Gareth Bale wins football writers award, little argument here

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The Football Writers’ Association (FWA) has voted Tottenham midfielder Gareth Bale the 2013 Footballer of the Year. The Welshman inched out Manchester United’s Robin van Persie in the journalists poll.

With the Professional Footballers’ Association’s (PFA) Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year awards already in tote, Bale’s status among the world’s elite was confirmed with the FWA coup. The Spurs man has enjoyed a dominant season on the pitch scoring 19 goals in the league (24 in all competitions), and, perhaps more importantly, guiding his club to a charge for a Champions League qualifying spot. The midfielder will be presented with the FWA award at a gala dinner at the Lancaster London Hotel on May 9th.

It’s the third time in four years that someone has won both the PFA and FWA awards in the same season. Wayne Rooney achieved the feat in the 2009-10 season while Van Persie did the double last year. The other major award, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, has yet to be announced. If Bale can manage to scoop that honor he’ll become only the second player, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, in the history of the Premier League to grab all three distinctions. The Portuguese winger set the standard after his sensational 2006-07 season when he racked up 23 goals and 20 assists in all competitions while guiding United to the Premier League title.

According to Oliver Kay of The Times, Bale won 53% of the FWA votes, nudging out last year’s recipient, Van Persie, by 10%. Van Persie has been electric this year, nabbing 25 goals in 35 league appearances (29 in all competitions) on his way to guiding Manchester United to the title. Perhaps even more astonishing is that the Dutchman’s influence has coincided with a seamless £24m move from North London to Manchester United.

Juan Mata was the third man on the list. The understated nature of the Chelsea puppet-master gave him little chance of winning the award but his influence for the Blues has been undeniable, orchestrating an incredible 26 assists in all competitions for his club while managing to notch 18 goals along the way.

Luis Suarez, Pablo Zabaleta, Santi Cazorla, Rickie Lambert and Christian Benteke all picked up votes. Suarez’ fall from grace through the Ivanovic bite incident has been well-documented and his reported receipt of only two votes for the FWA awards underscores how heavy discipline is factored into the voting.

There’s little doubt that Bale isn’t a deserved winner. While Van Persie’s season has been impressive the Dutchman hit a cold streak from the end of January through mid March where he scored only a single goal in 10 competitions. It was a minor blip but a blip nonetheless. Bale endured no such trial and tribulations.

Since converting from left-back to left wing a few seasons ago, Bale changed his position yet again this year, playing as an inverted winger. The move wasn’t one born of desire, rather necessity, as injuries and poor form left Tottenham without goal-scoring options up front. The move triggered top play from the Welshman, who scored bags of game winners and carried his squad to a Top 4 challenge.

Bale’s influence is perhaps best described by chairman of the FWA Andy Dunn, chief sports writer for the Sunday Mirror, who said: “In a contest for votes that took so many late twists and turns, Gareth’s penchant for the spectacular captured the imagination. . . . He is a player who is rising inexorably towards the rarefied levels of world stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Twice the PFA Player of the Year and now, two months before his 24th birthday, the FWA Footballer of the Year. . . . Let’s all hope he lights up the Barclays Premier League for many seasons to come.”

Which begs the question of outmost importance for Spurs fans – can they keep hold of their boy wonder?

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.”