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Three things we learned from Real Madrid’s win v. Juventus

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CARDIFF — Real Madrid secured back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles in style as the Spanish giants beat Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff on Saturday.

[ MORE: Cardiff delivers stunning final

Real have now extended their own record of being crowned Champions of Europe with 12 titles to their name and they’ve won three UCL crowns in the last four seasons as well as becoming the first team to retain the European Cup since AC Milan 1990.

Make no mistake, this is a dynasty.

[ MORE: Match recap | Mandzukic scores stunner ]

Cristiano Ronaldo scored first and last, while Casemiro’s deflected effort put Real Madrid 2-1 up after a moment of sheer magic from Mario Mandzukic leveled the game for Juventus. Late on Marco Asensio made it 4-1 with a tap in.

Zinedine Zidane has now delivered two Champions League trophies in his first two seasons as a manager. Not bad Zizou, not bad.

Here’s what we learned from the final in the Welsh capital.


RONALDO COMES UP WITH THE GOODS, YET AGAIN

For the opening 20 minutes Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of the game falling down and asking for free kicks.

Then, like he always seems to do in the big moments, he pounced. Real launched a rapid counter as Toni Kroos found Karim Benzema who found Ronaldo and he then played in the overlapping Dani Carvajal who returned the favor for Ronaldo to sweep home. Bang. 1-0.

It summed up this Real team who had started slowly and Juventus looked sharper, more focused and more capable in attack, but then their talisman struck and the entire mood of the game changed.

Ronaldo has now won four UEFA Champions League trophies, equaling Lionel Messi. The lines blurring the debate between who is greater, Ronaldo or Messi, have once again been further muddled.

The 32-year-old struggled in the run of play with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini marshaling him, and although he had an off day, like the vast majority of his teammates, Ronaldo came up when it mattered.

Kroos, Luka Modric and Marcelo were Real’s star performers but Ronaldo, as he always seems to do, stole the headlines as he was handed the Man of the Match award by his former manager Sir Alex Ferguson after the game.

Ronaldo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but to come up with big goals in big games to win big trophies time and time again, the man is a machine. In the past 12 months he has won two UCL trophies, a La Liga crown, EURO 2016 with Portugal and individual honors with the Ballon d’Or and FIFA Best Player award.

With four Champions League trophies to god name and now 42 goals in the 2016-17 season, Ronaldo has proved he is once again the man for the big occasion.


A FINAL LIVES UP TO THE HYPE

I would’ve been fine if this game never had to end.

The first half was frenetic but composed. Tense yet fluid. Full of quality but also toughness. It had everything you’d want from a final.

Following Ronaldo’s fine finish after a flowing team move, Mandzukic came up with a wonder-goal to level things up.

In the second half tackles flew in as Juve tried to slow down the pace and disrupt Real’s flow. That only fired the Spaniards up and they never looked back after Casemiro’s shot deflected off Sami Khedira and in to make it 2-1.

Ronaldo flicked home at the near post three minutes later to make it 3-1 to all but end the encounter with 25 minutes to go. Ronaldo and substitute Gareth Bale both went close for Real and Alex Sandro flicked a header just wide for Juve with Gonzalo Higuain having a good chance from close range. Juan Cuadrado was sent off as Juve finished the game with 10-men as Sergio Ramos was up to his old tricks.

The game had everything and the quality of play on the pitch, despite Real finishing things off with over 20 minutes to go, was a joy to watch.


MANDZUKIC HAS CONTENDER FOR BEST-EVER UCL FINAL GOAL

This goal is a genuine contender for the best goal ever scored in a European Cup final. Even if Keylor Navas could’ve probably done a little better…

Zinedine Zidane’s volley for Real against Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow in 2001 is one of the best, as is Hernan Crespo’s dink for AC Milan against Liverpool in 2005 in Istanbul, but the audacity of Mandzukic’s strike at such a pivotal time stunned the Millennium Stadium crowd.

The fact that the ball didn’t touch the ground from Dani Alves cross-field ball to Alex Sandro’s ball in to Higuain who chested it down teed up Mandzukic made his miraculous finish even better.

Aesthetically it had everything. Adventurous play from full backs, a center forward playing in another attacker superbly and then Manduzkic with a ridiculous chest and finish to make it 1-1.

The only way this goal could be below Zidane and Co. is due to Navas’ positioning. The Real goalkeeper was caught out by the lack of power on Mandzukic’s shot and it looped over his head. Would a taller goalkeeper have got fingertips on it? Perhaps.

Juventus lost a seventh UCL final out of nine, but at least they have this gem to remember from another disappointing display as Gianluigi Buffon’s wait for a European title goes on.

Three things we learned from Arsenal v Chelsea in FA Cup final

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final on Saturday at Wembley as the Gunners won the FA Cup for the third time in four years and a record-breaking 13th time.

[ MORE: Gunners win FA Cup

Arsene Wenger has now won seven FA Cups, more than any other manager in history, as he denied Antonio Conte and Chelsea the chance to secure a famous Premier League and FA Cup double.

[ MORE: FA Cup final provides fitting tribute

Here’s what we learned from an intense FA Cup final as Arsenal won their 13th FA Cup, becoming the most successful team in tournament history.


MERTESACKER A MAN MOUNTAIN

Per Mertesacker, Arsenal’s club captain, had not started a single game in the 2016-17 season.

His first start was in the FA Cup final at Wembley against Chelsea and the German defender (affectionately nicknamed the ‘Big F****** German’ or BFG by his adoring fan) stood tall, using one of his telescopic legs in the first half to deny Costa and throwing his body on the line to block shots and make vital interceptions.

Mertesacker was only throw into central defense because Laurent Koscielny was suspended and both Gabriel and Skhodran Mustafi were injured in the past week.

He was incredible in marshaling Arsenal’s backline and along with David Opsina kept Chelsea at bay before Ramsey grabbed the winner late on.


TAYLOR GETS HUGE DECISIONS CORRECT

“Did Arsenal get lucky?” is one of the main questions you will hear after this game.

They weren’t. Referee Anthony Taylor got the key decisions correct. The first goal was flagged for offside but he overruled his linesman to allow the goal to stand and although Aaron Ramsey was in an offside position, he wasn’t interfering with play, so that was the right call.

There may have been a handball by Sanchez in the build up but that was missed totally and the decision to overturn the offside flag was the correct one.

In the second half Victor Moses then clearly took a tumble to try and get a penalty kick as he received a second yellow card. No complaints and another brave, but good, call from Taylor.

Two key decisions went Arsenal’s way, but they were the right calls. Chelsea can not complain.


WASTEFUL CHELSEA BLOW DOUBLE

Diego Costa may well have played his last game for Chelsea as a move to the Chinese Super League beckons this summer. It sounds harsh, but Chelsea may not miss the Spanish international as much as everything thinks.

Although he scored to make it 1-1, Costa could have scored a hat trick. He took too long to get his shot off just after Arsenal went ahead as three Gunners defenders blocked his effort, and he then raced clear of Rob Holding but failed to get past David Ospina in another first half chance. He then drilled a shot straight at Ospina in the second half with Chelsea trailing 2-1.

It wasn’t just Costa who was guilty of missing chances though.

Pedro blazed over from a glorious position in the first half and in the second half he curled wide, while Victor Moses had an effort saved down low by Ospina.

Chelsea have come up short in attack in a few big games this season, including the 3-0 defeat at Arsenal, 2-0 defeats at Tottenham and Manchester United and now the FA Cup final when they scored just once.

Antonio Conte will be searching very quickly for the phone numbers of Alvaro Morata, Romelu Lukaku et al.

Three things we learned from West Ham v. Tottenham

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LONDON — West Ham beat Tottenham 1-0 under the London Stadium lights on Friday night to deal a hammer blow to Spurs’ Premier League title hopes.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

The only goal of the game arrived just after the hour mark as Manuel Lanzini pounced to finish and a sluggish Spurs side never recovered.

Here’s what we learned from the London derby which has put a huge dent in Spurs’ title hopes.


CRUCIAL PK CALL CORRECT

There’s been plenty of talk about the new video assistant referees (VARs) which are being trialed in many leagues around the world but I’m not sure an official watching 50 replays of a first half collision between Manuel Lanzini and Hugo Lloris would have been able to make the correct call.

Andre Ayew clipped the ball through to Lanzini but as he raced through on goal he didn’t get the first touch on the ball before Lloris clattered into him with a tackle. Referee Anthony Taylor waved play on but Cheikhou Kouyate‘s tame effort on goal was shanked wide and everyone stopped. Hammers fans, players and management expected a penalty kick. It never arrived.

If West Ham had not won, they would’ve pointed towards that call as costly. In the end it wasn’t, but it also pointed towards just how tough some of these penalty decisions are for referees and even VARs. Even with the technology in place, it’s hard to get these calls 100 percent correct.


TIRED TOTTENHAM LOSE GROUND

Spurs just didn’t look correct throughout this game. A sluggish start to both halves gave West Ham hope and Mauricio Pochettino‘s men weren’t energetic in attack of pressing high to win the ball back.

Much has been made of Spurs playing before Chelsea this weekend to try and cut their lead atop the PL table to one point, but there wasn’t much chatter about the three days less rest for Tottenham after their North London derby against Arsenal on Sunday.

Look at the stat below just before Lanzini put West Ham ahead. How often are Spurs, or any of Pochettino’s sides outrun?

Spurs were sluggish and even when three glorious chances arrived on the 21-minute mark they couldn’t make the most of it as Adrian denied Harry Kane brilliantly following Dele Alli‘s shot was blocked.

In the second half Heung-Min Son‘s shot was tipped wide by Adrian but it was Spurs who ran out of steam and looked under pressure. West Ham had several glorious chances to extend their lead with Jonathan Calleri forcing a wonderful stop from Lloris and Spurs’ usually watertight defense looked incredibly susceptible on the break.

Spurs lost at West Ham last March under the lights at Upton Park as their title bid took a huge hit. This time around a defeat to their fierce London rivals just about ended their title hopes.


LANZINI STEPS UP ON DERBY DAY, AGAIN

With Dimitri Payet gone in January, this was supposed to be Lanzini’s time to shine.

He’s cut a frustrated figure in recent weeks but he turned up when it mattered on Friday, buzzing around behind the energetic Calleri and reacting first to a loose ball in the box to slot home the winner.

The Argentine playmaker,  like most of West Ham’s current squad, had a fine campaign last season and despite glimpses of his genius in 2016-17, he’s struggled.

Lanzini will grow into this central role after playing second fiddle to Payet last season and the first half of this and often shunted out wide. He’s now scored eight goals in 33 appearances this season, surpassing his seven in 32 appearances last season.

He received a standing ovation and the man of the match award for his performance which led West Ham to safety as they cannot be relegated. This performance may have just saved Slaven Bilic his job, too.

Finally, West Ham’s new home at London Stadium has a marquee win as the Hammers momentarily rose to ninth place in the table.

Three things we learned from Tottenham v. Arsenal

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LONDON — Tottenham Hotspur beat Arsenal 2-0 on Sunday in the final North London derby to be played at White Hart Lane.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Spurs, Arsenal ]

Dele Alli and Harry Kane struck in the second half to ensure that Spurs remain just four points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and they will also finish above Arsenal for the first time since 1995.

Here’s what we learned as Spurs finally have the bragging rights in their locale.


NORTH LONDON DESERVEDLY BELONGS TO TOTTENHAM

For the first time in over 22 years Tottenham will finish above Arsenal in the Premier League table.

Spurs’ victory on the pitch was about so much more than three points. St. Totteringham’s Day is finally over and the power shift in north London is in full flow.

Last season Tottenham came so close to finishing above Arsenal for the first time in the PL era but blew it on the final day after their late season collapse. Now they’re 17 points ahead of Arsenal with the Gunners having five games to play. Tottenham cannot be caught.

Spurs fans going into work on Monday won’t need to take any more stick from Arsenal supporters. For the next 12 months they can finally bark back to any criticism of their team with “where did you finish in the league again? Oh, that’s right…”

Of course, this is about much more than just bragging rights. With Spurs’ new stadium rising into the sky behind their current 118-year home, the future promises plenty with Pochettino at the helm and a young core locked into long-term contracts.

Tottenham’s success this season isn’t a one-off. They should’ve finished above Arsenal last season but blew it. Now, they’ve soared past their neighbors and left Arsene Wenger and Arsenal in their wake.

Now they’ve ruled north London, Spurs have one final target: to win their remaining four games and put Chelsea under as much pressure as possible.


SPURS STAY HOT ON CHELSEA’S HEELS

Seeing that Chelsea had beat Everton 3-0 just before they kicked off could’ve left Tottenham feeling a) sorry for themselves or b) fired up to stay in the title race for at least another week.

It was clearly the latter. Although Mauricio Pochettino went with a 4-2-3-1 formation which and Spurs started tentatively, they began to carve open Arsenal. Both Alli and Christian Eriksen missed glorious chances as Pochettino turned to his bench with a look of horror. Those misses didn’t prove costly as the second half saw Spurs surge forward and their fluidity cause Arsenal so many issues.

Harry Kane’s hot streak continued in the NLD as he dispatched the PK he won and has now scored six goals in his last five derbies in the PL.

Dele Alli popped up with a fine finish after an incisive run and shot from Christian Eriksen and nothing really changed for a Spurs team which has now won nine games on the spin and are unbeaten at home, their final season at their historic White Hart Lane, going into their final home match against Manchester United in two weeks time.

Spurs will be hoping Chelsea slip up in their final four games and if they do, you fancy Tottenham to take full advantage. Spurs next play on Friday at West Ham and have the chance to cut Chelsea’s lead to one point before they play on Monday against Middlesbrough.


MISERY CONTINUES FOR WENGER, ARSENAL

With Manchester United drawing at home to Swansea and Manchester City drawing at Middlesbrough, this was the perfect chance for Arsenal to gain ground in their top four hunt. It was an opportunity they never really looked like making the most of.

Petr Cech was their man of the match, making three important saves in the second half to keep the scoreline down. This game summed up everything good about Spurs but also everything which is bad about Arsenal.

The current state of affairs at Arsenal is impacting their play on the pitch, no matter if Arsene Wenger denies it.

Until his future, and that of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, is resolved then Arsenal won’t be able to move on. They now sit six points off the top four with a game in hand and the FA Cup final against Chelsea to look forward to it.

“Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!” was the ironic chant of the day from Tottenham’s fans as they reveled in Wenger and Arsenal’s steady decline over the past 12 months.

Surely a shellacking by their bitter rivals will act as the perfect reason for Wenger and Arsenal to reveal their future plans to stop things getting further out of hand.

Three things we learned from Man City v. Man United

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MANCHESTER — Manchester City and Manchester United fought out a 0-0 draw in the Manchester Derby on Thursday as two teams battling for the top four canceled each other.

[ MORE: Player ratings from City, United

City had the better chances with Sergio Aguero hitting the post and going close on multiple occasions but Pep Guardiola‘s men couldn’t break through and Jose Mourinho’s United — who finished the game with 10-men after Marouane Fellaini was sent off — remain one point and one place behind them in the table.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Here’s what we learned from a tight, tense derby.


RASHFORD RAMPANT

It seems like each and every week Marcus Rashford is improving drastically. The 19-year-old was the standout player on the pitch in the Manchester Derby at the Etihad, once again.

13 months ago Rashford scored a superb game-winner for United at City but as impressive as he was on that day, his game and body have developed drastically since then.

His sheer pace left City’s defenders for dead on mutliple occasions with Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov often given a 10-yard head start but not able to catch Rashford.

An audacious flick over Otamendi with this back of his heel while he was on the move was the pick of his moment. Rashford is maturing rapidly and after he tore Chelsea apart just 10 days ago, he was United’s biggest attacking threat all evening.

Manchester United will miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s penchant for popping up at the right place at the right time — as he’s done on 28 occasions this season before having his season ended through injury — but if Rashford is given enough time on the pitch, his rapidly development will surely see him flourish into one of the finest forwards in the game.


GUARDIOLA, MOURINHO OVERCAUTIOUS

All three games between Man City and Man United this season have been tight, tense encounters. This was no different.

City ripped United apart in the first half of their 2-1 win at Old Trafford back in September and then United edged things in a 1-0 home win in the EFL Cup a month later.

Guardiola’s City once again did all the pressing in this game as Aguero hit the outside of the post from a wonderful ball from the brilliant Kevin De Bruyne and the Argentine ace had an off day in front of goal, blazing off target on multiple occasions as United stayed compact but let him have a glimpse of the goal from distance.

With City just one point ahead of United with five games to go for both teams, Pep will probably still be feeling the more confident of the two managers about finishing in the top four given the respective run-in’s for both clubs. Yes, United have gone 24 games unbeaten in the Premier League but they aren’t exactly impressing.

Mourinho set his team up to counter with Rashford, Anthony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in attack but United never truly got hold of the ball as City’s high-pressing surprisingly unnerved season campaigners such as Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Fellaini with the latter headbutting Aguero stupidly late on to see red.

Considering all of thier injuries and plenty of games coming up, United will be happy with a point to stay in the top four hunt and so will City. The final encounter between Guardiola and Mourinho this season didn’t live up to the hype and with so much on the line in their debut camapigns in Manchester, just four goals across the three Manchester derbies proves that neither has lost face locally.

Then again, neither have impressed much this season either.


KOMPANY BACK TO HIS BEST

On three occasions in the first half Vincent Kompany stepped in to make superbly timed interceptions.

City’s skipper is well and truly back to his best.

After two injury ravaged campaign the Belgian star, 31, led from the back and was always willing to step high and engage United’s attacks to try and stop them at source.

Question marks will still remain about Kompany’s fitness for the foreseeable future but after playing three games in 12 days he finally seems to have not only regained his fitness but also his form.

It remains to be seen whether Kompany will still be at City next season but you have to think him remaining is essential after the shaky play of both Otamendi and John Stones for much of this season.

Since Kompany returned to fitness in early April, City have conceded just four goals in the four games he’s played with the skipper having two clean sheets and scoring a goal. He’s back to his best.