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

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

European Soccer

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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