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Ligue 1: Falcao scores late winner, preserves Monaco’s 3-point lead

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PARIS (AP) Monaco had Radamel Falcao to thank once again as the Colombia striker came off the bench to score the winner with a superb free kick in a 2-1 home victory against Dijon on Saturday.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Spurs apply pressure to Chelsea (again) ]

Falcao scored an opportunistic winner in a 1-0 defeat of Angers last weekend, and this goal was equally important as it kept Monaco three points clear of Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the French league.

Nabil Dirar scored the first goal midway through the second half, having also set up Falcao’s winner against Angers.

With teenage star Kylian Mbappe enduring a tough evening and Monaco struggling to find space in the first half, 19th-placed Dijon took the lead with a goal from Cedric Varrault shortly before halftime.

Monaco pushed hard after the interval but failed to break Dijon’s solid defense from open play. Falcao first came to the rescue in the 69th minute when the striker hit a free kick from 25 meters (yards) that hit the bar, bounced on `keeper Baptiste Reynet and stopped just in front of the goal line. Dirar rushed toward the ball and hammered it into the back of the net to level.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL preview — Chelsea visit Mourinho at Old Trafford ]

Falcao, who played 31 minutes, sealed Monaco’s win in the 81st with a sumptuous 20-meter curled strike into the top right corner that left Reynet stranded.

It was Falcao’s 26th goal of a season that has confirmed his return to the highest level and his 18th in 24 league games. Six of those games have been as a substitute since he has occasionally struggled for full fitness.

Falcao warmed up perfectly for the visit of Borussia Dortmund in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal on Wednesday, with Monaco leading 3-2 from the away leg in Germany

With five games left to play, Nice is guaranteed a top-three finish in the French league for the first time in more than 40 years.

Chasing its first league crown since 1959, the southern side beat struggling Nancy to ensure its first podium slot since it was runner-up behind Saint-Etienne in 1976.

The only team still unbeaten at home, apart from defending champion Paris Saint-Germain, Nice was caught cold against the run of the play after 26 minutes. It recovered with goals from Mickael Le Bihan and Jean-Michael Seri, who scored a brace.

The win kept Nice within four points of leader Monaco, which has one game in hand.

[ MORE: La Liga roundup — Madrid, Barca win final games before El Clasico ]

Yoan Cardinale made a reflex save in the 25th minute to deny a direct free kick from Loic Puyo which surprised everyone else in the box, but the Nice `keeper was powerless in the next minute after midfielder Valentin Eysseric failed to clear a corner from the left. That allowed Issiar Dia to recover the ball in the area and serve up an assist for Maurice Dale, who scored from six yards (meters).

The goal triggered an all-out assault on the Nancy goal and the hosts managed to level 10 minutes later. After receiving the ball in front of the area, Younes Belhanda almost lost it but managed to deliver a perfect through ball for Le Bihan, who beat `keeper Guy Roland Ndy Assembe for his third goal this season with a precise shot to the bottom corner.

In the absence of injured striker Alassane Plea and with Mario Balotelli suspended, Le Bihan was given his first start of the season and proved to be a worthy addition to the team, with two other good chances in the second half. Le Bihan scored a brace in February after coming off the bench in a 2-1 win against Montpellier on his return from a 17-month injury layoff.

Eysseric almost doubled his team’s lead immediately after the interval when he dribbled on the left side of the box and forced Ndy Assembe into a fine save. Issiar Dia then committed a clumsy foul on Dalbert Henrique in the box and Seri coolly converted from the spot with a shot right in the center of the goal in the 50th minute.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Champions-elect, Juventus, go 8 points clear ]

Seri doubled his tally with five minutes left from Eysseric’s clever assist in the back of the defense.

Montpellier made a big step forward in the fight against relegation with goals from Ryad Boudebouz and Isaac Mbenza.

After posting its first home win since February, the 2012 French champions moved to 12th place, eight points above the danger zone.

It was Boudebouz’s 11th goal this season, his best ever tally in the league.

Also Saturday, Guingamp beat Toulouse 2-1; Metz and Caen drew 2-2; and Rennes defeated Lille 2-0.

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.”