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La Liga: Atletico Madrid win again to keep pressure on Barcelona

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

[ FA CUPSETS: West Ham bounced by third-tier Wimbledon | Millwall oust Everton ]

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Getafe

Atleti extended their unbeaten run to 18 games with a straightforward 2-0 victory over sixth-place Getafe on Saturday. As they’ve now done three straight weekends, Diego Simeone’s side cut Barcelona’s title lead to just two points ahead of the defending champions’ fixture. Each of the last two weeks, Barca have taken the field on Sunday and restored their five-point advantage.

Antoine Griezmann opened the scoring with a left-footed strike from the edge of the box in the 27th minute, followed by Saul Niguez’s tap-in of a rebound from Nikola Kalinic’s initial effort in the 37th.

Sevilla 5-0 Levante

Sevilla hammered 11th-place Levante for five goals to snap their four-game winless skid (two straight losses) and reclaim third place — for the time being — from Real Madrid.

Pablo Machin’s side got five goals, all in the second half, from five different goalscorers — Wissam Ben Yedder (48th minute), Andre Silva (60th), Franco Vazques (71st), Pablo Sarabia (80th) and Qunicy Promes (90th).

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 2-2 Eibar
Valencia 3-0 Villarreal

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Valladolid v. Celta Vigo — 6 a.m. ET
Girona v. Barcelona — 10:15 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad v. Huesca — 12:30 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao v. Real Betis — 12:30 p.m. ET
Espanyol v. Real Madrid — 2:45 p.m. ET

Griezmann standing in way of Barcelona’s title march

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann is almost single-handedly keeping Atletico Madrid in the Spanish league title race.

With the league at its halfway point, Griezmann is challenging Barcelona’s Lionel Messi for the status of most valuable player for their clubs.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

While Messi is beyond doubt the top player in Spain – and more – Atletico has stayed in second place behind Barcelona almost exclusively thanks to the goals of Griezmann.

The France forward has done more than any other of his teammates, especially in recent weeks, to keep Atletico five points behind Barcelona. And with Sevilla and Real Madrid already 10 points adrift, Griezmann’s Atletico looks like the only serious challenger standing in the way of Barcelona’s title defense.

Griezmann is on a five-game scoring streak and he has scored Atletico’s last six goals – five in the league and one in the Copa del Rey. He has found the net nine times and made six direct passes for goals in the league this season.

Messi leads the league with 17 goals scored, but he also has Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele combining to add another 21 goals between them.

In contrast, nobody else at Atletico has scored more than two goals in the league. Indeed, the second key player at Atletico is goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who anchored a defense that has allowed a league-low 13 goals.

Griezmann secured another win for Diego Simeone’s side on Sunday when he confidently stepped up to the spot and blasted a penalty kick to secure a 1-0 victory over Levante.

There were inspired runs by Victor “Vitolo” Machin and a couple of attempts by Angel Correa and Jorge “Koke” Resurreccion, but Atletico’s attack mainly depended on the quickness, speed and scoring touch of Griezmann.

Griezmann, however, said he was not satisfied with Atletico’s attack.

“We need to have more poise when we arrive to the opponent’s area, that’s what our coach says,” Griezmann said. “Maybe we have to shoot when we pass, and vice versa. It’s not easy. At the end, a 1-0 win is worth the same as 8-0, so we are happy.”

Griezmann helped France to the World Cup title last summer – a feat that has eluded Messi’s Argentina – shortly after guiding Atletico to the Europa League title.

He also turned down an offer to join Messi at Barcelona, opting to remain at the club where he is the undisputed star.

Now he is proving to be Atletico’s best reason to dream about winning another Spanish league title, or even an elusive Champions League crown.

“We all dig down deep and do our part when things get tough,” Griezmann said. “Without my teammates, I couldn’t do anything.”

WILLIAMS’ BRACE

Athletic Bilbao’s Inaki Williams has everything a team could want in a forward – speed, power and a good work ethic.

Everything, except for the ability to score lots of goals.

The 24-year-old Williams finally broke a two-year scoring drought at Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium to lead it to a much-needed 2-0 victory over Sevilla on Sunday.

Williams netted both goals, and they were almost worth such a long wait for fans.

Williams got his first goal when he cut back from the left side and blasted a strike into the far corner of the net.

He topped that in the 84th with an eye-catching, 50-meter solo run that started in Bilbao’s territory. Williams used one touch to tap the ball forward before he sped between two defenders, streaked to the area, and rounded goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik before gliding the ball home.

“What I have experienced today is incredible,” Williams said. “Personally, I am so happy to score at San Mames after such a long time. It is very important.”

Williams also scored Bilbao’s winning goal last round on the road. Its first back-to-backs wins of the season were good enough to lift the Basque club out of the relegation zone.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

La Liga: Barcelona still on top, but Atleti keeping pace

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

[ MORE: What did we learn in the Premier League, Week 18? ]

Barcelona 2-0 Celta Vigo

Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table heading into Spain’s two-week winter break following a more than comfortable 2-0 home victory over Celta Vigo on Saturday.

Ousmane Dembele and Lionel Messi bagged the goals for Barca, as they have so frequently done in recent weeks. Messi played a key part in the opener, scored by Dembele, as it was his shot that was saved but spilled into the path of Dembele in the 10th minute. Messi made it 2-0 just before halftime.

Following a particularly rocky run of results in September (four games without a victory), Barca have since righted the ship and won seven out of their last nine league games. Their lead is, however, just three points, as Atletico Madrid closed the gap and briefly pulled to within a single point.

Atletico Madrid 1-0 Espanyol

Speaking of Atleti, Diego Simeone’s side secured its third straight victory via an Antoine Griezmann penalty kick in the 56th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 1-1 Eibar
Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Real Valladolid

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Valencia v. Huesca — 6 a.m. ET
Leganes v. Sevilla — 10:15 a.m. ET
Rayo Vallecano v. Levante — 12:30 p.m. ET

Ballon d’Or: Modric ends Messi, Ronaldo’s 10-year duopoly

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Luke Modric was named 2018 Ballon d’Or winner on Monday, breaking up the decade-long reign of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — or, is it Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi? — who had each won the award five times in the last 10 years.

[ MORE: VAR coming to Champions League in February; Pep “delighted” ]

The 33-year-old midfielder played a pivotal part for Real Madrid as Los Blancos lifted their third straight UEFA Champions League trophy — the first club to win it back-to-back, let alone back-to-back-to-back — and was even more central to Croatia unexpectedly reaching the World Cup final, where they ultimately lost to France.

Messi finished fifth in voting for the 2018 award — the first time he’s been outside the top-three since 2006 — while Ronaldo finished second behind his former Madrid teammate. World Cup winners Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe finished third and fourth, respectively.

Mbappe took home the inaugural Kopa Trophy, given to the best player under the age of 21. American attacker Christian Pulisic finished second.

[ MORE: FA Cup draw: PL giants handed lower-league opponents ]

Lyon and Norway forward Ada Hegerberg was crowned the first-ever female Ballon d’Or winner after someone realized that female players should be celebrated, too. Unfortunately, organizers felt the event needed a DJ and Martin Solveig chose to disgrace himself and Hegerberg’s accomplishment with a hugely inappropriate comment.

Fortunately, Hegerberg was able to impart a great bit of wisdom and inspiration before Solveig intervened and hijacked the moment.

French couple in legal fight to name son ‘Griezmann Mbappe’

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A French couple are currently in a legal battle to name their son after two of France’s World Cup winning stars.

“Ah, he’s so cute, little Griezmann Mbappe” has a ring to it right?

Maybe not, but still, why is this an issue? The parents have named their son after two legends of French soccer, players they obviously admire.

Is this any different than someone calling their son James because they love watching LeBron James play basketball? Okay, that was a bad example…

According to local reports in La Montagne, the baby was born in the southern town of Brive earlier this month and has already been given the name. However, due to laws in France stating that the name must be changed if it “is contrary to the interest of the child” the police may force his parents to name him something else.

I’m looking forward to his first birthday when he gets two special visitors turning up at the front door…