Bayer hammer rock-bottom Stuttgart to move into third place

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Bayer Leverkusen players celebrate their comfortable Bundesliga success.

Bayer Leverkusen moved up to third in the Bundesliga last night, leaving Stuttgart rooted to the foot of the table with a 4-0 win.

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Wendell put Leverkusen in front after they weathered an early storm, and Josip Drmic punished some weak Stuttgart defending to make it two four minutes later.

Karim Bellarabi got in on the act early in the second half before Drmic added the fourth to pile the pressure on Stuttgart coach Huub Stevens, whose fate looks all but certain after a defeat which leaves them only nine games to save their Bundesliga status. 

Stuttgart did not look like a side propping up the rest of the division as they had a spring in their step early on. Timo Werner provided the first chance of the game for Daniel Ginczek, but Bernd Leno parried his effort from point-blank range.

Leverkusen had to wait over half an hour for their first attack of the game, and it proved to be worth the wait. A succession of errors from Stuttgart defenders allowed the ball to end up at the feet of Wendell, who saw the road open up to goal and placed his effort past Sven Ulreich to open his account in the Bundesliga. 

Four minutes later, the Stuttgart defence fell apart again as Drmic found space to head in Roberto Hilbert’s cross from the right.

Kyriakos Papadopoulos went close to adding a third with headers either side of half-time before Bellarabi obliged in the 50th minute.

He tied Gotoku Sakai into a knot before beating Ulreich with a powerful low drive. Hakan Calhanoglu then teed up Drmic to make it four with his second of the night, a low shot into the bottom right-hand corner.

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Torres still has designs on challenging Barca and Madrid

Andy West 14/03/2015
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Onwards and upwards: Fernando Torres.

Atletico Madrid need a win today at Espanyol to stay in touch with the top two, according to Fernando Torres.

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Atletico have dropped to seven points behind leaders Barcelona after a run which has seen them take just five points from a possible 12, prompting manager Diego Simeone to declare their title challenge is over.

However with a Champions League tie against Bayer Leverkusen on Tuesday, Torres says victory will not only put them back in title contention but also deliver a confidence boost ahead of their European tie.

“We have to win because we need to keep in the running, given the position we’re in,” the striker said. “We all know how important what comes after this.

“If we beat Espanyol, we’ll boost our league position and take greater confidence into the following match. Everything hinges on our next game.”

Simeone has key men Miranda and Antoine Griezmann back in the squad after they missed last weekend’s draw with Valencia through suspension, but left back Guilherme Siqueira and frontman Mario Mandzukic are absent for the same reason.

Elsewhere, Rayo Vallecano will attempt to put last Sunday’s 6-1 thrashing at Barcelona behind them as they host Granada, who did their hopes of avoiding relegation a power of good by defeating Malaga. And the day’s action is rounded off by a mid-table battle between Celta Vigo and Athletic Bilbao.

Atletic’s in-form striker Aritz Aduriz has played down suggestions that he is in line for an international call-up from Spain boss Vicente Del Bosque for the forthcoming European Championship qualifier against Ukraine after scoring eight goals in his last ten games.

“I have huge respect for Del Bosque,” said the 34 year-old, who with 10 goals is the second-highest scoring Spaniard in La Liga this season behind Rayo Vallecano’s Alberto Bueno. “But my head is 100 per cent with my club.”

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Barcelona boss Luis Enrique claims Lionel Messi just cannot be stopped

Andy West 14/03/2015
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Scoring for fun: Lionel Messi has 30 La Liga goals this season.

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique claims it doesn’t matter where Lionel Messi plays – he will always be unstoppable. By his own astronomical standards, Messi endured a relatively quiet 2014, registering a relatively modest tally of seven goals in his team’s opening 11 league games this season.

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But he has exploded since leaving his old ‘false nine’ central striking role and moving onto the right wing, firing in 15 goals in nine La Liga starts this calendar year including a hat-trick in last weekend’s victory over Rayo Vallecano to move level with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts.

Many have attributed Messi’s return to his best to his new position cutting inside from the right, which has also seen him create seven goals for his team-mates – chiefly Luis Suarez and Neymar – since the turn of the year.

Enrique, however, said: “When Leo Messi is in optimum condition, it doesn’t matter where you put him. You could put him at full back and he’d be unstoppable. There’s no secret – the only secret is him.”

Messi will attempt to maintain his scoring streak in this evening’s trip to Eibar, which could see Barca open up a four-point advantage over Real Madrid ahead of Los Blancos’ meeting with Levante tomorrow.

Enrique has cautioned against underestimating today’s Basque opposition, who have been thrown into a battle against relegation with a run of eight consecutive defeats.

Despite being the lowest-budget team in La Liga, Enrique believes Eibar will be competitive opponents on their home turf, adding: “Eibar are dangerous, both because of where we’re playing them and their need for points. Despite their recent defeats, they are having a good season and it certainly won’t be easy. They are hard workers and will make things tough for us.”

Enrique will be without suspended full-backs Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, with Adriano and Martin Montoya set for rare starts. He could also choose to leave out two more regular starters in the form of Javier Mascherano and Jeremy Mathieu, who are one yellow card away from suspension and could therefore miss next weekend’s Clasico clash with Madrid.

Meanwhile, a Spanish judge has upheld a tax fraud case against Barcelona’s current and ex-chairmen over the signing of Neymar, taking them a step closer to a possible trial.

Wrapping up his preliminary investigation, a judge at the National Court in Madrid ruled there were grounds for suspecting tax fraud by Barca’s chairman Josep Maria Bartomeu and predecessor Sandro Rosell and referred the case to the state prosecution service.

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