 17th in the table.

The game started with a bang, as Getafe’s Mauro Arambarri scored a wonderful strike from well outside the penalty area, a howitzer that found the top-left corner. The hosts came from behind to eventually take the lead, finding goals from Sergi Guardiola a half-hour in, followed by Enes Unal who put Valladolid in front on 64 minutes.

Athletic Club remained in the hunt for a European position as they topped 10-man Rayo Vallecano 3-2 behind a brace from Inaki Williams. The 24-year-old scored his 11th goal of the season just two minutes in to put the hosts up, followed by his second just five minutes after the halftime break to put Athletic back in front. Raul Garcia scored the eventual winner in the 72nd minute, able to hold off Rayo who pulled back within one as Raul de Tomas scored with five minutes to go.

Real Sociedad and Eibar played to a 1-1 draw on goals in the 1st minute and 85th minute bookending a weird one that featured total domination by Eibar, and yet they failed to do much of anything. Real Sociedad went in front right from the jump as Juanmi scored 11 seconds in, the fastest La Liga goal since 2014. That was essentially it for the hosts, who were peppered by 17 Eibar shots, but just two of those found the target. Marc Cardona should have scored in the 34th minute in the best chance for the visitors, but Joan Jordan was on hand with five minutes remaining to finally break the deadlock with an exquisite free-kick.

Villareal kept pace two points above the drop with a monumental 1-0 road win at Girona behind a seventh-minute strike from Samuel Chukwueze. The 19-year-old blistered down the field on a breakaway and finished calmly for the game’s only goal.

La Liga: Sevilla held, Alaves falls late, wild draw at Betis

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Sevilla is still second in the La Liga table, but they’re beginning to run out of room for error. Sevilla fell four points back of Barcelona after a 0-0 draw at Real Sociedad on Sunday.

The visitors were completely locked down at Anoeta Stadium, with just a single shot on target out of eight total efforts. Juanmi had the game’s only real big opportunity, but couldn’t cash in just six minutes after the opening whistle, and the two teams finished scoreless. Altogether, there were just two total shots on target between the two teams.

There is now a three-way tie behind Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table, with Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, and Alaves all on 20 points. The latter also fell to a disappointing result, as Alaves squandered an early 1-0 lead in a 2-1 derby loss to Eibar.

Manu Garcia scored just four minutes into the game, but after both teams had players see red, former Espanyol midfielder Joan Jordan equalized in the 69th minute before Pape Diop bagged the winner in the first minute of added time. It’s Diop’s first goal since 2016, serving as a bit-part player last season before earning a full-time role for this campaign.

The loss is just the third of the season for Alaves and their first in four league games. It left Alaves back in that three-way tie on 20 points, but back in fourth thanks to an inferior goal differential.

Real Betis and Celta Vigo finished even 3-3 after a crazy match that featured both teams clawing back from deficits. Betis went ahead 2-0 by the hour mark on goals from Lorenzo Moron and Junior Firpo, but Celta Vigo charged back to take a 3-2 lead thanks to a brace by 22-year-old Argentinian Maxi Gomez plus an additional from 21-year-old Brais Mendez. With the visitors taking the lead in the 84th minute, Betis would bring it back level once again just three minutes later as Sergio Canales delivered a fabulous free-kick that found the top-right corner. Aspas nearly won it moments later but put his shot off the post at the death. Both those teams still remain a point apart in the middle third of the table.

Villareal and Levante played to an entertaining 1-1 draw. The first half was scoreless, but each side had plenty of chances with each team combining for 36 shots. The home side treated the fans at Estadio de la Ceramica to a second half flurry, pushing for a winner, but they made it more difficult than need be. Argentinian defender Ramiro Funes Mori put the ball into his own net which put Villareal behind, and it wasn’t until the 93rd minute that Alfonso Pedraza burst down the left on the ball, charged into the box, and roofed the ball from a tight angle to salvage a point.

La Liga: Sociedad beats Deportivo to stay perfect, joint-top

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MADRID (AP) Real Sociedad has become the early surprise in the Spanish league, starting with a perfect record to join Barcelona at the top of the standings.

Sociedad scored twice early and twice late to defeat Deportivo La Coruna 4-2 on Sunday, becoming the only team other than Barcelona with three victories.

Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao are two points off the lead, while defending champion Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid dropped four points back after being held to disappointing draws on Saturday.

“It’s very important to start with these three victories, especially these two away from home in very difficult stadiums to play in,” Sociedad coach Eusebio Sacristan said. “We are very happy but we know there is still a long way to go. We know every game will be difficult.”

Sociedad took an early lead in La Coruna with two goals in the first four minutes at the Riazor Stadium, and secured the victory with two more in the last 10 minutes after the hosts had equalized early in the second half.

“The match got complicated for us,” Sacristan said. “They started playing better but we were able to turn things around again. We regained control of the match and went for the victory. We were not content with only a draw after having the lead that we had.”

Juanmi Jimenez opened the scoring for Sociedad in the third minute and Asier Illarramendi added to the lead in the fourth. Deportivo evened the match with goals by Adrian Lopez in the 27th and Florin Andone in the 50th, but Sociedad secured the victory with a goal by Diego Llorente in the 83rd and another by Illarramendi in the 86th.

Sociedad, back-to-back Spanish champion in 1981-82, had opened the season with victories at Celta Vigo and against Villarreal.

It will face one of its toughest tests yet in the next round when it hosts titleholders Madrid at Anoeta Stadium.

Deportivo, which fought to avoid relegation last season, lost to Madrid in its opener before drawing at Levante in the second round.

On Saturday, Barcelona routed Espanyol 5-0 in the Catalan derby with a hat trick by Lionel Messi at the Camp Nou Stadium.

Madrid could not manage more than a 1-1 draw against Levante, being held to its second consecutive draw at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. It had tied Valencia 2-2 last weekend.

Earlier Saturday, Atletico drew 0-0 with Valencia at Mestalla Stadium. Diego Simeone’s team has played three straight away games before being able to inaugurate its Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Saturday against Malaga.

Leganes, in its second season in the first division, also had a chance to win three in a row this weekend, but it lost 2-1 to Getafe at home in Saturday’s southern Madrid derby.

Athletic Bilbao’s defense remained perfect and forwards Iker Muniain and Aritz Aduriz scored a goal in each half to give the hosts a 2-0 win over promoted Girona.

It was the second consecutive win for Athletic, which is yet to concede a goal this season.

Barcelona is the only other team not to have conceded after three rounds.

Celta Vigo defeated Alaves 1-0 to halt its two-game losing streak.

Maxi Gomez scored a first-half winner in Vigo. It was the third straight defeat for Alaves, which is yet to score a goal after three rounds.

Villarreal conceded early but recovered to defeat Real Betis 3-1 and earn its first victory.

Villarreal had lost its first two games and was yet to score a goal, while Real Betis has now lost two of its first three matches.

La Liga roundup: Kroos lifts Real Madrid as Atletico Madrid is held yet again

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Toni Kroos hit just his second goal for Real Madrid in the last calendar year, but it was a big one as it lifted Los Blancos over Celta Vigo in a 2-1 win at the Bernabeau.

Goals from Alvaro Morata and Fabian Orellana had cancelled out before Kroos struck a powerful, low effort in off the post in the 81st minute for the win. The move began with a stellar challenge from Casemiro to dispossess Pape Diop, sending Real Madrid moving the other way.

While Real Madrid earned its second win of the season in two matches, cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid struggled again, failing to score in a 0-0 draw with Leganes, the club’s second draw of the year as they sit on just two points. Atletico held 63% of the possession, worked eight corners, and managed 10 shots, but only three of them were on target.

Leganes goalkeeper Serantes was stellar, while Fernando Torres missed a huge chance towards the end of the match as his header off a cross from Filipe Luis went straight into the keeper’s arms. Manager Diego Simeone chose to be upbeat after the game, saying, “I’m happy with the work done. We generate chances and others don’t against us. We need to finish.”

Around the rest of La Liga, Real Sociedad went on the road and beat Osasuna 2-0 behind a goal from Juanmi and a late own goal. Valencia still has not picked up a point this season after its second loss, a 1-0 result at Eibar where Pedro Leon missed a penalty but struck home on the rebound.

Premier League 2016-17 season preview: Southampton

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Southampton is in the middle of yet another rebuild.

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Manager Ronald Koeman left for Everton over the summer and key players Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle all departed as Frenchman Claude Puel has arrived to take charge at St Mary’s. It gets to a point where you ask yourself: can Southampton really keep flourishing despite constantly having to rebound from losing players and managers season after season?

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After recording higher finishes in seven-straight seasons since they were saved by the Liebherr family as third-tier team in 2008, Saints have been on a dramatic journey which culminated in them finishing sixth in the Premier League last season (their best-ever PL campaign) and qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League.

With a rich history of bringing through talented players from their academy (Gareth Bale, Luke Shaw, Matt Le Tissier to name a few) Puel’s task will be to mastermind another top 10 finish for Saints in the PL and also have a good go at the Europa League and the domestic cup competitions. For many, this season is a step too far in terms of player sales at Saints. It’s up to the players and manager they have to prove everyone wrong, once again, but judging on their preseason performances there is still plenty of work to be done.

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Saints will stun everyone, once again, a make a serious challenge for the top four: They came very close to doing this last season and only finished three points off the top four. If Puel’s side hit the ground running and find form early in the campaign, who knows? Not much has to change. The only starters they really lost were Wanyama and Mane but only the latter feels like a monumental blow. A team full of internationals, Saints are up for the challenge of kicking on again.

Most likely they will battle relegation and Puel will be gone by January because… That’s just the vibe coming out of St Mary’s from afar. You get the sense that Puel is taking a while to adapt to managing in England after 20 years coaching in France. With no new marquee players to replace those who left, if the Frenchman doesn’t get off to a good start he’ll be under pressure.


Best Possible XI

—– Forster —–

Cedric — Fonte — Van Dijk — Bertrand —

—– Romeu —– Clasie —–

—- Redmond —- Davis —- Tadic —-

—– Long —–


Transfers in: Nathan Redmond ($15 million, Norwich City), Pierre-Emile Hjolberg ($13 million, Bayern Munich), Alex McCarthy (Undisclosed, Crystal Palace), Jeremy Pied (Free)

Transfers out: Sadio Mane ($45 million, Liverpool), Victor Wanyama ($14 million, Tottenham Hotspur), Graziano Pelle ($15 million, Shandong Lenung), Gaston Ramirez (Free, Middlesbrough), Juanmi ($7 million, Real Sociedad), Kelvin Davis (Retired), Will Brit (Released), Jason McCarthy (Loan, Walsall), Paulo Gazzaniga (Loan, Rayo Vallecano)

Last season: The 2015-16 season was Saints’ best-ever finish and points tally in the Premier League. Under Koeman they finished sixth, surging up the standings in the final weeks of the season. Despite a wobble around the festive season which saw talk of a relegation battle emanate from management, Saints turned things around to become the form team in the final few months of the season. Only Leicester won more points than Southampton in 2016. Their club slogan rang true: We March On.

Star player: Virgil Van Dijk – The imposing Dutch center back has it all in his locker. A stunning debut season in the PL saw VVD rewarded with a new contract at St Mary’s and he’s their most important player. So cool and calm on the ball, he could be the next big name to move on. Alongside Jose Fonte he will hold this Saints team together.

OLDENZAAL, NETHERLANDS - JULY 27: Virgil van Dijk of Southampton runs with the ball during the friendly match between Twente Enschede and FC Southampton at Q20 Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Oldenzaal, Netherlands. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

Coach’s Corner: Puel is a likable, experienced coach who has an excellent track record working with youngsters. He helped nurture Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet at Monaco, Eden Hazard at Lille and Alexandre Lacazette at Lyon. He played under Arsene Wenger at Monaco and won a Ligue 1 title in his first season as a manager. He has experience of managing in the UEFA Champions League and that is ultimately where he wants to take Saints. He’ll have a tough task to do that, or to better the sixth place finish from last season. Time will tell but Puel is under pressure from the get-go at a club which has ambitious plans.

Speaking to ProSoccerTalk during preseason (Saints are unbeaten through five games) Puel spoke about the players adapting to the new diamond formation he wants to implement in midfield.

“They begin to take themselves to this formation and they correct it between them,” Puel said. “It is important to give a detailed plan for the players and after that it is the player on the pitch that gives the good solution and life for this way of playing.”

GRONINGEN, NETHERLANDS - JULY 30: The team of Southampton poses prior to the friendly match between FC Groningen an FC Southampton at Euroborg Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Groningen, Netherlands. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images)

PST predicts: It could be a season of struggle for Saints. Having to balance Thursday night games in the Europa League is never easy and couple that with a new manager who is still learning the English game, regression is likely for Southampton. That said, talk of a relegation battle is too extreme and they will likely finish in midtable and have a good run in Europe and the domestic cups. Not a disaster season but we may see signs that their policy to cash in on star players has gone one step too far.