Angel Correa

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La Liga: Sevilla, Atletico jump past faltering Barcelona, Real Madrid

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Real Madrid lost on Saturday and Barcelona drew on Sunday, and those around them made them pay.

Sevilla and Atletico Madrid took over the top two spots in the La Liga table with Sunday victories, pushing Barcelona and Real Madrid back to third and fourth.

Atletico Madrid went first and topped Real Betis 1-0, an impressive feat given that Betis had conceded just two goals over its last eight matches, including seven clean sheets. Atletico held just 36% possession, but they still managed to out-shoot Betis 13-5, including 5-0 on target. The goal came in the 74th minute as substitute Angel Correa, who had come off the bench just before the hour mark, burst through the middle and shot a speculative effort towards the far post which Betis goalkeeper Pau Lopez somehow wasn’t able to reach.

While that momentarily brought Atletico to the top of the league table, Sevilla took that spot hours later as they topped Celta Vigo 2-1 at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium. Pablo Sarabia got things started in the 39th minute with a bullet header on a corner. Celta Vigo then went a man down as Mexican international Nestor Araujo picked up two yellow cards just two minutes apart and was off. He fouled Andre Silva by pulling him back on the break, and then just ticks later he chopped Silva down to earn an early shower. Sevilla then doubled its lead on a beautiful play as Silva expertly chipped the back line to a free Sarabia down the right, and he crossed to Wissam Ben Yedder for an easy tap-in at the far post. Former West Ham forward Sofiane Boufal scored a consolation for Celta just minutes before full-time to make things interesting but it wasn’t enough.

The pair of victory saw Sevilla move to the top of the La Liga table on 16 points, with Atletico right behind them at 15. Barcelona and Real Madrid each have 14 points, only ahead of Espanyol and Alaves on goal differential.

Espanyol got to that position by beating Villareal 3-1 in Barcelona thanks to Sergi Darder’s game winner in the 79th minute. It came on a bad mistake by Villareal’s Manu Trigueros who completely whiffed on his clear, allowing Melendo’s cross to reach Darder near the penalty spot. The home side pummeled Sergio Asenjo’s net, finishing the match with 28 shots, including 12 on target.

Barcelona had the late kick, visiting Valencia needing a win to re-take the La Liga lead, and they were unable to make it happen, only rescuing a 1-1 draw thanks to Lionel Messi’s equalizing goal. Barcelona had 76% possession during the match and out-passed Valencia 901-232, but were only able to get 10 shots off, putting five on target. Meanwhile, Valencia also managed 10 shots, with three on target, and scored just two minutes into the match. 31-year-old Argentinian defender Ezequiel Garay directed a near-post header on net off a corner, and Valencia had a stunning lead. Messi leveled in the 23rd minute on a one-two with Suarez, shooting into the bottom-right corner from outside the top of the box. Still, Barcelona fell back to third in the table thanks to the draw.

Atletico Madrid and Valencia draw in Spanish league debut

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid and Valencia couldn’t manage more than a 1-1 draw in the opening match of the season for potential contenders for the Spanish league title on Monday.

Both teams debuted new signings and came boosted by great seasons a year ago, but it was an even match from the start at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium, with neither finding an edge to earn the victory.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-2 Liverpool ]

The hosts came closer to winning and squandered a few great chances in the final minutes.

Angel Correa gave Atletico the lead in the 25th minute with a shot from close range after a great set up by Antoine Griezmann, who cleared a few defenders before sending a perfect ball to the forward behind the defense. Correa had only goalkeeper Neto to beat and easily found the corner.

Atletico held on for the rest of the first half but Valencia equalized shortly after halftime with a great goal by striker Rodrigo, who controlled the ball with his chest after a cross into the area and fired a left-footed shot into the top of the net.

“We can’t say it was unfair, but if we had won the match it wouldn’t be a crazy result,” Rodrigo said. “We faced a great rival and showed that we are playing on a high level. That’s what we want to keep doing the whole season.”

Gabriel Paulista nearly scored again for Valencia less than 10 minutes after Rodrigo’s goal, but his header off a corner struck the post. Daniel Wass had a chance on a breakaway with a few minutes left, but his shot was saved by Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Kevin Gameiro also missed a clear opportunity just before the final whistle.

“We lacked organization in the end and I didn’t like that,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “But I’ll stick to what we did well. These teams are very similar and we had our chances to win the match.”

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Atletico finished runner-up to Barcelona in the league last season, while Valencia was fourth and secured a Champions League berth. Atletico was coming off a victory over city rival Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.

Simeone started Monday’s match with one of the team’s top signings in the offseason, France forward Thomas Lemar, playing up front with Griezmann and Diego Costa. Other recently arrived players began on the bench, including Gelson Martins, Nikola Kalinic and Rodri. Martins came in as a substitute in the second half, replacing Griezmann.

Wass, one of Valencia’s new signings, was in the starting lineup, while Gameiro, Denis Cheryshev and Michy Batshuayi began on the bench. Gameiro and Batshuayi entered in the second half.

Defending champion Barcelona made its league debut on Saturday with a 3-0 win against Alaves with a pair of goals by Lionel Messi at Camp Nou Stadium.

Real Madrid opened with a 2-0 win over Getafe with Gareth Bale scoring and setting up Dani Carvajal’s goal at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Athletic Bilbao hosts Leganes later Monday to close out the first round.

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La Liga: Costa scores, sent off (video); Atleti still chasing Barca

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Diego Costa was at his best – and worst – on Saturday when the Atletico Madrid striker was sent off after celebrating a goal that helped to beat Getafe 2-0 in his second match back at the club.

Costa already had one booking for elbowing a Getafe player when he tapped in Atletico’s second goal in the 68th minute. But instead of embracing his teammates, he ran around the net and to the edge of the stands where he was hugged by fans, earning him a second booking.

Far from reproaching the 29-year-old Costa, Atletico coach Diego Simeone praised the player he hopes can lead the team to the same heights they reached in 2013 and 2014, when they won the Copa del Rey followed by the Spanish league title.

“Costa gives us intensity and power, and he inspires fear. You can feel it and see it,” Simeone said. “We have known him for a long time. We know how he plays and that he always pushes the limits. His courage and passion to fight for every ball is transmitted in each play.”

Second-place Atletico is within six points of Liga leader Barcelona, which hosts Levante on Sunday.

Despite not having played a competitive match since June, Costa has shown no rust from his long layoff while waiting for Atletico’s yearlong ban on new players to expire at the start of January.

The goal was Costa’s second in as many appearances since making his return to Atletico from Chelsea. He scored as a substitute on Wednesday in a 4-0 victory at Lleida in the Copa del Rey’s round of 16.

Costa started Saturday’s match by curling a shot onto the top of the net and setting up Antoine Griezmann before the France forward assisted Angel Correa for the hosts’ opener in the 18th.

Besides providing added punch to Atletico’s attack, Costa also showed the same knack for rattling rivals with his aggressive attitude and physical play.

The Brazilian-born Spain striker had to be separated from Getafe’s Juan Cala when the two exchanged words after the halftime whistle, and he was booked for elbowing Dakonam Djene when they contested a ball in the 62nd.

Then came Costa’s goal, a cool side-footed shot to slot Sime Vrsaljko’s low cross just into the post, followed by his excessive celebration.

“(Costa) is contagious, and he showed all that he is, scoring a goal and getting sent off,” Atletico midfielder Gabi Fernandez said. “Costa doesn’t have to adapt to us, he came ready to play. That’s why we wanted him.”

The derby at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium was a bad-tempered match that featured 10 total bookings.

Costa’s sending-off means he will miss next round’s trip to Eibar.

Costa helped Chelsea win the English Premier league title last season before he fell out of favor with coach Antonio Conte.

Coach Marcelino Garcia Toral returned to Valencia’s sideline to oversee its first win in three rounds, a 2-1 comeback at home over Girona.

Valencia remained in third place, two points behind Atletico and six ahead of Real Madrid, which has two games in hand.

Garcia Toral missed Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Las Palmas in the Copa del Rey while he recovered from a car accident reportedly caused when his car hit a wild boar on Dec. 23.

The Valencia manager wore a neck brace under his coat for Saturday’s match, when Dani Parejo converted a penalty after Girona’s Ramalho scored an own-goal to cancel out the opener by Cristian “Portu” Portugues.

Forward Luciano Vietto debuted for Atletico as a late substitute after arriving on loan from Atletico.

Real Betis won a wild Seville derby by rolling to a 5-3 victory at Sevilla, ruining the home debut of Italian coach Vincenzo Montella.

Betis never trailed, although Sevilla leveled at 2-2 by halftime. But Riza Durmisi, Sergio Leon and Cristian Tello scored in the second half to deal Sevilla its first home loss in league play since Nov. 2016.

Police arrested 23 people for participating in a fight between fans of Sevilla and Real Betis hours before the match. Authorities said that the rival fans had arranged the meeting in order to fight.

Assessing USMNT, BVB star Pulisic on his 19th birthday

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Christian Pulisic is no longer “18-year-old whiz kid Christian Pulisic.”

The USMNT phenom turns 19 on Monday, already one of the most accomplished players in terms of Americans in Europe.

If that sounds dramatic given the wildly successful careers of Clint Dempsey, Claudio Reyna, and Carlos Bocanegra — not to future parents, use ‘C’ in naming your children — forgive us; Pulisic is doing some fantastic things at his age.

[ MORE: Match recap | Lukaku reacts ]

In fact, it’s difficult to rationalize his success so far given the relative low trajectory of the U.S. on the world soccer scene. Maybe it’s the birthday talk, but sometimes I feel like Paulie in “Rocky IV” when presented with a cake from a robot: What fresh amazement ?!?

As we hope Pulisic can help the United States avoid a progress-clobbering setback for the program in next month’s World Cup qualifiers, let’s take a look back at what he’s accomplished so far:

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— Youngest American to appear in a World Cup qualifier.

— Youngest American to score in a World Cup qualifier, and to score in a USMNT shirt.

— 18 caps with seven goals for the USMNT.

— Nine goals and 14 assists in 61 appearances for Borussia Dortmund.

— Eleven Champions League appearances and three Europa League matches, posting three assists in the UCL as well as a goal against Benfica in a Round of 16 match.

— Named to the 2016 UEFA Champions League Breakthrough XI.

All of that is to say that of all the names tossed out of Alexi Lalas’ mouth last week, the inclusion of “Wonder Boy” Pulisic as an “irrelevant also” was inarguably the silliest. Pulisic certainly thought so.

It’s hard to find a frame of reference for Pulisic thanks to his unprecedented American rise into Europe at such a young age. The site Transfermarkt says his closest comparison amongst active young players is 20-year-old PSG right wing Goncalo Guedes, who in turn is compared with Bayern’s Kingsley Coman and Benfica’s Gabriel Barbosa.

Digging a little deeper provides us this list:

Pulisic
Barbosa
Coman
Guedes
Angel Correa (Atletico Madrid)
Gelson Martins (Sporting Lisbon)

What’s most impressive about that bunch? Well, for one, Pulisic is the youngest and his numbers already place him alongside, if not above, Coman and Correa as the most accomplished of the bunch.

All of the above needs to be taken with food, and that’s watching Pulisic should be fun. Thanks to the USMNT’s current mess in World Cup qualifying, it’s not as enjoyable as it should be, but there’s little question that his BVB time remains a sweet release.

And here’s hoping that fellow U.S. youngsters making dents in Europe, like Weston McKennie at Schalke and Ethan Horvath at Club Brugge, force us to consider whether Pulisic is “the guy” or just one of the Wonderboys.

Newcastle interested in Atleti’s Correa, Arsenal’s Perez

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Rafa Benitez has eye on a pair of strikers from big European clubs.

The Newcastle United manager reportedly has interest in Arsenal’s veteran forward Lucas Perez and Atletico Madrid’s young star Angel Correa, according to the Chronicle’s Lee Ryder.

Either would make sense, though the latter would certainly have interest from around Europe as a productive player in limited time at the Vicente Calderon.

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A San Lorenzo product, the 22-year-old Argentine played primarily on the right wing but can be used in any attacking position. Correa has 16 goals and 15 assists in 83 matches for Atleti, including one Champions League goal vs. Benfica.

Perez moved to Arsenal from Deportivo de la Coruna last summer, and scored seven times in 21 appearances. Only one of those came in the Premier League, though the 28-year-old netted a hat trick against Basel in the UCL.

Either would be a boon for Benitez, who has Dwight Gayle and Aleksandar Mitrovic as his prime strike options (the latter has been linked with a move away from St. James Park). Correa would be a major coup for Newcastle.