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Spanish La Liga

La Liga Matchday 2: Real Madrid slip up early on as surprise leader emerges

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La Liga

Whilst the likes of FC Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid are not a surprise in the top six of La Liga, few expected Real Sociedad to be leading the table, with minnows Leganes and newly promoted Levante completing the top six. A number of impressive results saw the likes of Girona and Athletic Bilbao also remain unbeaten, whilst there are early reasons to be concerned for Celta Vigo, Malaga and Villarreal fans as they join Alaves and Las Palmas in still looking for a point after two games.

Game of the weekend – Real Madrid 2-2 Valencia

Real Madrid rarely drop points at home, and with the imperious form that they have been in of late, few expected them to do so on their home debut of the 2017/18 season. Without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos and the injured Raphael Varane, Valencia took a brave point.

Marco Asensio’s brace rescued the home side, who had surrendered their lead. Fellow youngster Carlos Soler leveled for Valencia only eight minutes after Asensio gave Real Madrid the lead, with debutant Geoffrey Kondogbia taking the reigns for the visitors with a smart finish. Fortunately for Zinedine Zidane, Asensio proved the saviour with a late free-kick.

Moment of the weekend – Xabi Prieto scoring Real Sociedad’s second goal against Villarreal

A season ticket holder at Real Sociedad since the age of five, captain Xabi Prieto has never played for another club and made his 500th appearance for the San Sebastian club on Friday night against Villarreal. He got on the scoresheet too to cap off a dream night for the midfielder.

Pouncing on a loose ball after the Yellow Submarine failed to clear from a corner, Prieto fired into the corner of the net sparking wild, passionate and emotional celebrations.

Goal of the weekend – Koke (Atletico Madrid’s fourth goal against Las Palmas)

Atletico Madrid were rampant in their win over UD Las Palmas on the Canary Islands on Saturday, and Koke had already notched one superb strike from the edge of the area. The second was even more impressive, as he reacted when Yannick Ferreira Carrasco’s dribble was ended and the ball bounced up in the box.

Only about eight yards out, the Spaniard produced a dramatic overhead kick which ended up in the back of the net as no-one else on the field reacted quick enough to prevent the ball from looping beyond Leandro Chichizola. You can watch the Spaniard’s impressive strike here.

Controversy of the weekend – Marcelo’s injury time “dive” against Valencia

With Valencia having pinned Real Madrid to a surprise draw at the Bernabeu on their return to their Madrid home, Zinedine Zidane’s side were bombing forward in the final moments. Marcelo was one of those, and in the second minute of injury time he went over in the penalty area.

Whilst most angles suggested it was a clear dive from the left-back, one did seem to show that there was contact. No penalty was awarded but there were whistles around the stadium as fans desperately appealed. In truth, even if there was contact, the Brazilian certainly made the most of it.

Player of the week – Marco Asensio (Real Madrid)

Narrowly ahead of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, both players rescued their sides. Asensio produced two fine finishes, and in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo he stepped up to fill in the roll of the superstar who led the attack for Real Madrid.

Asensio caused problems from start to finish and Valencia did not quite know how to handle the youngster. Racing forwards to pounce on a loose ball, his finish from distance left Neto with no chance and his free-kick from similar range with only eight minutes left on the clock earned his side a point late on.

Team of the week

 Three players in the team of the week recorded braces, including Koke, Lionel Messi and Marco Asensio. Kepa was in inspired form to deny Eibar for Athletic Bilbao, whilst a number of defenders produced top class displays with Pedro Alcala on the scoresheet for Girona and Matteo Mantovani also scoring for Leganes as both sides won by a goal to nil.

Sam is a football journalist focusing on English football at all levels and Spanish football. He also writes for Spain's biggest daily sports newspaper, MARCA, as well as The Boot Room. Find Sam on Twitter at @samleveridge.

Arsenal

Ever Banega could be the midfielder Manuel Pellegrini is looking for at West Ham

Manuel Pellegrini should look to act now if he’s serious about landing quality midfielders this summer.

Jamie Watts

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Valencia midfielder Ever Banega is reportedly being courted by Arsenal this summer, according to Gazza Mercato, as Unai Emery has managed the Argentine international at both Valencia and Sevilla. But West Ham should be looking to get in on the action.

The reports claim the 29-year-old’s agent will fly to north London to hold talks with the Gunners over a potential move, but Manuel Pellegrini will surely throw his name in the hat once the player arrives in the capital.

At the reported fee of £10.5 million – with his contract set to expire imminently – the former Inter Milan man could very well become the bargain of the summer, in a frantic market where players of his calibre go for five times the fee.

Photo: Getty Images

Pellegrini has been tasked with getting West Ham back to playing attacking and progressive football next term, and has identified a midfielder as the key to ushering in his new philosophy. The Chilean boss has courted the likes of Javier Pastore, Yaya Toure, Mario Lemina and most recently Jack Wilshere, but progress has stalled recently on the first three, and Banega could present a key opportunity to land a serious player on great terms.

The fleet-footed play-maker bases his game around control and creativity, buzzing around receiving the ball to feet frequently, before crafting attacks using his exceptional vision and passing range.

Photo: Getty Images

Banega’s impact was incredibly noticeable in Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Iceland at the weekend, as a second-half introduction sparked Lionel Messi and co into a far more dangerous outfit. The little maestro was constantly available for the ball and kept pressure sustained for long-periods, acting as the catalyst for building attacks after a disjointed first-half display.

And his style would certainly elevate the Hammers’ play next season in the England. Banega is that good, he could quickly become recognised as one of the finest Premier League midfielders and Pellegrini may regret letting him go to Arsenal uncontested.

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Atletico Madrid

Rafa Benitez should plot Fernando Torres reunion at Newcastle United

Rafa Benitez should plot a reunion with his former superstar.

Jamie Watts

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Newcastle United are reportedly in the market for new forwards this summer, with Rafa Benitez identifying the Magpies’ attacking output as a key weakness last term, despite their impressive 10th place finish.

The Spaniard is calling for the club to back him in pursuit of a “10 to 15 goals a season” striker this summer, with the likes of Salomon Rondon (Northern Echo) and Bas Dost (the Sun) circulating around the Newcastle rumour mill.

However, both would likely break the Magpies current club-record of £16 million – for Michael Owen from Real Madrid in 2005 – and perhaps Benitez would be better served going for a former favourite.

Photo: Getty Images

Fernando Torres is a free-agent having left Atletico Madrid, following last month’s Europa League triumph and Newcastle should offer the 34-year-old a route back to England’s top flight this summer.

Under Benitez’s tutelage at Liverpool, Torres was widely recognised as one of the most formidable forwards in world football, and though his impact has diminished over the years, there’s no doubting the World Cup winner’s quality in front of goal.

Photo: Getty Images

The prospect of an elite level striker arriving at St James’ Park on a free transfer is a no brainier if the player can be convinced and the club should make it happen.  He knows the league inside-out, having made 212 appearances for Chelsea – where he won the Champions League – and with Benitez at Anfield, and he could instantly propel Newcastle’s attack to higher levels.

Becoming a crucial part of a new project on Tyneside would be enticing for Torres, as his unwavering desire and tenacity on a football pitch is something that cannot be questioned. And he doesn’t seem the type to move to the States or China in pursuit of one last pay-cheque.

He has all the attributes to become a cult-hero at Newcastle, and the club should act now.

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Liverpool

Blow for Liverpool as Real Madrid enter race for Roma goalkeeper Alisson

Jamie Watts

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Liverpool have been dealt a blow in their pursuit of a new goalkeeper this summer, as Real Madrid are set to enter negotiations for Roma’s no 1, Alisson, according to reports from Sky Sports.

The Brazilian international has been touted as Liverpool’s priority target since the summer window opened, just days after current stopper Lloris Karius cost Liverpool the chance of winning their sixth European trophy, with two huge blunders in Kiev.

Jurgen Klopp was said to be weighing up whether or not to make a move for the 25-year-old, having been somewhat deterred by the Italians’ hefty asking price of £80 million this week. And another huge obstacle has presented itself, in the form of defending European champions Real Madrid.

Photo: Getty Images

The Spanish giants are readying an initial bid, which is expected to be somewhere in the region of £43 million, but the bid will likely be rejected given the Romans’ stance, wanting almost double the amount – making Alisson the most expensive keeper in world football.

However Madrid are reportedly willing to include add-ons that amount to around £60 million, with Sky in Italy suggesting that personal terms are agreed between the player and club.

If Roma are stubborn on their prize asset, Madrid will likely elevate their interest in Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois – who has also been linked with a move to Liverpool – as the Belgian international enters the final year of his contract at Stamford Bridge.

Photo: Getty Images

The Reds will keep monitoring the situation of the Roma man, who registered 17 clean-sheets in Serie A last season, but will continue pursuing alternatives. Barcelona’s back-up stopper Jasper Cillessen is on the wish-list, according to reports from Don Balon, should Alisson decide to leave for the Spanish capital, or to stay at the Stadio Olimpico next term.

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