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mercredi 22 janvier 2014


Real Madrid continued their winning start to the new year with Karim Benzema giving them a 1-0 victory in their King's Cup quarter-final first-leg tie away to Espanyol on Tuesday.

Benzema's goal meant Real have come out on top in each of their six games since Christmas, a burst of form that has seen them close the gap to just one point behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the top of La Liga.

Espanyol have a good record against Real in the cup and knocked them out the last time the pair met in the 1999-2000 season, but Carlo Ancelotti's side put themselves in the driving seat with a solid performance.

It was a spirited display from Espanyol but it will take something special for them to turn the tie around at the Bernabeu.

The winners could play holders Atletico Madrid in the semis if they come through their tie with Athletic Bilbao while Barca, on the other side of the draw, face Levante.

dimanche 19 janvier 2014


Youngsters Layvin Kurzawa and substitute Lucas Ocampos scored to help Monaco move within two points of Ligue 1 leaders Paris St Germain in a 2-0 win at midtable Toulouse on Sunday.

Kurzawa opened the scoring from close range in the 36th minute and Ocampos sealed the victory with a splendid overhead kick two minutes from time as Monaco moved up to 45 points from 21 games.

Champions Paris St Germain can re-establish their five-point advantage if they beat sixth place Nantes at home later on Sunday (2000 GMT).

"We have not played well after the winter break so I'm very happy with this victory. I hope that we're back on track," Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri told broadcaster beIN Sport.

Monaco were second best throughout the first half but took the lead with their first chance when Kurzawa found the net from Geoffrey Kondogbia's low cross.

The 21-year-old full back, playing his first season in the top-flight, has now scored in three consecutive away league games.

Monaco upped the pace after the break and striker Radamel Falcao came close to scoring his first goal in two months when he skipped past goalkeeper Ali Ahamada, only to see midfielder Abel Aguilar clear his attempt on the goalline.

The 19-year-old Ocampos, who had replaced Colombia international Falcao in the 68th minute, eventually wrapped it up with a superb finish from James Rodriguez's long cross.

vendredi 17 janvier 2014


Quicksilver Lionel Messi hit a double as Barcelona beat Getafe 2-0 and qualified 6-0 on aggregate for the King's Cup quarter-finals but they lost Neymar to injury midway through the first half.

Messi and Neymar were returning to the starting lineup but the Brazil forward lasted less than 25 minutes as he twisted his ankle turning awkwardly by the touchline and was taken away on a stretcher.

It was Argentina captain Messi's first start since he injured his hamstring last November and he looked sharp in front of goal.

After slotting home his first in the run-up to halftime, he struck again after the break following a trademark mazy run when he hurdled several challenges and a dive by goal keeper Jordi Codina before tucking the ball into the net.

Xavi came on as a second-half substitute for a landmark 700th appearance for Barcelona.

Real Sociedad also progressed with a 1-0 win at Villarreal, having drawn 0-0 in the first leg of their last 16 tie.

lundi 13 janvier 2014


AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri was fired on Monday following a series of dismal results for the seven-times European champions.

Italian media said Milan, languishing 11th in Serie A, were poised to gamble on their former midfielder Clarence Seedorf as his replacement even though the Dutchman has no previous coaching experience.

Reports said Seedorf, currently playing for Brazilian club Botafogo, would arrive in Italy on Thursday although the player himself told the newspaper he did not want to comment.

"AC Milan wish to communicate that Massimiliano Allegri and his staff have been relieved of their duties with immediate effect," the Serie A club said in a statement as they confirmed Allegri's downfall.

"AC Milan would like to thank Mr Allegri and his staff for their time with the club and wish them the best for the future. Coach Mauro Tassotti will take charge of the team in the meantime."

Allegri was dismissed less than 24 hours after his team squandered a two-goal lead to lose 4-3 at promoted Sassuolo, conceding four times in just over half an hour.

The defeat left Milan with 22 points from 19 games, 20 adrift of Napoli who occupy the Champions League playoff spot in third position.

Milan have won only five league games all season.

Allegri said he thanked "the owners and the club for the three-and-a-half seasons on the red and black bench. It has been a gratifying professional experience, with significant successes," he told the ANSA news agency.

Chief executive Adriano Galliani said he was sorry to see Allegri go.

"I feel very sorry for Allegri, especially for the way the situation developed on a human level, but that's football."

The phlegmatic 46-year-old, in his fourth year at the club, has faced constant media speculation over his future in the last few weeks and said during the Christmas break that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season.

The writing was on the wall for Allegri when club director Barbara Berlusconi, daughter of club president Silvio, told ANSA that Sunday's performance was unacceptable.

"It was a disappointing evening that confirms it's necessary to change," she said. "It's not tolerable for our fans to watch unacceptable performances such as this."

Allegri took charge in 2010 and led Milan to the Serie A title in his first season and second place the year after. His fortunes changed dramatically when the club sold several top players in the middle of 2012 to balance the books, saying they were putting the emphasis on youth.

Milan finished third last season but, plagued by injuries, have struggled domestically this term.

They are, however, the only Italian survivors in this season's Champions League and face Atletico Madrid in the last 16 next month.

Portugal and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo was named the world's best footballer for the second time on Monday, preventing his great rival Lionel Messi from winning the award for a fifth year in a row.

Argentine Messi, hampered by uncharacteristic injury problems at Barcelona late in the year, and Frenchman Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich were the other candidates for the prize, officially known as the FIFA Ballon d'Or.

"Thank you to everyone, my team mates, the national team and my family, to everyone here. Eusebio and Mandela were very important for me, I can't speak," an emotional Ronaldo said at the awards ceremony.

Jupp Heynckes, now retired, was named coach of the year for the first time after his Bayern Munich team won an unprecedented Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup treble.

Ronaldo was also voted FIFA Player of the Year in 2008, before Messi began a run of four successive titles.

In 2010 and 2011, the award was fused with the Ballon D'Or award previously handed out by France Football magazine.

Although Ronaldo did not win any major titles last season, he has been unable to stop scoring goals.

The 28-year-old has 20 La Liga goals this season for Real Madrid and netted a record nine times in the Champions League group stage.

The high point of his year, however, came with Portugal when he scored a stunning hat-trick and almost single-handedly beat Sweden 3-1 in the second leg of their World Cup playoff tie to send his country through to the finals.

The team of the year featured Manuel Neuer in goal, Philipp Lahm, Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves in defence, midfielders Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Ribery with Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Messi in attack.

dimanche 12 janvier 2014


Manchester City went top of the Premier League after securing a controversial 2-0 win at Newcastle United on Sunday with an early Edin Dzeko goal and a stoppage time effort from Alvaro Negredo.

Newcastle were incensed that a stunning volley from Ivorian international midfielder Cheick Tiote was disallowed by referee Mike Jones after 34 minutes when the hosts trailed 1-0.

Tiote smashed the ball home with a swerving 20-metre left-foot shot, but, as the Newcastle players were celebrating, the referee consulted with his linesman and disallowed the goal.

They decided that Yoan Gouffran, who was standing in an offside position three yards from goal, was interfering with play and blocking goalkeeper Joe Hart's line of vision.

Tiote, who has only scored one goal for Newcastle in 104 appearances, told the BBC: "I think it was a goal and I don't know why the referee didn't accept it.

"We asked the referee to explain why he didn't give the goal, but he didn't say anything so we had to get on with it."

United manager Alan Pardew told Sky Sports he also did not know why the goal was disallowed as he felt Hart's vision was not impaired.

"The referee has not been clear in his answers. I don't understand it. Even if Man City's defenders were on the edge of the box and we'd have had four offside, its such a clean hit it was going in the top corner so there was no way Gouffran was in Joe's view.

"Unfortunately that was a massive call and he has denied it on a tiny technicality here which I think was wrong. It had an impact because we were so frustrated and could not have played any better."

PERFECT RUN

Dzeko swept City into the lead after eight minutes, timing his run perfectly to meet a cross from Aleksandr Kolarov to plant the ball past Tim Krul.

Their second came in the final seconds when Negredo beat the offside trap and scored at the second attempt after his first effort was blocked by Krul for City's 94th goal of the season in all competitions.

"It was a very difficult game and it's a very big result as we know it's a tough place to come and win," Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini told the BBC.

"It was an offside goal as they were interfering with Joe Hart and the referee made that call," he added of Tiote's strike.

City moved on to 47 points from 21 matches, one ahead of Chelsea. Arsenal, who started the weekend top, will go back to the summit if they win at Aston Villa on Monday.

The one blot for City was seeing Frenchman Samir Nasri carried off on a stretcher in the later stages with what appeared to be a serious knee injury after a clattering from defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa who was booked for the challenge.

"I think the tackle on Nasri should have been a red card," added Pellegrini.

It was City's 10th successive win over Newcastle in all competitions and the third time they have beaten them this season after a 4-0 win at the Etihad on the opening day of the season and a 2-0 win at St James' Park in the Capital One (League) Cup in October.

The Magpies have now lost three successive league games and are eighth in the table with 33 points.

In the day's other match, Liverpool were playing at Stoke City.

 Alessandro Florenzi's perfectly-executed bicycle kick inspired second-placed AS Roma to a 4-0 win over Genoa in Serie A on Sunday although it did them little good as rampant leaders Juventus won their 11th league game in a row.

The defending champions survived a difficult opening half hour and had goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to thank as they came from behind to win 4-1 at Cagliari.

Cagliari forward Mauricio Pinilla scored and was later sent off for the Sardinians while Fernando Llorente scored twice for Juventus who have only dropped five points this season.

Third-placed Napoli also won comfortably, beating Hellas Verona 3-0 away with goals from Dries Mertens, Lorenzo Insigne and Blerim Dzemaili.

Fiorentina, sorely missing Serie A topscorer Giuseppe Rossi with another knee injury, lost ground in a goalless draw at Torino.

At the halfway point in the championship, Juventus have 52 points from 19 games, Roma 44 and Napoli 42, while Fiorentina, still waiting for striker Mario Gomez to recover from a knee injury, are a further five behind in fourth.

Florenzi's opening 25th-minute goal for Roma, who lost their unbeaten league record at Juventus a week ago, was the day's highlight and not even the player seemed to believe it as he ran to the touchline with his hands on his head.

Genoa appeared to have survived the danger when a Francesco Totti free kick hit the wall but a defender lofted the ball into the area and Florenzi, with his back to goal, met it with a majestic overhead shot which went in off the foot of the post.

Roma stalwart Totti added the second with a deflected shot on the half hour, Maicon finished off a counter-attack two minutes before the break for the third and defender Mehdi Benatia completed the scoring early in the second half, the Moroccan's fifth goal of the season.

Genoa's misery was completed with a bizarre sending-off for midfielder Matuzalem, who was given a second yellow card for gesturing to Roma fans as he was being substituted.

His replacement Isaac Cofie, who had already run onto the pitch, had to be taken off, although the Ghanaian was brought on again four minutes later for Andrea Bertolacci.

Juventus fell behind when Pinilla scored from close range following a corner in the 21st minute and the visitors rode their luck as Buffon turned another effort by the Chilean around the post and Daniele Conti headed over the bar.

Llorente equalised when he headed in Stephan Lichtsteiner's cross in the 31st minute, then Buffon made another outstanding save to block Daniele Dessena's diving header.

Juventus settled the game in the last 20 minutes when Claudio Marchisio scored with a 25-metre shot, Llorente finished off a counter-attack and Lichtsteiner pounced on a blunder by goalkeeper Adrian Adan for the fourth.

It was all too much for Pinilla, who was sent off for dissent.

samedi 11 janvier 2014


Title rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid stayed locked together at the top of La Liga after they played out an intense 0-0 draw with few genuine chances at the Calderon on Saturday.

Not even the introduction of Barca's fit-again World Player of the Year Lionel Messi at halftime or Brazil forward Neymar with just over 20 minutes left could break the deadlock and both teams have 50 points at the halfway stage of the campaign.

"They are a very, very compact side, one of the best teams in Europe and physically very strong," Barcelona captain Xavi said in an interview with Spanish TV broadcaster Canal Plus.

"We had our chances but it was an extremely intense match and in the end a draw," added the Spain playmaker.

"Normally in the final 15, 20 minutes against them is when we finish stronger and have chances to score but it was a finely-balanced game and Atletico are a great team.

"They have a different style to us but defensively they are excellent and they allow you very little space."

The result was good news for third-placed Real Madrid, who can close to within three points of the joint leaders - Barca are top on goal difference - with a win at Espanyol, the only team to beat Atletico this season, on Sunday (1800 GMT).

Real lost 1-0 at home to Atletico at the end of September and went down 2-1 at Barca in October's "Clasico" but have not been beaten since then and are likely to be challenging for the title when the league reaches its climax in May.

Saturday's closely-fought encounter was similar to the home and away clashes between Barcelona and Atletico in the season-opening Spanish Super Cup, when they drew 1-1 at the Calderon in the first leg before the return at the Nou Camp ended 0-0.

England striker Jermain Defoe began his long goodbye from Tottenham Hotspur with his first Premier League goal of the season as the home side recovered from a poor first half to beat Crystal Palace 2-0 on Saturday.

Defoe, Spurs' fifth highest all-time scorer with 143 goals, will be joining MLS side Toronto FC in March in a six million pounds ($9.89 million) deal and scored in the 72nd minute to guarantee all three points at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham are unbeaten in five league matches since Tim Sherwood became manager last month after the sacking of Andre-Villas Boas and the win took them up to fifth in the table.

Palace are now bottom of the standings despite having dominated an opening half in which Jason Puncheon blasted an eighth minute penalty high and wide into the crowd.

Spurs were far better after the break, took the lead through Christian Eriksen, who smashed the ball home from close range after 50 minutes, and sealed the points when Defoe replaced Roberto Soldado in the 58th and scored 14 minutes later.

He collected a clever through ball from winger Aaron Lennon, created space for himself and then fired past keeper Julian Speroni for the kind of typical poacher's goal he has been scoring throughout his career.

Although it was Defoe's 10th goal of the season in all competitions, it was the striker's first in the league and was greeted by a huge roar of delight from the home fans, at last able to relax after Palace ran their side close.

IMPACT PLAYER

"I know Jermain will score in any league in the world wherever he goes," Sherwood told reporters.

"He is a goalscorer, he loves scoring goals and if he doesn't he gets the hump, so he will go home happy tonight."

Defoe, 31, is leaving Spurs after nine years at the club in two spells partly because he has been offered a superb financial package by Toronto, who will make him the highest-paid player in the MLS according to local media reports.

He also wants guaranteed playing time to help boost his chances of being selected for England's World Cup squad -- something he was not getting at Spurs where he has mainly been used as an impact player for the last two seasons.

Sherwood said they would miss the diminutive forward but believed Spurs still had enough attacking options and was not certain to buy a replacement during this transfer window.

"We are not looking to bring in anyone else at the moment," he said. I am not saying we won't but at the moment we have attacking options.

"We have Ade (Emmanuel Adebayor), we've got Soldado, we've got Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli and they have got goals in them.

"They are settling in at the moment, and hopefully they are more settled by the time Jermain leaves and we don't have to go into the market."

($1 = 0.6066 British pounds)

vendredi 10 janvier 2014


Monaco missed a chance to move level on points with Ligue 1 leaders Paris St Germain when they were held to a 1-1 draw by strugglers Montpellier on Friday.

Layvin Kurzawa's opener for the visitors after the break was cancelled out by Montpellier's on-loan AC Milan forward M'Baye Niang, who followed up to score on his league debut after his penalty was saved by Danijel Subasic midway through the half.

Monaco stayed second in the standings with 42 points from 20 games, two points behind PSG who travel to bottom club AC Ajaccio on Saturday (1600 GMT).

Montpellier, the 2012 champions, remained one place above the relegation zone in 17th with 18 points and are now four points clear of the bottom three.

"we can't be satisfied as we wanted all three points but we knew Montpellier would be aggressive," Monaco midielder Joao Mountinho told BeIN Sport.

"Let's focus on keeping that second place for now but we still have the title in the back of our minds."

Monaco lead third-placed Lille, who host Stade Reims on Sunday, by two points.

After a dull opening half, Monaco went ahead when fullback Kurzawa headed home from James Rodriguez's free kick.

But Eric Abidal, again the weak spot in the Monaco defence, brought down Remy Cabella in the area in the 67th minute.

Although Subasic parried 19-year-old Niang's penalty, the striker tapped in the rebound to earn a share of the points.

Theo Walcott's mental strength and dedication will help him come back stronger from the knee injury that has ended his season and ruled him out of the World Cup, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said on Thursday.

"Theo is handling it as well as you can when you have had such a shock because he's mentally strong, he's very balanced as a person and he can put it into perspective," Wenger told the club website (www.arsenal.com).

"We know that he will have the dedication and the serious attitude to come back as strong as ever."

The Arsenal and England forward is out for six months after he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Saturday's FA Cup third-round win over north London neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.

Arsenal, who visit Aston Villa on Monday, hold a one-point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

While Wenger is disappointed to lose the 24-year-old, he is confident he will make a full recovery. He said he felt Walcott was getting back to his very best at the time of his injury.

"We lost a very talented player, a very intelligent player and a player who was just grabbing his form again," he said.

"From game to game he became more influential, you've seen a complete player. He can always decide a game through a final ball or through a goal.

jeudi 9 janvier 2014

Tottenham Hotspur striker Jermain Defoe is poised to sign for Major League Soccer side Toronto FC, British and Canadian media reported on Wednesday.

The MLS club posted messages on their website and Twitter warning fans to expect "a bloody big deal" on Monday.

British newspaper the Guardian and Canada's Toronto Star said the 31-year-old Defoe would be loaned back to Tottenham until March 1 before the start of the MLS season on March 15.

Defoe, whose former Tottenham team mate Ryan Nelsen is head coach at Toronto, has made few Premier League starts this season, despite the north London club's goal-scoring problems.

All Defoe's nine goals have come in cup competitions, seven in the Europa League.

Defoe, who has played 55 times for England and scored 19 international goals, is in his second spell at Spurs after rejoining the club from Portsmouth in 2009.

mercredi 8 janvier 2014

 Alvaro Negredo grabbed a hat-trick as Manchester City crushed West Ham United 6-0 in their League Cup semi-final first leg on Wednesday in another body blow for the beleaguered London club.

City effectively sealed their place in the final at Wembley with another one-sided demonstration of their attacking potency, Edin Dzeko with two and Yaya Toure joining Negredo on the scoresheet.

It was the second time in four days that West Ham have conceded more than five goals after they were knocked out of the FA Cup 5-0 by second tier Nottingham Forest on Sunday.

While City can now relax ahead of the return leg on Jan. 21, the result ratcheted up the pressure on West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, whose side are 19th in the Premier League.

Providing City safely negotiate the return leg, they will face Sunderland or Manchester United in the final on March 2.

lundi 6 janvier 2014

Francesco Totti was left with on egg on his face after his attempts to wind up Juventus backfired and Daniele De Rossi was sent off for another loss of temper on a dismal night for AS Roma's stalwarts on Sunday.

Roma captain Totti, in a remarkable 22nd season at his only club, had to endure a deafening chorus of jeers from the Juventus stadium when he was substituted in the 72nd minute after an ineffectual display in his side's 3-0 defeat.

Totti set up an early chance for Adem Ljajic with an excellent through ball, but after that made little headway against the Juventus defence as his team enjoyed plenty of possession but failed to create openings.

He over-hit several free kicks and corners and seemed to be the only person who was surprised when he was replaced. That delighted the home crowd who reacted in predictable fashion after Totti's efforts to stir up Juventus.

In an interview last week, he had largely praised his opponents but then added that "they tend to get a little bit of help", a remark described by Juventus coach Antonio Conte as "pub-talk provocation".

Totti, however, was unrepentant, telling Sky Sports Italia in a pre-match interview: "Everyone is free to say what they want. I expressed my thoughts. It's their problem if they got upset."

Team mate De Rossi, another one-club player who made his debut in 2001, is set to get the captain's armband when Totti retires, a situation which has earned him the nickname "Captain Future".

De Rossi, 30, was handed the armband on Sunday when Totti went off but wore it for only three minutes before being dismissed for a reckless two-footed lunge on Giorgio Chiellini near the byline.

Such incidents have been all too frequent for De Rossi, marring the career of a player who otherwise is widely admired as being a complete midfielder and who became one of Italy's highest-paid players when he renewed his contract last season.

The most notorious incident came at the 2006 World Cup when De Rossi was sent off in the match against the United States for elbowing Brian McBride, leaving the forward with blood gushing from his forehead and needing three stitches.

In the last two years, De Rossi has twice fallen foul of Italy coach Cesare Prandelli's strict code of ethics and been dropped because of his behaviour in club matches, the latter in 2012 when he was left out after punching Lazio's Stefano Mauri during a derby.

Sunday's effort could well earn De Rossi an unwanted hat-trick when Prandelli announces his next squad for the friendly against Spain in early March.

dimanche 5 janvier 2014


Premier League title favourites Manchester City were reduced to 10 men on Saturday as they survived a torrid examination of their class by lower league Blackburn Rovers in a feisty 1-1 draw in the FA Cup third round.

City, unexpectedly beaten by Wigan Athletic in last season's FA Cup final, went ahead with a 45th minute goal by Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo, but Championship side Blackburn levelled 10 minutes later through a similar close-range effort by Scott Dann.

Manuel Pellegrini's much-changed team had further chances to score but also rode their luck and needed to bring on Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure for Brazilian Fernandinho to retain control. Belgian defender Dedryck Boyata was dismissed in the 85th minute following two yellow card offences.

Blackburn pushed hard for a winner in the closing minutes, but City replaced Spanish winger David Silva with Argentine defender Pablo Zabaleta and hung on for a replay back at the Etihad Stadium.

"We knew we'd played quite well in the first half," said Blackburn's scorer Dann. "The goal knocked the stuffing out of us, but we knew if we carried on we would hopefully get something from game -- and we did."

Blackburn manager Gary Bowyer, whose father Ian was an FA Cup winner with City in 1969, beamed with pride following his team's spirited display. "We had a chance and we did very well. I am very proud of my players for their efforts," he said.

His City counterpart Pellegrini praised the intensity of Blackburn's football.

"It was a difficult game for us," he said. "They played with a great intensity in front of their own fans. We wanted to win, but it is important that we did not lose this game."

The match reeked of the clubs' contrasting roles in English football history -- Blackburn having won the FA Cup six times between 1884 and 1928 and City having won the trophy five times, including 2011 when they overcame Chelsea.

On a wet surface after days of stormy weather, conditions were difficult for defenders and both goalkeepers struggled, each appearing at fault for the goals, to the delight of a raucous crowd at Ewood Park.

Both came from corners, Edin Dzeko heading across goal for Negredo to volley in unchallenged for City's opener, as former England keeper Paul Robinson failed to intervene, and then his Romanian counterpart Costel Pantillimon flapping at Ben Marshall's cross to gift Dann a tap-in.

City started the second half rather complacently and Blackburn tore into them to level and threaten a famous victory.

Pellegrini, who had made seven changes to the City side that defeated Swansea on Wednesday, sensed the danger and brought on Toure after 64 minutes and Spanish winger Jesus Navas for the wasteful Negredo after 75.

Boyata ignited some late drama when he was shown a second yellow card for a swipe of his boot at Blackburn substitute striker DJ Campbell.

Blackburn did all they could to find a winner but City, with Zabaleta marshalling their defence, held on.

vendredi 3 janvier 2014


Southampton forward Dani Osvaldo will miss the Premier League club's next three games after the FA found him guilty of violent conduct on Friday.

The Argentine-born Italian was involved in a touchline fracas in stoppage time during the 1-1 draw at Newcastle United last month, having already been substituted.

As well as a three-match ban, Osvaldo was fined 40,000 pounds ($65,800) for his part in the incident which also saw Newcastle coach Andy Woodman sent to the stands.

Woodman was fined 1,250 pounds and warned about his future conduct after he admitted a charge of improper conduct.

Osvaldo will miss Saturday's third round FA Cup tie against second tier visitors Burnley as well as the league matches at home to West Bromwich Albion and away to Sunderland.

mercredi 1 janvier 2014


Late goals from Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott spared Arsenal's blushes and kept them top of the Premier League in a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City as title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea also won on Wednesday.

The conclusion of the congested festive schedule saw a tired display by the Londoners who looked set to draw a blank for the second straight home game before Bendtner bundled home in the 88th minute and Walcott wrapped up the points in stoppage time.

Manchester City had briefly gone top after subduing a battling Swansea City 3-2 away while Chelsea beat Southampton 3-0 on the road and Liverpool won 2-0 at home to Hull City.

Fernando Torres became the first Chelsea striker to score a league away goal in 13 months as they maintained their title push and Christmas Day leaders Liverpool regained a top-four spot as Luis Suarez netted for the 20th time this season.

Arsenal, with 45 points from 20 games, stayed one point clear of Manchester City and two ahead of Chelsea in third with Liverpool a further four points off the pace.

Everton's Leighton Baines converted an added time penalty to rescue a 1-1 draw at Stoke City, although the Merseysiders still dropped to fifth, while 10-man Newcastle United stumbled to a 1-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion.

At the bottom, Fulham edged 10-man West Ham United 2-1 with the east London side staying second-bottom above Sunderland, who lost 1-0 at home to Aston Villa. Crystal Palace are 18th after a 1-1 draw with 15th-placed Norwich City.

Champions Manchester United host Tottenham Hotspur in the late game.

Swansea City welcome the hottest team in the league to Wales Wednesday when Manchester City visits Liberty Stadium. The Swans currently sit comfortably in 11th place but have been in horrendous form, going winless in their last 5 league games (6 in all competitions). Michu's return was supposed to see Michael Laudrup's side regain their saavy ways, but another injury sent the Spanish striker back to the sidelines for another couple months. However, Liberty Stadium has always been a major boon for the Welsh, so don't expect a runaway result here for the visitors. Vorm, Monk, and Nathan Dyer will join Michu with injuries of their own. Backup goalkeeper Tremmel will have to be at his best here to earn the improbable result.

Manchester City have been scorching hot coming into Wednesday's clash with Swansea and could take 1st place with a win-at least until Arsenal play Cardiff City. The Citizens have already defeated Swansea 3-0 this campaign and will be confident of a similar result in the midweek. Ever since a head-scratching loss to Sunderland in early November, Man City haven't lost in their last 11 games in all competitions, including 10 wins in that stretch. Despite the absence of Aguero and David Silva (suspension), Manuel Pelligrini's men should be able to take care of business here, but don't overlook their very average away record this term, as they've managed just 3 wins in 9 games. This game may end up being close and with a bit of luck, Swansea could be headed into F.A. Cup weekend with a much-needed point...just don't bet on it.

Swansea City - Manchester City
2013/2014 English Premier League, Round 20
Date: 01.January.2014 - 13:45 CET
Stadium: Liberty Stadium - Swansea
Referee: Phil Dowd

Possible line-ups

Swansea:
Keeper: Tremmel
Defenders: Rangel, Williams, Chico, Davies
Midfielders: Routledge,, Shelvey, Guzman, Britton, Hernandez
Forwards: Alvaro
Manager: Michael Laudrup
Injured: Vorm, Michu, Monk, Dyer
Booked: -
Manchester City:
Keeper: Hart
Defenders: Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov
Midfielders: Milner, Toure, Fernandinho, Nasri, Navas
Forwards: Negredo
Manager: Manuel Pellegrini
Injured: Aguero, Demichelis, Jovetic, Richards
Booked: Silva

can you watch live here

Southampton flirted with the top 4 for a while but have since returned to their respective spot in the mid-table places. Jay Rodriguez-who has been in scintillating form of late-and an excellent defence have led the Saints to a comfortable 9th place. The Saints have been inconsistent in their matches against the top 8 teams-defeating Liverpool and drawing against Man U, Man City, and Newcastle while losing to Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, and Everton. But the majority of those games were on the road and having the home advantage here may be a massive difference maker to the result. Goals have been the norm in recent matchups between the 2 sides with 17 total in their last 4 games. This certainly means advantage Chelsea, but I anticipate a cagey first half from both sides yet this should be an entertaining affair that could come down to the final minute.

Chelsea saw off Liverpool 2-1 on Sunday after falling behind early. The result saw Jose Mourinho's unbeaten home record extended to 70 games. Eden Hazard played well as usual, but Willian looked a man possessed as he could do no wrong, displaying why he carried such a heavy price tag in the transfer market. That should earn the Brazilian another start and Southampton will be wise to focus on the attacking wings as Chelsea's strikers offer little in the way of goals (though Eto'o did net the winner against Liverpool). Mourinho's men have lacked confidence away from home this campaign, however, only picking up wins against the lowly likes of Sunderland, West Ham, and Norwich.

Southampton FC - Chelsea FC
2013/2014 English Premier League, Round 20
Date: 01.January.2014 - 16:00 CET
Stadium: St. Mary's Stadium - Southampton
Referee: Martin Atkinson

Southampton:
Keeper: Davis
Defenders: Shaw, Fonte, Lovren, Clyne
Midfielders: Lallana, Ramirez, Rodriguez, Cork, Schneiderlin
Forwards: Lambert
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Injured: Guly, Osvaldo, Boruc, Wanyama
Booked: -
Chelsea:
Keeper: Cech
Defenders: Cole, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta
Midfielders: Hazard,, Ramires, Mata, Obi Mikel, Schuerrle
Forwards: Torres
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Injured: Van Ginkel, Bertrand
Booked: Luizcan you watch match live here
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