It was a busy day in England as – unusually – all seven Saturday fixtures kicked off at the same time.
Fulham 0 Arsenal 1: With fellow top-four wannabes Chelsea and Tottenham not in action until tomorrow, Arsenal moved into third place but were largely unimpressive against opponents reduced to ten men in the twelfth minute when Steve Sidwell was red-carded for a foul on Mikel Arteta. Per Mertesacker’s first-half header was the difference but Olivier Giroud was dismissed late on.
Norwich 2 Reading 1: Visiting goalkeeper Alex McCarthy was terrific against Liverpool last week but less good today as Norwich scored twice in 90 seconds to take a giant stride towards survival and all but seal Reading’s relegation. Ryan Bennett and Elliott Bennett scored early in the second half, with Garath McCleary replying for Reading in the final twenty minutes.
QPR 0 Stoke 2: Only mathematical pedants wouldn’t stick a fork in Harry Redknapp’s team now. They’re ten points from safety with four games left and will be down if Aston Villa win on Monday. QPR old boy Peter Crouch gave the out-of-form visitors a 42nd-minute lead and Jon Walters added a penalty kick in the second half. It was a huge win for Stoke and under-pressure manager Tony Pulis, lifting them to six points clear of the drop zone.
Sunderland 1 Everton 0: A week after a stunning 3-0 win over rivals Newcastle, Paolo Di Canio’s first home game as Sunderland manager brought another vital victory (pictured). It was a scrappy match settled by a fine dribble and low shot from Stephane Sessegnon, capitalizing on a rare misplaced pass from Leighton Baines. Defeat leaves a huge dent in Everton’s prospects of a top-four finish.
Swansea 0 Southampton 0: Two clubs effectively playing out the season in cosy mid-table security shared the points at the Liberty Stadium. The visitors defended well and sit twelfth, eight points clear of the bottom three. Swansea were indebted to goalkeeper Michel Vorm for a couple of good saves. They’re ninth in the standings.
West Brom 1 Newcastle 1: With Stoke, Norwich and Sunderland winning, Alan Pardew’s team slipped to a stressful 16th despite what in other circumstances might have seemed a solid draw at The Hawthorns. Yoan Gouffran’s early header gave Newcastle the lead and they had chances to add to it before Billy Jones responded for the home side in the 64th minute.
West Ham 2 Wigan 0: The London club can start planning for next season with confidence: this win lifted them to tenth place, eleven points above today’s opponents. Wigan remain three points adrift of safety in the relegation zone, though they have a game in hand on rivals. A cross-shot from Matt Jarvis midway through the first period and a late Kevin Nolan volley made Wigan pay for missed opportunities.
Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.
Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.
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However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.
Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.
They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.
The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.
Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.
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Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.
The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.
[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]
Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.
Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0
Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.
[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]
Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw
Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.
Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.
[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]
Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.
Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.
Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.