You can't really call Real Madrid's clasico win a tactical victory.

That's because frankly, manager Carlo Ancelotti -- as he promised ahead of the game when he said there would be "no surprises" -- did nothing particularly fancy that night. His XI -- with Isco in for the injured Gareth Bale -- picked itself. (Or, if you're really, really cynical, you might say a man named Florentino Perez picked it.)

What Madrid did was execute and figure out a way to get a lopsided, top-heavy lineup to work against a devastating offensive force like Barcelona. The answer came on the training ground, both in persuading "skill players" to bust their rear ends in ways they've rarely had to do before, and in teaching them the difference between efficient running and wasted effort. It's nuts and bolts stuff, an old-school blend of man-management and simply teaching the game, something Ancelotti does very well.

Across the way with Barcelona, Luis Enrique had far more to think about. He had many more options and many more to get wrong. He made three big personnel decisions and was criticised for all three.

Was it fair? Let's see.

Switching Jeremy Mathieu from central defence to left-back was designed to curb Cristiano Ronaldo and provide cover for Neymar. Mathieu, of course, has played left-back for most of his career, but for the past year or so has excelled centrally.

It may have been a way to keep his size and defensive nous in the lineup without breaking up the Javier Mascherano-Gerard Pique partnership, but it meant giving up on Jordi Alba's width and effectively leaving Neymar to battle alone on the left wing.

The questionable decision was compounded by the fact that Mathieu contributed little offensively (apart from one vicious, driving shot that Iker Casillas saved well) and even less defensively.

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Ballon d'Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo and four-time winner Lionel Messi are among 23 players on FIFA's list of contenders for this year's award honouring the world's top player.

The list was compiled by the FIFA Football Committee with the help of French magazine France Football. It will be trimmed to a shortlist of three on Dec. 1, with the winner announced at a ceremony in Zurich on Jan 12, 2015.

Messi won the award four straight years from 2009-2012, while Ronaldo won it in 2008 and 2013. The award was presented solely by France Football until 2009, and the publication joined with FIFA's World Player of the Year Award for the 2010 edition.

The list features 17 players from Europe, five from South America and one from Africa (Yaya Toure). World champions Germany are the most represented with six entries.

All of the candidates play their club football in Europe, for only eight different clubs, with Real Madrid and Bayern Munich tied for the most with six each, followed by Barcelona with four.

Two goalkeepers were named to the shortlist: Belgium's Thibaut Courtois and Germany's Manuel Neuer.

There was no place on the list for Barcelona striker Luis Suarez, who was named the Premier League's Player of the Year last season while at Liverpool and shared the Golden Ball award as Europe's top goal scorer last term with Ronaldo, following his four-month ban for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini during a match at the World Cup.

The list of 23 contenders:

Gareth Bale, Wales, Real Madrid
Karim Benzema, France, Real Madrid
Diego Costa, Spain, Chelsea
Thibaut Courtois, Belgium, Chelsea
Angel Di Maria, Argentina, Manchester United
Mario Gotze, Germany, Bayern Munich
Eden Hazard, Belgium, Chelsea
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden, Paris Saint-Germain
Andres Iniesta, Spain, Barcelona
Toni Kroos, Germany, Real Madrid
Philipp Lahm, Germany, Bayern Munich
Javier Mascherano, Argentina, Barcelona
Lionel Messi, Argentina, Barcelona
Thomas Muller, Germany, Bayern Munich
Manuel Neuer, Germany, Bayern Munich
Neymar, Brazil, Barcelona
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Almost exactly two years ago, Liverpool faced Swansea City in a League Cup tie at Anfield. The Reds went into the game struggling for form in the Premier League and with new boss Brendan Rodgers trying to implement a new way of playing while juggling the extra demands of European football.

Liverpool entertain Swansea again this week in eerily similar circumstances: plagued by indifferent league results and with Rodgers bemoaning a lack of time to work with his players on the training pitch due to the congested fixture list. The one significant difference is that he is not a new boss anymore, although in some ways it feels as though he is. The Reds are clearly in a transitional phase once again, and it's almost as if last season never even happened. The goalless draw at home to Hull City at the weekend was disappointing in the context of who Liverpool were, but actually represented some degree of progress in terms of who they now are.

The performance was an improvement on much of what has been served up at Anfield previously this season, even if the result didn't reflect that. It wasn't particularly good, but it was certainly not as bad as matches vs. Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and Ludogorets, while it was no worse than the Southampton or West Broom games. The 1-1 draw with Everton was perhaps the only time this season that Liverpool have played better at Anfield, which in itself shows just how far -- not to mention how quickly -- they have fallen.

It was only their second clean sheet of the season, and there were some -- although ultimately not enough -- encouraging signs at the other end, particularly from under-fire striker Mario Balotelli, who was much-improved compared to his previous outings.

The Italian was deservedly criticised after ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)

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Nicolas Anelka has acknowledged the positive impact Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger had on his career as he prepares to return to the pitch in India.

Anelka, 35, has not played a competitive game for 10 months following his five-game ban after celebrating a goal for West Bromwich Albion with the infamous "quenelle" gesture.

The former Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea forward is expected to feature for Mumbai City FC against Chennaiyin FC in Tuesday's Indian Super League encounter.

Anelka told The Times of India that Wenger, 65, who brought the then-18-year-old to Arsenal from Paris Saint-Germain for 500,000 pounds in 1997, had set him on the path to footballing superstardom.

"I think Arsene Wenger was good for me. He signed me and made me what I am today. He gave me a chance and I took it. After him, I think Kevin Keegan was good. He was a striker, so he understood me well enough. Then I have to make a mention of Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea. He is clever, won everything as player and manager and brings the best out of players. When he speaks, he makes you feel good and, for me, he was special to work with."

After missing his team's first three league matches, Anelka will have only a limited time to shine for his new club, which is coached by former Sunderland boss Peter Reid.

The ISL season ends in December, leaving Anelka free to take his pick of the offers that are likely to come his way during the January transfer window. He suggested, however, he has no firm plans for 2015.

"I have no idea what I am doing next," he said. "I left Chelsea after almost 15 years of professional football and I wanted to be more relaxed in my career. There is a lot of ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)

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Crystal Palace co-chairman Steve Parish has denied that a takeover of the club by Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris is imminent.

American billionaire Harris -- a private equity investor, who also National Hockey League side New Jersey Devils -- has been linked with the London club amid reports in the Guardian that a 70 million-pound deal is "90 percent" complete.

However, Parish told the News Shopper: "There are always people who want to buy football clubs. Sometimes people approach you and it gets out, sometimes people approach you and it doesn't, but there is no imminent takeover.

"We are talking to a number of people on a number of fronts. I've always said that if somebody wanted to invest in the club and move it forward quickest than I or we (CPFC 2010) can then we would entertain it.

"We look at all possibilities that are out there -- and there are many -- but people have been quite ahead of themselves on this one."

Palace's owners, CPFC 2010, reportedly first held talks over a possible sale during their recent preseason tour of America when Palace played Philadelphia Union on July 25, while Harris and business partner David Blitzer have been interested in a Premier League club since the summer when they were linked with a takeover of Aston Villa.


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Aleksandar Kolarov believes Manchester City have been better than Manchester United for the last five or six years.

The Premier League champions host their local rivals on Sunday as they look to repeat last season's derby successes, when they won 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium and 3-0 at Old Trafford.

"It is a great game to watch or play in," Kolarov told TalkSPORT. "I think every player in the world would like to play [in] this game. United has a great history but in the last five or six years, I think we have been superior to them."

City have emerged victorious in six of the nine derbies since April 2011 and have won the league in two of the past three seasons, finishing 22 points ahead of United in the 2013-14 campaign.

But those are the only two occasions in the Premier League when City have finished above United in the table while, since 2008, the red half of Manchester has been able to celebrate nine derby wins and the blue half just seven.

While City were Manchester's dominant force last season, Kolarov is adamant they cannot afford to get complacent, especially after United's expensive overhaul.

New manager Louis van Gaal spent 152 million pounds on six players, breaking the British transfer record to bring in Angel Di Maria, and Kolarov expects them to improve this year,.

He added: "United is always United, a great club with a great history and if you don't respect them a lot they are going to beat you. They change a lot of players and are in progression now.

"They have changed the manager and bought a lot of great players and I think they can do a good season in the Premier League.

"Van Gaal has a lot of experience. They have bought some great players so it is up to ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)

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Real Madrid dominated the list of winners as the Spanish Football League (LFP) awards were handed out a gala in the Spanish capital on Monday night, with reigning Liga champions Atletico only claiming one prize.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the evening's big individual winner, taking home the trophies for best forward, best overall player and best goal.

"I have a hat trick of awards, it is spectacular," he said. "I'd like to thank my teammates, without them I wouldn't have been able to score so many goals. I'd also like to thank my girlfriend, my family and the fans.

"I'd like to be back next year and to keep winning awards. That is why I dedicate myself one hundred per cent, to win team trophies and also individual ones. I have had a great time tonight. Thank you very much."

The reigning holder of the Ballon d'Or -- who heads the 23-man list of contenders for the 2015 award -- also saw teammates Keylor Navas (at Levante last season), Sergio Ramos and Luka Modric win awards for best goalkeeper, defender and midfielder respectively.

"I always train the same," Navas, who has been behind Iker Casillas in the pecking order since moving to the Bernabeu, said. "I have been through difficult situations before, at the moment I am very relaxed while really wanting to show all I have. So I think that no decision will change my mentality.

"I came to Madrid to try and fight for a place. I will keep doing that, independent of what happens. If I am not in the team I will support my teammates. "I will always be ready for when the boss has me in mind to give me playing time. I still have my level and my confidence, and am ready for when he needs me."

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Robin van Persie admitted he wasn't thinking clearly amid the emotion of scoring a 94th minute equaliser in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea when he took his shirt off.

The Manchester United captain was branded "stupid" by his manager Louis van Gaal for his celebration on Sunday, which earned him a booking.

It was Van Persie's third caution of the season and means he is now only two yellow cards away from a suspension. But the former Arsenal captain said he got carried away as explained his actions after his injury-time leveller against the league leaders.

"I know it's one of the rules that you have to keep your shirt on, but sometimes you forget and everything comes together and the whole place explodes," he told reporters.

"It was one of those fantastic moments and the main thing is that we got something out of this game because we deserved it.

"It was a big relief for the fans, for the players and for everyone at Manchester United that we got the goal in the end. The whole stadium exploded and it gave us a big boost."

Van Persie's goal against Chelsea was his third of the season and extended United's unbeaten run to four games, but they are still eighth in the Premier League table and 10 points behind Jose Mourinho's side at the top.


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Cristiano Ronaldo saluted another "fantastic" Real Madrid performance as the European champions claimed a comprehensive 3-0 win at Liverpool.

Ronaldo himself was in scintillating form, opening the scoring in their Champions League Group B encounter midway through the first half with a tremendous half-volley finish from James Rodriguez's delightful chip.

Surprisingly, it was the forward's first goal at Anfield and, although he passed up several further chances to add to his tally, it mattered little as Karim Benzema's brace had put the Spanish side three goals ahead before half-time.

Carlo Ancelotti's men eased off in the second half, perhaps with their attention on Saturday's Clasico, but that did not take away from a memorable display for Ronaldo.

He told Sky Sports: "It was special. It was my first goal here, so I feel very proud for that. I feel happy. We win three points, so amazing.

"We knew before the game that Anfield is a difficult place, but I think we played fantastic, especially in the first 45 minutes, and we deserved to win.

"I'm happy because it's dedication and hard work, but the best thing is that the team wins. We have nine points, so 75 percent of the qualification is done.''

Real now have one foot in the knockout stages as they are six points ahead of Liverpool, Basel and Ludogorets, and Ronaldo sees no reason why they cannot become the first team to retain the Champions League.

"Why not? We're thinking step by step,'' he said. "We know that the qualification is the priority of the team, but we're going to try, like last year. We know it's going to be very tough, but we are positive and it will be possible if we play like that.''


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Substitute Lukas Podolski netted a dramatic late winner as Arsenal came from behind with two goals in the final two minutes to beat Anderlecht 2-1 and hand manager Arsene Wenger a 65th birthday to remember at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium.

It had looked like the Gunners were set for a second away defeat in Champions League Group D after the Belgians went ahead through Andy Najar on 71 minutes.

However, just as time was running out, England full-back Kieran Gibbs cracked in a superb volleyed equaliser, before German forward Podolski swept home a dramatic winner.

Arsenal had started brightly, but Santi Cazorla blasted an early chance horribly wide after good work from Alexis Sanchez.

Anderlecht had a point to prove having been undone 3-0 at home by the Group D leaders Borussia Dortmund last time out and were dangerous going forwards, led by Cyriac, the former Charlton forward, and the industry of Dennis Praet, who once had a trail at Arsenal as a teenager.

The Gunners had plenty of possession in the Anderlecht half, but rarely looked like breaking down the home defence during a tepid first half.

Sanchez saw a close-range flick saved after a floated free-kick into the Anderlecht penalty area as Arsenal showed some signs of life, with Aaron Ramsey then shooting just wide.

Arsenal's clearest opening of the night came on 63 minutes when Cazorla was played clear down the left, but his angled drive was saved by Silvio Proto.

It proved a costly miss as Anderlecht took the lead on 71 minutes when a floated cross from Praet was headed in by Najar.

Former Portsmouth defender Anthony Vanden Borre had a miskicked effort loop onto the top of the crossbar.

Martinez saved from Steven Defour, but Arsenal rallied after Gibbs' smashed home a deep cross by right-back Calum Chambers before Podolski won it in ..... (article cut to save bandwidth)

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