AP Photo/Rui Vieira

PL roundup: Man City one win away; Liverpool storm back

Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in the Premier League…

[ MORE: Bayern Munich obliterate Dortmund in season’s final Der Klassiker ]

Everton 1-3 Manchester CityFULL RECAP

The vast majority of Man City’s game this season have felt like they were over before they even began; others, like Saturday’s 3-1 triumph away to Everton, were all but over after four minutes, and reduced to a mere formality after 12. Leroy Sane opened the floodgates inside the first five minutes, followed by Gabriel Jesus before the quarter-hour mark, and then Raheem Sterling in the 37th minute. Yannick Bolasie pulled a goal back in the second half, but that was as close as the Toffees would get. With a 16-point lead and only seven games left to play, the magic number is six — the number of points won, or combination of points won and Manchester United points dropped, required to clinch the title.

Manchester United 2-0 Swansea CityFULL RECAP

Man United clearly won’t catch the “noisy neighbors” in the title race, but Jose Mourinho’s men are finishing the PL season in fine form after notching their fourth straight win on Saturday. Romelu Lukaku made it 1-0 after five minutes (assisted by Alexis Sanchez), and the Chilean completed the scoring just 15 minutes later, as United held Swansea at arm’s length for the remainder.

Crystal Palace 1-2 LiverpoolFULL RECAP

Liverpool fell behind Palace following Luka Milivojevic‘s 13th-minute penalty (given away by Loris Karius), but the Reds roared back to life and victory in the second half. Sadio Mane tapped home to make it 1-1 in the 49th minute, followed by Mohamed Salah‘s 29th league goal in the 84th minute. The victory keeps Liverpool five points clear of fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur, though the Reds have played two more games thus far.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Burnley — FULL RECAP

Burnley have seen off nearly all challengers in the race for seventh (and trail sixth-place Arsenal by only two points, having played one more game), with only Leicester City still knocking on the door following Saturday’s 2-1 win away to last-place West Brom. Ashley Barnes scored a stunner in the first half (WATCH HERE) and Chris Wood made it 2-0 in the 73rd before Salomon Rondon pulled back a late consolation goal in the 83rd.

Brighton & Hove Albion 0-2 Leicester City — FULL RECAP

Speaking of Leicester, the Foxes are unbeaten in their last four league games following a a late 2-0 win away to Brighton. Vicente Iborra scored the game-winning goal in the 83rd minute, followed by Jamie Vardy‘s insurance goal in the 95th. There were nine red cards in the game, including two for Wilfred Ndidi, who was sent off in the 87th minute.

Watford 2-2 BournemouthFULL RECAP

It was a back-and-forth affair between Watford and Bournemouth, as the Hornets blew a pair of one-goal leads to eventually drop a pair of points at home. Kiko Femenia put the home side 1-0 ahead in the 12th minute, but Joshua King converted from the penalty spot just before halftime. Roberto Pereyra made it 2-1 four minutes into the second half, but Jermain Defoe stole the point in the 91st minute.

Newcastle United 1-0 Huddersfield Town — FULL RECAP

After an appalling start to the season, Newcastle have all but guaranteed their top-flight status for next season, reaching 35 points with a 1-0 win over fellow PL new boys Huddersfield. Ayoze Perez scored the game’s only goal, in the 80th minute, to give Rafa Benitez‘s side back-to-back wins and a seven-point cushion between themselves and the relegation zone.

West Ham United 3-0 Southampton — FULL RECAP

Southampton, on the other hand, have not fought off relegation quite as effectively in recent weeks. Saturday’s 3-0 loss away to West Ham leaves Saints without a win in their last five league games. Joao Mario bagged the opener in the 13th minute, followed by a first-half brace from Marko Arnautovic, in the 17th minute and then again in the third minute of stoppage time.

Sunday’s PL schedule

Arsenal vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”

Suarez defends surgery decision after Barca lose Copa del Rey final

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Luis Suarez has defended himself from criticism for undergoing knee surgery that prevented him from playing for Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.

The Uruguayan released a statement Sunday saying he had no option despite the timing of the final, which Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia on Saturday.

Suarez said he had to undergo surgery “against my will” after rupturing his meniscus against Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals.

He said the surgery earlier this month had nothing to do with a cartilage issue that he had been nursing since the beginning of the season.

Barcelona won the Spanish league but finished the season on a low after being eliminated by Liverpool in the Champions League and losing the Copa final to Valencia.

Suarez scored 25 goals in 49 matches this season, second only to Lionel Messi on the scoring charts for Barcelona.

U-20 WC roundup: Mexico hammered by Japan; Italy top Ecuador

AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Sunday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

Mexico 0-3 Japan

Mexico’s heavy defeat at the hands of Japan means El Tri‘s stars of tomorrow, who have zero points from their first two games, cannot finish top-two in Group B and can only advance to the knockout rounds as one of four third-place teams.

Taisei Miyashiro (21st and 77th minutes) and Kyosuke Tagawa (52nd) bagged the goals on Sunday, as Japan picked up its first victory and set up an all-important finale with Italy to decide who finishes top of the group on Wednesday.

Ecuador 0-1 Italy

Andrea Pinamonti scored the only goal in Italy’s 1-0 victory over 10-man Ecuador to reach the six-point mark and guarantee themselves a top-two finish and a place in the round of 16.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Senegal 2-0 Colombia [ HIGHLIGHTS ]
Poland 5-0 Tahiti [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Monday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Honduras v. Uruguay — 12 p.m. ET
Qatar v. Ukraine — 12 p.m. ET
USA v. Nigeria — 2:30 p.m. ET
Norway v. New Zealand — 2:30 p.m. ET

Serie A: Atalanta, Inter snatch UCL places on wild final day

Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Sunday’s final-day action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Chelsea, Real Madrid remain $38 million apart on Eden Hazard deal ]

Sampdoria (9th) 2-0 Juventus (1st)

With their eighth straight scudetto long since clinched, Juve slumped their way to the season’s finish line without a win in their final five games (three draws), including Sunday’s 2-0 loss away to Sampdoria. It was 0-0 for 83 minute, until Gregoire Defrel (84th) and Gianluca Caprari (91st) bagged late goals for the victory.

Atalanta (3rd) 3-1 Sassuolo (11th)

Atalanta completed their fairytale season and finished third in a hugely dramatic, chaotic way befitting their rapid rise to Champions League relevance. They finished 17th and avoided relegation by three points in 2015.

First, they fell behind when Domenico Berardi scored in the 19th minute. They were level by the 35 minute, thanks to Duvan Zapata’s equalizer. Then, things got weird.

Berardi was sent off during a massive skirmish between the two sides while leaving the field for halftime. With the score 1-1, and both Inter Milan and AC Milan ahead after 51 minutes, Atalanta were headed for a fifth-place finish.

Alejandro Gomez put Atalanta ahead three minutes later, though, and Mario Pasalic doubled the advantage in the 65th.

Inter Milan (4th) 2-1 Empoli (18th – relegated)

At that 51-minute mark, Keita Balde’s opening goal put Inter ahead of Empoli, but the visitors equalized in the 76th, briefly dropping them to fifth.

That lasted all of five minutes, as Radja Nainggolan put Luciano Spaletti’s side back in front, where they would finish the season. The top-four finished the day exactly as it began — Atalanta in 3rd and Inter Milan in 4th, each on 69 points.

SPAL (13th) 2-3 AC Milan (5th)

For those five glorious minutes, AC Milan were headed back to the Champions League for the first time since 2014, and were set to do so at the expense of their local rivals.

Finishing fourth, but behind Inter, would have been fine, but finishing fourth and ahead of Inter would have been a dreamland outcome. Alas, it’s a fifth-place finish on 68 points and another season in the Europa League for the Rossoneri.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Bologna (10th) 3-2 Napoli (2nd – Saturday)
Frosinone (19th – relegated) 0-0 Chievo (20th – relegated – Saturday)
Roma (6th) 2-1 Parma (14th)
Torino (7th) 3-1 Lazio (8th)
Cagliari (15th) 1-2 Udinese (12th)
Fiorentina (16th) 0-0 Genoa (17th)