Europa League final, preview: What to know about Benfica and Sevilla

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Benfica’s already had its redemption, having claimed the Portuguese league title, but Wednesday gives the Eagles a chance to put last spring even farther in the past. Not only will the mere chronology of the next 24 hours help, but there’s the potential to slay demons from last year’s Europa League final – a loss that came in the middle of a 16-day stretch that cost Benfica  league, Europa, and Portuguese Cup titles.

Defeat Sevilla in Wednesday’s Europa League final, and last year’s loss to Chelsea gets put in a different perspective. Instead of being part of a failed spring and a list of second place finishes on the European stage, the result looks like a springboard for this year’s success. The disappointments of 2013 will have fueled the successes of 2014.

For the Rojiblancos, it’s a chance to claim the competition for the third time (UEFA Cup wins in 2006, 2007). It’s a chance to earn the team’s first trophy since 2010. It’s a chance for manager Unai Emery move on from his failures at Spartak Moscow, and it’s a chance for a team that used to compete for Champions League spots to grasp some glory in these now, more austere times.

Kickoff for Turin is at 2:45 p.m. Eastern, when Benfica returns to the site of its semifinal triumph hoping to claim its season’s second title.

How they got here: After falling out Champions League (something teams won’t be allowed to do next season), Benfica beat PAOK (Greece), Tottenham (England), AZ (Netherlands) and Juventus (Italy) on its way to the final.

Sevilla, who only qualified because Rayo Vallecano and Malaga were excluded from Europe, defeated Maribor (Slovenia), rival Real Betis (Spain), Porto (Portugal) and Valencia (Spain) after going undefeated in group play.

Who to watch for: For Benfica, former Sporting Braga striker Lima leads the way with four goals in knockout round play, though he’s only made two starts. Former Bolton attacker Rodrigo has scored three times, while Paraguayan forward Oscar Cardozo remains a threat, though he hasn’t scored in a month.

Emery’s dangermen are former PSG attacker Kevin Gameiro and Colombian World Cup hopeful Carlos Bacca have combined for nine goals in the competition, though Stephane Mbia’s stoppage time score against Valencia in the semifinals is Sevilla’s most memorable strike of the tournament.

Other players to know: Benfica’s defense features former Brazilian international Luisao along with Uruguyan fullback Maxi Pereira and Argentina center back Ezequiel Garay, both of whom you will see this summer. Ruben Amorim and Andre Gomes will hold down the midfield, with Nicolas Gaitan running wide of Cardozo up top.

For Sevilla, the attacking midfield of Diego Reyes, Ivan Rakitic, and Diego Perotti in support of Bacca present that danger. Mbia will destroy in midfield, while Argentinine Federico Fazio will lead the defense.

Forecast: Having knockout out Juventus, Benfica’s established themselves as favorites. We’ll see if the lessons of 2013 can be applied in 2014.

 

Pochettino: “Challenge is to keep going” ahead of North London Derby

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Mauricio Pochettino was thrilled to see Tottenham Hotspur’s title push continue with a win over in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Spurs won 1-0 on a beautiful Christian Eriksen goal from distance, moving back to within four points of Premier League leading Chelsea.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-1 Spurs ]

Pochettino’s men didn’t stop fighting for the winner despite relentless fight from the home side, with improving mettle on display this season.

“Unbelievable. Very good performance. I think second half we played much better than in the first half. It was difficult in the first half for us to move the ball and find the space but we changed the shape at half time and it was more fluid, we started to find the space and started to push Palace deeper and deeper.”

After two tough London Derbies — Spurs fell 4-2 to Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal — Tottenham now has the big one: a visit from Arsenal in the North London Derby.

“It was good to get the three points and be alive in the race for the title. The challenge is to keep going. It is always better to win but it is true [the Arsenal game] is a big derby, perhaps the last at White Hart Lane and I think it will be an exciting game.”

We’re ready for it. Spurs will be favored to pick up all three points, but all bets are off when it comes to the NLD. That’s especially true considering the ticking Top Four clock for Arsenal and the title fight for Spurs.

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Eriksen saves the day

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  • Sakho stretchered off
  • Eriksen rescues title hope
  • Spurs four back of Chelsea

Palace made them work for it.

Tottenham Hotspur didn’t exactly sends chills down the spine of Chelsea with its performance, but Spurs found a way past tricky and in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday at Selhurst Park.

Christian Eriksen‘s pretty goal sealed the three points for Spurs, who have five matches to chase down four points from the Blues.

Palace sits 12th, seven points clear of 18th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Two in-forms started with confidence, Harry Kane lashing wide of the frame for Spurs and Wilfried Zaha driving Palace on the right wing.

Another in-form Eagles attacker, Christian Benteke, did well to create space and hit a low shot that forced Hugo Lloris to ground.

Victor Wanyama was on yellow when he slid to intercept Andros Townsend, taking the Englishman to the turf. Jon Moss gave Wanyama a harsh warning, but did not produce the red card.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min were called upon soon after the break to liven up Spurs attack.

The substitution that stood to shake up the match was Palace center back Mamadou Sakho, who was hurt with about 40 minutes to play.

Eriksen stung a shot across goal for the eventual winner, a rare moment of class from a three-match day that didn’t quite fit the standard of the Premier League.

Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City: Only an own goal

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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  • Chances at a premium
  • Monreal forces Huth own goal
  • Arsenal moves sixth
  • Foxes six clear of drop

Nacho Monreal‘s desperate shot ricocheted off Robert Huth‘s chest and gave Arsenal a 1-0 win over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Entertainment value wasn’t high over the course of the match, as Arsenal had trouble piercing Leicester’s congested back four.

Arsenal is now three points back of Manchester United and four behind Man City before Thursday’s Manchester Derby.

Leicester is six points clear of 18th and has played one less game than most of the teams chasing them.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had most of the ball to start the match, but needed to make the first big stop. Petr Cech kept the match goalless when he flew to stop a left-footed whip from Riyad Mahrez.

At the other end, Mesut Ozil set up Theo Walcott for a chance that prodded a solid save from Kasper Schmeichel.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Wilfried Ndidi was again a monster in the middle third for Leicester, arguably the main reason the Foxes have rebounded from their relegation plight.

Arsenal had a chance pushed away from danger by Robert Huth after Alexis Sanchez misjudged his time on the ball in front of goal in the 56th minute.

Schmeichel then dove to slap away a deflected Francis Coquelin shot.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Laurent Koscielny went down in pain after landing awkwardly in the 79th minute, leaving a gap in space that Shinji Okazaki would’ve exploited were it not for a block from Gabriel Paulista.

Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane should’ve seen red with 10 minutes to play following a leaping boot to the back of Olivier Giroud, but only a foul was given.

Ndidi made a sliding intervention on Mesut Ozil in the 85th minute, another terrific bit of work from the Nigerian.

That’s when Huth’s unlucky moment lifted Arsenal to the lead.

Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: Derby honors and a bit of life

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  • Boro’s first PL win since Dec. 17
  • Smoggies move within six of 17th
  • Sunderland on verge of relegation

Marten De Roon snared Middlesbrough new hope at safety and a derby win as Boro scored early to complete a season sweep of Tees-Wear Derby rivals Sunderland on Wednesday.

The 1-0 win means Sunderland is 12 points back of 17th place Hull City with five matches to play. Hull has four matches left.

For Boro, it’s six points back of Hull but a devastating run-in that includes Man City, Chelsea, Southampton, and Liverpool.

The win was USMNT backstop Brad Guzan‘s second of the Premier League season, the first coming in the reverse fixture.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

De Roon tilted the Tees-Wear Derby to Boro’s side with an opening goal that could signal the end of Sunderland’s slim safety hopes.

Stewart Downing tempted 2-0 with a hard low shot that Jordan Pickford did very well to save with a leg.

Sunderland did find a bit of danger when Didier N’Dong forced Brad Guzan into a save, but Billy Jones nodded over the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]