Kunle Ajao

Kunle Ajao

The second World Cup to be added to our Remembrance library is the first one ever to be hosted in Africa. The showpiece in 2010 was hosted by South Africa, where Vuvuzelas and the Jabulani left their mark on the beautiful game, the latter tainting a career or two (sorry, Rob Green).

It was a World Cup that was seen as an indication of how far the continent had come, and the country South Africa itself, epitomised by the great Nelson Mandela, and it was the hosts who set the ball rolling, with an opening game against Mexico in Johannesburg. The atmosphere was raucous, to say the least, and it hit fever-pitch when Bafana Bafana took the lead, Siphiwe Tshabalala thumping a shot into the top corner after just 10 minutes in the second half. Mexico, though, hadn’t read the script, and Rafael Marquez pulled Javier Aguirre’s side level with 11 minutes to go. South Africa came close to a winner, but Katlego Mphela hit the post in stoppage time, and it finished all-square.

The hosts did take some fair bit of optimism from that opening game to their next match, against Uruguay, but it was a nightmare outing for Carlos Alberto Pereira and his side in Pretoria. After Diego Forlan gave Uruguay the lead, South Africa never looked like recovering, and Forlan added another in the second half, from the penalty spot after Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune was sent off, before Alvaro Pereira rubbed salt on South African wounds with a third. They did find a way to win their last group game, but events elsewhere meant they would be the first hosts to exit at the first round, despite Mphela and Bongani Khumalo scoring in victory over France.

France were particularly disappointing in the tournament, both on and off the pitch. Off the back of a terrible European Championship outing two years earlier, Les Bleus began with a goalless draw against Uruguay, before losing 2-0 to Mexico. Then a training ground fracas saw Nicolas Anelka and captain Patrice Evra exiled from the team, before that loss to South Africa meant the finalists of the previous World Cup were going home early, while the winners of four years ago, Italy, were also exiting at the first stop, finishing bottom of Group F to become the first holders to go out in the first round since 1966. As for Group A, it was Uruguay who finished top, followed by Mexico, El Tri nicking a fifth successive last 16 place, ahead of the South Africans on goal difference.

Another African side who has their relatively high hopes met with a crushing reality were Nigeria. The Super Eagles had only just about snuck onto the plane to South Africa at the expense of Tunisia, and in Group B, where they were drawn with Argentina- coached by Diego Maradona, Greece and South Korea, they surely fancied their chances. They didn’t get off to a good start, losing 1-0 to the Argentines, but there was more than enough cause to be optimistic, especially as Game Two saw them up against the Greeks, who had never even scored a World Cup goal. Kalu Uche’s free-kick flew all the way in after 16 minutes to put Nigeria ahead, but things took a downturn when Sani Keita was sent off his kick out to Vasilis Torosidis. Greece capitalised on the extra man, as Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised on the cusp of halftime, before Torosidis popped up with a winner with 20 minutes left. Now Nigeria were staring elimination in the face.

But they weren’t quite out yet, as Argentina’s 4-1 win over South Korea meant that a win for the Eagles over the Koreans in Durban, coupled with a defeat for Greece at the hands of Argentina, takes them through. Once again, they took the lead through Kalu Uche, once again they conceded a first half equaliser, and once again they fell behind in the second period. But the most memorable came midway through the second period, not that Super Eagles forward Yakubu hasn’t been trying to forget. When Uche played in Yussuf Ayila on the left, the latter’s cross fizzed past the Korean ‘keeper and fell to Yakubu. Two yards out, the goal gaping, the net was supposed to bulge; but somehow it was tapped wide. Yakubu did equalise from the penalty spot, but two-all it finished, Nigeria were out, and Yakubu was never seen in another national shirt. Korea meanwhile, saw their draw helped with Argentina’s win over Greece meant they would follow La Celeste to the knockout phase.

Group C had one of the pre-tournament favourites, in England. After years of mediocrity and underwhelming exits in tournaments, England’s qualification form, plus the playing form of some key men that season- Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard especially- had them down as one of the forces to be reckoned with in South Africa. And they got off to the perfect start in their first game against the USA, skipper Steven Gerrard slotting them into the lead after less than 10 minutes. But that was as good as it got for Fabio Capello and his side, as five minutes before halftime, a seemingly straightforward Clint Dempsey shot was horribly spilled by Three Lions goalkeeper Rob Green and into the net; England’s swagger was deflated, and the game would end one-all. That was Green’s only game in the tournament, as he was benched for game two against Algeria. But in Cape Town, England barely troubled the Algerian defence, as things petered out to a goalless stalemate. They did manage to save face in their final game, securing a 1-0 win over Slovenia to progress to the next round.

It was a particularly tough outcome for the brave Slovenians, Matjaz Kek’s side had begun by beating Algeria thanks to skipper Robert Koren, before giving the USA a battle in a 2-2 draw. The USA also merited credit for their display against Slovenia in Johannesburg, having gone down to goals from Valter Birsa and Zlatan Ljublijankic, Landon Donovan’s goal four minutes after the start of the second half, and Michael Bradley’s eight minutes before the end of it, salvaged a point. It did seem like they had won it, but Maurice Edu had his attempt ruled out. They did manage to win the group, Donovan’s late goal against Algeria in the last game secured a 1-0 win, and top spot over the English by virtue of more goals scored. Algeria finished scoreless and bottom.

Another side that finished the tournament without a goal was Honduras, who were bottom of Group H, the group where the highlight was Switzerland beating Spain in Durban. Spain did recover from that opening game setback to top the group, while the Swiss had only that win to boast of, as they exited in the first round. Chile were the other side to go through the Spaniards. They would face Brazil in the next round, who topped the Group of Death, with Portugal coming in second, above the Ivory Coast, and North Korea, who finished bottom and concede 11 goals, seven of them against Portugal. The Ivory Coast were one of five African sides to go home early, alongside Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa, and completing that set was Cameroon, who finished bottom of Group E. That meant the only side from the host continent in the second round were Ghana, like four years earlier, second in a tough group that housed Germany, Serbia and Australia.

The Ghanaians would face the USA in the second round, a game where they got to the perfect start, Kevin Prince-Boateng giving them the lead after five minutes. Donovan equalised for the Americans just past the hour mark, but in Rustenburg, it was Ghana and Africa that would be celebrating, as Asamoah Gyan’s extra time winner sent The Black Stars to the last eight. Ghana’s fellow Group D qualifiers, Germany, also made it to the last eight, after thrashing England in Bloemfontein. Die Mannschaft were favourites, and raced into a two-goal lead after 32 minutes, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski with the goals. England pulled one back before halftime through Matthew Upson, and then it looked like they had levelled matters when Frank Lampard’s shot hit the crossbar and bounced over the goal-line, but referee Jorge Larrionda said no goal. Lampard did hit the bar again in the second half, but Germany sealed the win thanks to a Thomas Muller double in the space of three minutes.

It was a particularly brilliant World Cup tournament for Muller, who was coming off the back off a breakthrough season at Bayern Munich. His brace against England took his tally to three goals in South Africa, and in the next round, he scored again, as Germany thrashed Argentina 4-0- beating La Celeste in a second straight World Cup quarter-final, with Klose also bagging a brace. But Muller would receive a booking in that game in Cape Town, which ruled him out for the semi-final against Spain. Germany, without Muller, looked a bit short upfront, and suffered another semi-final exit, as Carles Puyol’s header sent Spain into their first ever World Cup final. Spain had begun with that loss to the Swiss, but only conceded one more goal since, against Chile in the group stage. They had negotiated the last 16 and the quarters with 1-0 wins, David Villa with both goals as Portugal and Paraguay were respectively beaten. Their triumph over the Germans set them up with a final against Holland.

The Dutch were unnoticed high-flyers in the tournament; they went past Group E unnoticed, winning all three games and conceding once, before seeing off Slovakia, Italy’s conquerors, in the last 16, and that set up a meeting with Brazil. In Port Elizabeth, it was La Selacao who began in full throttle mode, and by the 10th minute, they had seen a goal disallowed, and had also taken the lead, both courtesy of Robinho. The football was mouth-watering and the Dutch were labouring, until eight minutes after halftime, when a mix-up between Felipe Melo and Julio Cesar allowed Wesley Sneijder’s cross to go all the way in. Sneijder was the Dutch’s undoubted star of the tournament, coming off the back of treble-winning season with Inter Milan in Italy. He ended this World Cup with five goals, two of which were against Brazil, the second an unmarked header from a corner midway through the second period. Brazil would never recover from that deflation, and matters were made worse when Felipe Melo got sent off. For the second World Cup in a row, it was elimination at the last eight, and Dunga was no longer deemed fit to continue.

As for the Oranje, their trip to the final also included a 3-2 win over Uruguay in the semis, Sneijder scoring again as they navigated a close and entertaining encounter in Cape Town. It was nevertheless an impressive tournament from Uruguay, who served up entertainment in South Africa, and were involved in the match of the tournament in the last eight with Ghana. In a closely-fought game in Johannesburg, it was Ghana who struck, thanks to a thunderbolt from Sulley Muntari on the stroke of halftime, but 10 minutes after the break Uruguay would restore with a brilliant free-kick from their talisman Forlan, who had a superb tournament after a superb season at Atletico Madrid. Chances came and went in the game in Soccer City, but a stalemate meant extra-time, where the real drama would unfold. In stoppage time in extra-time, Ghana had a free-kick sent towards goal, and were denied a goal thanks to a handball on the goal-line by Uruguay forward Luis Suarez. Suarez was duly sent off and Ghana had a penalty, and a chance to make history. From the spot, Gyan had the chance to make his country the first African side to appear in a World Cup semi-final, but his spot-kick flew over off the crossbar, and referee Olegario Benquerenca signalled for a penalty shootout. Gyan did take and score one then, but misses from his teammates Dominic Adiyiah and John Mensah meant it would be Uruguay who advanced to the last four.

Uruguay would end up finishing fourth in the tournament, losing to Germany in the third place game, but that would take nothing away from their wonderful showing, epitomised by Forlan. The veteran playmaker grabbed five goals in South Africa, including a superb volley against the Germans in Port Elizabeth. He- like Muller, Sneijder, and Villa- ended the tournament topping the scoring charts, but Muller was given the golden boot by virtue of assists, but Forlan did walk off with the best player award.

All of which left us with the D-day in Soccer City, as Spain and the Netherlands, after the closing ceremony that is, walked into the pitch for the 19th FIFA World Cup final. The pairing meant no matter what happened, there would be a new name in the World Cup winners list. The 90 minutes of regulation time were goalless, but certainly not lacking in action, from acrobatic attempts to take out an opponent’s chest, to misses at either end, Arjen Robben most notably guilty of letting two big chances go untaken. Extra-time was required, and still it didn’t look like a goal would come, then in the second half of it the Dutch were reduced to 10 men, referee Howard Webb giving Johnny Heitinga a second yellow card. Then came the moment, in the 116th minute. Spain broke forward, Fernando Torres’ pass was blocked, then Cesc Fabregas picked up the pieces and played in Andres Iniesta, who made no mistake in finding the bottom corner. Cue mayhem, and unbridled tears of joy in the Spanish corner, from goalkeeper and captain, to fanatic and commoner. There wasn’t enough time for Holland to recover, and Spain, winners of the Euros two years earlier, became the first European side to win the tournament outside Europe.


 

Manchester City vs Manchester United, April the 7th 2018. City one win away from the title, as their neighbours come to the Etihad. A dominant first half sees City go into the break with a two-goal lead, which would have been more had Raheem Sterling finished off the three chances he had. United rally in the second half, score three times in 16 minutes, leave with the points and reign on City’s parade.

Then a raging Facebook post from a raging (football, not quite City) fan over Sterling and his profligacy costing City, cursing him and his ‘waddling gait’. As always, cue response from the social media crowd, especially with those who know he’s not a City fan, and the question is whether or not Sterling’s wastefulness and City’s defeat were a betting coupon-buster, or, for danger of not sounding too hip, ‘did he spoil your ticket?’ In response, astonished fan with Facebook post wonders if it always has to be about betting, wonders what happened to pure emotion in the game.

Which poses the question, is betting in the game starting to overshadow pure emotion? Is it now a case worrying about the effect of what a game does to your financial gamble, rather than feeling the game itself. So much has been said about the need to clamp down betting in football (and other sports), one of the reasons is that it clads the game too much these days, and which one of the ripple effects is this, there’s little room and/or consideration for raw emotion. I once saw a FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2013, where Iraq and South Korea traded late goals in an epic 3-3 quarter-final, and I remember going crazy after the Koreans bagged the sixth goal of the game in stoppage time in extra-time, the pure loss of head that football can bring. Do that now, especially where people are, and it’s just about a case of ‘wow, you must have really placed a huge quid on this one’.

In truth, it’s not just the betting that’s doing its bit. There’s no arguing the brilliance of how the world is in the 21st century, but its provision of virtual management and social media is perhaps another stick in the game’s crawl. Now, many don’t really take too much account the impact of a watching their side lose a game does, but rather the social media ridicule that’s bound to follow. Every impending is almost now about hiding from the banter that will follow. And there is, of course, the virtual worlds. The fantasy leagues, which at times, makes you root for an opposition player against your own side. You don’t place too much meaning on what happens on the pitch, not much thought goes into, say, Watford suffering 6-2 defeat at home to Newcastle, as long as your fantasy darling Troy Deeney gets both goals for the Hornets.

Sure, this could well be over the top. Fantasy leagues et al do bring people closer to the game (sometimes, at least), the world is a fast-paced moving trend of getting involved, football being no different; and the ultimate goal of football is to win. So be it on the pitch, on a financial risk basis, the virtual world or the social media wars, victory tastes good. But no one really fell in love with the game because of the rewards/chastening on social media, or the virtual triumphs, or the betting benefits (probably).

Love for the beautiful game came about through moments of pure emotion. Through moments like watching Sergio Aguero snatch the league title for City in 2012, and subconsciously going nuts, before realising what you’re doing. Through moments like seeing Kostas Manolas find the bottom corner to cap off Roma’s incredible comeback against Barcelona, and staring in complete disbelief. Through moments like seeing Leicester City win the Premier League, and believing in the impossible once again. Like watching a young Cristiano Ronaldo in tears because his side have just been beaten by the Greeks in a home final in 2004, and feeling a gush of sympathy. In a world of stats, algorithms, numbers, and figures, among others, you can’t measure those feelings. Of unadulterated passion, unbridled euphoria, or inconsolable agony.

So the question is; when you look back at the Barcelona v PSG moment of March 2017 some 50 years on, do you remember your Champions League Fantasy side, the social media pleasure you had that night, the financial plus you got, or the indescribable feeling that’s bound to last an eternity?


For the second season in a row, there’s no springtime doom and gloom at Newcastle. No talk of fans rallying with banners demanding a club that tries, no claim of the players letting down the fans, and no sign of a squad underachieving. Tyneside feels alive and buoyant, smiles are on faces fans, and the team is overachieving by sitting in the top half.

‘It’s very good what is happening in this club, in this city. We are where we deserve to be, I think’, said Mohammed Diame, who put in a man of the match of performance as Newcastle came from behind to beat Arsenal. Yes, Newcastle beat Arsenal. After 10 defeats in a row, spanning six years, and no wins against the Gunners in eight years, the Magpies grabbed a completely deserved win, their fourth in a row, as well their fourth successive home win. ‘With the last four results, we’ve won four games in a row now, and confidence is high’, said defender Paul Dummett.

And there was no shortage of confidence, even when Arsenal took the lead. It had been 13 years since the Toon celebrated a home win over Arsenal, Nolberto Solano bagging the solo goal back in the winter of 2005. Then Alan Shearer and Michael Owen were the headline men up front, Rafa Benitez was managing at Liverpool, with Glenn Roeder in charge. Normally Newcastle heads would have dropped, conceding the first goal against a bogey team and that familiar feeling would start to creep in, of those 10 games in a row that they lost to the Gunners, only in one of them did they score equalisers- yet they were hit 7-3 in that one- so perhaps a shot in morale would have been expected the moment Alexandre Lacazette latched on to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pass, and became the first player to score against Martin Dubravka at the St. James Park this season.

But dropping heads isn’t quite a feature of the new Toon, not what has made punch above their weight, made them win four games on the bounce. This may have been a shuffled Arsenal side, but there’s no discrediting Newcastle’s resolve. ‘People were talking about the changes they made but you could see the quality which they had, especially in the first half’, said Benitez. For quality, Benitez would have been delighted to see that that was the word surrounding his side’s equaliser. From Jonjo Shelvey’s superb pass, to Deandre Yedlin’s one-time cross, and Ayoze Perez’s one-touch finish, the goal that gave Newcastle parity involved eight of their 11 players, with nine passes.

It was a third goal in as many games for an in-form Perez, who bagged winners against Huddersfield, and at Leicester lately, but it’s the Spaniard’s work ethic that has been his most brilliant characteristic, and that has also been the watchwords for the rest of the squad. That work ethic, not so similar with Newcastle’s Premier League teams in recent past, always accused of a lack of trying and giving up too easily in the past. Not this side. ‘Everyone was pulling in the same direction…’ said Benitez, while Dummett pointed out ‘the organisation between the back four and midfield’ as key. But perhaps bigger proof of their hard work and focus is Diame pointing out that the team would enjoy this ‘for a few days, then get back to work’. There’s no room for resting on laurels, no room for slacking off, as they showed in the second half, with Islam Slimani and Perez combining to play in Ritchie, who- just like he did against Manchester United here- grabbed the winner.

With 41 points, Newcastle are one point behind ninth-placed Everton, whom they face next. ‘We’ll go to Everton hoping to beat them and take over them’ Dummett added. A win at Goodison Park next weekend takes them to ninth place; only twice in the past 11 Premier League seasons have they finished higher. Not that Benitez is one to get carried away, it’s still a case of one step at a time. The first step was always survival, and with 41 points that has been achieved, just ask Dummett. ‘Yes, definitely’.

City kings of the land, inevitably

You could excuse the nerves from the Manchester City fans and manager when Tottenham halved their advantage. City had been on top and took a deserved- yet fortuitous- two-goal lead, until Christian Eriksen pulled a goal back for Spurs (insert Harry Kane joke here). There was semblance to City’s implosion at home to Manchester United the previous weekend, and Spurs sensed it, the fans roaring them on while the players forced City to cede the ball, both at the end of the first half, and the start of the second. But City didn’t give up control or their lead this time, and with less than 20 minutes left, Raheem Sterling- guilty of a few misses in the derby and here as well- put the game to bed. City have won at Chelsea, Arsenal, United and Spurs this season; more importantly they got to within touching distance of the title. A West Brom win at Old Trafford would suffice.

Not that Pep Guardiola was watching, though. The City boss was presumably on the golf course when United took on West Brom, laboured at home to the bottom club, and, courtesy of a Jay Rodriguez header, suffered a second home league defeat of the season to hand City the title. Which means United had delayed City’s coronation at the Etihad on derby day, only to gift them the title by losing to a side that had won only twice in the league all season. Sums up this week of football. This also means City have won the league at the joint-fastest time ever (with five games to spare, just like United in 2000-01), and in seven years they’ve won three league titles, half the number of times United manager Jose Mourinho pointed out that he has won eight career championships in his post-match conference.

Elsewhere:

  • That defeat at St. James means Arsenal are yet to record an away point in 2018, the only side in the top four divisions in the country awaiting their first spoil on the road. Incredible.
  • Now it’s five wins in a row for Burnley. Not only did Sean Dyche’s side put some considerable daylight between them and recent opponents Leicester, they are now only two points behind sixth-placed Arsenal.
  • Mohammed Salah scored. Next!!
  • The jubilation was uncontainable, from the pitch to the dugout and the fans, when the goal went in and at the final whistle. It looked like Huddersfield-Watford would peter out to a goalless draw, until Tom Ince popped up for the Terriers in the 91st minute, his fifth goal against Watford. More Importantly, it has them on 35 points, on the brink of survival.
  • And in the crisis Clasico, Southampton managed to toss a two-goal lead at home to Chelsea, and grab defeat from the cusp of victory.
  • Oh, and welcome back to the big time Wolverhampton Wanderers

Results:

Newcastle 2-1 Arsenal

Tottenham 1-3 Manchester City

Southampton 2-3 Chelsea

Manchester United 0-1 West Brom

Huddersfield 1-0 Watford

Swansea 1-1 Everton

Crystal Palace 3-2 Brighton

Liverpool 3-0 Bournemouth

Burnley 2-1 Leicester

Monday Night Football: West Ham v Stoke


Here’s an expert view on the obvious and already well-known: 93 minutes gone at the Bernabeu, Real Madrid 0-3 Juventus; 3-3 on aggregate. Then Cristiano Ronaldo heads a cross down for Lucas Vazquez, who’s impeded by Mehdi Benatia, and referee Michael Oliver says penalty. In truth, no one really needs a reminder of what really happened, Juve’s veteran goalie Gigi Buffon protesting and then getting sent off for pushing the referee, before he walks off into the dressing, probably his last game in Europe for the Bianconeri.

No one needs a reminder of that event, because none has forgotten, and it’s hard to forget something that the world hasn’t stopped talking about, and that’s the problem. It’s been three days since those events happened at the Bernabeu, three days since Real Madrid pulled off that feat of escapology and rendered all of Juve’s second-leg hard work null. The tie looked dead and buried at the end of the first leg, the result was Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid, but the Old Lady wouldn’t quite give it up, an hour into the second leg they had incredibly restored parity in the tie, and that’s what makes their exit such a bitter pill to swallow. That’s what had Buffon yelling at and shoving Oliver, and accusing him of having ‘a rubbish bin’ for a heart, that’s what made manager Max Allegri get into an argument with Real’s Sergio Ramos in the tunnel. The emotion of the game.

That’s what many have tried to make it look, only raw emotion would make general nice guy Buffon throw such a fit, physical and verbal. But surely it is time for Buffon to sit down and re-collect, time to realise that a controversial decision isn’t always the wrong decision, just like this one proved. The finger-pointing has gone on long enough, the evidence in that is always when the social media bandwagon jumpers get on board. Juventus v Real Madrid has become Buffon v Oliver; a fabulous two-legged tie that’s supposed to be talked about for its intensity, never-say-die relentless and nerve-wracking situations, is now about a veteran Italian shot-stopper and an experienced English, and the latter is getting the villainy treatment.

And things have gone into overdrive in shaming Oliver, the finger-pointing and insults have moved from him and on to his family. When does Buffon realise that his display of raw motion put this all in motion? When does he see fit to tell the world that he realises he went too far? That he was taken in the moment, which can happen to anybody? In this corporate world of public pacifying, where everyone is apologising but no one is actually sorry, such comment from such a revered individual wouldn’t go amiss.

Buffon has had quite the career, some 22 years in utter consistency, where not everything has gone his way but he has always taken them no matter what, so there’s little wrong with feeling sorry for him in this case, another chance- perhaps the last chance- of winning the Champions League extinguished before his eyes. But this is no longer about just Buffon not winning Europe’s most prestigious trophy, this is also now about Michael Oliver being painted as a heartless wretch for having the audacity to do his job. The model professional and model citizen throwing a fit because things didn’t quite go your way in football. Come on, Gigi, you’re bigger than this.


Rewind back to a fortnight ago. Manchester City, one league defeat to their name all-season, and four in all competitions- two of which were inconsequential, prepared for a weekend game at Everton. A win there would give them the chance to confirm the league title at home to neighbours Manchester United, and though their record at Goodison had been a bit underwhelming, on the evidence of this season, victory there looked a sure-fire certainty. And so it proved; by halftime City were in command, the win already in the bag, now it was United next, but first a Champions League quarter-final first leg across Merseyside awaited.

But a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, after a chaotic 19-minute period, had them staring at European exit. Nevertheless, there was still the chance to win the league in front of United, and by halftime in the Mancunian derby they were two up, in control, and should have been out of sight. Yet, almost inexplicably, they managed to turn a position of complete dominance into utter desperation, this time it was a 16-minute period, and their 2-0 advantage became a 2-3 deficit, that they would never recover from. There was more misery to come in Europe again, as, despite City threatening a comeback with a fast start and a dominant first half, they would suffer another loss to Liverpool. Suddenly, in the space of six days, Pep Guardiola’s men have gone from near-invincible to a pack of cards, the tendency to fold all too common now.

It might well have been different, with the ever-so-common what might have been situations: what would have happened had Pep not set them up to be short-handed at Liverpool and if they didn’t panic in that first half at the back. What would have happened if Raheem Sterling had buried those first half chances against United. What would have happened if Leroy Sane hadn’t been wrongly disallowed by the linesman’s flag in the second leg against Liverpool. But that’s the thing about what might have been situations, they never happened, and because they never happened, in the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is that City are out of the Champions League, and haven’t won the league yet. They might not even do it this weekend, even with a win, but it’s just as important to find a response to a troubled week, as they face another tough test.

In terms of what might have been, none will be wondering this season than Spurs. What might have been: had they started the season well at Wembley; had they not had that torrid run in November and December; had they not been caught napping by Juventus in the Champions League in March. Yet here they are, unbeaten in 14 league games, 20 domestic outings, but have nothing more than a top four spot and a semi-final place in the FA Cup to show for it. They are well lodged in a top four place, despite their November-December scare, 10 points behind fifth-placed Chelsea, level on points with third-placed Liverpool, but having played a game less; even second place is not unrealistic, only four points separate them from United. A win at Wembley this weekend, and they all but seal their place in the Champions League next season, a win and they keep pace with Manchester United, a win and they retain their advantage over Liverpool.

A win, also, and they would have beaten all the sides in the top six at Wembley bar one. For all the talk of how much the stadium would be a drawback (and it did start like it), Liverpool, Man United and Arsenal have all tasted defeat here, and not just defeats, deserved defeats which probably should have been by even greater margins, only Chelsea managed to nick a win in August. They will be full of confidence going into this game, thanks to their form and the fact that City look like they’re there for the taking, like they can fold with the littlest form of pressure, and there’s what the league leaders need to avoid, the growing sense of invulnerability, the fear factor perhaps diminishing, the psychological beating of teams perhaps been chiselled away. It’s the sort of reputation that sort have built so far this season, and wouldn’t want to trample so late in it. A win here and they would have won away at Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Spurs in the same season, a rare feat. More importantly, though, a commanding win here, and the sneers are discarded.

Elsewhere:

  • Separated by seven points and five places, Stoke’s chances of catching West Ham, not too dissimilar with their chances of survival, look like they will boil down to their Monday night trip to the London Stadium. They’ve won only once in 10 games under Paul Lambert, and have a knack for not scoring. Get one here early, though, and they might just benefit from a potentially tempestuous atmosphere.
  • In another game with potentially massive consequences at the bottom end of the table, it’s derby day as Brighton travel to Crystal Palace. Chris Hughton’s side are within touching distance, even though they passed up quite an opportunity against Huddersfield last weekend. A win this time, and they would be on the cusp of survival, not to mention the added bonus of keeping their 17th-placed rivals firmly in the mire.
  • Mark Hughes would have had cause for optimism over Southampton’s performance at Arsenal last weekend (who wouldn’t), but as they host Chelsea on Saturday lunch-time, the question isn’t whether they can kick on but rather bag wins, even draws will hardly help their cause anymore. Chelsea’s semi-crisis wasn’t helped by last weekend’s stalemate against West Ham. At least one of these team’s worries will find little relief this weekend.
  • Oh, and there’s every chance Mohammed Salah would continue his scoring spree as Liverpool host Bournemouth. Shame that he’ll miss out on the golden boot, given all of Tottenham’s goals from now till the end of the season are likely to be awarded to Harry Kane.
  • And in what’s basically a Europa League play-off, Burnley play host Leicester City. Who’d have thought that in September?

Fixtures

Tottenham v Manchester City

Liverpool v Bournemouth

Manchester United v West Brom

Crystal Palace v Brighton

West Ham v Stoke

Swansea v Everton

Southampton v Chelsea

Burnley v Leicester

Huddersfield v Watford

Newcastle v Arsenal


It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder if you even know the game at all, yet it leaves you speechless and remembering why you fell in love with it in the first place. Surely something of this sort, even by football’s ludicrous track record, wasn’t plausible. Just over a year ago, Barcelona had pulled off the seemingly impossible, coming back from a 4-0 first leg loss, thanks to three goals in the dying embers of the game, but that looked like a one-time thing, and when, this year, Luis Suarez was strolling off in celebration for the Catalans, his first Champions League goal since that astonishing comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, in the first leg to cap off a 4-1 win, they seemed uncatchable. It meant Roma had to score three times without reply, surely that wouldn’t happen.

Even when they got off to the perfect start, when Edin Dzeko got in behind Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique to put the ball past Marc-Andre Ter-Stegen and put Roma in front on the night after six minutes, even then it surely wouldn’t happen. But the Giallorossi wouldn’t be deterred by the stature of their opponents, nor the scale of the mountainous task that lay ahead. Even if we lost the first leg, we were confident with the way we had played and it showed tonight’, said skipper Daniele De Rossi. And you couldn’t argue with that statement, on evidence of the performance, Roma pushed Barcelona back, made them create very little, and were rather unlucky to only have had one goal to their name at halftime, Patrick Schick sent a header wide, while Dzeko’s was tipped over by Ter-Stegen.

The second period took the same form as the first, Roma on the front foot, with Barcelona creating next to nothing. But the visitors have been in positions like this more than once this season, where it looks like they’re almost incapable of fashioning out any opportunity, but then spring up with something out of nothing, and perhaps that was why there was little cause for alarm, on both the part of the players, fans and the manager, they have weathered many a storm this season, and not long ago, they pulled a rabbit out of the hat with two late goals in a league game against Sevilla.

But their patience became anxiety midway through the second half, when Pique brought down Dzeko in the box, and was booked for his trouble. Up stepped De Rossi, who had the misfortune of opening the scoring for Barcelona via an own goal in the first leg, and he made no mistake at the right end. Now it was 2-0 on the night, 3-4 on aggregate, Roma needed just one more. Dare they believe? Could they pull this off? On came Cengiz Under in place off Schick, as they sensed memorable night. And with nine minutes left, the moment came. From a corner, Kostas Manolas, another who had an own goal to his name in the first leg, peeled off to the near post, and his header found the bottom corner.

Cue disbelief, from Manolas’ face, to the rest of his teammates, down to his manager Eusebio Di Francesco, and the fans, both sets of them. Now Barcelona had to do something, astonishingly, they hadn’t done all day; attack. On they poured forward, but there would be no saving grace, not from Lionel Messi, who always found them a way to get them out of jail. Not from Luis Suarez, who was frustrated. Not from Pique, who came forward from defence. Nor from Ousmane Dembele, who was thrown on in a fit bearing semblance to desperation.

Barcelona had managed to escape from the claws of defeat on a number of occasions this season, but there would be no feat of escapology here. They had wriggled past Real Madrid, Chelsea, Juventus and Atletico Madrid this season without losing. It would be against Roma that they faltered, that they threw a Hail Mary but there would be no catch. Who writes these scripts?

Thriller at the Bernabeu

'...as Real Madrid close the book on Juventus once more'. Events at the Santiago Bernabeu would render that first leg headline from this writer on this tie rather daft. Juve had a three-goal deficit to overturn, Gazzetta Della Sport's headline before the game was 'Mission Impossible', with the 'possible' in the second part of the second word highlighted, while Marca ran 1429 simulations, with 1405 seeing Real progress. The odd 24 looked on, when by halftime they were two to the good, Mario Mandzukic with two headers. It became three-nil to the Bianconeri on the night, and three-all on aggregate, when Keylor Navas spilled Douglas Costa's cross, and Blaise Matuidi was on hand to poke it in. Then with the game on a knife edge, and extra time seemingly on the cards, Cristiano Ronaldo laid on a header towards Lucas Vazquez. A challenge from Mehdi Benatia later, Real had a penalty, Gigi Buffon was sent off for a push on the ref, and some five minutes were exhausted in an ensuing kerfuffle. Not that it mattered to Ronaldo, who buried the resulting spot kick with aplomb. For the eighth season in row, Los Blancos will be in a Champions League semi, while as Buffon walked off late on, one had to wonder: was that his Zinedine Zidane circa 2006 moment?

Elsewhere

  • For a moment it seemed plausible, Fernandinho pounced on Virgil van Dijk’s loose ball, then the ball fell to Gabriel Jesus via the boot of Raheem Sterling, and Manchester City were a goal up inside two minutes. One third of the way to the comeback, and for the entire first half, they had Liverpool pinned in their own half, Bernardo Silva hit the post, Leroy Sane was denied by the linesman’s flag, Pep Guardiola was sent to the stands, but it would be only 1-0 on the night at halftime. And there was always the worry for City over Liverpool’s potent attack, and their rather meek defence, and when Ederson’s parry from Sadio Mane’s feet fell to Mohammed Salah, the game was up. A lob over Nicolas Otamendi, and into the top corner, and City’s task became too Herculean. Liverpool still had enough time to rub salt on City wounds, Roberto Firmino pouncing on yet another Otamendi error this week. 5-1 on aggregate, Liverpool coasted through to the last four, and on the evidence of this quarter-final- and the season at large- no one would be keen to face them.

Results

Roma 3 (4)-(4) 0 Barcelona

Roma progress on away goals

Manchester City 1 (1)-(5) 2 Liverpool

Bayern Munich 0 (2)-(1) 1 Sevilla

Real Madrid 1 (4)-(3) 3 Juventus


At this point, you begin to wonder who writes these scripts. Manchester City were two up at halftime, which could well have been six, cruising against a seemingly hapless Manchester United side, and had one hand and four other fingers on the trophy. The party was in full flow and the home crowd were in dreamland; yet by fulltime it was the stuff of nightmares, Citytis had struck again, United had had the better of their neighbours and there would be no title party just yet.

And that had been the aim for United before kick-off, delay, make them wait. It was one thing to watch as City strolled past everyone this campaign, it would be another to watch their rivals confirm the league after the final whistle. Jose Mourinho had talked about United not ready to be ‘clowns’ in City’s celebrations, the same word he used when Chelsea went to Liverpool in April 2014, another of his famous away day masterstrokes. The match build-up had been spiked by claims from Pep Guardiola that he had been offered Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitarayan in January by their agent and his pal Mino Raiola, comments Mourinho refused to speak on. But halfway through the first half, Mourinho would be screaming on the pitch.

City had been exposed by the high-press football at Anfield in midweek, but any suggestion that Mourinho would follow Klopp’s blueprint was extinguished early on, with United sitting deep and content to let City dictate the game. Which meant Mourinho had every right to be livid with the way they conceded the first goal. From Leroy Sane’s corner, Vincent Kompany shrugged off the attention of Chris Smalling to power home a header past David de Gea. There were shades of 2012, when Kompany beat Smalling and headed in the only goal in key game that season, but this time the eruption that came with the opening goal had barely died down when a second came, Raheem Sterling feeding Ilkay Gundogan, whose turn and finish into the bottom corner was a thing of beauty.

Mourinho was quite rightly incandescent, United were switching off at the back, and it happened again, David Silva playing in Sterling, who contrived to blaze over from point-blank range. Then Sterling did it again, from another Silva pass, before Gundogan could only direct a free header into the palms of De Gea. Still Guardiola would be at least content with the half, where the players and fans had played their part, every United touch met with a loud jeer that would echo round the stadium, while there were cheers in the same measure every time City had the ball.

For United, something had to change at the break. It wasn’t the personnel, as Mourinho felt the need to make no substitutions just yet, and he would be proved right. Only seven minutes had gone in the second half, and had United had offered more than they did in the entire first period, Pogba had fired a shot that was easy for Ederson, and it would be the Frenchman who dragged them into the game. First, after being played in by Ander Herrera’s brilliant chest down from Alexis Sanchez’s cross, he tucked home past Ederson to halve the deficit. Then barely three minutes later, he got his head onto another Sanchez cross to level matters.

Suddenly, United had gone from apparently down and out to restore parity, and City, from their seemingly unassailable position, now had to score again for the title. A goal would come with 20 minutes to go, but it complete United’s remarkable, and it was almost fitting that it came through Smalling peeling away from Kompany to jab home another Sanchez cross. Now it was truly the stuff of nightmares for the home crowd, the ‘ole’ cheers of joy were now substituted with silence of terror, and on the home bench, substitutions would follow, Guardiola disregarding Tuesday’s clash with Liverpool and throwing on Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero. Now it was City who were on the rack and were starting to lose their heads, every decision that went against them was met with as much jeers from the crowd as it was with protests of frustration from the players, not least when referee Martin Atkinson denied them a penalty after Ashley Young did his best to detach Aguero’s legs.

Time was running out for the Citizens, and the closest they came was in stoppage time, when first De Gea pulled off another of his surreal saves to deny Aguero, and then Sterling turned Nicolas Otamendi’s effort onto the post from three yards out. But it wasn’t to be. City are still certain to win the league, but they couldn’t do it as early as possible, and could only do it next week if United fail to win.

For United, the aim had been achieved, they had pushed City’s celebrations, however inevitable, further back. Over our dead bodies, boys.

City Cause for Concern

That result, coupled with the loss at Anfield, now exposes some kind of chink in City’s armour, a large bit perhaps. Any sort of pressure and they seem to fold. Get at their defenders, and the collective solidity becomes individual frailty. Suddenly that cloak of invisibility has been ripped off. Sure, the alarm bells are somewhat overblown, a more profligate City side would have killed the game in the first half, but that’s the problem when you seem like the best team in the land. They go into that Champions League quarter-final second leg without much to stand on.

Elsewhere:

  • There was a touch of nostalgia, when Patrice Evra planted a kiss of Javier Hernandez’s face, a reminder of the Manchester United days, seeing Hernandez celebrate a goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was the Mexican’s ninth goal in 15 games against the Blues, his 50th Premier League goal, but more importantly it leaves them six points ahead of the drop zone, with six games left. For Chelsea, not only is the top four a bridge too far (no pun intended), they are now within reach of sixth-placed Arsenal.
  • Speaking of Arsenal, it was a more exciting game than expected at the Emirates against Southampton. The Gunners fell behind after Shane Long pounced on some uncertain Arsenal defending, to put it mildly, to score his second league goal in 29 months, but responded through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Danny Welbeck to lead at the break. Charlie Austin levelled things up with 17 minutes left, his fourth goal in four games against the Gunners, but Welbeck would have the last say. In terms of goals, that is, as a late kerfuffle that saw Jack Stephens and Mohammed Elneny get sent off for either side dominated the embers of the game. Mark Hughes still hasn’t gotten a point at the Emirates, and the Saints are still three points from safety.
  • As Ayoze Perez ran off celebrating, Newcastle could almost heave a sigh of relief, as the Spaniard’s deft lob put the Toon two up at Leicester with 15 minutes left. Jamie Vardy did pull one back for the hosts, but Rafa Benitez’s side would hold on for a priceless win. With the Magpies now on 38 points, survival just about within reach.
  • Burnley have now won four in a row, and are now four points clear in seventh place. You can keep pinching yourselves all you want, Clarets fans, it’s still not a dream.
  • And on a weekend where there was a Manchester derby, Merseyside derby, and a London derby, who’d have thought it was the one in Merseyside that would be the least exciting.

Results

Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United

Leicester 1-2 Newcastle

Arsenal 3-2 Southampton

Stoke 1-2 Tottenham

West Brom 1-1 Swansea

Watford 1-2 Burnley

Brighton 1-1 Huddersfield

Everton 0-0 Liverpool

Chelsea 1-1 West Ham

Bournemouth 2-2 Crystal Palace


Pardon if the eulogy seems a bit like drooling. 65 minutes gone, Ronaldo moves to the corner at the left end of the Juventus stadium, raises his hands in a gesture that could well say ‘crown me king’ and the entire stadium obliges, with applause rendering from all ends of it. He had just put Real Madrid two up at the home of Juve, the home of the side who rarely knows what it feels like to lose at home (once in 73 games before this), let alone lose so convincingly.

It was Ronaldo who bagged a double in Real’s 4-1 humbling of this same side in last season’s final, the campaign when he began his evolution towards being a pure goal-getting centre-forward, and he’s showing little signs of letting up in that department. Between kick-off and the time Ronaldo added that second goal, aside from substitute Lucas Vazquez, he had touched the ball the least of all players, yet no one would be ready to point out such stat on a man who had 36 goals in 35 games in all competitions prior to this game, and two minutes into it, 37 in 36.

Isco found space on the left, and his low cross was poked home by the Portuguese skipper (thanks in no small part to Karim Benzema, it should be said), the 10th successive UEFA Champions League game that he had scored in, and Los Blancos had the perfect start. It wasn’t just that they had found the net early in Turin, it was that they bossed the opening minutes in Turin, pressing the home side and denying them any room, moving the ball around with authority, and, but for the crossbar, would have gone two up through Toni Kroos.

Juventus knew they had to react and get on the front foot, and after a while, they did manage to, pushing Real back, causing a threat with their quick one-two passes around the edge of the area and the movement of their full-backs, and they did come mighty close when Keylor Navas had to react quickly to deny Gonzalo Higuain. By halftime, it was 1-0, Sergio Ramos had denied Andrea Barzagli what seemed like a certain equaliser, Higuain had made a few runs in behind to create openings, and Paulo Dybala had been booked for simulation.

Juve’s start to the second half was much more comfortable then they did the first, the home fans were founding their voice, and when Ramos got booked for a foul on Dybala, ruling out of the second leg, the crowd started believing they could get past Real, especially when the resulting free-kick was deflected just past Navas’ goal. Then came the 65th minute.

From a long ball forward, some miscommunication between Gigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, almost unheard of, gave Ronaldo a semblance of a chance; he pulled back to Vazquez, whose shot was saved by Buffon and the danger seemed to have been averted. Except it wasn’t; Daniel Carvajal dinked a cross, and Ronaldo tried an overhead kick, which he brilliantly pulled off, and then came the moments that signified that act of genius. From the crowd applauding, to his manager Zinedine Zidane marvelling at the sight of what he just witnessed, but perhaps the most striking was the ball itself. As it found its way into the bottom corner, with a helpless Buffon watching, the ball decided against bouncing, didn’t even move as it hit the net, it just stayed in that bottom corner, almost like it had been decreed by Ronaldo to stay put. As legendary Real Madrid goal scorers Raul and Emilio Butragueno looked on, they’d be forgiven if they were discussing the man who’s broken all the records they set.

Not that the game was over, though. There was still time for Dybala to be sent off for a reckless high-boot challenge, still time for Marcelo to add a third, created by Ronaldo of course, time for Mateo Kovacic to also rattle Buffon’s bar, and time for Ronaldo to miss two chances as he searched for a hatrick. As the clock ticked down Juve poured forward in search of a glimmer of hope, but like in Cardiff, it was both academic and non-forthcoming.

The deed was done, and Ronaldo had left his mark. Doesn’t he always.

Elsewhere

  • Jurgen Klopp couldn’t even channel his usually hyper-active self, as there was probably a bit of disbelief in his eyes. It’s not uncommon that Liverpool would race into a 3-0 lead after 31 minutes at Anfield, particularly with their front three; that they were doing it against Manchester City, top of the Premier League by a landslide, and probably the best team in Europe right now was something else. Mohammed Salah was among the scorers, as usual, and Reds fans will hope his injury that saw him get taken off isn’t lasting one, although he did return to the bench later. More importantly, Liverpool have a foot and a half into their first Champions League semi-final for 10 years.
  • And as for Bayern Munich and Barcelona, why bother to score when the opposition can just do it for you?

Results

Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid

Liverpool 3-0 Manchester City

Sevilla 1-2 Bayern Munich

Barcelona 4-1 Roma


And so they meet again. By the end of the second week of April, Real Madrid and Juventus would have met seven times in the past five years, such is the pedigree between this sides in this competition. 14 meetings in 22 years between both sides, trophies have been decided, and prestigious managers and players previously turned up for both teams, quite an illustrious past.

More importantly, by the end of the second week of April, one of Real Madrid or Juventus would be out of the Champions League, would be left stewing and ousted from a competition that has come to define them, and watch as the other sets off to be 180 minutes away from the final. 10 months on from that show-piece in Cardiff, when Real ruthlessly outclassed Juve to a 4-1 win, both sides jostle for a slot in the last four. ‘The Cardiff match was a very important lesson to grow and improve’ said Juve manager Max Allegri. ‘We could have managed the ball better in the second half and we have to be faster and deal with it in a more serene way’.

It’s no question that that loss in the Welsh capital has served as a bit of a lesson for the Old Lady, whose drop off in that game was so obvious and costly. Now it’s about maintaining focus and concentration, a trait that has served them so well in the past. ‘We have to be focused, concentrated and committed because every player on the field in great’ Allegri added. ‘We really need to be in the match psychologically as well’.

And psychologically, what would the game do for Juve? Giorgio Chiellini has said the focus is not on revenge, while goalkeeper and captain Gigi Buffon has talked about how facing Real ‘again doesn’t fill us with joy’. He may have pointed that he was referring to the quality in the side, as well that of the likes of other quarter-finalists in Manchester City and Bayern Munich among others, but you can be forgiven for thinking whether his mind was cast back to the past once again. And the past is always going to be reflected in a game of such teams, whose paths have been crossed often. Aside from that final last season, they met a round earlier in 2015, when Alvaro Morata, sold to Juve by Real, ousted his boyhood club.

They have had group stage meetings as well- Real won one and drew the other in 2013, while Juve did the double over them five years before- but their stories have been in the knockout stages, the extra-time win by Juventus in 2005, where Ronaldo (the other one) got sent off for Real and Marcelo Zalayeta grabbed the winner, Juve’s progress to the final at the hands of Los Blancos two years before, with Buffon saving a Luis Figo penalty, Predrag Mijatovic grabbing the winner for Real in the final in Amsterdam in 1998, and Juve knocking the Spaniards out on their way to glory in 1996. Not that either side seems to be placing too much thought to previous events.

Buffon has talked about how he doesn’t reflect on the previous meetings, while Zinedine Zidane, Real’s manager, who played for both sides, believes it’s ‘a completely different situation’ from last year. It might well be true, but the need from both sides is barely any different. Neither is the reality that one of them will fall at the end.

 

Fixtures

Juventus v Real Madrid

Liverpool v Manchester City

Barcelona v Roma

Sevilla v Bayern Munich


Peter Shreeves. Doug Livermore. Ray Clemence. Osvaldo Ardiles. Steve Perryman. Gerry Francis. Chris Hughton. Christian Gross. David Pleat. Glenn Hoddle. Jacques Santini. Martin Jol. Juande Ramos. Harry Redknapp. Andre Villas-Boas. Tim Sherwood. Even Mauricio Pochettino had had three previous tries and failed. But he’s the one who finally broke that jinx, it’s in his tenure that the ghost has been laid to rest. That Tottenham finally came to Stamford Bridge and left with all three points. That the Spurs fans were able to look in delirious disbelief as Dele Alli raced away celebrating the side’s third goal, that they could out-sing the home crowd.

‘It was very good’ said Pochettino. ‘For our fans it was fantastic to feel again the victory after 28 years’. And the fans certainly felt it- why wouldn’t they? They had felt a fair bit when it comes to playing against Chelsea. Before November 2006, they went on a drought of beating Chelsea- either home or away- and it was a feeling of relief mixed with joy when Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon scored the goals to beat the Blues back then. It was Chelsea who confirmed that the title would slip away with that draw in 2016, Chelsea who were the only side to finish above them in the league last season, and knocked them out of the FA Cup, Chelsea who denied them League Cup glory in 2015, Chelsea whose Champions League triumph in 2012 rendered their fourth place that year to be irrelevant. Even at times when they managed a draw at the Bridge, it seemed like worse, so this was always going to taste gloriously in their mouths.

The story for the Lilywhites against Chelsea had been a little routine lately, Spurs would dominate and be on the front foot, then the Blues would snatch the lead, and it was little different here, as Alvaro Morata capitalised on some poor judgment from Hugo Lloris to head home Victor Moses’ cross and put the hosts in front. That sinking feeling at the Bridge seemed to be rearing its cruel head, but on the stroke of halftime Christian Eriksen would restore parity, a superb dipping shot that had Willy Caballero stranded in goal. ‘I wasn’t always confident of scoring from that range but I was definitely going for it and trying to hit it’ said the Dane, whose goal wouldn’t have happened had Alli not shown persistent to chase a seemingly lost ball.

Alli was particularly impressive on the day, and his display came at the right time, when they had been questions over his form and whether h would be a starter in the World Cup. ‘It’s great’ said the midfielder ‘It’s always nice to win so I’m feeling good’. He certainly felt good in the 63rd minute, when he raced onto a delightful Eric Dier pass and saw his shot go in off the post. Then it got better three minutes after, after Caballero had denied Son Heung-Min twice in succession, Alli was quick enough to get the ball under his feet and find the net for his second, for another big win this season.

The victory also puts them eight points clear of the Blues in the top four race, with seven games left, just about granting a third successive top four spot. Trophies or no trophies, it highlights Spurs’ development once more, big wins have come this term, over Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Dortmund (twice), and now this. Mental blocks are being broken, and steel is being formed at the heart of this side, plus they still have a cup semi-final to look ahead to. Not that Poch is ready to relax. ‘For me it’s not enough’ he said. ‘We need to be focused and fight to the end, trying to win games’

At the moment they are winning them, and they are winning them big.

Blues on the rack

That result now means Chelsea have a mountain to climb in terms of getting into the top four this season. Antonio Conte has said he’ not worried about his future, and the club will keep fighting, but there wasn’t much fight in them today, especially in defence. That FA Cup tie in two weeks is starting to look more and more important.

Elsewhere:

  • They were boos at the London Stadium, but this time it was from the away fans, as West Ham made light work of Southampton. A brace from Marko Arnautovic clearly meant a big deal to him on the day, especially with Mark Hughes as the opposing manager. For Sparky, it was a torrid start to Premier League life with the Saints. They are in danger of being cut adrift.
  • It was the kind of game where Liverpool would fail to win in the past, as they would try but would have to settle for a point, and questions would be asked over their mettle. But who needs grit when you have Mo Salah.
  • 0, 0, 0, 0, 2, 4, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0, 1. That’s the sequence of goals for Huddersfield in their last 13 league games. Eight scored, in four games, including Saturday’s loss at Newcastle where they barely threatened. With the kind of run-in they finish the season with, this may well cost them.
  • Manchester City win a game. Manchester City win a game comfortably. Manchester City dominate the opposition to the near state of submission. Is that now starting to sound… boring? It was a first win for Pep Guardiola over Everton. Another victory in the league confirms the title. It’s derby day next weekend.
  • And if you think Eriksen’s goal was good (which you do), check out Ashley Barnes’ for Burnley against West Brom as well. Wow!

Results

Chelsea 1-2 Tottenham

Newcastle 1-0 Huddersfield

West Brom 1-2 Burnley

West Ham 3-0 Southampton

Brighton 0-2 Leicester

Arsenal 3-0 Stoke

Manchester United 2-0 Swansea

Watford 2-2 Bournemouth

Everton 1-3 Manchester City

Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool


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