Thursday Kickoff: Real Madrid stumbles, Mancini praises Tevez and more

Ronaldo (Getty Images)

Real Madrid's lead in La Liga is not so insurmountable anymore.

Jose Mourinho's side played to a drew for the second straight game, allowing 17th-place Villarreal to take a point in a 1-1 draw Wednesday. As a result, Madrid's one-time, 10-point lead over Barcelona is down to six points with 10 games remaining in the league, including one head-to-head matchup at Camp Nou next month.

Marcos Senna's goal off an 83rd-minute free kick cancelled out Cristiano Ronaldo's opener off a beautiful pass from Mesut Ozil before things got out of hand. Ozil, Sergio Ramos and Mourinho were all sent off in the final minutes of the match, and vocal Mourinho assistant Rui Faria had been sent off at the beginning of the second half for dissent as well. 

Highlights from the match and more stories from around the soccer world are after the jump:

MANCINI PRAISES TEVEZ

Carlos Tevez' return to Manchester City's first team went about as well as it possibly could.

Entering the club's match against Chelsea as a substitute, Tevez played an integral role in the come-from-behind victory, coming up with a slick pass to play Samir Nasri in on goal for the game-winner. After six months away from the club, a war of words and a transfer saga that seemingly had a new twist each week, Tevez has managed to win praise from manager Roberto Mancini, who once said that Tevez would never play for the club again as long as he was manager.

"It was an important, incredible assist for Samir's goal," Mancini said. "When he plays he knows where he should take the ball. He is an important player. … I spoke to Carlos after the game and he was happy, like the other players, but I have been speaking to him every day for the last month and it is normal."

With the victory, City are within one point of Manchester United at the top of the Premier League table.

MARSEILLE POSTPONES LEAGUE GAME FOR UCL FOCUS

Marseille is France's last hope at fielding a UEFA Champions League winner, and as a result, the league is allowing the club to postpone a league match to give it the best possible chance at advancing to the semifinals.

The French League has pushed Marseille's scheduled match against Montpellier to April 11 from March 31, giving the club maximum rest between its two-leg quarterfinal against Bayern Munich, which takes place on March 28 and April 3.

The move is akin to what MLS did for Real Salt Lake in its CONCACAF Champions League run last year, postponing a match between RSL and the Philadelphia Union to give Salt Lake more rest in between the two legs of the final against Monterrey.

TOULALAN NEEDS SURGERY

Malaga's quest for a place in Europe took a bit of a hit after the club learned that French star Jeremy Toulalan needs foot surgery for a broken bone.

Toulalan, a key starter for the fifth-place Spanish side, will be out while the club chases Levante and Valencia for places in the UEFA Champions League and tries to hold off a host of clubs hot on its tail for a spot in the Europa League. Malaga currently sit in fifth place with 41 points, three behind Levante for the league's final UCL spot and two clear of Atletico Madrid for the league's final UEL berth.

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Do you think Real Madrid will hold on and win La Liga? Think Tevez can lead City to the Premier League title? Do you think Marseille has a shot against Bayern Munich regardless of its league schedule? Do you see Malaga sealing a place in Europe without Toulalan?

Share your thoughts below.

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15 Responses to Thursday Kickoff: Real Madrid stumbles, Mancini praises Tevez and more

  1. What a BS move by Marseille and Ligue 1.

  2. K Bone says:

    I really can’t believe Tevez was playing again. No way in hell would they have let him play if they weren’t four points back. What kind of message does that send to Tevez? Really is a shame. Also, Madrid are really starting to choke…

  3. Toumba says:

    It happens all the time in other leagues as well. Not really a big deal.

  4. AdamFromMich says:

    I do not think Tevez can lead City to the Premier League title, but I think he can contribute to them winning the title. The key will be if Tevez can accept that role.

    In addition, I find it easy to believe that he’s playing again. It’s hard to sell a player (for a decent amount) when the potential buyer’s haven’t seen him play for almost a year. Having Tevez play for a couple months here at the end of the season will make it easier, and more profitable, to sell him before next season.

  5. BSU SC says:

    I will never understand why MLS did not give the LA Galaxy the same courtesy that League 1 gave to Marseille. They gave Toronto and Seattle (and RSL last year) consideration for the champions league when putting together the domestic league schedule. Their poor decision making this year may have cost the league an opportunity to have one of its teams win it all.

    If Corinthians can come up with the cash, then Tevez will hopefully be back in Brazil next year. He has more than worn out his welcome in England.

  6. The English Premier League seems to think it’s a pretty big deal. In the past, managers have effectively done the same thing by playing the match as scheduled but with a team primarily comprised of reserves. And when they do, they get fined for it.

    Besides, regardless of whether other leagues do it doesn’t mean it’s right. March 11th is a Sunday. Suck it up and play the match.

  7. Muenster says:

    I think they did. The two week break the LAG are enjoying now courtesy of MLS scheduling was intended for their semi-finals run. The requirement and expectation was that they would walk over Toronto in the quarter-finals despite the momentary schedule congestion.

  8. fischy says:

    I thought Tevez would have the assist of the day, but Ozil’s pass to Ronaldo was even sweeter. The loss has to be on Casillas, who should’ve done better in Senna’s kick. It was a good kick but definitely close enough to Casillas, if he had read it better.

  9. Spectra says:

    I saw Ramos’ stupid second yellow so he can take some blame as well but what was the Ozil crap all about.

    Also attention all assistant coaches for Real. Stop pissing off the ref throughout the game.

  10. Vinz Clortho says:

    Exactly, cue the Price is Right sound…

    Wa wa wo wow brrrrrr

  11. RK says:

    Who is drew?

  12. Scott says:

    Only reason Mancini is praising him is that Dzeko is been useless for months and they need goals to catch ManU

  13. bryan says:

    That foul which lead to the free kick goal was a load of crap. But man, Madrid needed to do a better job defending that! Then Ramos makes such a STUPID tackle when he is on a yellow. Then the ref started going insane (again, he was terrible all game) and issuing cards left and right. Ozil didn’t deserve to get a straight red. That was a terrible decision.

  14. Toumba says:

    Well I guess you are right then…..if the EPL does it then everyone else better do it too. (Sarcasm)

    Teams in many leagues request to move games all the time. It could be because of European commitments or because of domestic cup competitions. Their individual leagues decide what is best. The EPL does not set the standard for other leagues. And not every league is a slave to the T.V. and sponsorship deals that the EPL has. Some federations actually see it as an advantage to have their teams play well in European competitions. You will learn this when you start following football a bit closer.

  15. CJ says:

    In Barcelona, they’re smelling blood.