Preview of the Champions League semi-finals
Atletico Madrid v Chelsea – Tuesday, 7:45pm (Irish time)
Atletico Madrid, this seasons surprise package – both in La Liga and on the continent – welcome Chelsea to the Vicente Calderon on Tuesday night. Chelsea come into this game on the back of their first ever league defeat at Stamford Bridge under Mourinho. That defeat came on Saturday against the team rooted to the bottom of the table, Sunderland. Atletico Madrid beat relegation-threatened Elche 2-0 on Friday night in La Liga. More…
Crystal Palace made it three wins in a row with a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday. Jason Puncheon scored the winner with fifteen minutes remaining. Pulis’ men have become very difficult to beat and Speroni and co performed well again, keeping another clean-sheet. Villa find themselves being slowly dragged into the relegation battle and will need have to turn their form around before its too late.
Felix Magath led Fulham to a 1-0 win against a Norwich City who were playing their first game since Chris Hughton’s dismissal. Hugo Rodallega scored the only goal. With Norwich’s remaining games being against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal they must now be favourites for the drop. They sit in 17th place, two points ahead of Fulham and three ahead of Cardiff. No other team facing the drop has such a tough run-in however and it is hard to see where they could pick up any more points.
Cardiff City continue to be the most consistently inconsistent team in the division. Cala scored in what is possibly there most impressive away performance all season. Pochettino and Southampton seem to be just stumbling to the end of the season now with the World Cup or summer holidays on the minds of the first-team squad.
Stoke and Newcastle met in an end-of-season mid-table dead-rubber of a game. Pieters scored the only goal in what was another 1-0 scoreline at the weekend. Only two of the weekends eight games did not finish with a 1-0 scoreline.
A Wes Brown own-goal gave Everton the three points in a huge game for both teams. As a result Sunderland remain rooted to the bottom of the table and are now seven points from safety. It’s looking grim for Poyet and his troops. Everton have now won six in a row and are two points clear of Arsenal in 4th.
Spurs completed a fine comeback and got a 3-3 draw at the Hawthorns after being 3-0 in the first half to the hosts. West Brom impressed from the start and Vydra and Brunt had them two up within five minutes. Sessegnon made it 3-0 on the half-hour mark before Spurs fought back through a Jonas Olsson own-goal, a strike from youngster Harry Kane and an injury-time equaliser from the in form Christian Eriksen.
The title race was the focus on Sunday. Liverpool hosted City on an emotional afternoon at Anfield. The lives of those 96 souls who passed at Hillsborough were remembered on this the 25th anniversary. Credit to City and their fans who done themselves proud, respecting the minutes silence impeccably. The game itself certainly lived up to its billing. Liverpool started strongly and Sterling had them one up after six minutes. Skrtel made it two twenty minutes later with a headed effort from a Gerrard corner. City fought back in the second-half and David Silva scored the first and forced the own-goal off Glen Johnson for the equaliser. There were thirty minutes left at this stage and City now looked the stronger of the two teams. Liverpool showed a calmness and character however that would lead you to believe that maybe now they actually are capable of winning the title. An uncharacteristic Vincent Kompany mis-kick sent the ball rolling into Coutinho’s path in the box. The little Brazilian finished it brilliantly with his first-time effort, making it 3-2 with twelve minutes left. That was how it finished. There was more drama as the over-eager Jordan Henderson got a straight red for his challenge in injury-time. Henderson now misses three of the last four games through suspension. Yaya Toure limped off during the game for City and Liverpool’s Sturridge also left the field injured. Both sets of fans will be awaiting updates on these inuries.
Chelsea went to Swansea with the pressure on. They knew they needed to win to keep up with Liverpool and initially struggled to break Swansea down, even after Chico Flores’ sixteenth minute dismissal for his second yellow card. Demba Ba chanced a hopeful shot from twenty-five yards in the second half and Vorm will be disappointed with himself that he did not keep it out. It was enough to give Chelsea the points and keeps them within two of Liverpool.
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In what is the most exciting run-in for years in the Premier League we take a look at the form of the top three along with their remaining fixtures.
Liverpool enter this critical period as the form team. The Red’s have been in free-scoring form and are on an eight-game winning streak at the moment. Defensively they are still suspect although three clean-sheets in their last five games shows signs of a slight improvement in that area.
Liverpool’s next two games at Anfield are against their chief title-chasing rivals. Simply put, if Rodgers’ men win their remaining games they will be crowned league champions for the first time since 1990. However, that would mean completing a fourteen-game winning streak, matching Arsenal’s record run from February 2002 until August of that year.
Brendan Rodgers’ summation of Suarez and Sturridge both being ‘soloists’ rather than an interlinking partnership seems to be a fair assessment of their strike-force. Rodgers and the Liverpool fans won’t mind if they continue to add to the forty-nine goals they’ve managed already together this season.
Youngsters such as Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho and Flanagan have grown into their roles and no matter what the end result in May, this experience will serve them well in the years ahead.
Special mention also has to go to Martin Skrtel who started the season as the fourth choice centre-half. Instead of pouting however Skrtel kept plugging away and when injury’s to Sakho and Agger gave him his opportunity back in the first-team he took it with both hands. The Slovakian international has chipped in with six goals this season as well including recent braces against Arsenal and Cardiff City.
Liverpool’s remaining fixtures:
April 6th – West Ham United (A); April 13th – Manchester City (H); April 20th – Norwich City (A); April 27th – Chelsea (H); May 3rd – Crystal Palace (A); May 11th – Newcastle United (H)
Mourinho’s men have lost two of their last three league games (1-0 away to both Villa and Palace). Those defeats came either side of a fantastic 6-0 drubbing of Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho has been intent on playing down their chances in the title race to keep the pressure off of his team. It remains to be seen what effect this approach will have had on Hazard, Oscar, Terry et al come May. Mourinho has also highlighted the fact that Chelsea still have the Champions League as an added distraction, facing PSG in the upcoming quarter-finals.
John Terry has experienced a huge upturn in his form since the self-titled ‘Special One’s’ return. The centre-back’s performances have led to public forum’s requesting his return to the national team for Brazil this summer.
Eden Hazard has been the star of the season for the Blue’s, leading their scoring charts and creating plenty of opportunities for the misfiring Torres. Eto’o has slowly shown signs of what he is capable of and his goals may have proved vital when the dust eventually settles.
Cesar Azpilicueta has been a revelation at left-back, keeping Ashley Cole out of the starting eleven. Re-signing Matic was also a great move for Chelsea with the young giant making the defensive-midfielder role his own. He is an extremely imposing presence for any opposing midfielders to come up against.
Chelsea’s remaining fixtures:
April 5th – Stoke City (H); April 13th – Swansea City (A); April 20th – Sunderland (H); April 27th – Liverpool (A); May 3rd – Norwich City (H); May 11th – Cardiff City (A)
City are many peoples favourites for the title. The blue side of Manchester has already tasted success this season after defeating Sunderland in the Capital One Cup final. Due to their progression in that competition as well as their FA Cup and Champions League exploits (both competitions are now finished for City) they are slightly behind in their league schedule. City have two games in hand on Liverpool and Chelsea.
Yaya Toure has been a consistent City performer for a few years now but this season he has taken his goalscoring to a level never reached before. The midfield-dynamo has seventeen goals in twenty-eight games in the league so far this season. Next to Toure in the scoring charts is the infrequently-fit Aguero. Argentina’s frontman has only managed seventeen appearances this season but he has managed fifteen goals in those games.
Manager Manuel Pellegrini arrived last summer at the Etihad Stadium. Pellegrini’s arrival followed that of pacy winger, Jesus Navas, from La Liga and Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho from Shakthar Donetsk. Fernandinho has proved in many ways to be the perfect foil for Yaya Toure in the centre of midfield. This has led to Toure being able to contribute more in the attacking third than in previous seasons.
David Silva has also had to contend with injury this season, managing just eighteen games so far and scoring five goals. Silva does look to be back to his best in recent weeks however and can still conjure a goal out of nothing.
Manchester City’s remaining fixtures:
April 5th – Southampton (H); April 13th – Liverpool (A); April 16th – Sunderland (H); April 21st – West Bromwich Albion (H); April 27th – Crystal Palace (A); May 3rd – Everton (A); May 7th – Aston Villa (H); May 11th – West Ham United (H)
Let us know your predictions for where the title is going in May. Just drop us a line in the comments section below.
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Liverpool returned to the top of the table with an impressive 4-0 defeat of Spurs at Anfield. Suarez and co were in scintillating form and never looked back after Younes Kaboul’s own-goal in the first two minutes.
Wayne Rooney put away two goals (one penalty) for Manchester United as they came from behind to beat Aston Villa 4-1. ‘Planegate’ had threatened to overshadow the game but Moyes’ men reacted well after Westwood’s opener for Villa.
Arsenal restored some pride with a solid performance, holding Manchester City to a -1-1 draw at the Emirates.
Mourinho’s Chelsea fell to a 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace, a result that may have huge repercussions at both ends of the table come the end of the season.
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Saturdays Roundup – March 1st, 2014
Fulham 1 – 3 Chelsea
Apparently Mourinho would have had no problem with Fulham beating Chelsea today if it meant that it would help their London neighbours to avoid relegation ….. Yeah okay Jose. Mourinho was again simply trying to deflect attention onto Fulham and away from his squad. Chelsea seem to be kicking into gear just at the right time of the season, as Ferguson’s United did for years. It was Felix Magath’s first home game in charge of Fulham after overseeing the 1-1 draw at West Brom last weekend.
Fulham had the earliest chance in a quiet first half. Sidwell crossed from the left and Clint Dempsey met it with his head but did not get enough on it, glancing it wide of the far post.
Fulham’s biggest issue in the first half was the sun. It played havoc with Stekelenburg in the Fulham goal. There were two occasions when Stekelenburg had not seen the advancing Torres. The first instance led to his clearance being kicked into Torres’ body but the block did not rebound well for Chelsea and Fulham survived. Then, minutes later, Stekelenburg was robbed of the ball in his own box as Torres appeared to sneak in amid the sun’s rays. Again, Torres could not provide the finish for Chelsea.
Fulham tested Cech before half-time with Kasami’s free-kick but it was easy for the Czech.
Torres did have another effort on goal before half-time. Oscar sent in a free-kick to the box. The ball eventually found its way wide to the right and Torres put in a decent shot but Stekelenburg was able to get his hands to it and push it wide.
In the second-half Chelsea took control. The superb Eden Hazard sent a ball down the right where Andre Schurrle advanced from deep. Schurrle headed the ball on in front of him brilliantly, allowing him to continue his run without having to reduce his speed. Schurrle got into the Fulham box and then placed a nice finish below the body of Stekelenburg.
Hazard was involved again moments later. The Belgian broke down the left and sent in a sublime, inverted cross (right foot connecting with the ball, around the back of his left foot). Torres met it at the back post with a header but Kieran Richardson did well to get his body in the way and deflect the effort wide.
Schurrle added made it 2-0 when Hazard played him through from a central position, finding the German who again finished calmly with a side-footed shot into the corner.
At this stage it was all Chelsea with Fulham hardly advancing or threatening at all.
Torres displayed strength in creating Chelsea’s third goal. He held off the attention from the Fulham defence before providing a good pass to put Schurrle clean through. Schurrle lifted his right-footed finish over the dive of Stekelenburg to ensure he would be taking home the match-ball.
Heitinga pulled one back for Fulham after Chelsea failed to clear from a corner. It was Heitinga’s first goal for Fulham.
Demba Ba made a late appearance and forced a save out of Stekelenburg, Ramires blazing the rebound over the bar.
It finished 3-1 to Chelsea and Mourinho’s star man of the season so far, Eden Hazard, continues to impress and drive the Blues towards the Premier League title.
Hull City 1 – 4 Newcastle United
Steve Bruce must be delighted with how his brand-new strike partnership of Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic have gelled together in their first month. With their FA Cup run still intact and fresh off the back of a 4-0 away victory to Cardiff City in their last league outing, Hull went into this game as favourites. Newcastle were missing Coloccini who had returned to Argentina due to a family bereavement.
Hull had the earliest chance when Huddlestone’s cross from a deep-left position was met by the boss’s son, Alex Bruce. Krul denied Bruce twice however, first from the header and again when Bruce tried to poke him the rebound. It was a fantastic double-save from Krul and it was on the break from this that Newcastle pounced at the other end.
Great work on the right between Debuchy and Loic Remy ended with a Debuchy pull-back from the by-line. Moussa Sissoko had positioned himself perfectly twelve yards out and his first-time finish was perfect, high into the roof of the net.
Hull responded well, continuing to exert most of the pressure. Jelavic came close with a near-post header, which he should have at least hit the target with.
The Croatian International then hit the top of the crossbar with a deflected free-kick from just outside the box. Shane Long had won this free-kick with some very smart front-man play, enticing the foul.
Tom Huddlestone set Long away on the left with a great pass from his own half. Long twisted and turned on the left before sending in a perfect ball to the far post. Unfortunately the unmarked El Mohamady was not able to supply any kind of decent finish with his header.
Minutes later Figueroa made a calamitous error with a very short backpass, Remy reached it just before the oncoming McGregor. He tapped it around the Hull goalkeeper and went on to roll it into the empty net. Newcastle took that 2-0 lead into the half-time break.
Within two minutes of the restart Hull City were back in it. Huddlestone was the creator with another free-kick swung in from the left. Curtis Davies, up from the back, reached it just before Tim Krul who was caught in no-man’s land, advancing for a cross he did not connect with.
It was Newcastle who then took the game by the scruff of the neck however. Gouffran got a shot away from the edge of the box and McGregor could only play it into Sissoko’s path with his save. Sissoko tapped it home for his second of the day, making it 3-1.
Next it was Remy’s turn to force a save out of McGregor, and what a save. Remy fired in a brilliant left-footed strike and the Hull keeper tipped it over his crossbar at full stretch. From the resulting corner Gouffran managed a shot which was on its way in only for El Mohamady to clear it off the line.
Hull were staring defeat straight in the face now. Meyler chased a loose ball which went out for a throw at the dug-outs. The Irish-man pushed Alan Pardew as he was trying to retrieve the ball. Pardew, true to his character, reacted impulsively, squaring up to Meyler and putting in what I would call a “mini-headbutt” or some mild forehead-friction. There will be enough about this incident in the tabloids so let’s continue with the football.
After Pardew was sent to the stands, Newcastle saw the game out with ease, adding a fourth goal through Vernon Anita. Anita finished from the rebound after McGregor had stopped the initial shot from Dummet.
Stoke City 1 – 0 Arsenal
Arsenal went into this tricky fixture without a victory here in the last three seasons. Wenger must be turning most of his attention back to the Premier League now after the 2-0 home defeat to the reigning champions, Bayern Munich, during the week. Ozil was on the bench for the Gunners.
Stoke started brightly, Arnautovic and Nzonzi working very well together from midfield. Nzonzi and Walters combined down the right before playing Crouch in for a shot at the near post. The former England international snapped at his effort, sending it into the side-netting at the near post.
At the other end Podolski got a shot away from the left but sent it well wide. Arsenal were not creating anything to worry Begovic in the Stoke goal. Stoke’s Glenn Whelan had a shot from outside the box, Szczesny dived to his left and pushed it around the post.
Finally Arsenal tested Begovic with a Cazorla shot but it was straight at the goalkeeper. The first half ended 0-0.
The second half was not much better for the fans. Charlie Adam put in a free-kick from the left. Crouch found himself unmarked just 8 yards out but opted to stretch a leg at it rather than heading it home. He made no real connection and Szczesny gathered it.
Arnautovic was still troubling Arsenal and he played a great ball in from the left to the head of Crouch. The header was saved by Szczesny, conceding a corner in the process. From the corner Arsenal struggled to clear it and some Geoff Cameron blazed a close-range effort wide of the goal from six yards.
Walters then approached the Arsenal box from the right wing. The ball deflected between Walters and Koscielny, bouncing up onto the defenders arm. Stoke were awarded a penalty immediately. It was a very harsh penalty and does not look like there was much that Koscielny could have done to prevent this clearly-accidental handball.
Walters had missed four of his last six penalties. He did not miss this one though, placing it to the keepers left but Szczesny had already committed himself with a dive to his right.
Ozil and youngster Sanogo came on for Arsenal and both had chances to equalise. Ozil worked himself an opening at the edge of the box before shooting just wide of the far post. Sanogo had the best chance when the ball was pulled back to him inside the box. The young striker put his shot well over the bar however and that was the last sniff of goal the Gunners would get.
The result leaves Stoke in twelfth place, six points above the relegation zone and Arsenal are now third, four points off of leaders Chelsea.
Southampton 0 – 3 Liverpool
The Saints are the only team to have beaten Liverpool at Anfield this season. Pochettino’s men were in 9th position before today’s game, seventeen points behind Liverpool. Rodgers’ Reds have been nothing if not exciting to watch this season. Unfortunately that excitement has been at both ends with the defence leaking at least two goals per game on regular occasions. Sterling was dropped for Joe Allen as Rodgers’ looked for ways to deal with Southampton’s creative midfield. Lovren returned in defence for Southampton after six weeks out through injury. It was Luis Suarez’s 100th league game for Liverpool.
After six minutes Henderson sent Sturridge away down the right. Sturridge tried to pick out Suarez with his pass across the six yard box but Lovren reached it, just about, taking it off of Suarez’s toe. Southampton had a shout for a penalty denied after Lallana and Flanagan collided just inside the box, but it was deemed to have been a fair shoulder-challenge.
Southampton did most of the pushing in the first half an hour but as ever Liverpool looked dangerous on the break. Suarez had not scored in five matches so was eager as ever while Sturridge was on a streak of seven scoring appearances in a row in the league.
Just after the half-hour mark Suarez and Sturridge tried to play a one-two into the Southampton box. Sturridge’s return pass was misplaced but fortunately for Liverpool the Southampton defenders made a hash of the clearance. The ball ricocheted into the path of Suarez who placed his first-time finish perfectly inside the post, just beyond the dive of Artur Boruc.
A few minutes later and Southampton almost equalised. Rodriguez sent in a cross from the right, Lambert chested it down brilliantly to Lallana. The number 20 controlled it with one touch and with his second placed it past Mignolet only to see it deflect away off of the post. Two minutes after that and Southampton threatened again, this time down the left. The excellent Luke Shaw broke forward in a Gareth Bale-esque surge. Shaw passed to Lambert who was on the penalty-spot. Lambert showed fantastic awareness with a clever dummy to let the ball run to the unmarked Rodriguez at the back post. Rodriguez hit it first time but Mignolet pulled off a fine save down low to his right. The save was all the more impressive after Mignolet had to dive back towards the side he had been coming from initially. Southampton were unlucky to go in 1-0 down at half-time.
In the second half Liverpool seemed to gain more control and were very professional in their approach. Rodgers had made the tactical change late in the first-half of bringing Henderson to more of a right-midfielder role. This appears to have been to assist Flanagan in coping with the threat that Lallana was providing for Southampton.
It worked well and Lallana was noticeably less involved in the second-half. Liverpool brought Sterling in for Coutinho before the hour mark. Coutinho had been impressive and this move may have been to test the Saints’ defence with Sterling’s pace just as they would have been tiring.
Whatever the reason, it worked well as Sterling scored with his first touch of the ball. Gerrard played Suarez through in the inside-right position, Suarez spotted Sterling’s late run into the box and pulled it back to the youngster. Sterling put it powerfully past Boruc. Liverpool were in control now and Southampton never looked like threatening Mignolet again.
Liverpool created more chances: Sturridge put an effort across the face of goal after taking the ball to a very tight angle after rounding Boruc; Gerrard broke from midfield and tried a shot from twenty-five yards which Boruc tipped around the post; Suarez had a shot direct from a corner which was saved by Boruc; Henderson played Suarez in on the right but his shot went just wide of the far post.
In the last few minutes Suarez was in space on the left-hand side. After receiving the ball he took on Fonte, turning to his right and then back to his left as he entered the box. Fonte was too slow in following Suarez’s turn and he left his foot in and connected with Suarez. Down he went and it was a penalty to Liverpool. Gerrard put a super penalty into the top-right corner of the night above Boruc who had at least guessed the correct side.
Liverpool jumped to 2nd place with the win, four points behind Chelsea. A top-four spot seems to be close to guaranteed now for the Red’s and Merseyside must be dreaming of the possibility of a first league title since 1990. Southampton remain in 9th position. Pochettino must be wary of his team drifting into auto-pilot for the rest of the season as they are eight points ahead of 10th placed West Ham and four behind Newcastle.
Of recent weeks Everton have seemed to run out of steam in their push for a top-four spot. Roberto Martinez has had a fantastic first season in charge, bringing his passing-and-pressing style to the role. It certainly bodes well for the future at Goodison Park.
The game itself was a mostly dull, tight affair. Romelu Lukaku got the only goal of the game and his first since returning from the injury he sustained in January. The win keeps Everton in sixth place, two points behind Spurs. West Ham remain in 10th position.
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