Mikel Merino

Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

La Liga and Serie A: Godin’s Atleti goodbye, Real lose again; Roma beat Juve

Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: Final Premier League standings of the 2018-19 season ]

Atletico Madrid 1-1 Sevilla

Captain Diego Godin made the 388th appearance of his nine-year Atleti career on Sunday, marking the final time he’ll take the field in the Spanish capital for Los Rojiblancos. Godin was honored by a capacity crowd, all on their feet, after the game.

Koke put second-place Atleti ahead in the 30th minute. Pablo Sarabia drew sixth-place Sevilla level in the 70th.

Real Sociedad 3-1 Real Madrid

Real Madrid suffered their 11th league defeat of the season (17 across all competitions, for the first time since 1998-99) after going 1-0 up in the 6th minute, courtesy of Brahim Diaz, and being reduced to 10 men in the 39th (Jesus Vallejo).

Mikel Merino (26th minute), Joseba Zaldua (57th) and Ander Barrenetxea (67th) got the goals for eighth-place Sociedad.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Barcelona 2-0 Getafe
Valencia 3-1 Alaves
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Celta Vigo
Leganes 0-2 Espanyol
Rayo Vallecano 1-2 Real Valladolid
Girona 1-2 Levante
Real Betis 2-1 Huesca


Roma 2-0 Juventus

Roma’s quest for Champions League qualification got a massive, and somewhat unexpected, boost in the form of a victory over champions-elect Juventus. Claudio Ranieri‘s side were three places and four points off fourth place, but now they sit just two place and one point back of Inter Milan with two games left to play.

Alessandro Florenzi (79th) and Edin Dzeko (90th+1) did all of Roma’s damage late against a full-strength Juve side. Following a disastrous start to the season (just five wins from their first 15 games), Roma have righted the ship and are now unbeaten in their last seven league games and have lost just three of their last 19.

Elsewhere in Serie A

SPAL 1-2 Torino
Torino 3-2 Sassuolo
Frosinone 1-3 Udinese
Sampdoria 2-1 Empoli

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

Season Preview: Will internal turmoil bring Newcastle down?

Getty Images
1 Comment

Newcastle at a glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 2 (last: 1959/60)

FA Cups: 5 (last: 1954/55)

League Cups: 0 (best finish: runners-up 1974/75)

FA Community Shield: 1 (1909/10, runners-up 5 times)

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]


Newcastle’s biggest enemy is itself, and this year might just be the year it brings them down for real.

Soccer’s Jerry Jones has taken flak for years as the Magpies slowly consume themselves from the inside out, yet Mike Ashley continues to trudge on stuck in his ways. No Premier League team would produce a bigger inferno upon relegation than Newcastle. Championship title winners just two years ago, Rafa Benitez has milked everything he can out of a paper-thin squad for the last two years, but if relegation becomes unavoidable, Newcastle’s biggest asset would most certainly walk, and the doom and gloom would spread like wildfire.

It’s somewhat surprpsing that relegation talk swirls after a 10th placed finish last year, but that’s the Benitez effect. The team continues to punch above its weight on paper, all thanks to their all-star manager. Yet the summer transfer window has been another one of frustration, and thus the fan unrest continues.

Can Benitez push the Magpies away from the bottom-tier maelstrom or will Newcastle be pulled into the unescapable cyclone?


Newcastle will finish away from the drop because…everything good Newcastle has stumbled upon the last two years has been attributable to Benitez. With the Spaniard around, most anything is possible. The defense is thin but talented, and the attack has promise. If Newcastle can avoid the injury bug, they can go places.

Newcastle will be relegated because…the squad is razor thin. Florian Lejeune is already out with an ACL tear, and if an injury leaves either Jamaal Lascelles or Martin Dubravka on the sidelines as well, the back line becomes swiss cheese. At the other end there’s a little more depth, but much of the creativity falls to Ayoze Perez, and an injury to the wrong place in that department could bring the team down as well. Mike Ashley hasn’t done enough this summer to instill confidence in fans.

Best possible XI:

———————Dubravka———————

——Yedlin—Lascelles—Schar——Dummett——

——Ritchie—Shelvey—Diame——Atsu——

—————Perez——————

—————Gayle——————

Transfers In: Yoshinori Muto ($12.4 million, FSV Mainz), Fabian Schar ($4.6 million, Deportivo La Coruna), Martin Dubravka ($4.6 million, Sparta Prague), Ki Sung-Yueng (Free, Swansea City), Kenedy (Loan, Chelsea).

Transfers Out: Aleksandar Mitrovic ($23.3 million, Fulham), Mikel Merino ($12 million, Real Sociedad), Chance Mbemba ($9.2 million, Porto), Matz Sels ($4.6 million, RC Strasbourg), Massadio Haidara (Free, Lens), Stuart Findlay (Free, Kilmarnock), Jack Colback (Loan, Nottingham Forest).

Ranking their offseason: C

Newcastle received nearly $25 million for Aleksandar Mitrovic from Fulham – a total that was basically a foregone conclusion for weeks, pending Newcastle securing his replacement in Muto – and promptly sat on it. While useful players have been brought in with Schar replacing the injured Lejeune and Dubravka likely to start in net, the team wasn’t necessarily improved in the transfer market, and the squad still has plenty of holes. If they go down, this transfer window will be largely viewed as a big reason why.

Star player: While Ayoze Perez is the lifeblood of the Newcastle attack, nobody is more important to this squad than Jamaal Lascelles. Newcastle resisted heavy interest for his services this summer, and they will be far better off for it. The 24-year-old has developed into one of the best central defenders in the Premier League, and was heavily considered for a spot in the England World Cup squad this summer. If anything happens to him, this squad will come crumbling to pieces, and he would likely leave if they are relegated.

Coach’s Corner: While Lascelles is the most valuable player, nobody is more important to this team than Rafa Benitez. Mike Ashley’s greatest accomplishment was convincing the Spaniard to commit to the club through the one season in the Championship, and it has paid off since. Still, Ashely does little to back his manager, and Benitez has not held back. After a 4-0 defeat to Braga in preseason, Benitez said, “The fans have to be concerned, we are concerned. I’m really worried.” Should the club misstep at all this season, Benitez would surely depart for a bigger club. He’s certainly earned the right.

PST Predicts: While much of this preview has been quite doom and gloom, Newcastle has enough prized possessions to stay up this season. The most concerning part of this offseason has to be the newly promoted clubs spending vast quantities of money to improve, but there should be enough teams worse than Newcastle to prevent the Magpies from suffering heartbreak. Just enough. They should finish around 15th in the table after quite the scare.

Newcastle announces signing of Japanese striker Muto

Getty Images
2 Comments

Rafa Benitez finally has the attacking threat he’s been begging for all summer.

Newcastle United announced Friday they have completed the transfer of Japanese international Yoshinori Muto.

The 26-year-old arrives from Bundesliga side FC Mainz where he joined in the summer of 2015 from J-League team FC Tokyo. Muto made 72 appearances for the German club across all competitions, scoring 23 goals and assisting 11 others.

Muto has 25 international caps to his name for Japan, riding the bench for most of the 2018 World Cup aside from a start in the final group stage match against Poland where he played 82 minutes without scoring or assisting a goal as Japan fell 1-0 to Poland.

According to the Newcastle Chronicle, the Magpies have forked out $12.5 million for the transfer, which is subject to receipt of a work permit.

To this point in the summer window, Newcastle had secured the services of center-back Fabian Schar, midfielder Ki Seung-young, and goalkeeper Martin Dubravkia. Still, Benitez was desperate to add to the attacking ranks, with little support for star Ayoze Perez. The acquisition of Muto likely eases the fears of allowing want-away striker Aleksandar Mitrovic to leave, with Fulham in pursuit.

Newcastle gets 2nd Kenedy loan, sells Merino to La Liga

nufc.co.uk
Leave a comment

Kenedy is returning to Newcastle United.

The Chelsea man will take a second loan season with Rafa Benitez after making a strong impression on Tyneside in the second half of the 2017-18 season.

The Magpies will have the option to buy Kenedy.

[ MORE: Mourinho on England, Croatia ]

The Brazilian left-sided man can play virtually any field position besides center back, and scored two goals with two assists for the Magpies last season.

“I am so happy with this interest from Rafa Benítez, that he came back for me,” said Kenedy. “I want to keep it going, the work that I did here before, for the new season.

Meanwhile, Mikel Merino‘s whirlwind time at St. James’ Park is done after just one season.

Newcastle is selling the Spaniard to Real Sociedad. Merino burst onto the scene on loan from Borussia Dortmund, and the Magpies quickly exercised an option to buy the silky midfielder.

But Merino dropped down the depth chart, making just two starts after New Year’s Day.