Atletico face up­hill climb

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

MADRID — Barcelona and Real Madrid made it two wins from two, but both were thor­oughly tested and trail sur­prise early lead­ers Las Pal­mas, whilst Atletico Madrid’s ti­tle hopes con­tinue to dis­in­te­grate al­ready.

Atletico’s ti­tle chal­lenge over? Writ­ing off Diego Sime­one’s men af­ter just two games may seem harsh, but in a league where 90 points have been needed to win the ti­tle for the past six sea­sons, back-to-back draws to open the cam­paign leaves Atletico al­ready fac­ing a moun­tain to climb.

More­over, those four dropped points have come against newly-pro­moted Alaves and Le­ganes leav­ing star for­ward An­toine Griez­mann to con­clude: “If we keep play­ing like this we will be fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion.”

Hav­ing held onto Griez­mann and en­joyed a sum­mer with­out sell­ing one of their best play­ers for the first time in the Sime­one era, the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal­ists were ex­pected to pose a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to Barca and Real for the ti­tle.

How­ever, a fa­mil­iar prob­lem of break­ing down, in the­ory, weaker op­po­si­tion has blighted Atletico’s prospects with Kevin Gameiro‘s penalty at home to Alaves last week­end the only goal they have scored in 180 min­utes.

Af­ter such a slow start, tar­get­ing a first ever Cham­pi­ons League win and con­sol­i­dat­ing their sta­tus as Span­ish foot­ball’s third force seems more re­al­is­tic.

Barca’s un­pre­dictable Stop­ping Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ney­mar has been an al­most im­pos­si­ble task as Barca have won back-to-back Liga and Copa

del Rey dou­bles. How­ever, with Ney­mar still ab­sent af­ter win­ning Olympic gold with Brazil and Messi and Suarez rarely off-form, Barca still picked up a vi­tal 1-0 win at Ath­letic Bil­bao thanks to Ivan Rakitic’s win­ner.

Rakitic and De­nis Suarez con­stantly looked to run be­yond Luis Suarez be­hind the Ath­letic de­fence adding an ex­tra di­men­sion to Barca’s al­ready lethal at­tack. More­over, the Croa­t­ian’s goal was a bul­let header at the end of a flow­ing counter-at­tack.

With such va­ri­ety, Barca may be even harder to stop with the likes of Ney­mar and An­dres Ini­esta still to fea­ture in La Liga this sea­son.

Real still need Ron­aldo af­ter all Gareth Bale’s sen­sa­tional form in 2016, in­clud­ing a dou­ble as Madrid routed Real So­ciedad 3-0 last week­end, sug­gested the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons’ de­pen­dence on Cris­tiano Ron­aldo was eas­ing.

How­ever, with the Por­tuguese still side­lined by the in­jury that forced him off in the Euro 2016 fi­nal, a dis­jointed Real strug­gled for long pe­ri­ods be­fore Toni Kroos’s late win­ner sealed a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo.

Bale in par­tic­u­lar looked jaded by his long sum­mer with Wales at the Eu­ros and the sear­ing Madrid heat on Satur­day night in the kind of game in which Ron­aldo so of­ten comes to Real’s res­cue.

Boateng hav­ing a party in Las Pal­mas For­get Madrid and Barca, Las Pal­mas are the early-sea­son en­ter­tain­ers as they thrashed Granada 5-1 to go top of the ta­ble.

Kevin-prince Boateng’s move to the Ca­nary Is­lands was one of the more eye-catch­ing La Liga transfers over the sum­mer and the Gha- na­ian has so far lived up to the hype with a sec­ond stun­ning goal in as many games be­fore limp­ing off to a stand­ing ova­tion.

Boateng also took time to pay homage to the nearly 300 vic­tims of an earth­quake in cen­tral Italy this week hav­ing spent three years at AC Mi­lan.

Va­len­cia cri­sis deep­ens It seemed im­pos­si­ble for things to get any worse for Va­len­cia af­ter a three-coach sea­son in which they flirted with rel­e­ga­tion. Yet, they could end up in an­other bat­tle to sur­vive af­ter tak­ing zero points from their open­ing two games.

A 1-0 de­feat at Eibar fol­lowed a 4-2 hum­bling by Las Pal­mas at home last Mon­day and more bad news is set to come with the im­mi­nent sale of cap­tain Paco Alcacer to Barcelona.

A squad that fin­ished 12th last sea­son has al­ready been dec­i­mated by the de­par­tures of An­dre Gomes, Shko­dran Mustafi, Al­varo Ne­gredo and Sofiane Feghouli. — AFP CAPE TOWN — South African league cham­pi­ons Mamelodi Sun­downs were drawn against Chippa United, while Bid­vest Wits will face new­com­ers Cape Town City in the semi­fi­nals of the MTN8.

The draw took place af­ter the Sun­downs and Su­pers­port United match at Lof­tus Sta­dium on Sun­day, where the Brazil­ians ran out 3-1 vic­tors.

The semi­fi­nals, which take place over two legs, are sched­uled for the week­ends of Septem­ber 10 and 17 with the teams play­ing home and away.

Wits, who will host the first leg, reached the last four af­ter de­feat­ing Or­lando Pi­rates 2-1 on Satur­day, while City edged Kaizer Chiefs 1-0 on Fri­day.

Sun­downs’ op­po­nents Chippa dis­patched Plat­inum Stars 2-0 in their quar­ter­fi­nal match on Satur­day af­ter­noon.

The Chilli Boys will wel­come the Brazil­ians in the first clash.

The MTN8 tro­phy re­mains the only tro­phy that coach Pitso Mosi­mane (pic­tured) is yet to win with Sun­downs. — Sport24

Barca still picked up a vi­tal 1-0 win at ath­letic Bil­bao thanks to Ivan rakitic’s win­ner.

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