Full time for Roberto Mancini in the race for the league as Manchester United clinch their 20th title, while the other Roberto, Martinez, may have used all his magic beans in the F.A Cup.
Manchester United were in search of a win to clinch their 20th Premier League title when they hosted Aston Villa on Monday night. A Robin Van Persie hat-rick secured the title for United and elevated the Dutchman to become the top scorer with 24 goals, a man whose performance alongside Michael Carrick had a major role in this title, with both players being nominated for the Player of the year award. Meanwhile, Villa are only 3 points off the drop with a couple of 6 pointers coming ahead. Chelsea‘s recent exit left only two goals for Rafa Benitez, the Europa League and a Champions League spot. A win was necessary when they traveled to Anfield to face a Liverpool side whose European dreams were demolished last week, after Wigan went through to the final of the F.A Cup. Chelsea’s defence was to be questioned in the beginning of the match, but Mata’s 12th assist of the season saw Oscar heading the ball into the net just before half time. Brendan Rodgers’ substitution had an immediate impact, as it only took Daniel Sturridge 7 mins to equalize, but Hazard’s 9th goal from the spot handed Chelsea the lead once more. Luis Suarez’s biting Ivanovic was the main headline after the match, but his 23rd goal might be the more important highlight, as it gave Liverpool a point, which could be deadly for Chelsea in the race for 3rd place.
Gareth Bale’s return was the main concern for Tottenham Hotspur fans when they hosted Manchester City at the Lane. City opened the scoring through Samir Nasri, who has been in pretty good form recently. A Spurs loss would have meant that they must relay on their neighbors dropping points to gain a CL position, but Andre Villas Boas’ men responded heavily in the second half, as a Clint Dempsey tap-in, and a Defoe curler, gave them the lead. Spurs have only lost 7% of the matches in which Gareth Bale scored, and the Welshman didn’t fail to make it 18 goals as he chipped the ball over Joe Hart to make it 3 past the miserable Joe Hart. Norwich‘s recent dip in form – 3 points out of possible 18 – saw them getting sucked into the warning area, and Chris Hughton’s Canaries were in search of their first win since February when they hosted bottom of the table Reading at Carrow Road. Two back to back goals from Ryan and Elliott Bennett were enough for the men in yellow, as a Garath McCleary goal proved to be just not enough for the Royals.
Arsenal were hoping for a gift from Liverpool as they had to travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham. With Fulham down to 10 men after a Steve Sidwell red card, the Gunners’ only goal came from a Per Mertsacker header. A controversial red card was awarded to Olivier Giroud near the end, which Arsenal appealed on Monday but was rejected the day after. Arsenal clinch 3rd place with only 2 points separating them and 5th place Spurs, with Spurs and Chelsea yet to play each other at the Bridge. Stoke City‘s performance in this year’s calendar could remind us a bit of the 2007-08 Derby County team, who only managed 11 point the in whole season. Tony Pulis’ side went down to London to face a nearly relegated QPR, a Crouch goal and a Jonathan Walters penalty were the difference at full time.
Mid-table West Ham entertained Wigan at Upton Park with Wigan waiting for any surprise gifts in the other games. West Ham’s recent performance has to come back to their defense, and their goalie Jussi Jääskeläinen in particular who was in great form once again. The Hammers’ skipper, Kevin Nolan celebrated his 100th career goal with a cracker of a volley to double the score just after Matt Jarvis’ cross went into the net undeflected. Wigan with one game in hand against Swansea are still in 18th place with 31 points. Paolo Di Canio’s arrival at the Stadium of Light was more than welcomed after the Italian guided Sunderland to a huge win in the Tyne-wear derby, this time it’s 6th place Everton whose last away win was the in the north east. A Leighton Baines error was the key to the Black Cats’ only goal as Sessegnon grabbed his 7th of the season.
Alan Pardew’s nightmares are all about injuries, with Newcastle deprived from main players in their starting line up they hit the road to the Hawthorns, to face West Bromwich Albion. Yoan Gouffran’s header wasn’t enough to seal the 3 points, as Billy Jones became the first English scorer for West Brom this season to make it all even between both sides. Newcastle’s draw meant that they, Sunderland and Stoke are all on 37 points with 6 points separating them from relegation. Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton are near safety, as their encounter with Swansea ended in a goalless draw, despite the Saints being deprived from a correct Adam Lallana goal.
Player to watch:
Paolo Di Canio’s arrival could be the catalyst for this Sunderland side, however, it already had quality. Stephane Sessegnon‘s goals against Newcastle and Everton were just a glimpse of his performance. With the Black Cats heading to Villa Park next week, the Beninese midfielder would need to maintain this level to keep his side away from relegation
AC Milan were handed their first Serie A loss in 2013 when they visited the Scudetto holders Juventus. Both teams were very careful aiming for all 3 points, thus the match’s level was below the expected. Arturo Vidal converted from the spot at around the hour mark, a goal that could prove to be very important towards another consecutive Scudetto, as Juventus only need 4 more points from a remaining 5 games to secure the title. Milan on the other side desperately need to get on the winning track if they want to secure 3rd place and a Champions League spot. Genoa was hoping to grab all 3 points and escape from the relegation zone when they met Atalanta, but they could only secure a point. Genoa fall one place inside the relegation zone with 29 points while Atalanta fall to the 15th position with 38 points.
It seemed an easy and comfortable win for Fiorentina when they hosted Torino. Prior to this match, Torino hadn’t conceded more than one goal in the first half of a Serie A game this season, but the hosts were up 3-0 after 33 minutes. A comeback from the visitors with a goal before the break and another 2 in the 2nd half made the mission hard for Fiorentina. But Fiorentina didn’t surrender and scored the winner with 4 minutes on the clock to remain in 4th place, 1 point behind AC Milan, still keeping their hopes for a Champions League Spot alive, while Torino are 7 points clear from the relegation zone. Catania thought they had all 3 points in had when they faced Palermo in the Derby di Sicilia. Pablo Barrientos scored the opener for the home side but Josip Ilicic found the equalizer for the visitors with the final whistle. Palermo still have a slight hope to remain in Serie A next season.
It was another exciting match at the San Paolo when Cagliari visited Napoli. It was the visitors who surprisingly scored the first goal but Napoli came back in the game thanks to Astori’s own goal, and then took the lead through their top scorer Edison Cavani who has scored his 72nd goal on his 100th Serie A game for Napoli. The substitute Marco Sau leveled things for Cagliari with his first touch, and as the match seemed to be all going for a draw, Napoli’s substitute Lorenzo Insigne scored the winner with the final whistle. Napoli almost secure 2nd place, as they are now 7 points away from 3rd place Milan. Chievo picked a precious away win against Siena, who are very close to be relegated from Serie A next season. Sergio Pellisier’s goal was enough to grab all 3 points to the visitors, who rise to the 13th place with 39 points, while Siena are just 1 point above the relegation zone.
Antonio Di Natale was once again Udinese’s hero when his side hosted Lazio. The 2 time Capocannoniere opened the scoresheet after 19 minutes to become Serie A’s 2nd top scorer with 18 goals after Edison Cavani. Di Natale has scored 25 goals against both capital teams, Lazio (12) and Roma (13) in Serie A. Udinese are now only 2 points away from Europe leveled with Lazio with 51 points. Lazio have only won only one of their last seven Serie A games and have failed to score in five of the matches in that run. Pescara earned a very good result at the Olimpico when they visited Roma, ending their terrible run of 8 consecutive defeats. Gianluica Caprari scored the 1st goal for Pescara in the opening 15 minutes of play in this Serie A season, but Destro scored the equalizer for the home side to save Roma from the humiliation. Roma will regret losing 2 important points which could have put them in Europe on the expense of Inter Milan, but they still have hope with 5 matches to go. Pescara will need a real miracle to stay for another season as they remain at the bottom of the table.
Inter Milan left it late when they hosted Parma at the San Siro. Inter again were without 7 of their key players and the match seemed to be going to a draw, but Rocchi broke the deadlock with just 8 minutes on the clock to save the day for the Nerazzurri. Inter have won their last six games against Parma at the San Siro, losing only once at home against the Ducali. Inter jump 3 positions into Europe with a hope remaining to save their season, while Parma remain in the bottom half of the table. It was another positive draw at the Stadio Renato Della`Ara when Bologna hosted Sampdoria. Both teams had nothing to play for, being in the middle of the table away from Europe and safe from the relegation zone. Alberto Gilardino opened the score sheet while Gianluca Sansone cancelled Gilardino’s opener at the hour mark, ending the match in a 1-1 draw.
Player To Watch:
Arturo Vidal (Juventus): The Chile international scored 3 goals in 2 matches to secure very important 6 points for the Bianconeri and more important, the Scudetto. Vidal has 8 goals and 7 assists in Serie A for Juventus this season.
Mario Barmejo fired home a stoppage-time winner as Celta Vigo fought from a goal down to beat Real Zaragoza 2-1 in a crucial relegation clash. Abel Resino’s men had begun the evening at the foot of the Liga standings and were minutes away from remaining there, until Barmejo struck in the 93rd minute to breathe fresh life into their fight for survival. Cristian Sapunaru scored the opening goal for Zaragoza before Alex Lopez scored the equalizer goal for the hosts only 10 minutes later. It seemed that each side would have to settle for a point, before Mario Barmejo scored in the dying minutes to help his team to move off the bottom of the standings, at the expense of Zaragoza. Mallorca provisionally moved up to third-bottom place with a tight 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano. A goal from Piti for Rayo and an another one from Alejandro Alfaro for Mallorca allowed each side to earn a point at the end of the match.
Two Madrid-Andalusia games were held this week in the La Liga, where Real Madrid hosted Betis, and Atletico Madrid was hosted by Sevilla. Real Madrid made their 10th consecutive La Liga win this week when they overcame Betis 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu. A goal from Mesut Ozil just before the 1st half’s whistle gave the Los Blancos enough confidence in the 2nd half as Karim Benzema doubled the score at its start. Jorge Molina returned Betis to the match through a penalty kick in the 73rd minute, however another late goal from Mesut Ozil ended everything for the Andalusian team. Jose Mourinho’s side were not wholly convincing but such a win was important for the team before the crucial Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund. In the other match, a solitary strike from Radamel Falcao was enough for Atletico Madrid to stay just three points behind rivals Real Madrid in La Liga as Diego Simeone’s men ran out narrow 1-0 winners over Sevilla.
Valencia moved three points clear of Malaga with a massive 5-1 victory over Manuel Pellegrini’s outfit at the Mestalla. 31 minutes were more than enough for Valencia to shock their visitors with 4 goals through Dani Parejo, Sergio Canales and a brace from Roberto Soldado. Julio Baptista scored a superb free kick just before the break but the damage had been done in the opening 31 minutes. However, Banega added a 5th goal for the hosts 10 minutes into the 2nd half killing any comeback hopes for Malaga. Real Sociedad failed to maintain the gap between themselves and Valencia as Philippe Montanier’s men could only manage a goalless game against Osasuna sharing out the spoils.
Barcelona left it late to clinch a 1-0 victory over Levante at Camp Nou. Sevilla were the last team to hold the Catalans scoreless at home in November 2011, and Levante were six minutes away from repeating the feat after frustrating the Blaugrana for long spells with a dogged defensive display. But Cesc Fabregas would pop up with the all-important goal towards the end to clinch all three points for Barca. The good point for Barcelona in this match is that Eric Abidal was able to play the 90 minutes, as his return is considered as an invaluable asset for the team at that timing of the season. The other Catalonian team, Espanyol was able to get all 3 points against Getafe through a 2-0 win at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, thanks to Verdu and Stuani. Nine-man Getafe never looked like getting back into it, and now find their Europa League ambitions distancing.
Athletic Bilbao stopped Deportivo‘s progress recently when they forced a 1-1 draw at the Riazor as Fernando Llorente scored his first league goal since September. Fernando Vazquez had guided his side to four consecutive victories in La Liga, and they looked likely to continue the run 38 minuted in Bruno Gama opened the scoring. Llorente looked up for the battle, though, and showed shades of his form from last season when he scored the equalizer 6 minutes later. Deportivo could not make the most of their numerical advantage as Ander Iturraspe from Bilbao was shown his second yellow card in the 2nd half and both sides ended up having to settle for a point. Granada lifted themselves out of the relegation zone by coming from behind to earn a 1-1 draw with Valladolid at Los Carmenes, thanks to Patrick Ebert who scored for Valladolid and to Youssef El-Arabi who equalized for Granada.
Player to watch:
Deportivo’s player Bruno Gama scored for the 3rd consecutive week pushing his team a bit further from the relegation zone. His performance in the recent Liga games makes him worth watching in the coming fixtures.
Champions League Preview:
Will it be El Clasico.. Or Der Klassiker ?
Semifinals are on their way as Barcelona and Real Madrid both head to Germany to face Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund respectively. Xavi stated that he’s 100% over his injury after coming on as a substitute on Saturday, Messi has been feeling pretty good but Barcelona will wait till Tuesday to see if he’ll play according to Roura. Toni Kross and Holger Badstuber are still injured, other than that Juup Heynckes’ squad is fully fit despite Mario Mandžukic missing out due to suspension. The last meeting between the two sides was a 1-1 draw in the 2009 quarterfinals, Seydou Keita and Franck Ribery were the scorers on that day.
One half of the 1998 semifinal is in the making as Signal Iduna Park host Real Madrid who are in search of their 10th title. Injuries and suspensions could see Jose Mourinho fielding a back four of Ramos, Pepe, Varane and Coentrao with the normal line up in midfield and up front, but the question remains whether Jose will continue with Diego Lopez or will he give Casillas a long awaited return. Borussia Dortmund’s training on Monday saw Sebastian Kehl back, and an individual training for Sven Bender. Real Madrid’s last away semifinal win was a 2 nil win at the Camp Nou in 2002, which saw them getting their last Champions League trophy.