With one of the toughest trips of the season, Real Madrid headed to San Mames knowing they would be up against the second best home record in La Liga behind their own as they faced Athletic Bilbao. Fortunately for Zinedine Zidane, Karim Benzema and Casemiro was on form as the holding midfielder played in Cristiano Ronaldo to cross for the Frenchman to open the scoring. Ernesto Valverde and his team wouldn’t give up though and Inaki Williams beat Marcelo to cross for Raul Garcia who nodded back to the path of Aritz Aduriz to level the scores. Real would emerge with the three points, though, as the Brazilian linchpin turned goalscorer, pouncing at a corner only three minutes after Aduriz’s equaliser.
That certainly put the pressure on Barcelona as they welcomed Valencia, who have enjoyed some good results at the Camp Nou in recent years. Voro’s side did little make life easy for Luis Enrique’s team, with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala the hero scoring from a corner. However, he soon turned to villain after Luis Suarez leveled the scores with a composed effort, and Mangala then pushed him down in the box to receive a red card and concede a penalty, which Lionel Messi dutifully stepped up to dispatch coolly. It was another loanee, this time Barcelona’s own, that ensured that the lead was short lived, with Munir firing into the far corner almost directly from kick-off to ensure the sides went in level at half-time. Messi didn’t let that last long, though, splitting the Valencia defence early in the second half to give his side the lead again, with former Valencia man Andre Gomes adding a fourth in the final minute of the game.
Sevilla capped off a dreadful week by seeing their title hopes all but ended as they fell to defeat in their final trip to the Vicente Calderon as Atletico Madrid revived hopes of a top three finish. Jorge Sampaoli’s side are seemingly in freefall and even Joaquin Correa’s late consolation effort did little to comfort the Argentinean. Atleti looked comfortable both on and off the ball after breaking the deadlock with a Diego Godin header. A tight affair was opened up when Antoine Griezmann smashed home a superb free-kick from distance, with Koke adding a third only 15 minutes later to reduce the gap between the two sides to just two points.
That result was of even greater importance for Diego Simeone and co. given the results of the chasing pack. Friday night saw Las Palmas, still reeling from the news that Quique Setien will leave the club at the end of the season, produce a most un-Las Palmas like performance to see off Villarreal. Kevin-Prince Boateng opened the scoring in the 10th minute but the Canary Island outfit held firm with their best defensive performance of the season to ensure that the Yellow Submarine would end the weekend seven points behind fourth place.
That gave a fresh opportunity to Real Sociedad as they too apply the pressure. A superb run of form put them into contention, but Alaves made it two defeats in a row in two Basque derbies in a row for Eusebio’s team, following on from their home defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend. Deyverson’s strike gave the Copa del Rey finalists the lead just before half-time and Esteban Granero did little to help his team’s efforts to get back into the game by seeing yellow twice in just seven minutes.
At the bottom end, Sporting Gijon secured a crucial win to keep their faint hopes of survival alive with a win over Granada. The two sides are both battling relegation but Sverrir Ingason’s goal for the away side spurred Sporting into life. The introduction of Lacina Traore propelled his side to score three goals in seven minutes, turning the game on its head before Traore missed a penalty which would have rounded off a complete display.
In another crucial six-pointer at the bottom, Leganes held Malaga to a 0-0 draw as neither side wanted to risk defeat, happy to take a five or six point gap on the relegation zone. In a dull encounter, both sides remained solid defensively. So too did Deportivo A Coruna in a Galician derby as they sought to climb clear of danger against Celta Vigo, but Iago Aspas scored the decisive goal to earn an away victory. That means that Depor will join Malaga in being just six points from safety. On the other hand, Osasuna seem more doomed than ever as they faced yet another defeat, this time to Real Betis.
Here are this weekend’s results in full:
Las Palmas 1-0 Villarreal
Eibar 1-1 Espanyol
Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Real Madrid
Alaves 1-0 Real Sociedad
Real Betis 2-0 Osasuna
Leganes 0-0 Malaga
Atletico Madrid 3-1 Sevilla
Sporting Gijon 3-1 Granada
Deportivo A Coruna 0-1 Celta de Vigo
Barcelona 4-2 Valencia
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Real Madrid.
Luka Modric could prove the perfect Emre Can replacement at Liverpool
The Croatian has been linked with a move to Anfield with Emre Can expected to leave this summer.
Emre Can looks set to be on his way out of Anfield this summer as the 24-year-old German international seems unwilling to sign a new contract at Liverpool.
Spanish news outlet El Gol Digital have recently linked Real Madrid with the German international, although they would have to fend off interest from European rivals Juventus.
Speaking to Sport 1, Can recently expressed his desire to be featured in the world team of the year at some point in his career.
For the 24-year-old, it would be difficult to turn down a club of Madrid’s magnitude and his departure would represent a blow for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Nonetheless, a swap deal for Real Madrid star Luka Modric would be a superb way to ease the pain of the German’s exit.
Reports linking Can with the Bernabeu come just a matter of weeks after Spanish newspaper Dario Gol expressed Luka Modric’s desire to leave the current Champions League holders.
The Croation international is reportedly keen on a return to the Premier League return, with Liverpool, along with Tottenham, named as front-runners for his signature.
Even at 32 years of age, the Croatian midfielder is still one of the best players in the world and would represent an excellent short-term fix for the Reds.
His brilliant passing range, his superb footballing brain, and his delicate skills are all crucial components that would boost Liverpool’s attacking threat.
Combined with a world-class attack consisting of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane, the Reds truly could stake a claim for the most dynamic frontline in England next season.
Most importantly, the addition of Modric could finally mark the replacement for Philippe Coutinho that many Liverpool supporters have been begging for.
A seasoned international with tremendous experience at the upper levels of world football would be a remarkable transfer for Klopp’s side, and would surely bolster their title aspirations in 2018/19.
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge
Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Chelsea held La Liga leaders Barcelona to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Lionel Messi finally broke his goalscoring duck against Chelsea to give Barcelona the edge after the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
Messi had failed to score in eight previous attempts against the Blues, but he was not to be denied on this occasion as he cancelled out Willian’s 62nd-minute opener.
A Chelsea clean sheet would have been a massive boost ahead of a daunting trip to the Camp Nou next month.
However, Messi’s equaliser 15 minutes from time means Antonio Conte’s men face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s showpiece competition.
Here are three talking points from Stamford Bridge…
Conte’s tactical approach so nearly pays dividends
But for the fatal error that led to Messi’s leveller, Chelsea would be heading to Catalonia in three weeks’ time with a one-goal lead to protect.
That they came so close to victory is testament to Conte’s tactical nous, which stifled Barcelona while also allowing the home side to flourish.
As expected, the visitors dominated the ball throughout the encounter. However, they created precious few opportunities as Chelsea’s back line held firm.
Conte had resisted the temptation to start with an out-and-out striker, with Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud both named on the bench.
The fluid movement of Pedro, Eden Hazard and Willian caused more problems than Barcelona have been used to this season and the Blues’ second-half goal was a deserved one.
Heading into the second leg, Conte will need to devise another masterplan if Chelsea are to proceed to the last eight.
Third time lucky for impressive Willian
The tricky Brazilian has by no means been a regular for Chelsea this season.
But he was given the nod against Barcelona in a three-man attack that featured Hazard as a false number nine.
It’s a system Conte has favoured recently, but although it failed to get the best out of Hazard, the same could not be said about Willian.
He was Chelsea’s chief threat and, on another night, could have walked off with the match ball.
Willian twice hit the post in the first-half, showing great skill on each occasion to create space and leave Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.
Despite his misfortune, Willian was unbowed and he broke the deadlock with a pinpoint finish that raised the roof at Stamford Bridge.
It was a fitting reward for a top-class performance that highlighted his natural ability.
Surely he can’t be far away from cementing a regular spot in Conte’s starting XI?
Messi ends Chelsea goal drought to have decisive say
It is not often that British football fans get to see the little magician at such close quarters, so each time he arrives on these shores it is to be cherished.
Chelsea had a game-plan to nullify his influence and in the first half this worked superbly.
Although there were the usual sublime touches that we have come to expect, Messi was largely shackled by a solid rearguard display from Chelsea’s three-man central defence.
However, it only takes a side to switch off for a moment for the Argentinian to flex his muscles.
A misplaced pass from Andreas Christensen was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, whose pull back enabled Messi to slide the ball past Thibaut Courtois.
Once the ball had arrived to him in the box, there was no doubting where it would nestle.
Messi’s exuberant celebrations underlined the importance of his equaliser in the context of the tie.
It could be the decisive moment.
Real Madrid 7-1 Deportivo La Coruña: Five talking points from Bernabéu
In Sunday’s post-match press conference, Zinedine Zidane said: “What changed today is the result, that we scored the chances we made, nothing else.” However, there is always a tale to tell, especially when it comes to Real Madrid and this week’s 7-1 thrashing of Deportivo de La Coruña was no different.
Cristiano Ronaldo made the headlines after taking a boot to the head when scoring a very valiant header, but it was Gareth Bale who got the standing ovation and was the reason behind a pervading brisk smile among the crowd.
He has played a significant part in the games in which he has appeared as a substitute this season and he was arguably the best attacking player Real had on the field last week against Villarreal.
After suffering from numerous injuries, the Welshman has managed to put his time on the sidelines behind him. He is currently the top scorer of the team with seven goals, despite missing out a handful of games.
With the league, all but theoretically over for Real Madrid, the hefty 7-1 win was important in many ways.
Real’s slump has put them 19 points behind arch-rivals, Barcelona, and they are currently sitting fourth on the table. The win, dare we say resurrection, over Deportivo La Coruna could mean a turnaround for Real Madrid.
Here are the five talking points of the tie…
Gareth Bale – the long-awaited return of the Welshmen
Real Madrid have had their fair share of creating chances in matches, half or full – they squandered them all. The quality of the chances was missing and misguided crosses were thrown to yield no results. Bale has brought the finishing-touch back to the team and his ability to run past defenders, creating space for an extra touch, has helped his side in scoring.
Bale, for the first goal against Deportivo, chested down the ball, took a touch and curled it around the defender past the goalkeeper – a famed finish he has personified over the years. He dominated the flank and his understanding with Dani Carvajal and Luka Modric was transparent. Meanwhile, his second reminded the hosts how they have missed him in the air.
For a team like Madrid, with players like Ronaldo, Ramos, Casemiro, Varane, and Benzema, scoring headers should be a norm. Although the case in the past, this term they have failed to replicate the same dominance in the air and the Welshman has reminded the crowd what he is capable of in this respect.
Squad rotation has played a massive role in Real’s recent triumphs and Zidane deserves credit for this. However, this season, the quality from the bench is not there. The contribution from the substitutes is lacking and their inefficiency to provide something concrete has let the team down.
Zidane stuck to his usual principles by putting out a B-team against Leganes for the club’s Copa del Ray clash, resting his star players.
Perhaps for the first time in the season, the squad looked fresher and near 100% if not fully fit.
This victory was a hard-earned one – Marco Asensio’s beautiful finish averted the eyes from an awful performance, but they managed to get the result.
That allowed the ageing squad members to take a breather and the performance against Deportivo was the subsequent result.
Lucas Vasquez and Mateo Kovacic were substituted and since contributed to the win, with the former providing an assist and the latter holding up the ball masterfully during the counter-attack, finished by Modric a few seconds later.
A comeback for BBC
The decision to switch back to 4-3-3, with no Isco on the field, asserted the fact that Real is a better side with a front three, instead of a no. 10 behind two strikers. Due to various injuries, it had been more 270 days since the famous trio were in action and it is clear that Madrid have dearly missed them.
Borja Mayoral started up front against Deportivo, only to be substituted by Karim Benzema, who has recently recovered from the injury. 4-3-3 resolved the issues Real were facing with a 4-4-2 diamond. The overlapping runs were seamless and during the transition, it was easy to defend. What that means for the future Isco is a separate debate.
The midfield three
It has been quite a while since fans have seen the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro, and Toni Kroos in full swing. As glamorous as it was, the link-up play had become damaged and Casemiro’s defensive cover was not proving up to par.
Against Deportivo, however, they were back to their brilliant best.
Casemiro bossed the game, winning seven balls, while weighing with a 92.3% pass success percentage and a brilliant lofted cross that was buried into the net by Ronaldo. He has been labeled as Claude Makélélé of Zidane’s Madrid – rightfully so, as well.
The link-up play between Kroos and Modric was also improved. The former didn’t suffer defensively, like he has done in his recent outings and his confidence seemed restored. Meanwhile, the latter scored a screamer, while proving his understanding with Bale is far greater than that with either Lucas Vasquez or Marco Asensio.
The big guns fired for Real Madrid, as Bale and Ronaldo both scored braces on Sunday, but the fact is that victory came against a struggling team – although Real needed a win like this to make a statement and build some momentum before the Paris Saint Germain showdown on Valentine’s day (you can predict this result with M88 betting in China).
In hindsight, the defensive frailties are still there to solve. Raphael Varane is solid, almost, and the Frenchman is having a great season. A downside to his game is his partnership with virtually anyone but Sergio Ramos – who is out due to injury.
In Ramos’ absence, Nacho Fernandez comes in. As good as they both have been individually, the understanding is not there – at least not yet.
Marcelo has improved his attacking play. He is great going forward but the concern is still there when it comes to tracking back, especially when the likes Neymar and Kyliann Mbappe will be running the show down the flanks.
Against Deportivo, Dani Carvajal had a solid game after some time and Nacho was undoubtedly the best defender of the night – scoring two goals and cleared one off the line with a brilliant sliding tackle.
A win like this could definitely boost the morale of a team which has been underperforming quite significantly. However, Real should not get too complacent with the victory as the tougher fixtures lie ahead.
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