Santi Cazorla

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La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

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Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Spain squad short on players from Real Madrid, Barcelona

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Is it a sign of the times, or an injury crisis?

Spain National Team coach Robert Moreno announced his 24-man squad ahead of Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Norway and Sweden during this month’s international fixture dates, and it was notable more for what wasn’t there than what was.

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From the big three in Spain, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid, only four total players earned a call-up this month. Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal from Real Madrid, Sergio Busquets from Barcelona, and Saul from Atletico Madrid.

Meanwhile, Villarreal alone had four players called up to La Roja, including former Arsenal and Premier League star midfielder Santi Cazorla. The veteran midfielder is having another strong season so far despite being 34-years old. According to Moreno, the makeup of this squad is more of a sign of the times.

“It is a reflection of current football…historically the big teams have been backed by seven or eight players from a great team, such as Bayern or Ajax,” Moreno told reporters, via Spanish publication Sport. “But now there are not many national players in the teams. In this squad, Villarreal is the one who contributes the most, but it is the one that has more Spaniards apart from Athletic (Bilbao). As a coach I would love to have nine of the same team because I already know they would know, but it is not that moment now. Neither Barça nor Madrid have many Spaniards unless they are holders. That makes our work difficult.”

One thing is clear. There are some injuries, as well as technical decisions that have kept players from the Big Three out of this squad. From Real Madrid, there’s no Isco, Marco Asensio, or Nacho. For Atletico Madrid, Diego Costa, Koke, Alvaro Morata are all out, while for Barcelona, there’s no place this month for Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto.

However, we’re no doubt a long way from a decade ago, when Barcelona and Real Madrid made up the bulk of the starting lineup. The 2010 World Cup winning squad included 12 players from Real Madrid and Barcelona alone. Barcelona had the likes of Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, while Real Madrid had Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, and Xabi Alonso.

If you look at both clubs, with the exception of Pique and Ramos – who are both still there – each of these players has been replaced at their club by a foreign-born player. Both clubs’ desire to bring in the best, already developed talent, has taken their gaze abroad.

Real Madrid’s goalkeeper is a Belgian international while their holding midfielder is a Brazilian. For Barcelona, they had just three Spanish nationals in their lineup for the 2-1 win over Inter in the UEFA Champions League. Xavi and Inesta have been replaced by Artur (Brazil) and now Frankie de Jong (Netherlands), while all three forward positions are foreign-born.

Ultimately, until Real Madrid and Barcelona either provide young Spanish players more chances to play, or commit to buying the best young players in the league and developing them – like Real Madrid did for Sergio Ramos after buying him from Sevilla – this trend of Spanish National Team players playing for other clubs than the Big Three will continue.

Report: Granit Xhaka named permanent Arsenal captain

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According to a report by David Ornstein of the BBC, Arsenal coach Unai Emery has named midfielder Granit Xhaka as permanent captain, a position that had been vacant since Laurent Koscielny‘s departure this summer.

The Frenchman had held the position since early 2016 when handed the armband by Arsene Wenger with Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta both in the twilight of their Arsenal careers.

Emery has notably dragged out deciding on who to name as permanent captain despite handing Xhaka the armband in six of their eight matches to this point. Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil have also both served as captain once, both coming with Xhaka out of the lineup, although Monreal has since departed the club. Ornstein reports that a vice-captain has not yet been chosen, with strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both in consideration.

Xhaka, who turns 27 years old today, is considered to be a contentious choice by Emery given his up and down performances for the club since joining from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer of 2016. His first season was dreadful, with the midfielder twice sent off in his first season of Premier League play. He had raised his level of performance since, proving an important piece of the puzzle last season, but early this season his performances have again dipped, with Gunner fans voicing their displeasure on his withdrawal on 72 minutes in the narrow win over Aston Villa.

Defender Rob Holding confirmed after the Villa win that Emery has presented a group of five players to the rest of the squad to be voted on. “He likes his five captains,” Holding said. “We all did a vote the other week so we’ll see what happens and see who gets named. It was just a case of writing names down and then giving them to the manager and he will go through them – obviously with his input – and we’ll see what happens.”

Holding called it a “good environment” with a lot of players able to “get more input.” He also pointed out David Luiz as someone who has taken up a sort of leadership role.

Europa League: Alonso gives Chelsea advantage over Slavia Prague, and more (video)

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In what had been a quiet affair, it was Marcos Alonso of all people who popped up late to score the winning goal.

Chelsea defeated Slavia Prague, 1-0 on a header in the 84th minute by Alsonso, latching onto a terrific cross from Willian to find the breakthrough. The win puts Chelsea in the driver’s seat to advance to the Europa League semifinals, with a lead and an away goal.

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The goal is a big boost for Marcos Alonso, who has struggled mightily at times this year and has been benched in recent Premier League games for Emerson as the team’s left wing back. In addition, it cools the coach’s seat ever more for Maurizio Sarri, who could still secure a top-four finish and even potentially win the Europa League.

Slavia Prague was lively and energetic in the opening half hour, putting pressure on Chelsea’s defense and pinning the Blues back in their own half for long stretches. However, Slavia never managed to get a good shot on target, with strikes either right at Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa or wife of the net.

Willian, who was dangerous all night along the wings, hit a shot off the crossbar in the 25th minute, but that was the extent of Chelsea’s dangerous chances. That is, until Eden Hazard was introduced 14 minutes into the second half. Hazard’s dribbling ability and skill on the ball forced Slavia to shade his way, which led to more Chelsea chances down Willian’s side, and eventually may have played a role in the winner.

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Elsewhere, Benfica’s 19-year-old budding star Joao Felix had himself a day, scoring a hat-trick as Benfica topped Eintracht Frankfurt, 4-2. Felix scored a hat-trick, fired home a laser into the bottom corner, and then scored on a low strike in the box. Felix also had an assist off a corner kick that was headed in. It was a heck of a match for the teenager, and if Europe’s biggest clubs weren’t already on his radar, they are now.

In Spain, former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla scored a penalty kick but it wasn’t enough as Valencia picked up a confidence-boosting 3-1 win on the road over Villarreal. Portugal international Goncalo Guedes finished with two goals for Valencia.

Watch: Villarreal’s insane introduction for Cazorla

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At Barcelona and Real Madrid, new signings show off a little skill with keepy-uppy juggling. At Feyenoord, new signings descend onto the field in a helicopter.

None of that stands up to what Villarreal did on Friday.

Officially unveiling former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla, Villarreal used an illusionist to magically summon Cazorla into a cylinder with dry ice smoke billowing out of the top. You have to see it to believe it.

Cazorla made his professional and La Liga debut with Villarreal way back in 2003, and now with his return he’s come full circle, after a well-documented struggle overcoming an Achilles injury that nearly cost him his career.

4,500 fans packed El Madrigal to watch Cazorla’s introduction. Cazorla has actually been training with the side since the beginning of July.