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March 22, 2010

Are Chelsea showing the strain?

It certainly looked like it yesterday afternoon at Blackburn when the team looked a pale shadow of the one that had appeared so dominant early in the season. Whatever it was that their famous owner said to them in his midweek ‘pep talk’ after the defeat against Inter Milan, it appeared to inspire the side early on in the game and it was no surprise when Drogba put them in front after good work by Anelka. The longer the game progressed, however, the more Blackburn looked like getting something out of it and a far post header from the perennially enigmatic Diouf eventually earned his side the point they deserved.

Chelsea’s failure to win made Manchester United’s earlier 2 – 1 victory against Liverpool even more significant as it is now the champions who have the destiny of the title in their own hands – if they win every game, they will retain their crown. In a typical match between these two great rivals, Torres put the visitors ahead early on with a header from a Gerrard cross but then the home side equalised with a controversial penalty award. It will be argued for a long time on Merseyside that the offence against Valencia happened outside the area but that made little difference to Wayne Rooney who, after having his first effort saved, scored from the follow up. The winner somewhat improbably was a diving header from South Korean Park from a Fletcher cross. This defeat for Liverpool also makes the fourth Champions’ League spot a very difficult target for them to achieve.

On Saturday, Arsenal did all they could to keep the pressure on the other two challengers for the title, beating West Ham 2 – 0 in a fairly routine encounter. The Brazilian Denilson gave the home side an early lead and things looked comfortable for the Gunners until just before the interval when centre back Vermaelen was harshly sent off when he conceded a penalty which Almunia expertly saved. Although West Ham continued to fight throughout the second half, Arsenal made the points secure with a late Fabregas penalty.

Perhaps the most significant other result of the weekend was the 2 – 1 victory of Tottenham away at Stoke. The injury-hit Spurs team were inspired by a man of the match performance from ex Chelsea and Barcelona star Gudjohnsen, who scored one goal and made the other for Kranjcar with an audacious ‘dummy’. Although ex Spur Matty Etherington reduced the arrears with a penalty kick, Spurs held out for a valuable three points in their quest for fourth spot.

Manchester City couldn’t have played Fulham at a better time, really – just three days after the London club’s stunning European victory against Juventus and it was no real surprise when Santa Cruz and Tevez shot City into an early two goal lead. Although Fulham rallied and pulled a goal back with a Murphy penalty, City are still in a good position to challenge for that all important fourth place. Aston Villa’s chances were hampered after a home draw against Wolves on Saturday lunchtime.

In other matches, Hull looked on course for a vital away win at Portsmouth and were leading 2 – 1 until the 89th minute when O’Hara and Kanu snatched goals that completely reversed the match’s destiny. There was another very late winner for Wigan – a Rodallega header – which must have devastated visitors Burnley. Two more goals from Darren Bent helped Sunderland continue their recent good home run with a 3 – 1 win over Birmingham and Everton eventually overcame Bolton’s stubborn resistance with goals from Arteta and Pienaar.

The top of the Premier League, then, has Manchester United with 69 points from 31 games, Arsenal with 67 (31), Chelsea 65 (30), Spurs 55 (30), Manchester City 53 (29), Liverpool 51 (31) and Aston Villa 50 (29). Everything points to the end of the season being very dramatic indeed at the top end of the table. At the other end, however, Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth have got to produce some quite spectacular form in order to avoid the drop into the Championship next year.

La Liga

In Spain, it has been yet another weekend when Messi’s brilliance has been the biggest talking point. Not content with scoring another breathtaking hat trick, away at Zaragoza, the little genius was also fouled for a late penalty – although he selflessly gave the ball to Ibrahimovich, giving the giant striker the opportunity of getting on the score sheet. Barcelona’s 4 – 2 victory was not enough for them to go back to the top, however, as Real Madrid had defeated Sporting by 3 – 1 on Saturday evening. After a lacklustre first half, Sporting went in front but Ronaldo set up goals for Van der Vaart and Xabi Alonso before Higuaín scored a fine individual goal which settled the outcome.

After their exertions in Europe in midweek, both Sevilla and Atlético lost this weekend; the former to two Osvallo goals at Espanyol whilst the Madrid side were thrashed 4 – 1 in Mallorca. Valencia, however, were able to show enough character and commitment to overcome Almería with late goals from Mata and Silva.

Deortivo’s inconsistent form saw them lose by two goals at home to struggling Valladolid and Villarreal’s form deserted them completely in a defeat by the same scoreline in Málaga. Elsewhere, in a game between fellow basement sides, Xerz overcame Tenerife 2 – 1, Racing won 3 – 1 at Osasuna and the 2 – 2 draw between Atheltic and Getafe was the weekend’s only stalemate.

The top of the table, after 27 matches, now has Real Madrid and Barcelona with 68 points each, Valencia with 50, Mallorca 46, Sevilla 44 and Athletic and Deportivo with 42 points each. The bottom three teams remain Valladolid, Tenerife and Xerez but at least Xerez now know that they won’t finish up with the worst ever record of a relegated side.

Posted by admin @ 12:56 pm
Category: Premier League

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