10 Things: Madrid derby, massive Harry Kane-ness, and everything else you missed while pretending the Grammys mattered

Macklemore. Iggy Azalea. Sam Smith. In every way possible, the Grammys are trying to convince us they’re irrelevant, yet here we are, 18 hours later, wondering why we rearranged our soccer weekend to watch an antiquated ritual.

Granted, nobody actually rearranged anything, but this post is based on a premise, one that’s patently false. No soccer fan would skip Saturday’s Madrid Derby because of a Sunday night award show. But as any decent logic class will teach you, you have to accept an argument’s premises to assess validity. And the argument here? The Grammys are terrible.

So instead of dwelling on our awards show addiction, let’s embrace the positives. Soccer happened, again, with Spain’s rekindled title race taking top billing. If Diego Simeone doesn’t have a Grammy, how important can they really be?

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Atlético owns Madrid

Atléti have met their former overlords six (SIX!) times this season, and they’ve yet to lose. Between Supercopa, Copa del Rey, and Liga, the reigning Spanish champions have posted four wins and two draws against universal behemoths Real Madrid. After this weekend’s 4-0 loss at the Vicente Calderón, Madrid still has the edge in league, but in the teams’ head-to-head rivalry, it’s replaced Atlético.

Perhaps you can look at Saturday’s result in terms of the asterisks – the “we didn’t haves” of Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Luka Modric and James Rodríguez for El Real. If this weekend’s result was a one-off, that’d make sense, but over the last 363 days, the only win Madrid has over its rival was in the Champions League final. If Ramos doesn’t score in stoppage time to push that game into extra time, Madrid’s biggest club would be eight games without a win over Atlético.

But Madrid did win that game, which happened to be the teams’ most important derbi ever. That buys some slack. Still, if El Real ends up facing Atlético in Champions League, do you trust its talent to buck this trend?? Because at this point, Diego Simeone has shown talent is only one part of the equation.

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Missing: Cristiano Ronaldo

CR7 was back from suspension on Saturday, though you may not have noticed. Like the other parts of El Real’s “BBC” attack, Ronaldo was held without a shot on target, giving more credence to the (bad) notion Madrid is better without him.

Add in a tiff with a reporter, some controversy over his birthday party, his new violent streak and, oh yeah, his team’s collapse on Saturday, and 2015 is off to a bad start for 2014’s best player. In the ebb and flow of the “world’s greatest” debate, it now seems like it’s Lionel Messi’s turn.

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Not missing: Lionel Messi

One goal and two assists for Lionel Messi in Barcelona’s 5-2 romp at San Mames has the Barcelona star back in line with his typical, Messi-eqsue production. Between league and Europe, Messi now has 31 goals and 14 assists in 28 games. Ronaldo? He’s not that far in front.

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In fact, if you take out penalty kicks, Ronaldo’s actually lagging, if only slightly. Messi’s per-90 stats in both goals and assists best his rivals, once you take the spot kicks out.

Since Messi returned from winter break, he has 10 goals and five assists in nine games. Cristiano may have owned 2014, but thus far, 2015 has been the year of Lionel.

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Everything’s coming up Harry Kane

Stats are one thing. Winning North London derbies? Perhaps even more important, particularly if you’re a Spurs product whose numbers have yet to assuage doubts. Harry Kane may be up to 12 Premier League goals, but there are still lingering (if quickly fading) questions. We don’t know why he’s been so successful. Apparently, the fact that he is successful isn’t enough.

After scoring twice in this weekend’s 2-1 win over Arsenal, however, calling Kane successful has become an understatement:

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Obviously, that’s not every 21-year-old ever. You can read more about that list here. The underlying point: Harry Kane has been damn good. How good? Debate that amongst yourselves, but it’s time to move beyond bewilderment and start respecting what the kid’s done.

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The Merseyside Derby was terrible

Everton and Liverpool played to a scoreless draw, a mild setback to the clubs’ hopes of qualifying for Europe and Champions League, respectively. Our man Simon Carr had the coverage. Simon, what can you tell us about this one?

“Yawn.”

Perhaps that’s harsh on Liverpool, who at least tested Joel Robles six times. Everton — playing at home, against its biggest rivals — managed one shot on target. With each passing result, mid-table starts to look right for the Toffees.

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England’s title race is fading away

José Mourinho wasn’t happy with the trip to Birmingham, eventually reverting to some version of his tired “you can’t play football if the other team blah, blah, blah” crap. With goals from Eden Hazard and Branislav Ivanovic, though, the Blues got their expected result, opening up a seven-point lead at the top of the standings with a 2-1 win over Aston Villa.

That lead has ballooned thanks to Manchester City’s four-game winless run — a run that would have been worse if it wasn’t for James Milner’s late free kick Saturday against Hull:

The goal allowed the defending champions to salvage a 1-1 draw, even if it did little to halt what’s become a winter slump.

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Big Louis van Gaal

West Ham was the better team on Sunday, but in a low-scoring sport like association football, being better isn’t always enough. Still, Sam Allardyce and his Hammers won a note of regard with their performance against Manchester United, currency “Big Sam” cashed in immediately after the final whistle:

“You might just criticize Louis van Gaal for playing long balls as much as you’ve sometimes criticized me for being direct,” Sam Allardyce told reporters after the 1-1 draw at Upton Park that saw Daley Blind grab a stoppage-time equalizer.

“It’s paid off for them, so you can’t knock it in the end,” Allardyce added. The style has definitely paid off for Allardyce during his career, especially at Bolton, where he was successful but gained a reputation for bruising, boring soccer that he’s never been able to shake.

Allardyce is tedious, but in this case, he’s not wrong, something that should make us reconsider the other times we’ve scoffed. What if he really is best suited for Real Madrid?

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Olímpicos and violence

If you told casual sports fans their 90-minute soccer investments would always result in (a) goals from corner kicks, and (b) violence, two valuable target audiences would come into play: MMA fans, and people with ridiculously short attention spans. Those are powerful demographics.

That’s why yesterday’s U.S. men’s national team game may have been the most important 90 minutes in soccer history. Michael Bradley: Olímpico. Clint Dempsey: Attempted decapitation.

It’s what the people want. Sure, the U.S. won 2-0, but how it won may prove more important.

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Ugh

Since Jill Ellis was promoted to head coach, the U.S. women’s national team has a win and a draw in six games against other Top 10 nations. Some important context: Before December, the U.S. was the No. 1 team in the world.

Unfortunately, that downward trend continued on Sunday with a 2-0 loss to France, a final score that flattered the U.S. Against one of the two best teams in the world, the growing fissure between the U.S. and its reputation looked like a chasm:

Had the U.S. lost 2-0 but only experienced a poor two-minute stretch (the time it took for France to score its goals), we’d have a different context for the result. That the U.S. was dominated, playing to every flawed expectation, means it can’t be considered a favorite at this summer’s World Cup.

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Cote de Champions

It took 23 years, but Ivory Coast, after years of close calls with its golden generation, finally reclaimed Africa’s top honor. After 11 rounds of yesterday’s tiebreaker shootout, Les Elephants downed Ghana to claim the 2015 Cup of Nations, with 35-year-old goalkeeper Boubcar Barry delivering the winning kick.

It wasn’t Drogba, either Touré brother, Gervinho, Zokora, Tioté, or any others who made big names for themselves playing in Europe who brought Ivorians the gift a generation sought. No, it was a washed-up former staple of that generation, someone who’d been put on the shelf to collect dust. But tonight he dusted himself off and showed that maybe all we needed was a little more patience. In our thirst to kill golden generations, maybe we ended up killing one off too soon. For the first time in 23 years, the Ivorians are champions of Africa.

 

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