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Europa League

  • Real Madrid vs Villarreal

    It was a record breaking run for the galactico to beat the record holds by their big opponent Barcelona against Villarreal, For the first time this season, Real Madrid failed to win a match. A solid display by visitors Villarreal and a poor first 45 minutes by the hosts made it difficult for Zinedine Zidane's team to pull off another comeback victory, and they settled for a 1-1 draw, though they were mighty close in the final minutes of the game.

    Despite Real Madrid's lack of control over the midfield during the first half, Villarreal generated only two dangerous attacks. Before Zidane made any substitutions, the team's second-half push had already generated clear scoring chances, with most players involved one way or another in the buildup. True to form, the side never gave up, but walking on a tightrope eventually ends badly.

    If Real Madrid's centre-backs already looked like a cause for concern in a few matches earlier in the season, this performance did little to ease those concerns. Raphael Varane looked less composed than ever in the first 45 minutes, while Sergio Ramos made his share of expected defensive mistakes.

    The match also showcased that starting an out-of-shape front three (Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo) without Casemiro demands too much of the midfield and eases the opposition's work to control possession. Finally, Marcelo's injury will worry Zidane, as Fabio Coentrao is still recovering from injury, and there's no other left-back ready to cover for the Brazilian, with tough matches against Las Palmas and Borussia Dortmund coming up.


    Manager rating

    5 out of 10 -- The lineup was unbalanced, something that became clear in the last 15 minutes of the first half. Similar to in other matches this season, it took Zidane too long to use his bench. However, the will to win he has instilled in his squad is impressive.

    Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

    GK Kiko Casilla, 6 -- Penalty aside, he did not have much work to do.

    DF Danilo, 7 -- He did fine both in the right- and left-back positions. Danilo didn't have the best judgement with the ball, but he compensated with one of his best physical displays at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    DF Raphael Varane, 5 -- Varane finished a weak first half with an ill-advised dribble in his own half when Real Madrid were playing with 10 men. The lost ball resulted in Villarreal's penalty and first goal. It wasn't his first questionable play with the ball, either. The Frenchman improved clearly in the second half.

    DF Sergio Ramos, 6 -- For the second consecutive match, Ramos stopped a shot with his hands in his own area. This time, his "I've been hit on the face" routine didn't work. In pure Ramos fashion, he drew level with a fantastic header early in the second half.

    DF Marcelo, 6 -- Marcelo had been rather participative offensively, with a few well-taken crosses until he picked up an injury and had to leave the match right before halftime.

    MF Mateo Kovacic, 7 -- Kovacic added stamina and mobility and showed that he can take the ball from defence to attack in a few seconds. With more playing time, he should grow in the side.

    MF Toni Kroos, 8 -- He's clearly in one of his best spells with Real Madrid. He passed well, short and long and even took a few shots himself.

    MF James Rodriguez, 7 -- Determined to earn a starting spot, Rodriguez made a clear effort in terms of participating and offering his help on defence. He made a couple uncharacteristic mistakes in plays in the final third.

    FW Gareth Bale, 6 -- A handful of crosses and a well-taken shot in the second half are well below what Bale can deliver. He's still far from his best shape.

    FW Karim Benzema, 6 -- Similar to what happened Sunday against Espanyol, Benzema started off poorly and grew as the game went along. Zidane is obviously helping Benzema to get in shape by starting him, but in this match, it was too much of a gamble, especially because the Frenchman is the least keen on defending of the front three.

    FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 6 -- He did not participate much, but he had a couple chances that could have changed the outcome of the match.


    DF Dani Carvajal, 7 -- He replaced Marcelo in the 43rd minute. He pushed forward as much as he could and had no major issues dealing with Villarreal's forwards.

    FW Lucas Vazquez, 6 -- Vazquez replaced Bale in the 71st minute and could have scored the winner in a block by Villarreal's defence, but it's hard to ask him to make the difference in every match when he has time for only three or four attacks.

    MF Alvaro Morata, NR -- He replaced Benzema in the 76th minute and forced an amazing save by Villarreal's Sergio Asenjo with a great header.



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  • Southampton wins by Three Goals

    Southampton’s stuttering start to the season is no more. After a less than convincing opening to life at St Mary’s Claude Puel has earned his first win at his fifth attempt and it was mostly thanks to Charlie Austin, who up until now has not been especially favoured by his new manager.

    Indeed Austin, beset by injuries and struggling to nail down a regular place, has not found life on the south coast easy since moving in January, but his two goals in the opening 27 minutes – his first since scoring on debut against Manchester United nine months ago – ensured a straightforward night against a limited Sparta Prague.

    At the end the only disappointment was that he could not use the remaining hour and a bit to complete his hat-trick, having also had a goal ruled out for offside, but on this evidence he will be given plenty more opportunities following such an accomplished outing. To improve matters further, Jay Rodriguez added a third in the second minute of injury time, tapping in after a one-two with Shane Long. It capped an important night for the club, who have made it their business not to take the Europa League lightly after years of hard work to reach this level.


    That commitment could easily have been questioned if the result did not go to plan, though, especially after Puel made seven changes from the side that started at Arsenal last weekend, but really it was plain sailing from the outset.

    “To win 3-0 was very important,” Puel said, but he has vowed to continue rotating heavily. “I think we cannot just think of 11 players. We have got to play every three days in September, October, November. I think a good squad and a good team is many players.

    “It’s important to keep an identity in our play and change the players. This is very important for all the players and it’s not important for me what players start in the game.”

    In comparison Sparta, knocked out by Villarreal in the quarter-finals last season, lined up with only three different faces from their most recent fixture but they were the ones that looked disjointed.

    It was evident from the outset that the visitors sought to frustrate by deploying three centre-halves, but that approach did not last long as Costa’s handball from Austin’s cross provided the striker with a chance to ease early nerves. There was some delay before the penalty was awarded, with the referee, Manuel Gräfe, initially waving for play to continue. One of his assistants brought the matter to the German’s attention, though, and he eventually pointed to the spot.

    Costa had certainly struck the ball with his left arm when sliding in to block but had precious little time to react and there was definitely no intention. Considering the debatable nature of the late penalty conceded to Arsenal on Saturday, it was a welcome change of fortune for Southampton.

    Austin needed to do some work to convince Dusan Tadic he was to take the kick, though, and Virgil van Dijk was required to push the irritated Serb away. It was soon forgotten about and Tadic made sure to congratulate his team-mate after a low powerful drive past Tomas Koubek. “It’s an anecdote,” Puel said of the incident, though Austin was more bullish, saying‚“it was a bit silly but I think I’ll be taking them in future.”

    If Southampton faced criticism for the absence of a finishing touch in recent games, they certainly seemed to have learned their lesson. Austin made it 2-0 in the 27th minute with a strong header following a delightful cross from Cuco Martina, who lofted the ball with the outside of his right foot.

    Sparta introduced the veteran Czech international striker David Lafata at the break but Southampton remained comfortable. Tadic was denied by a solid Koubek save after a neat exchange with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the 52nd minute and the best the visitors could muster was a fiery mid-range effort from Lafata that Fraser Forster got a strong hand behind to force away. Rodriguez, a substitute, got in on the act in the final seconds.


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