Real Madrid’s 4-2 victory over a on-fire Granada had it all: a Karim Benzema goal, Eden Hazard‘s first La Liga goal, a Luka Modric rocket goal, a laudable response from the visitor’s, and a game-winning tap-in from James Rodriguez.
Surely, the result and now a clear lead in the league’s table is what Zinedine Zidane needs to continue carrying his campaign forward in the right direction. But that’s not only what the Frenchmen is getting.
As Saturday’s result showed, Real Madrid’s star-studded lineup, following an alarming start, is back on its two feet. Luka Modric – although it’s unlikely he’ll lift it again – is regaining the level that earned him the Ballon d’Or in 2018. Gareth Bale, who had his fair share of severe ups and downs with Zidane over the summer amid talks of a move to China, has regained his from – visible in his assist to Benzema two minutes into Saturday’s game.
Hazard, too, is showing signs of the assimilation process coming to an end. The Belgium scored his first La Liga goal, and offered a well-rounded performance to compliment such accomplishment. Off the bench, James continues to make the case that he won’t stop fighting for a starting spot anytime soon.
All in all, Real Madrid’s victory against a second-place Granda, who remain as the biggest surprise of the season, goes to show that the giant is awake and hungry.
Following international break, Zidane and company will travel to Mallorca, while Granada aims to get back into winning ways against Osasuna.
Valencia 2-1 Alaves
Just days removed from being routed in at home in Champions League play, Valencia responded in valiant fashion.
Back at La Mestalla, Albert Celades and company put together their second consecutive win against a tough Alaves side.
Following an efficient counter-attack, Maxi Gomez broke deadlock with a calmly taken right-footed strike inside Alaves’ box 27 minutes in.
Nothing would separate either side for nearly 60 minutes, but then a foul on Daniel Parejo occurred inside the box. A penalty was award in favor of the home side. Of course, the captain capitalized from the spot, recording his fourth of the season.
Late in stoppage time, Alaves responded with one of their own. Former Arsenal man Lucas Perez pounced on a second chance ball inside the box, but it was far from being enough to earn the visitors any points.
Unbeaten in their last four, Valencia move to the eighth spot ahead of their match against Atletico Madrid following international break. Alavaes, on the other hand, host Celta Vigo.
If Real Madrid and Barcelona are, again, going to battle toe-to-toe for La Liga, consider the former team to have a head start.
Hours after Barca got the Aritz Aduriz treatment, Real Madrid – playing with 10 men for more than 40 minutes – took care of business, calmly beating Celta Vigo behind goals from Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Lucas Vasquez. Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric was sent off for a straight red in the 54th minute, while Gareth Bale, who stole headlines this summer after being rumored to leave time and time again, started and played 75 minutes.
Despite not having control of possession, the quality from Zinedine Zidane’s men was too much for Ruben Blanco. For instance, just look at Kroos’ strike from distance:
Celta, on the other hand, had a goal disallowed by VAR right before halftime, but still managed to spoil Thibaut Courtois‘ clean in the dying minutes when Iker Losada, 18, scored two minutes after taking the field.
Valencia 1-1 Real Sociedad
Four minutes into stoppage time, Kevin Gameiro had the picture-perfect opportunity to record a brace and seal three points for Valencia in their first showing of the new campaign.
In front of an anxious Mestalla, he missed.
And just six minutes later, in the final breathe of the match, Mikel Oyarzabal did what Gameiro failed to do: convert from the spot. The rumored Manchester City target was influential all match and, in the end, rewarded with a goal.
A tough pill to swallow, Valencia will now look to earn their first win against Celta Vigo, while Sociedad next stop in their three-game road trip to start the season is Mallorca.
Villareal 4-4 Granada
It wasn’t the matchup the majority had circled on their calendars, but Villareal and Granda’s 4-4 draw proved to be the most entertaining game on Saturday. A pair of penalties and an own goal were a few of the goals that made up the eight-goal frenzy.
Santi Carzorla – looking healthier than ever before – opened things up from the spot 35 minutes in. In the 75th minute, another familiar face, Roberto Soldado, put Granada a goal away from the home side. Shortly after, in the 81st minute, Antonio Puertas bagged Granada’s fourth and the night’s final goal.
An eight-goal match in such fashion will be hard to top on Sunday, that’s for sure.
Real Madrid weathered a Real Valladolid penalty miss, two opposing goals ruled out by VAR, and an eventual opener for the hosts, before finally rising up to a 4-1 win at Estadio Jose Zorrilla. While Karim Benzema scored twice in the second half in the comeback win.
Madrid full-back Alvaro Odriozola fouled Sergi Guardiola just 12 minutes in, but Ruben Alcaraz delivered a horrid penalty miss miles over the bar. Moments later the hosts had the ball in the back of the net but VAR ruled Keko offside on his delivery for Guardiola’s goal. Next up, Guardiola was offside as he headed the ball into the net before the 20-minute mark, but he’s flagged for offside and VAR confirms the decision.
Finally, they went in front as Moroccan midfielder Anuar finishes off a combined delivery from Keko and Guardiola. That was the blow to wake Real Madrid up, and they would go on to a storming victory. Raphael Varane started the party in the 34th minute to equalize thanks to a horrible punch from Jordi Masip, and Benzema got his first from the penalty spot soon after halftime. He put Madrid 3-1 up on a header from a Toni Kroos corner, and despite Casemiro’s marching orders 10 minutes from time, Luka Modric finished the scoring as the game wound down on a feed from who else but Benzema.
10-man Valencia looked to have coughed up a late lead after Facundo Roncaglia was sent off, but 19-year-old Ferran Torres rescued all three points in the 90th minute with a vicious counter. Girona had equalized twice in front of the home fans, for the second time in the 83rd minute, but the young Valencia product rounded Girona goalkeeper Bono on a breakaway and scored into the open net to secure the win, moving his club into seventh in the table.
Jonas Ramalho was the first to bring Girona back level in the 22nd minute, canceling out Goncalo Guedes’s early goal. After Dani Parejo put Valencia back in front soon after the halftime break, Roncaglia earned two yellows in a 10-minute span as the visitors lost a man. Cristhian Stuani was on hand to take advantage from the spot with seven minutes to go, but Torres pulled Valencia into sixth in the La Liga table.
Real Betis kept pace with Valencia with a 1-0 win over Celta Vigo, finally finding a winner in the 80th minute as Jese Rodriguez pinged home a rebound after a shot from Cristian Tello was saved by Ruben Blanco. The visitors at Estadio Municipal de Baladios dominated the match with 14 shots to Celta Vigo’s seven, holding the hosts to just a single shot on target. Betis sits in seventh, level with Valencia on points but back on goal differential.
A four-goal second half saw Sevilla run away with a 5-2 win over Real Sociedad at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium. Wissam Ben-Yedder scored a second-half hat-trick to lead the way, with the third coming from over 30 yards out as goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli challenged way out of net on a breakaway but was beaten. Sevilla moved to sixth with the win, jumping both Valencia and Betis.
Lionel Messi became the first player to ever score 400 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues (WATCH HERE), because of course he did. Other than that, Sunday was little more than a routine day out for Barcelona, who maintained their five-point lead in the title race with a 3-0 victory over Eibar.
Luis Suarez put the home side ahead after just 19 minutes; Messi made it 2-0 in the 53rd; Suarez grabbed another to complete the scoring six minutes later.
That’s six straight league victories for Barca, and seven straight without defeat.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Levante
Atleti have prevailed as the main — if not only — formidable title challengers to Barca, now five points clear of third-place Sevilla and fourth-place Real Madrid. Alas, the same gap still exists between themselves and the defending champions.
All Diego Simeone’s side can do is keep winning and hope that Barca slip up somewhere along the way. Sunday’s home clash with 11th-place Levante was something of a grind, but Antoine Griezmann’s 57th-minute penalty kick was just enough to extend Los Rojiblancos‘ unbeaten run to 16 games. The trouble, of course, is that they have dropped points in seven of them.
Real Betis 1-2 Real Madrid
Dreams of the title have long since gone for the other Madrid — probably — as their attention should now turn to a full-on rebuild of an aging squad. In the meantime, Los Blancos are still made up of a number of world-class players. Take, for instance, 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, who scored one of the best goals of his brilliant career on Sunday.
1) You can only save one Premier League memory from 2018. What do you choose?
Joe Prince-Wright: I am going with Liverpool’s 4-3 win against Man City at Anfield in January 2018. What a game between two teams going at it and playing very different ways to the highest possible level. It was a precursor for some epic Champions League battles between Liverpool and Man City.
Kyle Bonn: Has to be Manchester City’s dominance and Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut. I absolutely loved watching that team, especially given how much of a mess it was when Pep first got there. He turned around so many players, namely John Stones and Raheem Sterling, and that’s always something special.
Dan Karell: It was from last January but it’s got to be Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City. Man City wrapped up the title early and recorded a record amount of goals and points, but this was arguably the game of the season. Terrific action for all 90 minutes.
2) Remember the World Cup? That was just this summer! What was your favorite part of the tournament? How about the USMNT’s efforts in it?
Joe Prince-Wright: I obviously enjoyed England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals and I honestly believe they would have matched up very well against France and would have had a great chance of winning it all. The way Gareth Southgate’s young side made an entire nation believe again and changed the mood around the Three Lions completely was truly remarkable to see. Also, LOL about the USMNT. What a debacle that should never be repeated. Simple.
Nicholas Mendola: Not the Lionel Messi sub plot, as even his fine performances couldn’t overcome the hype about whether it was enough for his legacy. Also, not Serbia getting the short end of the officiating stick on multiple occasions.
There were some great matches! The final was special, as was France 4-3 Argentina in the Round of 16. But Belgium and Japan turning a 0-0 halftime into a 2-0 Japanese lead en route to a 3-2 Belgium win, with Nacer Chadli scoring in stoppage? Holy smoke what a game.
Kyle Bonn: I think my favorite part of the tournament was appreciating the parity that came along with it. Germany bombed out in the group stages, Argentina looked pedestrian, and Spain looked fallible, all while Croatia built a juggernaut, Peru looked competitive, and Sweden won a group. This was the world’s World Cup and that was fascinating.
Also, the USMNT didn’t lose a single game all tournament, so I’ll give them an A-
Dan Karell: Ugh, stop! I think England’s run to the semifinals was a lot of fun, along with Croatia’s constant wins in penalty kick shootouts and them overcoming the odds again and again. Ultimately, France was too talented to be stopped, and Didier Deschamps did a masterful job keeping them tight defensively and letting his side’s speed and counter-attacking ability steal the show.
3) Which player do you hold in higher esteem than you did entering 2018? Who’s much lower?
Joe Prince-Wright: David Silva. I always knew he was good. But I didn’t quite appreciate how good. He is essential to Pep Guardiola’s style and will probably go down as one of City’s best-ever players, if not the best.
Lower… I am going with Daniel Sturridge. Perhaps a little harsh, but I thought he would be able to work his way into this Liverpool attack as the first back-up. He hasn’t achieved that at all.
Nicholas Mendola: I knew Christian Pulisic was good before Jan. 1, 2018, but how much of a factor he’s become in every match is beyond compare on an American level. There’s Clint Dempsey in 2011-12 at Fulham for the gold standard of Americans Abroad, and the question of whether he matches it, improves on it, or does it again and again.
As for lower, and I know this is heavy territory, but pretty much the way everyone associated with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus dealt with the rape accusations against him. Allegations are allegations until proven true, but showing a modicum of class to the victim (and all victims) would’ve been nice.
Kyle Bonn: If this is possible…Mohamed Salah. I always love seeing players go from one-hit wonder to actually good player, and while only the ultimate of cynics believe the Liverpool star would ultimately fade as just a flash in the pan, I enjoyed seeing it proven on the field.
Less, I have to go with Alvaro Morata. I thought he would be a slam dunk at Chelsea, and his disastrous tenure has led to rumors of a quick exit. I am quite disappointed in his performances there and his inability to find the scoresheet despite a wealth of talent around him. It’s a shame, because he showed so much promise at Real Madrid, and I hope he finds success either with a second chance at Chelsea or someone else who gives him an opportunity after Stamford Bridge.
Dan Karell: Anthony Martial. His second half of 2018 has been tremendous compared to his previous 18 months in Manchester, which all led to him missing out on the World Cup. A player who’s stock has dropped for me is his teammate, Alexis Sanchez. After joining Man United in January. Sanchez has been invisible this season and it’s unclear if Man United will ever recoup its investment in Sanchez.
4) Who is the soccer world’s person of 2018?
Joe Prince-Wright: Luka Modric. What he managed to achieve with both Real Madrid and Croatia, plus win multiple top awards as the best player on the planet, was exceptional. The Croatian midfielder was a total team player and made his teammates better due to his hard work, vision and delivering in clutch moments. His role to lead Croatia to the World Cup final was reminiscent of Diego Maradona and Pele leading their respective nations to glory in the past. Modric was Croatia’s talisman as they just came up short by losing to France in the final.
Nicholas Mendola: Kylian Mbappe. At the age of 20, with club turmoil caused by Neymar and Edinson Cavani and the pressure of an entire country, Mbappe led France to a World Cup title and Paris Saint-Germain to plenty of wins. But even better than that is the example he sets at such a young age, donating his World Cup winnings to charity and admitting that footballers are paid an “indecent” wage.
Kyle Bonn: Great – and tough – question. So many good options. Jurgen Klopp has to be my choice though, as he’s finally seeing his Liverpool project come to fruition. The Reds made the 2018 Champions League final and have shaken their inability to perform against bottom sides in Premier League play. It’s always fun to see a years-long project not only committed to, but completed. The Reds are a scary team to play for anyone in the world, and that’s down to the revolutionary tactics and recruitment of Jurgen Klopp.
Dan Karell: If it’s a manager, it’s got to be a tie between Didier Deschamps and Pep Guardiola for everything they succeeded. Perhaps it’s even Zinedine Zidane, who took the bold move to resign as Real Madrid manager after a third-successive Champions League title.
5) What topic are you extremely happy to leave in 2018: the USMNT coaching search, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, or a third option?
Joe Prince-Wright: USMNT coaching search definitely. Quite why that took so long was outrageous. Berhalter could have been appointed months sooner than he was to start building the identity of the team. That would have been a smarter move. Southampton’s 2018 was also woeful, so I am happy to leave that there as the squad they have should be pushing for a top 10 finish, not battling against relegation for a second-straight season. I actually think that history will be kind to Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United, but it just became so boring and predictable towards the end and we have already seen the gloom has lifted at Old Trafford. It worked out well for everyone, even Mourinho.
Nicholas Mendola: The USMNT coaching search. At some point we were speculating on David Moyes taking the job because he was on the train to a friendly. Cool. Real cool.
Kyle Bonn: I was happy to see the USMNT coaching search finally come to an end, but disappointed in the result. I was glad to see Jose Mourinho leave Manchester United for the health of the club, but not for those of us covering the team (what a ride!). Honestly, I’m happiest to see the World Cup cycle leave, because the USMNT gets to start from scratch looking forward to 2022. While many have predictions and reservations about the US National Team at this juncture, it will be for the team to prove on the field, and Gregg Berhalter has a chance to lead an emotional redemption for the group.
Dan Karell: Jose Mourinho for sure. The constant moaning to the media, throwing players under the bus, and holding his players back got really old, really fast. Yes, the opposition in the last couple of games isn’t as good, but you can see that the Man United players have the shackles removed and are starting to look as if they enjoy their profession again.
6) Free skate: Any other thoughts about 2018?
Joe Prince-Wright: Watching Man City’s record breaking season up close was amazing. They made history and have set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the Premier League.
It was a reflective year for many Premier League teams who took steps towards long-term progression. Liverpool finally bought world-class defensive players, Man United sacked their manager, Arsene Wenger left Arsenal and Chelsea moved on with an exciting tactical project. Man City have leveled off a little but are still incredible to watch, while Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham are still defying the odds and will actually move into their new stadium soon. The top six have been fascinating to watch in 2018, and given four of them are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, it seems like English soccer has had a real resurgence on the European stage too.
Nicholas Mendola: I don’t want to be a downer and I know Leicester City happened just a few years ago, but it seems like it’s the end of non-giants making charges toward the Top Four. It’s not Liverpool’s fault for joining Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and Man City in spending ungodly amounts of dough. It’s not just about the money, because those arguments are also annoying and look at Everton and West Ham, but it is frustrating.
Kyle Bonn: 2018 was a great year of soccer, but the failures of the USMNT certainly bring it down from our perspective. There needs to be growth there moving forward, or it will be tough to build on the growing fanbase in this country.
Dan Karell: Regarding the U.S. men’s national team, it was an empty year that should have had a World Cup appearance to go with it. We saw a lot of new players make their debuts and other youngsters receive more minutes, but the team felt like the Israelites wandering for 40 years searching for the Land of Israel, with no direction. Hopefully now, with Gregg Berhalter (Moses?) in charge, the USMNT can find the promised land.
Another note: Atlanta United’s incredible success can’t go unnoted. To create a title-winning team in two years is incredible difficult, and the organization has raised the bar for MLS even higher. 2018 was a huge step for the league. Let’s see what 2019 brings.