Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid

 Posted by at 5:00 AM
Apr 032016
Cristiano Ronaldo’s winner was his 42nd goal of the season – and his 29th in La Liga

Cristiano Ronaldo’s late goal gave 10-man Real Madrid victory in El Clasico and ended La Liga leaders Barcelona’s 39-match unbeaten run.

Gerard Pique’s powerful downward header from a corner had given Barca a 56th-minute lead after a tense first half.

Karim Benzema’s brilliant scissor kick made it 1-1, before Gareth Bale had a goal harshly ruled out for a push.

After Real captain Sergio Ramos was dismissed for receiving two bookings, Ronaldo’s superb finish won the game.

BBC and balance beats Barca

Karim Benzema has 21 La Liga goals for the season – eight behind leading scorer Ronaldo

Ronaldo’s winner will undoubtedly grab the headlines, particularly as it has helped third-placed Real salvage some pride from a poor season to date, but the balance of the side was crucial to the victory.

Under Rafa Benitez, Real were overwhelmed 4-0 by Barcelona at the Bernabeu in November, but they showed far more steely edge at the Nou Camp.

Benitez was punished heavily for not picking Casemiro in midfield that night, an error that his successor Zinedine Zidane avoided repeating in his first El Clasico as a manager.

PLAYER RATINGS: ‘Bale had possibly his best game for the club’

Casemiro’s influence in breaking up Barcelona’s attacks – and ensuring that Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar were frustrated – was crucial.

Real’s front trio of Benzema, Gareth Bale and Ronaldo, nicknamed the BBC, played their part in the win, though.

Benzema recovered from a bad first-half miss to score acrobatically from Toni Kroos’ deflected cross, while Bale could count himself unfortunate to have a goal ruled out when he headed in Ronaldo’s chip, with the officials judging that he had pushed Jordi Alba.

Ronaldo, having had little impact on the match until the closing stages, grabbed his 42nd goal of the season late on, chesting down Bale’s cross at the far post before driving a shot between the legs of goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.

Barca beaten on an emotional night

Johan Cruyff has been widely credited with introducing the flowing attacking style that has become Barcelona’s hallmark

It was an emotional night at the Nou Camp, as Barcelona united to pay tribute to their iconic former player and manager Johan Cruyff, who died of cancer on 24 March, aged 68.

Barca’s players wore shirts embroidered with the message “Gracies Johan”, while the fans lifted up sheets of paper in the stands before kick-off to spell out the same message.

The hope for the home side was that their modern attacking greats would produce a performance worthy of the Dutch master.

Gerard Pique’s only previous La Liga goal this season had come in the 2-1 home win over Sevilla on 28 February

But it was no to be, with Suarez’s early miss – failing to connect with Neymar’s square pass when free eight yards from goal – the first sign of what would be a disappointing night.

Indeed, Barcelona’s goal came not from the stellar attacking trio, who have scored 103 times between them this season, but from a player who went to school in Sale.

Pique was educated in the Greater Manchester town, at Ashton-on-Mersey School, when he was in the youth set-up at Manchester United.

Having found the net just once in La Liga all season before Real’s visit, Pique picked the perfect time to score his second, escaping the attentions of Pepe and rising to power in a header from a corner.

It was not to be enough, though, as Luis Enrique’s side lost for the first time since 3 October, when they were beaten 2-1 at Sevilla.

Ramos falls off disciplinary tightrope

Sergio Ramos has been sent off four times in El Clasico during his 11 years at Real Madrid

Perhaps the greatest puzzle of this gripping encounter was how Real Madrid captain Ramos managed to stay on the pitch for as long as he did.

The Spain centre-back was booked inside the first 10 minutes for dissent after appealing unsuccessfully that he had been fouled by Suarez.

After that, Ramos walked a very, very fine line. He could have gone when he appeared to bring down Messi on the edge of the penalty area, but referee Alejandro Hernandez did not even give a free-kick.

In the second half, the defender escaped a second yellow card after fouling Suarez from the back, and then avoided punishment altogether when he caught Alves with a trailing elbow while up for a corner.

Eventually, his luck ran out. With seven minutes left, Ramos clattered into Suarez again, and was given his marching orders. Astonishingly, Real then found a winning goal just a couple of minutes later.

Man of the match – Casemiro (Real Madrid)

The Brazilian defensive midfielder has established himself as a regular in the Real side after spending last season on loan at Porto

What next?

Barcelona – still six points clear at the top of La Liga – host Real’s neighbours Atletico Madrid in their Champions League quarter-final first leg on Tuesday, before resuming their league campaign at Real Sociedad next Saturday.

Real head to Germany to face Wolfsburg in the Champions League on Wednesday, then host Eibar in the league three days later.

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Apr 032016

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Newcastle must keep going – Benitez

Newcastle have enough time to avoid relegation but must start winning, says manager Rafael Benitez.

The Magpies lost 3-2 at 17th-placed Norwich, despite having twice equalised, which leaves them six points adrift of the Canaries.

“It is more difficult but we have to keep confident that we can still do it,” said Benitez.

“We have seven games to go and we have to keep pushing. If we start winning games we still have time.”

Norwich ‘turning it around’

The Canaries have six games remaining, but are well clear of Newcastle and four points better off than Sunderland, who occupy the final relegation spot after a 0-0 draw with West Brom.

Victory at Carrow Road – courtesy of a 93rd-minute Martin Olsson winner – was Norwich’s second successive league win, having picked up three points at West Brom before the international break.

“It was a strange game but we were the better team throughout,” said Norwich manager Alex Neil.

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Norwich win showed character – Neil

“We have great spirit here and we showed that in abundance.

“Football is an entertainment sport and everyone has gone home with their money’s worth. We have started to turn it around, that’s seven points in three games.”

Sunderland ‘can’t afford to be further away’

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Sunderland 0-0 West Brom: Sam Allardyce hopes players ‘still believe’

Sunderland’s stalemate with the Baggies meant they conceded more ground to the Canaries.

The Black Cats are at home to leaders Leicester next Sunday and then travel to Norwich for what could prove to be a huge match in the context of the relegation battle.

“We have got to beat Leicester next week and then we have got Norwich to come, so the closer we get points-wise to Norwich, the bigger that game is going to be,” said Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce.

“We can’t afford to be any further away. We have a game in hand – which is Everton here – but that doesn’t happen until the last week of the season and we don’t want to be too far away from Norwich when we play them, so we have got to try to beat Leicester now.”

‘Every point is gold dust’ for Palace

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West Ham 2-2 Crystal Palace: Eagles’ spirited display pleases Alan Pardew

Crystal Palace remain the only team in the top four tiers yet to win a game in 2016, but a point away at West Ham pulled them seven points clear of 18th place Sunderland.

“When you are 2-1 down at West Ham, in the form they are in, you take a 2-2,” said manager Alan Pardew.

“I’m delighted for the team and they showed their heart is still very much in it. We’ve got ourselves into a bit of trouble but this is a great result.

“Every point in the Premier League is gold dust, especially to get something at West Ham. It was a great performance and a great result. West Ham had to defend for their lives at the end.”

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Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur

 Posted by at 2:32 AM
Apr 032016
Philippe Coutinho scored his 10th of the season to make him Liverpool’s leading scorer

Tottenham missed the opportunity to increase pressure on Premier League leaders Leicester City as they could only draw with Liverpool at Anfield.

Harry Kane’s superb finish on the turn after 63 minutes gave Spurs a point after Philippe Coutinho slipped in Daniel Sturridge’s pass early in the second half.

Keeper Hugo Lloris kept Spurs on level terms with fine saves from Sturridge and two from Adam Lallana in the opening half – while Coutinho was inches off target in the closing moments.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side had chances of their own in the second half, with Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet saving well from Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele, while Son Heung-min should have done better than volley wide from Eric Dier’s pass.

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Liverpool 1-1 Tottenham: Feels like two points dropped – Mauricio Pochettino

The draw means Leicester would go seven points clear with victory at home to Southampton on Sunday.

One point gained or two lost for Spurs?

Kane’s brilliant turn and finish after Eriksen chased a lost cause into the corner at least gave Spurs a point when they threatened to leave Anfield empty-handed after Coutinho’s opener.

In the final reckoning, however, they will regard this as a chance missed – and manager Pochettino’s body language seemed to suggest as much as he agonised over Mignolet’s late save from Dembele and the sight of Toby Alderweireld’s header flashing inches wide from the resulting corner.

Spurs will now be banking on Southampton doing them a favour at the King Power Stadium on Sunday as a seven-point advantage with only six games left is a big gap to claw back and would need something close to a Foxes collapse.

A point still gives Spurs something to cling to as they chase that first title in 55 years – but they will know it could have been all three had they been more clinical to benefit fully from that outstanding first-half work by keeper Lloris.

Harry Kane’s goal came when he let Christian Eriksen’s pass roll across his body, foxing Dejan Lovren, to find the opposite corner

Liverpool must build team around Coutinho

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will be taking big decisions about his squad as he tries to make his own permanent imprint on Anfield in the summer.

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Mixed feelings for Klopp after draw

He will surely have already drawn one conclusion from his first six months at the club – the new-look Liverpool that will surely emerge next season must be built around the mercurial talent of Coutinho.

The 23-year-old returned from international duty with Brazil but no-one would have imagined he had taken the arduous journey from South America given his energy and inspiration.

Coutinho was wisely brought to Anfield by Brendan Rodgers and has flourished further under Klopp, as proved by the brilliance of his goal against Manchester United in the Europa League and the composure he showed to finish in front of the Kop against Spurs.

He is the man who sprinkles magic on this Liverpool side and has years ahead of him to develop into a truly world-class talent.

Klopp will be bringing in new faces as he reshapes Liverpool but Coutinho will be going nowhere.

Daniel Sturridge has scored four league goals in an injury-hit season

Sturridge still struggling

Sturridge has the twin objective of piecing his Liverpool career together again after suffering a succession of injuries over the last two years while cementing a place in England manager Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad.

Here, it was clear he is still taking tentative steps on the road back as he looked ring rusty and still short of the form that made him such a potent force.

Sturridge showed his vision with a clever pass for Coutinho’s goal but his snatched finish straight at Lloris in the first half hinted at fragile confidence. He had run out of steam by the time he was replaced by Divock Origi late on.

Man of the Match: Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)

Philippe Coutinho’s goal came after a neat one-two with Daniel Sturridge, with Jugen Klopp calling the Brazilian a “genuis player”.

Manager reaction

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp: “Tottenham are fighting for the title, we fought for the three points. It didn’t look like six or seven positions between the two teams. If you want to change the situation, we have to stay in the game. It is about belief. We are not sure we can always beat teams like these.

“You have to learn to become a winner. On this way, we have a few knocks but we are still on a good way. There is not a lot wrong and we can build on this.”

Stats you need to know

  • Liverpool have won five and lost none of their last seven Premier League meetings with Tottenham.
  • After going seven Premier League games without scoring, Philippe Coutinho has now scored in back-to-back games for Liverpool.
  • Tottenham have won just one of their last 22 Premier League visits to Anfield (W1 D7 L14).
  • Christian Eriksen has now recorded more assists in 2015-16 than in any other previous campaign for Spurs (9).
  • Spurs have recovered the most points from losing positions this season (19), while Liverpool have dropped the most from leading positions (17).

What next?

Liverpool travel to Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League on Thursday (20:05 BST) before hosting Stoke a week on Sunday (16:00 BST). Tottenham face Manchester United at home on the same day (also 16:00 BST).

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Arsenal 4-0 Watford

 Posted by at 1:21 AM
Apr 032016
Alex Iwobi scored his second goal on his second Premier League start

Arsenal kept their faint hopes of the Premier League title alive with an easy victory over a poor Watford side.

The Gunners led inside four minutes – Alexis Sanchez slotting in from close range – and controlled the first half.

Alex Iwobi forced Heurelho Gomes into a stunning save and soon doubled their advantage by sweeping in from 12 yards to finish off a superb team move.

Hector Bellerin’s shot deflected in for Arsenal’s third, while substitute Theo Walcott completed the rout late on.

Relive Arsenal’s comfortable victory over Watford

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Arsenal 4-0 Watford: Gunners’ belief coming back – Arsene Wenger

All too late for Arsenal?

Arsenal had lost three straight home games in all competitions going into the match, but this was a routine win as they closed the gap to leaders Leicester to eight points.

Arsene Wenger’s side still need an unlikely collapse from both the Foxes and second-placed Tottenham to have any hope of securing the league title, while tough trips to West Ham and Manchester City await in their remaining seven games.

Mohamed Elneny’s pass distribution was littered with successful green arrows – 122 in all. Only five attempted passes failed to reach an Arsenal team-mate

Nigerian youngster Iwobi showed his potential with a pacy performance that threatened the Watford defence throughout. He netted the second goal as well as rattling the crossbar with a curling effort.

Iwobi, Sanchez and Mesut Ozil all had fine games – but were given time and space by a lethargic Watford side and by the protection offered in the middle of the park by Mohamed Elneny, who controlled the contest with a match-high 127 passes, 96% of which found a team-mate.

The Egyptian also had time to make three tackles and two interceptions, but Arsenal’s upswing in form might have come too late in the season. The damage may have already been done as they picked up just their fourth win in their past 11 league games.

Watford have problems but should be fine

Watford have now won only twice in 13 league games, which includes five defeats in their last six.

Despite dumping Arsenal out of the FA Cup with a brilliant performance last month, this showing was feeble from the first whistle.

They went behind early and barely threatened over 90 minutes. managing just two shots on target, both of which fell to skipper Troy Deeney.

The Hornets were seventh at Christmas but have since fallen to 14th in the table, 11 points above the relegation zone. They have goalkeeper Gomes to thank for avoiding an even more comprehensive drubbing here, as the Brazilian made superb stops from Iwobi and Sanchez.

With Aston Villa all but down, though, Watford’s excellent first half of the season should be enough to preserve their status in the top flight.

Man of the match – Alex Iwobi

One goal, one shot against the crossbar and forcing Heurelho Gomes into a full-stretch save – 19-year-old Iwobi showed his potential with a classy performance

What they said:

Arsenal forward Alex Iwobi: “It’s crazy, a mad feeling. When you’re young, you dream of this and this is like a dream come true, winning with this team. Winning the title would be amazing but we’re taking each game as it comes, game by game, and we will see where we end up come the end of the season.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “I am very happy because it was a good performance. We scored goals and didn’t concede, and kept the game having a good flow even at 3-0 up.

“I am pleased with Alex Iwobi’s talent but even more with his attitude and his willingness to learn and to contribute with his teamwork.”

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Arsenal 4-0 Watford: Early goal made it difficult – Quique Flores

Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores: “It is the first time we have conceded four goals and we are not happy with that. We looked light and soft, and that is not our style. We need to finish the season in the best way possible, because the players have worked very hard all season. I can’t be angry with the team because I am the team, and I cannot be angry with myself.”

What’s next?

Arsenal travel to West Ham next Saturday (kick-off 12:45 BST), while Watford host Everton on the same day (15:00 BST).

The stats you need to know:

  • Alex Iwobi scored in back to back games for Arsenal (two goals) after failing to score in any of his 13 previous appearances in all competitions
  • Alexis Sanchez scored and assisted in the same Premier League game for the first time since April 2015, when he did so against Liverpool
  • Hector Bellerin has been involved in four goals in his past three Premier League games (one goal, three assists)
  • Only Crystal Palace (three) have gained fewer points than the Hornets in 2016 (eight)

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Aston Villa 0-4 Chelsea

 Posted by at 10:04 PM
Apr 022016
Alexandre Pato scored on his debut – 64 days after signing for Chelsea

Alexandre Pato scored on his Chelsea debut as Aston Villa continued their slide towards relegation.

The home fans chanted against their players and owner Randy Lerner as the Blues took control in the second half.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s deflected shot and Pato’s precise penalty had given the visitors a healthy half-time lead.

Pedro scored twice – slotting in Oscar’s pull-back and hammering home a loose ball – before Alan Hutton was sent off to compound Villa’s misery.

No walk in the (Villa) Park

Aston Villa fans turned their ire on their owner and team in the second half

Aston Villa’s Premier League survival may still be possible in theory but, with 12 points separating them from safety and six games left, attention has long since switched to the longer term in the Holte End after seven straight league defeats.

Before kick-off, fans held aloft banners asking “Proud History, What future?” as they contemplate a Championship campaign on the pitch and owner Randy Lerner’s continuing attempts to sell up off it.

Their protests increased in volume towards the end of the match with substitute Leandro Bacuna – who spoke of his plans to leave the club this week