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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.

VIDEO: Lo Celso escapes red card via VAR after horror challenge

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Giovani Lo Celso can count himself a lucky man after his horror challenge on Cesar Azpilicueta wasn’t deemed worthy of a red card by VAR.

What on earth is going on.

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Lo Celso stamped on Azpilicueta’s leg as the Chelsea skipper slid in to get the ball and even though the Spanish defender was on the floor, Spurs’ Argentine playmaker had enough time to pull out of the challenge.

After a lengthy VAR check no red card was given as Chelsea’s fans, players and coaches looked on in bemusement after Olivier Giroud’s early goal gave them the lead.

Check out the video of the incident below and let us know what you think in the comments section below.


VIDEO: Giroud delivers for Chelsea v. Spurs

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Olivier Giroud delivered a stunning finish to put Chelsea ahead against Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge.

Giroud, starting for the first time since November, used all of his experience to run the Spurs defense ragged and provide a threatening focal point for the Chelsea attack.

The Frenchman, 33, jumped off the bench and had a goal disallowed by VAR in the 2-0 defeat against Man United on Monday but even after a VAR check for offside against Spurs, this time his goal stood.

Click play on the video above to watch the clinical finish.

It was a good job Giroud didn’t leave Chelsea in the January transfer window (as a move to Spurs seemed highly likely) after all.

Watch Live: Chelsea v. Tottenham

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Chelsea host Tottenham Hotspur in a massive London derby on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge.

With Frank Lampard‘s slumping Chelsea in fourth and just one point ahead of Jose Mourinho’s fifth-place Tottenham, this is a massive game in the battle for Champions League qualification.

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Injuries are piling up for both sides but Chelsea’s lack of clinical finishing has hurt them for several months as they’ve won just four of their last 14 Premier League games. Mourinho knows this is a good time for him to take his team to Stamford Bridge, even with his own injury crisis to deal with.

Not only does the Mourinho storyline carry significant weight ahead of Saturday’s showdown at the Bridge, so too does the two sides’ increasingly tight battle for a top-four finish. As recently as Jan. 17, Chelsea enjoyed a nine-point lead on Tottenham, but the Blues’ current run of just one win from their last six PL games has seen that advantage shrink to a single point with the very real possibility of flipping two points in the opposite direction once the full-time whistle blows.

On the other hand, Spurs would already be miles clear if not for dropping a combined seven points from three games against the current 12th-, 19th- and 20th-place sides in recent weeks.

In team news Chelsea are without N’Golo Kante, Christian Pulisic and Callum Hudson-Odoi who are all out injured. Olivier Giroud starts up front with Tammy Abraham only fit enough for the bench, while Chelsea have three center backs and Ross Barkley and Mason Mount come into the starting lineup.

Tottenham must do without Heung-Min Son for potentially the rest of the season after he suffered a broken arm. Mourinho must turn to other attacking options with Harry Kane also out until April. Dele Alli has been left on the bench as Spurs go with what also looks like a back five.


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Hodgson vows to sign new Crystal Palace contract

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Roy Hodgson has revealed that he has been offered a contract extension to remain at Crystal Palace beyond the 2020-21 Premier League season, and also hinted that he is highly likely to accept it.

[ MORE: Mourinho: Top-four without Kane, Son would be “something incredible” ]

Following a period of turmoil and instability which saw them drop dangerously close to the relegation zone prior to his arrival in 2017, Hodgson has steadied the ship and guided the Eagles to 11th- and 12th-place finishes in his first two seasons and has them sitting just a point out of 12th with a dozen games to go this season. At no point in his tenure has Palace flirted with relegation, and that’s apparently enough to earn a new deal to remain in charge — quotes from Sky Sports:

“The club have presented me with a contract and although the chairman has been away this week I’ve had a cursory glance through it. It all looks fine to me so I am pretty certain that at some point soon we’ll sit down and get it signed.

“If I am going to stay, it will be because I believe funds will be made available because we’ve had the intention to improve the squad and the team for a while now.

“We all realize you can’t make improvements to the actual team without spending some money. But I would never make those type of demands, because you can’t make any guarantees in the transfer market.

“All you can do is have good intention and if I signed for another year, I would sign because I believed the intentions are true and that something will happen going into the next season.”

As for the transfer situation, that’s something that’ll need to be sorted out in very short order if Palace plan to maintain their current place in the PL’s hierarchy, otherwise they’ll learn a harsh — and quick — lesson about standing still while everyone else is moving forward.