La Liga roundup: Table-toppers roll, Athletic stumbles

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The weekend in La Liga saw the three clubs at the top of the table barrel through their opponents.

With Barcelona at the top, their 6-0 win over Rayo Vallecano extended their goal-differential to eight goals over Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, with all three clubs still tied at 60 points.

Both Madrid clubs also recorded clean sheets, with each taking a 3-0 victory.

Meanwhile, Atletic Bilbao, in fourth in the table, was pegged back at home by Espanyol 2-1.

Barcelona 6-0 Rayo Vallecano

Lionel Messi and Neymar both scored goals as Barcelona trounced Rayo Vallecano to take a commanding goal-differential lead at the top of the table.  For more on this match, check out Richard Farley’s recap here.

Real Madrid 3-0 Getafe

Real Madrid didn’t miss a beat without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo.  Jese got things started right away on a feed from Gareth Bale, and Karim Benzema put away the comfortable win in the 27th.

The hosts have now won 14 of their last 15 in all competitions, but remain without their Ballon d’Or winner for another two matches.

Atletico Madrid 3-0 Valladolid

A flashy start saw Atletico Madrid cruise to three points, as Raul Garcia picked up a third-minute score and the ever-present Diego Costa banged home another a minute later.

With Atletico having won just two of their last five matches, the win allowed them to get back to their title-contending form.

Athletic Bilbao 1-2 Espanyol

Athletic remains mired in fourth and their home league unbeaten streak comes to an end at 12 games, as Espanyol become the first team to beat Bilbao in the league at home this season.

Like many of the top teams this weekend, Espanyol got off to a great start as Sergio Garcia picked up a 6th minute goal.  Carlos Gurpegi equalized early in the second half as he beat Kiko Casilla to a cross, but Espanyol went ahead for good just nine minutes later, Diego Colotto with the winner.

Celta Vigo 2-0 Villarreal

A match that took an extra half-hour due to a tear gas canister on the pitch finally ended with the home side picking up a surprise victory.  It denied Villarreal a chance to take advantage of Athletic Bilbao’s stumble.

Instead, Villarreal remain four-back in fifth position thanks to goals from Fabian Orellana and Nolito, both after the 80th minute.

Granada 1-0 Real Betis

Granada ended a 3-game losing streak by taking their anger out on last-place Real Betis.  Piti Medina picked up the game’s only goal on the end of a long-ball.

The loss sends Real Betis tumbling 10 points from safety. Both teams finished with 10 men.

Levante 1-0 Almeria

Levante jumped four places in the table to seventh as they absorbed much of the first half pressure and grabbed all three points through a volley by David Barral.

STILL TO PLAY: Sevilla vs. Valencia, Malaga vs. Real Sociedad

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea will set up a clash with Jose Mourinho.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists) and the Frenchman is proving to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense, will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

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Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

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Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

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Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.