Offshore drilling, Spain: Real Madrid 2, at Barcelona 1

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Man of the Match: A number of Real Madrid players could have earned this honor for efforts protecting goal, but the 73rd minute match winner from Cristiano Ronaldo guaranteed he’d get this recognition, playing a part in both goals, On the second, his contribution was obvious: Ronaldo making a great run to beat Javier Mascherano to a perfectly weighted ball from Mesut Özil before leaving Victor Valdés in no man’s land for an easy finish. What will be forgotten on the first goal, however, was Ronaldo’s speed forced Sergio Busquets to take him down along the left flank. Busquets was booked, the set piece was played out by Barça for a corner, and the ensuing kick got El Real the opener.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • As was the case on Wednesday, it took a highly cohesive team effort to beat Barcelona; however, there were four players who stood out:
    • Fabio Coentrão was amazing preventing crosses in from Dani Alves’s flank. I don’t know if it redeems the mistake he made in Munich, but oh does it make it seem like a one off. He’ll be many’s man of the match.
    • Alvaro Arbeloa also convinced at the opposite fullback position, winning a number of goal kicks.
    • Xabi Alonso was a pest sticking his leg out to abduct would be through balls.
    • And Sami Khedira was crucial tactically. With Cristian Tello starting wide left for Barca and Pepe still playing very narrow at the right center back position, the channel between them became a Amazon-sized river. Khedira was exceptional tracking runners into the space and covering for Pepe when the big defender followed Barça attackers into midfield.
  • And like Wednesday, Barcelona dominated possession (72-28), but unlike Chelsea, Real Madrid was not content to sit back and wait out their ball-hogging opponents. Real had more shots on goal (six to three) and forced seven corners to Barcelona’s four.
  • Proponents of Victor Valdés will deny it, but Iker Casillas likely prevents the winning goal. With Özil 35 yards from goal along the right flank, there was only one thing he was going to do: Play a ball into the right of the area for Ronaldo. In the sixth minute of the match, we saw Casillas successfully get off his line quickly to make a save at the edge of the area when Pepe gave the ball away in midfield. Valdés was not as quick reading this play and, pulling up rather than lay out to stop Ronaldo’s shot, allowed the winning goal.
  • I’m starting to suspect the rumors of an attitude adjustment happening with Gerard Piqué are true. Down a goal in this one, Piqué was seen warming up, but when it came time to use his last sub, Pep Guardiola chose to send on Cesc Fabregas for Cristian Tello, even though Real Madrid was going to bunker. A number of corner kicks forced at the end never threatened a Real side that only had to worry about Carles Puyol, and without another target on the field, Barcelona gave Real no disincentive to chopping them down every time they got 10 yards into the attacking half.
  • Woulda, coulda, shoulda; whatever, today should be about Real Madrid. If Barcelona wasn’t their best, give credit to Real Madrid, who now sit seven points clear in Spain with four matches to play. They’ve set a record for goals in a season (109) and could end the campaign with 100 points. This race is over, and whereas it previously looked like Real was going to carry the indignity of winning league without having taken points from Barcelona, instead they have their first win at the Nou Camp since 2007.
  • Suffice to say, this is the biggest win of José Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid. The Copa del Rey win over Barça won silverware, but it didn’t seal a league, and it wasn’t at Camp Nou. Plus, the way Real won vindicates the Special One against skeptics who insisted Real Madrid needed to change their approach. Mourinho has made incremental improvements over the last two years to where a result like today’s is more than a one-off, fanciful possibility. I would still content Barcelona’s more likely to win the next game they play (whenever that is), but Real Madrid winning these matches can no longer be considered surprising or an upset. That wasn’t the case a year-and-a-half ago, and it certainly wasn’t the case when Mourinho was brought in from Inter Milan.
  • For Barcelona, it’s the first time they’ve lost two in a row since May 2009 – two league matches conceded after they’d already locked up the title (and were resting ahead of their Champions League final in Rome). The last time there were two clearly meaningful matches Barcelona lost consecutively was February 2007, when Frank Rijkaard’s Barça side lost at the Mestalla to Valencia ahead of a 2-1, home loss in Champions League to Liverpool.
  • As it concerns mid-week, Real Madrid played the same team that lost in Munich. You’d think there’d be no changes for Wednesday’s match at the Bernabeu. José’s best XI will just have to find the energy. Barcelona made only two changes, but it wasn’t until they brought on Alexis (who had struggled so much at Stamford Bridge) that they were able to break down Real Madrid’s defense. Guardiola may elect to keep Alexis in his Champions League starting XI, but coming off consecutive losses, mentality will be a bigger issue than selection.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”