Inspired by Jude Bellingham, Real Madrid showed both steel and class to beat high-flying Girona 3-0 on Saturday and move back top of La Liga.
Real Sociedad thrashed Athletic Bilbao by the same scoreline to win the Basque derby later on and rise to fourth.
Girona headed into the weekend as unlikely leaders but champions Barcelona usurped them by beating Sevilla on Friday, with Madrid then deposing their rivals at the league’s summit with a solid triumph on Catalan soil.
Joselu and Aurelien Tchouameni’s first-half goals were enough to burst Girona’s bubble and after that the record 35-time La Liga winners kept the plucky upstarts at arm’s length.
The stylish Bellingham netted with 20 minutes remaining to seal Madrid’s victory and continue his own sparkling run of goalscoring form.
Madrid defender Nacho was sent off late in the match for an ugly high tackle on Portu, who went off injured.
“Nacho wasn’t thinking clearly, he’s usually a player who does things right, he has said sorry,” said Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, who praised his team’s display.
“It was a solid performance, strong, we defended well, we knew they could hurt us with the ball, they play good football, so it was important to defend well in our half.”
Michel’s side beat Real Madrid at home last season and their fans believed they could repeat the trick, but they found a determined side in their path.
In only their fourth season in the Spanish top flight and unbeaten in their first seven games, the City Football Group-owned team are flourishing, but their illustrious visitors arrived with a point to prove about the natural order of things, and snapped that run.
Ancelotti brought in Eduardo Camavinga at left-back to bolster the defence after Atletico Madrid found too much joy down the flanks in Los Blancos’ derby defeat last weekend.
The coach also handed Vinicius Junior his first start after injury.
Girona came out with their tails up, looking to capitalise on the boisterous home atmosphere at their small but fired-up Montilivi stadium.
They almost did, with Yangel Herrera heading narrowly over and Viktor Tsygankov hitting the post in an onslaught inside the opening five minutes.
However Madrid took the lead against the run of play to stop the hosts in their tracks.
Joselu converted from close range after Bellingham found the Spain striker with a sublime outside-of-the-boot cross.
Four minutes later the visitors netted their second, with Tchouameni given a free header from Toni Kroos’ corner, gratefully accepting his first goal for Madrid since joining in 2022.
Girona started the second half strongly and Kepa Arrizabalaga was called into action to repel David Lopez’s header.
Tchouameni survived a penalty appeal after tangling with Herrera inside his area as Madrid rode the pressure, with goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga denying Bellingham at the other end.
However few teams have been able to keep the England international at bay this season.
Bellingham, the division’s top scorer with six goals, turned home the rebound after Gazzaniga parried a Joselu effort to kill any hope of a comeback.
Nacho was dismissed in the final stages for his vicious foul on winger Portu, which sparked a brief brawl between the players.
“Carlo said it was a tackle that was out of place, and said sorry to us,” Michel said.
“No tackle of that style is understandable, but seeing the minute and the result at the time, even less so.”
Madrid lead with 21 points from eight games, a point ahead of Barcelona, who are in turn a point ahead of Girona.
Later on Real Sociedad climbed above rivals Athletic Bilbao, fifth, whom they beat 3-0 in San Sebastian.
Robin Le Normand sent the hosts ahead in the first half with the electric Takefusa Kubo adding the second soon after the break, his fifth goal of the season.
Mikel Oyarzabal extended La Real’s advantage on a fine night for Imanol Alguacil’s side, who have won three in a row in La Liga.
“We play well, everybody knows that,” Kubo told Movistar.
“If it’s not accompanied by hard work then in this league, you won’t beat anyone.”
Sabalenka to play in Brisbane
Aryna Sabalenka will launch preparations for the defence of her Australian Open crown by playing at the Brisbane International, organisers said on Tuesday.
Elena Rybakina – beaten by Sabalenka in the final in Melbourne at the start of this year – will also play at the December 31-January 7 Brisbane event.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka was already named in the field as she returns to tennis.
“I’m excited about starting my 2024 Australian season in Brisbane,” world number two Sabalenka said in a statement released by organisers.
“Australia holds a special place in my heart after winning my first Grand Slam there.”
Tournament director Cam Pearson said he was looking forward to welcoming the Belarusian Sabalenka and Moscow-born Kazakh Rybakina, who is fourth in the world.
“We all remember the exciting Australian Open final the girls played at the start of the year,” he told a news conference.
“That has really kicked off what is a pretty exciting rivalry between the two players.”
On the men’s side, fast-rising world number 17 Ben Shelton of the United States will join a draw that also includes three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray.
Pearson said he would welcome Australian Nick Kyrgios to the tournament if he recovers from injury in time.
“We would love to have him here, he’s a past champion and a fan favourite but he needs to do what’s best for him and his recovery,” he said.
“If that means he’s playing in January, fantastic.”
Kyrgios had knee surgery in January and then aborted comeback plans at Wimbledon after tearing a ligament in his wrist.
Giro fail to reclaim top La Liga spot
Surprise package Girona failed to return to the top of La Liga on Monday after they were held 1-1 at home by Athletic Bilbao.
Winger Viktor Tsygankov put the hosts ahead 10 minutes after half time but Inaki Williams scored 12 minutes later to claim a point for the away side.
Girona trail league leaders Real Madrid on goal difference after dropping points for just the third time this season, while Athletic climbed to fifth spot.
Athletic had the better of the first half and their best chance fell to Gorka Guruzeta but the striker poked his shot straight at Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
Girona had early chances of their own including an Aleix Garcia volley, which he skied over the crossbar, but did not find the rhythm they have found so often this season.
After the break, the hosts broke the deadlock when Tsygankov rifled home.
Williams, who started on the opposite wing from his brother Nico, equalised from a counter-attacking move that started in Athletic’s own box.
The wide man finished smoothly for his sixth league goal of the season as the Basques went looking for their third straight win.
With 10 minutes left, Inaki Williams came close to finding the winner as he cut in from the left but his shot was parried by Gazzaniga.
Inaki Williams was replaced in the final minute of normal time for youngster Adu Ares, but both sides were forced to settle for a point.
On Sunday, Rodrygo sent Real Madrid top with a double in 3-0 win at Cadiz.
Carlo Ancelotti’s Madrid are four points clear of fourth-placed Barcelona, who drew 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano on Saturday.
PCB announces Pakistan team management for Australia tour
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) have announced the Team Management for the upcoming Test tour to Australia, which is scheduled to take place from December 2023 to January 2024. They will be playing three Test matches in Australia.
Former England cricketer Adam Hollioake has been hired as the batting coach. Hollioake played four Tests and 35 ODIs for England. The 52-year-old transitioned into coaching, contributing his expertise to the England Lions team. His coaching abilities were further recognized when he was enlisted to join England’s coaching staff for the final two Ashes Tests during the 2021-22 series.
Meanwhile, Simon Grant Helmot will serve as the high performance coach on the tour. Helmot is an Australian cricket coach, who was formerly the coach of the Melbourne Renegades in Big Bash League.
Last week, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal were announced as fast-bowling and spin bowling coaches, respectively, for the Pakistan team.
Naveed Akram Cheema (Team manager), Mohammad Hafeez (Director – Pakistan men’s cricket team), Adam Hollioake (batting coach), Simon Grant Helmot (high performance coach), Umar Gul (fast bowling coach), Saeed Ajmal (spin bowling coach), Abdul Majeed (fielding coach), Mansoor Rana (assistant team manager), Shahid Aslam (assistant batting coach), Drikus Saaiman (strength and conditioning coach/Trainer), Cliffe Deacon (physiotherapist), Talha Ejaz (team analyst), Lt Col (Rtd) Akhtar Hussain (security manager), Raza Rashid Kitchlew (media manager), Ammar Ahsan (videographer), Dr Sohail Saleem (team doctor) and Malang Ali (team masseur).
The Pakistan cricket team will play their first Test match against Australia in Perth from 14 to 18 December, followed by a Test match in Melbourne, from 26 to 30 December. Sydney will host the last game of the tour from 3 to 7 January, 2024.
The squad is set to depart from Lahore on 30 November.
Pakistan squad for Australia Tests: Shan Masood (captain), Aamir Jamal, Abdullah Shafique, Abrar Ahmed, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Imam-ul-Haq, Khurram Shahzad, Mir Hamza, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Wasim Jnr, Noman Ali, Saim Ayub, Salman Ali Agha, Sarfaraz Ahmed (wk), Saud Shakeel and Shaheen Shah Afridi.
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