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La Liga: Barcelona, Atleti win big; Messi’s free-kick magic

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

[ MORE: Chelsea hand Man City a first loss | Liverpool win to go top of PL ]

Espanyol 0-4 Barcelona

Barcelona’s lead in the title race grew from one point to three after Lionel Messi and Co., thrashed local rivals Espanyol in the Catalan derby on Saturday — with partial thanks to second-place Sevilla’s 1-1 draw with Valencia.

Messi scored the first and fourth goals — each a stunning free kick brilliantly stroked into corners opposite one another in either half of the game. The latter wasn’t to be scoffed at, but the former was dropped so perfectly — down to the millimeter — it warrants re-watch after re-watch.

Surprisingly enough, it was the first time Messi has scored two free-kick goals in the same league game. Ousmane Dembele (assisted by Messi) and Luis Suarez chipped in with a goal each during the first half.

Atletico Madrid 3-0 Alaves

Atleti were the other key beneficiaries of Sevilla’s slip-up, as Diego Simeone’s side took their opportunity to move level on points for second place.

Nikola Kalinic opened the scoring in the 25th minute, bundling home the ball from Santiago Aris’ cross, followed by Antoine Griezmann (82nd) and Rodrigo (87th) who put the game to bed not long before full-time.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia 1-1 Sevilla
Villarreal 2-3 Celta Vigo

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Eibar vs. Levante — 6 a.m. ET
Huesca vs. Real Madrid — 10:15 a.m. ET
Real Sociedad vs. Real Valladolid — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Rayo Vallecano — 2:45 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.

Champions League wrap: Messi, Mertens star in wins

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Four spots remain in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 following Wednesday’s group stage action.

Who’s qualified for the knockout rounds? Ajax, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, Manchester City, Manchester United, Porto, Real Madrid, Roma, and Schalke are moving into the new year.

[ MORE: Robbie Keane announces retirement ]


Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Inter MilanRECAP

Christian Eriksen‘s late finish of a fine team goal gave Tottenham Hotspur hope of the knockout rounds.

PSV Eindhoven 1-2 Barcelona

Lionel Messi had a goal and sent in the ball that Gerard Pique sent home for Barca’s second goal in a win which seals Group B.

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Atlético Madrid 5 4 0 1 9 6 3 3-0-0 1-0-1 12
Borussia Dortmund 5 3 1 1 8 2 6 2-1-0 1-0-1 10
Club Brugge 5 1 2 2 6 5 1 0-1-1 1-1-1 5
Monaco 5 0 1 4 2 12 -10 0-0-2 0-1-2 1

Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Club Brugge

American youngsters Christian Pulisic and Ethan Horvath faced off at the Westfalenstadion, with the Club Brugge goalkeeper making a few stops on Borussia Dortmund’s young star. Okay, so there’s a bit more to this one than that, but given the lack of goals, it’s what sat atop our minds. BVB moves onto the knockout rounds with the point.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 AS Monaco

Thierry Henry’s side went behind before the clock hit 2:00, and Monaco has officially been eliminated from European competition regardless of what happens at home to Dortmund on Dec. 11.

Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Barcelona 5 4 1 0 13 4 9 2-0-0 2-1-0 13
Tottenham Hotspur 5 2 1 2 8 9 -1 2-0-1 0-1-1 7
Inter Milan 5 2 1 2 5 6 -1 1-1-0 1-0-2 7
PSV Eindhoven 5 0 1 4 5 12 -7 0-1-2 0-0-2 1

 

Napoli 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Marek Hamsik scored early and Dries Mertens added two before halftime as Napoli cruised into pole position in Group C. A draw, scoring 1-goal loss, or better against Liverpool will be enough for a knockout round berth (a PSG loss also helps).

PSG 2-1 LiverpoolRECAP

The Reds conceded twice early and only put one shot on target, a penalty kick, as Neymar’s had a fine day at the Parc des Princes.

Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Napoli 5 2 3 0 7 4 3 2-1-0 0-2-0 9
Paris SG 5 2 2 1 13 8 5 2-1-0 0-1-1 8
Liverpool 5 2 0 3 8 7 1 2-0-0 0-0-3 6
Red Star Belgrade 5 1 1 3 4 13 -9 1-1-0 0-0-3 4

Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0 Galatasaray

Vladislav Ignatyev’s 54th minute marker joined a late first half own goal in giving Lokomotiv its first win of the group stage.

Porto 3-1 Schalke

Both sides are moving on, but Schalke’s late Nabil Bentaleb penalty wasn’t enough to drag the Bundesliga side back into the match. USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie did not play for Schalke.

 

Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
FC Porto 5 4 1 0 12 4 8 3-0-0 1-1-0 13
FC Schalke 04 5 2 2 1 5 4 1 1-1-0 1-1-1 8
Galatasaray 5 1 1 3 3 5 -2 1-1-0 0-0-3 4
Lokomotiv Moscow 5 1 0 4 4 11 -7 1-0-2 0-0-2 3

Messi, Dembele combine to give Barca late equalizer at Atleti

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Barcelona may not finish the weekend atop La Liga’s table, but a dramatic late equalizer means Atletico Madrid won’t leapfrog their longtime foes.

Lionel Messi set up Ousmane Dembele for a 90th minute winner to cancel out Diego Costa‘s 77th minute opener, as Barca won a stingy affair at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday.

[ MORE: Real blown out at Eibar ]

Streaking toward the top of the 18, Messi trapped a cross with a thigh and used his second touch to play Dembele into the right side of the box. The young Frenchman than coolly fooled Jan Oblak to pot the match-tying goal.

Barca had 70 percent of the ball, and Costa’s goal was the only Atleti effort on goal.

The match was one of just five staged Saturday in La Liga, with five more on tap for Sunday. If Sevilla beats visiting Real Valladolid, it will go atop the table.

Messi made his Barcelona debut 15 years ago

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The legend of Lionel Messi became known to the world outside of Rosario and Barcelona 15 years ago today.

In a friendly match on November 16, 2003 inaugurating Porto’s Estadio do Dragao – built for the upcoming Euro 2004 tournament – Frank Rijkaard and Barcelona traveled west with many reserve and youth players, as most of the first team stars were away on international duty.

[READ: Bayern confident of signing Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey]

Messi, who was just 16-years old at the time and began the season five levels below the first team in Juveniles B, had impressed in a rare chance to play against the first team players and was brought along in the traveling squad. In the 75th minute, Rijkaard brought on Messi to play as a forward, and he created a pair of chances, nearly scoring on a sloppy pitch.

Though it was 11 months before he made his La Liga debut and another year before he became a first team mainstay, the legend of Messi was born in Portugal as the young Argentine finally took the field. Fun fact: Porto’s coach on that day? The one and only Jose Mourinho.

Barcelona released a documentary on Messi’s Barcelona debut, with Messi re-watching his performance and providing his comments and memories. Watch it below: