Manchester City 3-1 West Bromwich Albion

Image 

Manchester City kept their Premier League title aspirations alive as their trio of Argentines increased the pressure on relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion at a subdued Etihad.

City’s reluctance to make Liverpool’s title tilt a procession was more convincing than derisory chants of ‘stuck with Moyes’ as Manuel Pellegrini’s side moved to within six points of the champions-elect.

Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Aguero and Martin Demichelis were all on target during an entertaining first half in which Graham Dorrans had given the visitors hope at 2-1.

With a game in hand over Brendan Rodgers’ Reds, the Citizens will hope Chelsea derail the Merseysiders at Anfield this Sunday, and for more routine games such as this, against a side who remain three points above the drop zone.

Only three minutes had elapsed when Zabaleta notched his first goal since January 2013, heading past Ben Foster after Aguero’s initial effort was saved.

City doubled their lead when Aguero, on his first start since December 7, scored his fourth goal in five games against the Baggies, cutting inside Morgan Amalfitano before unleashing a 25-yard drive beyond Foster.

Not to be undone by their star-studded counterparts, nor dejected from conceding two goals inside 10 minutes, the visitors halved the arrears on the quarter-hour mark.

Stephane Sessegnon and Matěj Vydra combined to set up Dorrans, who stepped inside Gael Clichy and drilled his shot past Joe Hart.

Ten minutes before the interval, Demichelis restored City’s two-goal advantage, tapping in after Samir Nasri’s corner was flicked on by Vincent Kompany.

Pellegrini will hope David Silva’s injury sustained in an uneventful second-half will not exclude the Spaniard from this weekend’s trip to Crystal Palace.  

Advertisements

Norwich 2-3 Liverpool

Image

Sterling stepped into the boots vacated by the injured Sturridge as Norwich succumbed to the SAS parternship.

Raheem Sterling scored twice as Liverpool took a stranglehold of the Premier League title race with an 11th consecutive league win against Norwich at Carrow Road.

The young England starlet’s blistering shot was followed by Luis Suarez’s 30th goal of the season as the Reds opened up a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes.

Gary Hooper halved the deficit momentarily before Sterling’s deflected finish seemed to have put the game beyond the Canaries.

Robert Snodgrass’ header provided a nervy finish for Brendan Rodgers’ side, but they managed to hold on to move five points clear at the summit following Chelsea’s surprise 2-1 home defeat to Sunderland.

Buoyed by that helping hand at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool began the game as determined as Norwich were drowsy.

Sterling jinked inside Bradley Johnson and unleashed an unstoppable 30-yard drive via Michael Turner’s shin inside four minutes.

Seven minutes later, Sterling turned provider for Luis Suarez to stroke his 11th goal in five games against Neil Adams’ side.

The magnitude of the task facing the home team only seemed realised nine minutes into the restart as Hooper tapped into the unguarded net following Simon Mignolet’s poor punch.

The reprieve lasted eight minutes as Sterling latched onto Johnson’s slack pass before a heavy deflection sent his shot looping over the hapless Ruddy.

Snodgrass rose above Jon Flanagan with 13 minutes remaining to restore Norwich hope but Ricky van Wolfswinkel couldn’t complete the turnaround as his point-blank header was saved.

Victory against Chelsea next Sunday would leave Liverpool on the brink of their first title since 1990, while Norwich remain perilously placed above the relegation zone with a trip to Manchester United next.

Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid

Image

Bale had gained a reputation as a ‘fast-track bully’ since arriving in the Spanish capital. Not any more.

Gareth Bale’s stunning solo strike five minutes from time brought Real Madrid their 19th Copa del Rey title over rivals Barcelona at the Mestalla.

The Welshman enjoyed his most productive el Clásico to date, and showed great speed and composure in ending the Catalans’ run of 27 consecutive wins in the competition.

Angel Di Maria gave Madrid a deserved first-half lead before Marc Bartra headed Barcelona level half-way through the second-half.

With Cristiano Ronaldo absent through injury and Lionel Messi once again subdued, the stage was set for Bale, whose masterful finish was so nearly cancelled out in the final minute, as Neymar’s toe-poke hit a post.

Barcelona, third favourites for the Spanish title after last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Granada, continued their Champions League hangover as Gerardo Martino’s side suffered their third defeat in a week for the first time in 11 years.

Shorn of the defensive experience of Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol, they fell behind on 11 minutes after exceptional counter-attacking football from Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

After Bale had exchanged passes with Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria breached the offside trap, squeezed a yard on Jordi Alba before shooting beyond Jose Pinto’s desperate dive.

Barcelona equalised in the 67th minute when Xavi’s corner was guided beyond the outstretched Iker Casillas by the head of Marc Bartra via the far post.  It was the first goal that Real had conceded in this year’s competition but they were not to be denied.

Just when the match appeared to be heading for extra time, Bale notched his 20th goal since becoming a Galáctico, outstripping Bartra before guiding the ball through the legs of Pinto.

Arsenal 3-1 West Ham

Image 

Giroud dedicates his masterful strike to the Hillsborough victims on the 25th anniversary of the disaster

A Lukas Podolski double helped Arsenal regain fourth spot in the Premier League as the Gunners came from behind to defeat West Ham at the Emirates.

The victory moves Arsene Wenger’s side back into the Champions League positions, and puts pressure on Everton to reply in kind against Crystal Palace tomorrow night.

Matt Jarvis’ close-range opener was cancelled out by Podolski and Olivier Giroud strikes either side of half-time, and the former completed the win in the 78th minute.

West Ham have now lost their past four consecutive matches against Arsenal having taken the lead, and remain seven places and seven points above the drop zone.

Arsenal carried the weight of a side whose season was teetering on the brink around Saturday tea-time in a subdued opening half in which Mohamed Diame had the clearest chance. Five minutes before the interval, they were behind.

Antonio Nocerino’s run was not tracked by Kim Kallstrom and when the Italian’s initial effort was smothered by Wojciech Sczcesny, Jarvis finished the rebound.

The hosts were not behind for long. Four minutes later, Stewart Downing’s slack clearance fell to Cazorla and the Spaniard’s disguised pass was dispatched by Podolski.

Arsenal only had to wait nine minutes after the interval to complete the turnaround. A long ball from Thomas Vermaelen was taken down by Giroud and blasted through the legs of Adrian, for his 20th strike of the campaign.

The impressive Cazorla came within whiskers of putting the game to bed with a long-range effort, but Podolski ensured the points stayed in North London, as he picked up the returning Aaron Ramsey’s cushioned header to lash the ball past the hapless Adrian.

Manchester United 1-1 FC Bayern

Image

Sebastian Schweinsteiger came to Bayern’s rescue – and was then sent off – as Man Utd were held to a 1-1 draw in the Champions League quarter-final first-leg at Old Trafford.

Nemanja Vidic’s header had given David Moyes’ side a surprise lead but Schweinsteiger provided the holders with an invaluable away goal.

The German international will miss the return leg in Munich next week, after receiving a second yellow for a challenge on Wayne Rooney in the final minute.

United were denied a third-minute lead when Danny Welbeck was penalised for a high boot before lashing the ball beyond Manuel Neuer.

Bayern, who arrived having won seven consecutive Champions League away games, came close through Arjen Robben’s well-placed shot, but it was United who had the first half’s clearest opening.

Welbeck latched onto Wayne Rooney’s through ball, after Jerome Boateng blundered, but the England striker was thwarted by Neuer’s outstretched hand.

A set piece always appeared the likeliest way the home side would profit from their fleeting ventures forward and so it proved just shy of the hour mark.

Rooney’s corner appeared to be drifting behind Vidic, but the Serbian adjusted his body to plant a firm header into the bottom corner.

Their lead lasted all of eight minutes.

Robben released Rafinha, and when the Brazilian’s cross was met at the far post by Mario Mandzukic, his header across goal was drilled into the roof of the net by Schweinsteiger.

Carlos Velasco Carballo judged there to be a coming together between David Alaba and Antonio Valencia, when another referee may have brandished a second yellow for the Ecuadorian winger.

It was a moment of good fortune that deserted the visitors in the dying embers when Schweinsteiger received his marching orders.

The last time Old Trafford welcomed a match of this pedigree was three years ago; how many more before the next is unknown, but on tonight’s showing, there is life in the old dog yet.