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Multiple reports: Watford set to hire Gracia as manager

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Watford looks set to appoint Javi Gracia to its managerial position, hours after firing Marco Silva and blaming Everton for the manager.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

Gracia led Malaga to eighth and ninth place finishes in La Liga between 2014-16 before spending last season at Rubin Kazan.

Gracia, 47, has led promotion campaigns in Spain and has plenty of experience with perceived smaller clubs battling the drop zone.

Watford will hope the Hornets don’t reach that point, still five points clear of the drop after flirting with the Top Seven for the first quarter of the Premier League season.

Spanish club Malaga fires Gonzalez after 4th straight loss

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MADRID (AP) Malaga fired coach Michel Gonzalez after the team’s fourth straight loss in the Spanish league.

The club made the announcement on Saturday, a day after a 1-0 loss at Getafe that kept Malaga 19th in the 20-team standings.

[ MORE: Spurs rout Everton, Chelsea struggles against Leicester ]

Malaga has lost every game since early December.

It has 11 points from 19 league matches.

Gonzalez had been in charge since last season, when he helped the club from southern Spain move away from the bottom of the standings and finish near mid-table.

“Since the beginning of the season the team wasn’t able to put together a series of good results to be able to leave the relegation zone so a shakeup was needed to help the team react,” Malaga said.

A replacement coach has not been announced.

Malaga’s next match is on Jan. 22 at Eibar.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.

 

Big bargain? Everton tabbed as favorite for ex-Barca prospect Sandro

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Whether Sandro Ramirez has come of age or just tapping his potential, the ex-Barcelona star may reap even more rewards for Malaga.

Sandro turns 22 next month and scored seven goals in 32 appearances for Barca between 2014-16. Remarkably, he was a free transfer to Malaga after the Blaugranas released him.

[ MORE: UCL Final preview ]

The move has been a smashing success, with Sandro bagging a goal about every other game and not just against the minnows of La Liga. Sandro twice beat Sevilla’s back line, also scoring against Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.

Even more surprising is Sky Sports’ report that Sandro would only cost Everton around $6.5 million. That’s nuts, and could be one of the best bargains in ages. We wouldn’t be surprised if, should that number be real, other suitors knock on Malaga’s door.

Sandro is a striker, but would ease the burden if Ross Barkley departs Goodison Park.

La Liga roundup: Barcelona earns crazy win, Atletico keeps pace

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Barcelona faced adversity against Valencia at the Nou Camp, but they fended off pesky Valencia 4-2 on a pair from Lionel Messi and one each by Luis Suarez and Andre Gomes.

The first half was wild. Eliaquim Mangala headed home a corner to put Valencia ahead inside the opening half-hour, but it wasn’t long before Suarez hit back to draw back level. It appeared to be crumbling for the visitors when Mangala picked up his second yellow card for a pull-back Suarez in the box, both earning Barcelona a penalty and seeing Valencia down a man. Messi bagged the penalty before the break for a 2-1 lead, but Valencia struck back not a minute later as Munir El Haddadi scored on the stroke of halftime to make it 2-2 at the break.

The pivotal moment came in the 52nd minute as Neymar was clean through, but Diego Alves made an incredible save to keep the game level. Moments later, Messi put Barcelona in front with his 25th La Liga goal, skirting two defenders and beating Alves to his near post. That put Barcelona 3-2 up, and they finished it off against the tiring visitors with one from Andre Gomes with two minutes to go.

Atletico Madrid scored a massive victory by beating Sevilla at home 3-1. Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, and Koke all scored to give the home side all three points, a huge win that closed the gap with Sevilla in third at just two points. Griezmann’s goal was especially pretty, a left-footed rocket on a free-kick just outside the box that clipped the underside of the bar and cannoned in.

The loss likely shuts the book on any outside shot Sevilla may have had at the La Liga title, now sitting eight points back of Real Madrid, who also has a game in hand.

Elsewhere, Celta Vigo had struggled to translate its solid Europa League performances into sustained league form, but they managed to this weekend with a 1-0 win over Deportivo. Iago Aspas in particular is on a roll, and he scored the lone goal in the game, his sixth goal in his last nine games across all competitions. Aspas managed to slip by three defenders unnoticed at the back post, and Claudio Beauvue met him with a cross for the 74th minute goal.

Sporting Gijon got a big win in a huge relegation matchup, winning 3-1 to move onto 18 points, just one back of their opponents. They’re still seven points off safety, but they now have some life in the fight. All three of Sporting’s goals came in a seven-minute span just past the hour mark.

Finally, Malaga continued to struggle, finishing with a scoreless draw against 17th placed Leganes. Malaga has won just one league match since November 26th.