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April 26, 2010

Seventh Heaven for Chelsea but it’s still all to play for in the Premier League

Manchester United were in the perfect position of being able to put pressure on rivals Chelsea before their Sunday game with Stoke – as long as they defeated in-form Tottenham Hotspur in Saturday’s early game. After a disappointing first half, United took the lead through a Ryan Giggs penalty – his first ever Premier League spot kick. Although Ledley King headed home a corner to equalise, the home side pushed to victory thanks to a clever little chip over Gomes from Nani and a second Giggs penalty. Even though Rooney is still on the sidelines because of his injury, Manchester United still look more than capable of winning their final matches at Sunderland and at home to Stoke.

All the pundits, then, went into Sunday’s Chelsea v Stoke match wondering if, yet again, the home side would struggle to cope with the pressure put on them. However, from the very beginning of the game, Chelsea were at their majestic best and, for the third time in the Premier League this season, they scored seven goals. Surprisingly, with both Drogba and Anelka starting the game together, neither of them scored – although both of them played significant parts in a scintillating performance. The goals were shared between Kalou – with his first hat trick in this country – two for Frank Lampard – taking his league total to 20 for the season – and singles for Sturridge and Malouda. Two more wins for the Blues and the title will be going back to London; but next week’s visit to Anfield is one that will be sure to test Ancelloti’s side.

Liverpool kept themselves in the running for Champions League football by demolishing Burnley with four second half goals; condemning their opponents to Championship football next season at the same time. Steven Gerrard, with a brace, Maxi Rodriguez, with his first goal for the Reds, and Babel scored the goals.

Tottenham’s defeat meant that victory at Arsenal would enable Manchester City to take fourth place and the crucial Champions’ League chance it offers. In a drab match of few chances, however, neither side was able to conjure a goal and, furthermore, City face the rest of the season without goalkeeper Shay Given after he was taken off with a badly dislocated shoulder injury.

A third victory in a week for Aston Villa, this time at home to local rivals Birmingham, meant that their chances of grabbing the fourth spot are still intact. In an entertaining encounter, the result hinged on a controversial penalty decision which went the home side’s way in the latter stages of the game. Roger Johnson’s tackle on Gabriel Agbonlahor was judged illegal by referee Martin Atkinson and James Milner’s emphatic spot kick raised the Villa to level on points with Spurs.

One of Saturday’s most crucial matches was at Upton Park where West Ham more or less secured their Premier League survival when they saw off Wigan by the odd goal in five. An early Spector own goal quietened the home fans but another vital strike from the Brazilian Ilan – such a vital January signing – brought the Hammers back into the game. A close range header from Kovac was cancelled out by a contentious Rodallega goal, which might have gone in via his hand. The talismanic Scott Parker hit home a stunning long range winner and his joyous celebration with manager Zola spoke volumes for the close bond between the management and the players.

Hull’s home defeat to Sunderland – yet another Darren Bent winner and his 24th league goal of the season – meant that even if they win their remaining games, the West Ham goal difference is so superior that, to all intents and purposes, the Humberside club face life in the Championship next season.

The main talking point of the Everton and Fulham game was Roy Hodgson’s decision to make nine changes from the team which played in the Europa League semi-final in Hamburg on Thursday. In-form Everton won the game thanks to an own goal from Smalling and an Arteta penalty, overcoming a Nevland goal for the visitors. It remains to be seen whether there is any action taken against Fulham for deliberately fielding a weakened side.

The games between Bolton and Portsmouth and Wolves and Blackburn both finished all square. Portsmouth, at one stage two goals down thanks to strikes from Klasnic and Davies, were rescued by a brace from loan signing Dindane – cleared to play in the Cup Final as well as league games by his French club Lens. Blackburn, who led for much of the game thanks to a goal from a corner from Nelsen, should really have secured victory long before Ebanks-Blake equalised for the home side near the end.

The Premier League table makes fascinating reading. Chelsea have 80 points from 36 games, followed by Manchester United with 79, Arsenal with 72, Spurs and Villa with 64 (Spurs having played only 35 matches), Manchester City with 63 from 35 and Liverpool with 62. It is clearly going to be a fantastic climax to the season. The relegation places are, though, now established. Portsmouth and Burnley are mathematically certain of ‘the drop’ with 16 and 27 points respectively. Although Hull have 28 points and could theoretically catch up with West Ham’s 34, the respective Goal Differences of the sides mean that the Humbersiders need to prepare for life outside the top flight after just two seasons.

La Liga

All three of Spain’s leading sides played on Saturday evening with Barcelona having the first chance to put pressure on their rivals. Their victory against bottom side Xerez was as comfortable as expected. Early goals from occasional starters Jeffren and Henry put the Champions in control but a stunning effort from Bermejo brought the Andalucians back into the game. Ibrahimovic’s second half winner sealed the victory, however, and the visitors lost a little of their composure, having two players sent off near the end.

Real Madrid’s chance to keep close to Barcelona meant winning away at Zaragoza, which they eventually managed by 2 goals to 1. Given the rare opportunity of a place in the starting eleven, Raúl opened the scoring for the visitors and, although they had Contini sent off, the relegation battling home side hit back with a neat goal from Colunga. Not having played since the Champions League exit, Kaká came from the bench and scored the winner after being put behind the home defence by a neat Ronaldo pass.

Valencia, who have a very tired looking team, relied on a David Villa penalty to overcome visitors Deportivo, and also had Baraja sent off near the end, but still look comfortable in third place. This position was made more secure by Mallorca surprisingly dropping a home point against struggling Málaga in a 1 – 1 draw on Sunday.

There were some fine games on Sunday evening – most notably a seven goal thriller between Getafe and Sevilla which the home side won with a 93rd minute winner from Parejo. Since Luis Fabiano and Kanoute were reunited in the Sevilla team, they have both looked in sharp goalscoring form – with many fans suggesting they are probably playing for summer transfers – and yet again they shared the visitors’ goals.

Villarreal’s climb up the table continues and they are now in a Europa League position – goals from Godín and Nilmar securing a 2 – 1 success at Racing. Experienced – some would say eccentric – manager Javier Clemente, who is now in charge at Valladolid, oversaw a 2 – 0 away victory at Sporting, which could yet lead to his team making a remarkable escape from the relegation zone. Meanwhile the other strugglers Tenerife went down by 3 – 1 at Atlético. The home fans were excited by the partnership of young Argentinians Salvio and Sergio Agüero. Agúero, who has a famous father-in-law, of course, and is the subject of much transfer speculation in the British press, scored once whereas his partner grabbed a brace. The remaining fixture between Almería and Espanyol finished in a single goal victory to the away side; Luis Garcia the scorer.

The La Liga table is equally as fascinating as its Premier League counterpart – but with the relegation places still a long way from being settled. After Week 34, Barcelona have 87 points, Real Madrid 86, Valencia 62, Mallorca 56, Sevilla 54 and Villarreal 52. At the bottom, Xerez have 27 points, Valladolid and Tenerife 32 but both Málaga and Zaragoza, with 34 points, are far from safe.

Posted by admin @ 11:25 am
Category: Premier League

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