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Roberto Di Matteo said he had no regrets over his selection policy against Liverpool as Chelsea suffered their heaviest defeat of the season and saw their faint hopes of a top-four finish expire at Anfield.
Chelsea’s interim manager made eight changes to the team that beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final on Saturday and paid an emphatic price as Kenny Dalglish’s team produced a rampant first-half display to record their biggest league win of the season. Michael Essien, with an own-goal, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Agger all scored in nine first-half minutes as the visitors produced a calamitous defensive performance. Stewart Downing also missed a penalty in first-half stoppage time – the seventh time Liverpool have failed from the spot this season, a club record.
Di Matteo absolved his makeshift team and said the lowest league finish of the Roman Abramovich era was the product of an underwhelming campaign rather than one off-night. “Liverpool were the better side. They were inspired and scored goals at the right time,” he said. “I don’t think it was the team [I picked]. Liverpool were better than us and we have to given them credit. We’ve played with these players all season and they’ve carried us so far. It’s been demanding for us and I thought that by putting a fresh team out would give us a better chance. We have been using the strength that we have in the squad to be able to be here but we’ve lost many points during the whole season and you can’t just look at tonight. We’ve played every three days over eight weeks and we’ve had to utilise the strength in the squad to reach the finals and to be as close as we were with two games left.”
Chelsea had only an outside chance of finishing above Tottenham and Newcastle in the table before kick-off and must now now beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League on 19 May to return to the European elite next term. i Matteo added: “The final is a one off game. It was always going to be a high pressure game. But we have to be objective as well because we’ve played 37 games and I don’t think it’s the point we lost today that cost us. We hit the post and then the crossbar and that could have changed the game a little bit.”Victory ensured Liverpool avoided equalling the club’s lowest return of home wins in a top flight campaign at Anfield and left Kenny Dalglish enthused at the reaction to the FA Cup final defeat.
“It was an excellent performance, one that we’ve seen a few times before but without the result being as positive as that,” he said. “It’s pleasing the result was matched by the performance and so the supporters go away with a smile on their face. There is no other place in the Premier League where supporters would show appreciation like that.
“I have a feeling of ‘what a result and what a performance’ not ‘what if’. The last half hour at Wembley and that performance there was fantastic. Everyone played their part. Jonjo and Jordan, Luis was fantastic for the first goal and big Andy was unplayable. The old boy at the back [Jamie Carragher] didn’t do so bad, either. Everyone played their part.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
As the great Irish folk singer Christy Moore once said, how’s it going there everybody, you’re very welcome to this evening’s cabaret. We’ve a potential thriller/woefully damp squib (delete according to half-full/emptiness of your glass) in store; a Manchester derby some martyrs to hyperbole are describing as the most important Premier League match ever played. The result will almost certainly go a long way towards determining the outcome of this year’s Premier League title race, while simultaneously signalling a seismic shift in the English football landscape. Considering the amount of money they’ve spent in such a short space of time, it’s only a matter of when, not if, Manchester City win the title, but their city rivals United will be ruthless in their determination to delay the inevitable for as long as possible.
The build-up to this evening’s game has been relentless and this excellent preview piece by our chief football writer Danny Taylor will tell you all you need to know about the relationship between two clubs who, for all their cross-city sniping at each other down the years, haven’t actually played many matches with anything more important than local bragging rights at stake. Tonight, both sides the stakes could hardly be higher, with the Premier League title on the line and both clubs very much in charge of their own destiny. A win or draw for Manchester United would leave them sin a seemingly unassailable position with just two games left to play, while victory for Manchester City will bring them level on points with their rivals, but with a crucially significant advantage in the form of their superior goal difference.
We’ll bring you all the pre-match news and comment from 7pm, but in the meantime, why not pass the time by perusing our gallery of Manchester derbies down through the years, reading our Manchester correspondent Jamie Jackson’s thoughts on how a calmer, more mature Wayne Rooney has put his side on the verge of their 20th title, or digesting Roberto Mancin’s latest comments about howe the title race is so over, he’s not sure Manchester City will even bother turning up for tonight’s fixture.
Alternatively, you could read this preview of the tactics likely to be employed by both managers for tonight’s ding-dong at the Etihad Stadium penned by Michael Cox of Zonal Marking fame, or take a moment to gaze at this relaxing picture of a peculiar looking neutral snoozing in a deckchair ahead of the big match while wearing Manchester City coloured Converse trainers and a Manchester United coloured straw hat.
Some match pointers
• City scored six goals from just seven shots on target in their 6-1 win at Old Trafford earlier this season
• United have caught an opponent offside fewer times (36) than any other side; City are in second place with 39
• City have taken 77 from a possible 81 points in their last 27 top-flight home matches
• Wayne Rooney has committed the most fouls without receiving a yellow card (24) in the division
• No Premier League team has ever won a return fixture after losing by five or more goals in the initial encounter
• There have been six red cards in Premier League meetings between these sides, and five of them have been shown to United players
Carlos Tevez speaks
In an interview that has provoked much mirth among football fans the length and breadth of the country, Carlos Tevez has told the Manchester Evening News that he hopes to stay at Manchester City because he wants to “work hard and win things” because “that’s all that matters to me as a player and a person”.
In response to misguided cynics who suggest his sole motivation for moving to City was financial, Tevez was happy to set the record straight. “It was the project and the dream that made me come to City in the first place,” he revealed. “I’ve been here since the start of that project and I share the same vision as Sheikh Mansour.” According to Danny Taylor, of this parish, Tevez made similar noises in an interview conducted with the club’s website in December 2010. Afterwards it transpired he’d handed in a transfer request a few days previously.
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Lescott, Kompany, Clichy, Barry, Toure Yaya, Silva, Tevez, Nasri, Aguero.
Subs: Pantilimon, Richards, Milner, Dzeko, Kolarov, De Jong, Balotelli.
Manchester United: De Gea, Jones, Ferdinand, Smalling, Evra, Nani, Carrick, Scholes, Park, Giggs, Rooney.
Subs: Amos, Berbatov, Hernandez, Young, Welbeck, Rafael Da Silva, Valencia.
Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands)
An email from Josh Collis: “Whilst it might suit the narrative to hype this match up beyond comprehension – does it matter to City?” he asks. “At some point, the sheer volume of cash dictates that Man City will win the Premiership. Blackburn outspent and won, Chelsea outspent and won. There may even be a clever algorithm on the proportional outspending of one’s rivals and the likelihood of success in top-flight English footy. Clearly, that United are even in the mix again is phenomenal testament to SAF, but the succession of City to the pinnacle has a creeping inevitability that should be recognized. The staggering amounts of money involved suggest that unless Mansour gets bored, it will be difficult to eclipse them. In that sense – surely this match is all about Manchester United.”
A fair point well made and one with which I largely concur, but it’s worth remembering that people were saying the same thing about Chelsea several years ago and while they’ve invariably been there or thereabouts ever since, they have been eclipsed on several occasions.
Corrections and clarifications: Apologies, there were a couple of errors in the original Manchester United line-up I published after taking it – in good faith – from Twitter. The one I’ve posted now is correct. Smalling and Park play instead of Evans and Valencia, while Micah Richards is the slightly surprising omission from the Manchester City line-up.
Another email: “Josh Collins makes an interesting point, but surely it’s worth noting that one effect of Abramovich’s Chelsea spending was a greater appreciation for the can’t-be-bought spirit inculcated by Lord Ferg (including among Guardian journos; I might be misremembering, but I think it was Rob Smyth who made an excellent case for Fergie’s post 2004 achievements being perhaps his greatest)?” writes Ryan Dunne. “Similarly, the original Galacticos era – a still somewhat accurate analogy to current City – was largely a flop and the current one is a success because of two people (Mourinho and Ronaldo) one can’t see going to City any time soon. The ‘mind games’ discourse is largely pish, but the prospect of ABUs being replaced with ABCs when Sir Alex goes and a corresponding reminder of his old school(ish) achievements is surely nothing less than his Final Victory.”
The match in pictures: Guardian Sport’s award-winning snapper and all-round good egg Tom Jenkins is at the Etihad stadium tonight, where he will be pointing his lense at stuff and clicking away feverishly. You can see how he’s getting on by perusing this gallery, which will be updated as the evening progresses.
Sir Alex Ferguson speaks on Sky Sports: He says he’s picked his side with a view to “blocking” midfield, but adds that “we’re going out to win the game, don’t worry about that.” He insists that “I’ve never sent a team out to get a draw in my life” and says it “should be a good game”, but “could be disappointing” as a spectacle. “I hope everyone enjoys it, but you never know” he says.
A comment on Michael Cox’s tactics blog: “The Guardian has warned Fergie that his midfield is too old and slow, so what does the stubborn sod do?” asks Ian Copestake. “Picks his oldest and slowest available midfield. He’s like Thatcher in her last years (in office).”
How City will line up (unless they don’t): Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry will play on the right and left between the back four and a fearsome attacking trio of David Silva on the right, Samir Nasri on the left and Carlos Tevez in the centre, playing behind lone striker Sergio Aguero.
How Manchester United will line up (unless they don’t): Michael Carrick will patrol the area in front of the back four, with Park Ji Sung and Paul Scholes a little ahgead of him. Nani and Ryan Giggs will operate off the right and left wings respectively, providing service for lone frontman Wayne Rooney.
Not long now: Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. Both sets of players file out of the bowels of the Etihad Stadium, with each wearing the kit with which they are most readily associated: Manchester United in red, City in light blue. Are you excited? Are ya?
Prediction time: I haven’t a clue how this is going to go; so I’ll plump for a draw. I think I made an identical prediction for the match at Old Trafford earlier this season, which didn’t work out so well. I’ve put two wagers on this match: £3 each on Nani and Michael Carrick to score at – I think – 16-1 and 24-1 respectively.
1 min: Manchester City kick off playing from left to right as the camera views the pitch. There’s early pressure from Manchester United that forces Gael Clichy, who has been tormented by Nani in the past, to hack clear with a hoof over his own his own shoulder.
2 min: Manchester United win an early corner, which Nani pings to a totally unmarked Ryan Giggs after the winger had darted to the left-hand side of the penalty area. Giggs sends a cross into the mixer, where Joe Hart has a flap at the ball. City’s nervy looking defence eventually clear in the wake of a goalmouth scramble.
3 min: Joe Hart comes off his line to pluck a cross from deep on the left from the sky. That should settle any nerves he might be suffering from in the wake of his previous rick.
4 min: City attack down the left, where Gael Clichy curls a cross towards Carlos Tevez positioned on the far side of the six-yard box. There’s a bit too much welly on his delivery, Tevez can’t get to it and Manchester United clear. They embark on a lightning fast counter-attack, which Joleon Lescott does well to foil.
6 min: Manchester City win their first corner. The ball’s sent into the penalty area and Rio Ferdinand clears.
7 min: Carrick picks out Rooney with a long pass in behind Joleon Lescott in the City left-back position. Several passes around the edge of the final third later, Manchester United win another corner, which Nani prods towards the near post. Chris Smalling wins the header and nods the ball goalwards, but his effort is weak. Vincent Kompany blocks and clears.
10 min: It’s been an entertaining opening 10 minutes. No chances of note yet, but it’s a lively encounter which Manchester United are edging, but not by much.
11 min: Manchester United concede a free-kick not too far inside their own half, with Paul Scholes the guilty party due in no small part to one of his trademark mistimed tackles.
12 min: “Park Ji-Sung reminds me of a closing pitcher in baseball, except he’s used at the end of seasons, rather than individual games,” writes Brad McMillan. “Fergie seems to think he has nerves of steel, so he saves him up, then wheels him out for the real crunch games in April and May, and it’s been going on or years. He usually performs outstandingly, too.”
13 min: “City may well reach the pinnacle by spending, but they won’t always be there,” writes Paul Taylor. “The New York Yankees outspend everyone and are winners only part of the time. Injuries, bad luck, good luck for other teams, etc. It’s just one new addition to the group at the top. Chill out, people.” Yeah, chill out people. Chill out and enjoy Baseball Analogy Night on Guardian Sport. You feel me?
14 min: Joe Hart takes a goal-kick, which Chris Smalling sends back towards him with a meaty header. Manchester City win a throw-in, from which Manchester United win one of their own. I think we may have found ourselves in what is known in the trade of minute-by-minute reporting as “a lull”.
15 min: Sergio Aguero takes advantage of a mazy run down the inside-right by Samir Nasri to take possession and send a low drive across the edge of the Manchester United six-yard box. Facing his own goal, Phil Jones slides in and hacks clear with one of those heart-in-mouth defensive clearances United fans could have been forgiven for fearing might end up wildly sliced into his own goal.
18 min: With Rooney down injured in the centre-circle, Nani slaloms forward and picks out Ryan Giggs with a looping pass into space in the Manchester City right-back position. Giggs crosses, but City clear. Moments later, referee Andre Marriner books Vincent Kompany for what he perceived to be a late challenge on Rooney, but replays suggest the City captain may have been hard done by. Rooney appeared to hurt himself by kicking the sole of the defender’s boot as he offloaded the ball to Nani.
22 min: A good passage of passing play from Manchester City yields a corner. The ball’s sent in to the near post, where Evra half-clears by heading it straight up in the air. Vincent Kompany wins the header when the ball drops from the sky, but puts it out for a goal-kick.
24 min: Another corner for City, after good play down the left between Gael Clichy and Sergio Aguero. While attempting a subsequent clearance, Wayne Rooney boots the ball straight up in the air and then emerges second best from his challenge for possession when it comes back down. Samir Nasri picks out Sergio Aguero on the corner of the six-yard box, but the Argentinian blasts a volley high and wide.
27 min: “Just so you know you don’t have to say, ‘You feel me?’ now, you can just say, ‘Feel?’,” writes Ant Hull. I knew that (translation: I did not know that).
28 min: Samir Nasri skips past Patric Evra as he darts down the right wing, then sends in a low hard cross. Rio Ferdinand hoofs clear. Manchester City are looking increasingly dangerous in this match and their fans knowing it. They’re roaring them on.
29 min: Another cross from Samir Nasri on the right flank, this time a high one. Paul Scholes heads clear.
30 min: As Manchester United find themselves pinned back, Wayne Rooney is starting to look a little isolated and frustrated. He’s having a right old on and off-the-ball ding-dong with Vincent Kompany and is coming out second best at the moment.
32 min: Sky analyst Niall Quinn gives a brief assessment of Park Ji-sung’s performance to date. The words “hard-working” and “industrious” feature, needless to say, but he points out that the Manchester United midfielder hasn’t had a moment to settle on the ball yet.
34 min: Patrice Evra is summoned for a bollocking from referee Andre Marriner after getting involved in afters with Carlos Tevez, who’d just taken out Wayne Rooney with a rather agricultural challenge. Tevez skulks off looking guilty, Rooney gives Marriner his two cents and all ends a little tetchily without the ref reaching for his pocket.
35 min: Good play from Zabaleta, who goes on to spoil an excellent move he’d started by himself with a pitifully weak shot straight at David De Gea after being teed up by Sergio Aguero. Originally it looked as if Carlos Tevez would have a clear sight of goal to attempt a volley from the edge of the penalty area, but a breaking ball refused to drop quickly enough for him and he was forced to pump the ball into the melting pot of the six-yard box with a firm header instead.
39 min: Manchester City continue to probe in search of an opening, constantly knocking on the door – it seems like it’s only a matter of time before they score. In quick succession, they send crosses into the Manchester United penalty area from the right and left, but David De Gea is quick off his line to take delivery of the second one.
40 min: Strong in the tackle, Zabaleta wins the ball and gives it to Tevez, who bursts forward and links up with Aguero. He takes a touch too many and puts the ball out for a goal-kick.
43 min: “Re: your comments at 27 minutes. Instead of saying ‘I knew that’ you can just say ‘know’,” writes Eliot Crowe. Didn’t know.
43 min: “Diego Maradona is making a special guest appearance in Manchester tonight,” writes Keith Holmes. “So who does he support ? City or Utd?” I’d imagine he’s a City fan, Keith. His daughter is married to Sergio Aguero.
45 min: Another corner for Manchester City … ooh …
GOAL! Manchester City 1-0 Manchester United (Kompany 45) Shocking marking from Manchester United, with Chris Smalling getting caught napping as Silva sends the ball in from the right quadrant. Vincent Kompany leaps highests to power a header past David De Gea from the edge of the six-yard box.
Half-time Manchester City walk off to rapturous applause at half-time. The quality of football’s been poor enough, but it’s been an exciting game and they deserve their lead. As things stand, they lead the Premier League on goal difference.
Meanwhile on Sky Sports: I’ve just seen an advert for Pirhana 3DD. I say without a hint of sarcasm that it looks a cult classic in the making – truly unmissable. Double the action, double the terror and double the Ds. What’s not to love?
Gary Neville analyses Vincent Kompany’s goal and in a nutshell, he hangs Chris Smalling, who was badly at fault as a result of being caught ball-watching. The Manchester United defender got caught badly out of position as the ball was lofted in to the penalty area and was leaning backwards as the ball sailed over his head. “As a defender you know then you’re in trouble … you’re sunk,” says Neville. From just inside the penalty area, Kompany had charged to the edge of the six-yard box, where he leapt to power a virtually unstoppable header home.
This, from Matt Cast: “Maybe worth mentioning events in Ligue 1, where humble Montpellier have gone five points ahead of Paris at the top,” he writes. “Paris have spent €104m in six months, Montpellier less than a tenth of that sum. I’m not saying that Utd are as humble as Montpellier, but it shows once again that money doesn’t buy success.”
A decent point, but I think this minute-by-minute report was boring enough with all the baseball chat without anyone feeling compelled to put everyone to sleep altogether by dragging Ligue 1 into proceedings.
Second half: There are no changes on either side as Manchester United get the ball rolling. Having said that, Chris Smalling’s hair does look much drier than it was when he marched off the pitch.
47 min: “Going on his son-in-law’s performance so far tonight, I’ll bet a sniggering Diego is asking his daughter whether Sergio Aguero always takes so long to pull the trigger,” writes Adithya.
48 min: Jones, Scholes and Park pass their way through the centre, before winning a corner for Manchester United. Giggs sends it in towards the far post, where Wayne Rooney was waiting to head home, but Joe Hart stretched to get a vital touch to put the ball out for a corner. It’s quite obvious to all present that he put the ball out, but when Andre Marriner awards the corner, Hart still protests that he didn’t touch the ball.
50 min: Nothing comes from that corner, or another one won by United moments later. Manchester City clear and get out of their own half for the first time in this period and Pablo Zabaleta wins a corner. David Silva sends the ball into the mixer, where Joleon Lescott manages to put a couple of yards between himself and Rio Ferdinand on the edge of the six-yard box. The ball’s a mite too high for him and he’s unable to reach it despite his optimistic leap.
53 min: Yaya Toure leans in on Ryan Giggs as the duo contest a through-ball ball down on the left flank. Andre Marriner blows for a foul, prompting Toure to pick up the ball in both hands, raise it above his head and slam it down on the ground in anger. He’s rewarded for his little tantrum with a yellow card.
55 min: “Christ, Barry, I’m sick of all this unchallenged whinging from about Man City outspending Fergie’s lot,” writes Andrew Mullinder. “Man Utd have been near the top of the spending tree for at least 15 years. For short periods, they were outspent by Blackburn, but mostly they were outspending everyone else. Keane was a transfer record, Cole was a transfer record, Yorke was a transfer record. Sure, the numbers are bigger now, but then that’s inflation, isn’t it? City have spent big, but it’s catch up spend, making up for decades where they spent a fraction of Man U, Chelsea et al.” Spend chat, baseball, French domestic football … this is definitely shaping up to be the most boring minute-by-minute report of all time.
57 min: Pablo Zabaleta wins a corner for Manchester City as he tries to hook a cross into the Manchester United six-yard box after being put through by a lovely through-ball from Aguero. That was the culmination of a seriously quick counter-attack which had Manchester United’s defenders back-pedalling furiously. From the ensuing corner, Manchester United clear eventually … but not for the first time, David De Gea was less than commanding in his area, choosing to remain anchored to his goal-line rather than coming for the ball.
59 min: Manchester United substitution: Danny Welbeck on, Ji-Sung Park off.
61 min: Pablo Zabaleta is floored by a challenge from Nani in which he got clouted by the Portuguese’s forearm. He chooses not to make a meal of it, picks himself to his feet and shakes hands with his opponent.
62 min: Manchester City attack down the right flank, with Sergio Aguero looking for an opening. He eventually pings the ball to the feet of Tevez, standing with his back to goal in the penalty area. He’s crowded off the ball and Manchester United go in search of a much-needed equaliser.
64 min: From the centre of midfield, Paul Scholes plays the ball to the feet of Welbeck on the edge of the penalty area. The substitute is dispossessed and Manchester City advance.
64 min: “Why is Andrew Mullinder following football on the minhute-by-minute report when he clearly is clueless about the game and the issues with money?” asks somebody whose name I’ve lost. “Or is he comparing Louis Edwards to Sheikh Mansour? The again, perhaps he’s just trying to liven things up with reaction to a totally crass email?”
66 min: Slack marking from Yaya Toure allows Phil Jones into acres of space in the Manchester City left-back position, where he picks up the ball from Giggs. He sends in a cross, but hits it way too hard and the ball sails out towards the far touchline.
68 min: Manchester City substitution: Nigel De Jong on, Carlos Tevez off. “Last week, I sat (and passed) an exam on VAT,” writes Matt Dony. “I’m bringing that up apropos of nothing just to add to the boredom levels. I think we can break some kind of record here.”
69 min: Phil Jones gets booked for a late lunge on Gareth Barry just outside of the centre-circle inside his own half, which brings the Manchester City midfielder crashing to the ground with a yelp of agony. A quick rub-down with the magic sponge later and he’s fit to continue.
70 min: Just 20 minutes to go and the game, while tense, is becoming increasingly scrappy, fractious and dull.
72 min: Picking up the ball on the halfway line, Yaya Toure goes on one of those surging runs where he doesn’t quite seem to have the ball under control, but manages to hold on to it regardless. With Manchester United’s defence backing off, he makes it to the edge of the penalty area unchallenged and unleashes a shot which fizzes a few feet wide of the left upright.
74 min: More tedium, from the keyboard of Alex Fleetwood. “The incessant rain over the weekend has drawn my attention to the fact that my gutters need unblocking,” he writes. So, what about those AA insurance premiums? Anyone? Anyone?
76 min: Nigel De Jong gets booked after contesting a 50-50 ball with Danny Welbeck. He was unfortunate, as he looked set fair to win the ball, before Welbeck got ran across his line and the pair’s feet got tangled. De Jong’s challenge prompts Sir Alex Ferguson to erupt furiously on the touchline and he gets into a shouting match with Roberto Mancini.
79 min: Assorted backroom staff members drag Fergie asnd Mancini away from each other before things get ugly, then the name of Michael Carrick goes into the book for a foul on Gareth Barry.
Moments before the De Jong/Welbeck challenge, Yayya Toure had waved an imaginary yellow card in a bid to get Paul Scholes booked after the United midfielder committed a foul. At least I think it was an imaginary yellow card – it being invisible, it could have been an imaginary anything.
81 min: Another foul, this time Rooney is the perpetrator. This is hideous, but very tense.
81 min: Another rampaging run from Yaya Toure, who shoots about a foot wide from the edge of the penalty area instead of picking out Sergio Aguero who was in a good position to his left.
83 min: Manchester City substitution: Ashley Young on, Nani off. Manchester City substitution: Micah Richards on, David Silva off. Manchester United substitution I forgot to mention about five minutes ago: Paul Scholes off, Antonio Valencia on.
84 min: Tonight’s official attendance at the Etihad Stadium: 47,259. Samir Nasri entertains them all by standing over the ball in a corner deep in Manchester United territory, shielding it and doing his damnedest to waste time. Rio Ferdinand concedes the inevitable throw-in.
87 min: David De Gea is forced into a good save save from Gael Clichy, who got on the end of a pull-back from Pablo Zabaleta after good work down the right from Samir Nasri. The full-back’s low drive was goal-bound, but De Gea was quick down to his left to parry clear.
89 min: Manchester City go on the attack again and Samir Nasri finds himself in the United penalty area with the ball at his feet and seemingly all the time in the world to pick his spot and shoot. In what may be an homage to his days as an Arsenal player, he tries to walk the ball into the net instead of taking a shot from 12 yards and is eventually dispossessed. Manchester United embark on a counter-attack, prompting Roberto Mancini to go into a fury on the touchline.
90+2 min: We’re in the third of a minimum of five added minutes. Manchester City substitution: James Milner on, Samir Nasri off.
90+4 min: Manchester United win a corner, from which nothing comes.
90+4 min: Michael Carrick plays the ball to Wayne Rooney on the edge of the City penalty area. He shapes to shoot, but is quickly closed down before he can pull the trigger.
90-6 min: A high ball into the Manchester City penalty area. Joe Well charges off his line to punch clear one-handed.
Peep! Peep! Peeeeeeeeeeeeep! It’s all over. Manchester City have beaten United in the Premier League for the second time this season and are now in the boxseat as far as winning the title is concerned. They lead the table on goal difference with two matches to play: away at Newcastle and home against QPR. Manchester United play Swansea at home and Sunderland away. The season is young yet.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Having seen how well promoting the No2 has worked for Blackburn Rovers and Wolves, Barcelona followed their example last week by giving Pep Guardiola’s job to Tito Vilanova. But fears are emerging about how much damage José Mourinho’s poke to Vilanova’s eye actually caused, for it appears that his crack solution for the defence that can’t defend is to sign a defender who can’t defend: step forward, in your size 15 clown shoes, David Luiz! Sideshow Dave has excelled under Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea, it says here, although it doesn’t specify precisely what he has excelled at. Chelsea will replace his hair with Marouane Fellaini’s. Barcelona also want a left-back and could sign Gareth Bale if he stops pretending to be David Silva. Failing that, Valencia’s Jordi Alba will do.
Roy Hodgson is still the England manager. Bad luck the Sun! Luckily Harry Redknapp says he isn’t bothered at all and never wanted the job in the first place and it would probably get in the way of his comedy work and Sandra could have scored that and the FA smells and anyway he turned them down, so it’s honestly not a big deal. Yeah. Weep not for Brave Harry, nation’s press.
Who remembers Michael Owen? Nicolas Anelka, that’s who. The Shanghai Shenhua coach is desperate to reunite the glorious Liverpool team of 2002 and is planning swoops for Owen, Vladimir Smicer, Djimi Traoré, Abel Xavier and Gérard Houllier. Owen, who last broke out into a light jog in 2001, is unlikely to be offered a new contract by Manchester United this summer and was apparently a big hit during their pre-season tour of the Far East in 2009, effortlessly filling the Dong Fangzhuo role. Another man on his way out of Old Trafford is Park Ji-sung but Nemanja Vidic’s agent insists the Serbia defender is going nowhere, despite interest from Juventus.
With Ledley King currently about as deadly as a kitten with a water pistol, Tottenham have turned their attentions to signing a new defender. Ajax’s Jan Vertonghen, available for £7m, fits the bill and Spurs are set to beat Arsenal and Manchester City to his signature. Newcastle are leading the race for Alkmaar’s Swedish ace Rasmus Elm. He’ll cost them £8m but Liverpool are also keeping tabs on the midfielder, which poses a tricky conundrum for Alan Pardew: should you ever sign a player spotted by Kenny Dalglish?
Ezequiel Lavezzi is set to leave Napoli after a dispute with the owner, Aurelio de Laurentiis. He’ll join Chelsea or Manchester City for £26m. He’ll join Manchester City for £26m. When Blackburn are relegated, Junior Hoilett will swan off to one of Arsenal, Bayern Munich or Tottenham, while Martin Olsson will join Galatasaray. Wolves are already relegated but Terry Connor still wants to be their manager, which is sweet.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Just when it seemed the Scudetto race was over, this happens. With 84 minutes gone on Wednesday night, Juventus were 1-0 up at home to Lecce and set to maintain their three-point lead – effectively four, since they hold the tie-breaker over second-placed Milan – at the top of the table with two games to play. Their 18th-placed guests were yet to take a shot on target and had been playing with 10 men for the best part of 30 minutes.
Then, a routine backpass from Andrea Barzagli to Gigi Buffon. The goalkeeper, under no immediate pressure, miscontrolled, and in the blink of an eye Andrea Bertolacci stole in to dispossess him and roll the ball into an empty net. As Juventus Stadium fell into stunned silence, over in Milan San Siro erupted. The Bianconeri still control their own destiny but, with their rivals beating Atalanta at home, the gap is back down to a single point.
That it should be Buffon offering hope to Milan was unlikely indeed. He, along with Andrea Pirlo, has been the star performer of this still unbeaten Juventus side, conceding only one goal in the previous eight games and performing throughout the season at a level beyond anything he had achieved in some years. It was a fact recognised by the fans in Turin, who after a moment’s pause retook to singing his name with gusto. Alessandro Del Piero ran back from the front to give him a high five.
And yet the most remarkable aspect of Buffon’s blunder was that it still managed not to be the biggest talking point of the night in Serie A. Even the reopening of Italy’s most gripping title race since Calciopoli could not distract a nation’s attention from the sight of a manager throwing punches at one of his own players in the dugout.
Little more than half an hour had been played of Fiorentina’s match against Novara when Delio Rossi decided to withdraw Adem Ljajic. The Serbian playmaker had been obliged to play out of position up front due to injuries, but nevertheless his performance to that point had been insipid. That Rossi felt compelled to make a change so soon was certainly understandable, given that relegation-threatened Fiorentina were already two goals down at home.
Ljajic, though, was unimpressed – telling the manager exactly what he thought of the decision as he walked to the bench, offering a sarcastic thumbs-up as he did. For Rossi, it was an act of insubordination too far. The manager launched himself at the player, falling into the dugout as he did so, before appearing to throw at least one punch.
The whole incident lasted only a few seconds, the pair separated sufficiently quickly that by the time the referee Antonio Giannoccaro was alerted to the scuffle by his fourth official, Rossi had already returned to the technical area and resumed calling out instructions to his players on the field. The official duly took no action, so Rossi remained in place, taking the team talk at the interval and returning for the second half.
He will not be back for Fiorentina’s match against Lecce at the weekend, however, the team’s co-owner Andrea Della Valle informing Rossi at full time that he would be fired. It was an act taken with great regret. “This was the most painful decision of my 10 years in football – Delio Rossi had never done such a thing before in his life,” Della Valle said. “But in the space of just a few seconds, months of stress came pouring out. He was provoked, but not provocation, even a serious one, can justify those few seconds.”
There had been no other option for a club who have always sought under the Della Valles to send out a positive message off the pitch as well as staying competitive on it. A club that have promoted Save the Children in place of a shirt sponsor, and that created the Cartellino Viola initiative – awarding the teams or players who show the greatest act of fair play each month a purple card, to offset all the reds and yellows we see dished out to the badly behaved. The club were quick to confirm that Ljajic, too, will face punishment.
The Fiorentina executive Vincenzo Guerini – who coached at various clubs for more than 20 years before moving into commentary, then taking on his present role – will replace Rossi until the end of the season. Rossi is yet to speak to the press, and it will be fascinating to see if he chooses to do so. His actions on Wednesday were a long way out of character for one of Italy’s most good-natured managers. It seems likely that, as Della Valle suggested, his actions were borne out of long-term causes as much as any immediate provocation.
This year’s Fiorentina side have developed a reputation as one of the most brattish in recent memory, from Ljajic’s apparent lack of application – Rossi’s predecessor, Sinisa Mihajlovic, famously accused him of “eating too much Nutella and playing too much PlayStation” – to Alessio Cerci arriving late for training sessions, while the latter’s girlfriend has goaded Fiorentina fans after defeats on Facebook. Last season Cerci made headlines after parking his Maserati in a bay reserved for police, then dismissing officers’ initial requests that he relocate with a dismissive: “First I’ll eat, then I’ll move it.”
Key players such as Riccardo Montolivo and Juan Manuel Vargas have performed well below what they are capable of, and the former is now set to join Milan on a free transfer after his contract was allowed to run down. Respect towards Rossi has been lacking, just as it was for Mihajlovic. Shortly before kick-off on Wednesday, Houssine Kharja is reported to have smashed a door before storming out of the stadium upon learning that he had not been selected.
Such behaviour has, in turn, earned the players the contempt of their own supporters. Rossi was cheered enthusiastically by the crowd for his attack on Ljajic, chants of “Delio, give them a kicking” ringing out from the Curva Fiesole. With Fiorentina subsequently recovering from a 2-0 down to snatch a draw that takes them to within a point of safety, many will even have felt that the ends justified the means.
There was a time when such incidents might have been swept under the rug; in 1983-84 Pescara’s Tom Rosati assaulted Vittorio Cozzella during a match against Como with far greater gusto than Rossi did Ljajic and not only kept his job but fielded the attacker in his starting lineup the very next week. But although Rossi apologised sincerely to Ljajic, the rest of the team and Della Valle at full time, there could be no such playing down of an incident that had gone viral online long before the match even reached half-time.
For Italian football it was yet more unwelcome publicity after a fortnight in which Genoa’s players were forced to strip on the pitch by furious Ultras, then Lazio’s players and directors stormed a pitch after being duped by a whistle from the stands. With a match-fixing investigation looming, in which significant numbers of top-flight players and teams are implicated, there is much cause for unease.
So much so that the nation’s best-supported club are struggling to secure top-billing, even as they stand only two games away from becoming the first Italian team ever to go unbeaten over a 38-game season. Just this once, they may be grateful for that fact.
• Juventus’s match against Cagliari has been moved to from an afternoon kick-off to an evening one on Sunday – at the club’s request – so that it kicks off at the same time as the Milan derby. League authorities were anxious to avoid suggestions of fixture timing affecting the title race, but risk incurring the considerable wrath of Serie A’s broadcast partner, Sky. When the TV rights were up for sale in 2009 teams specifically agreed that concurrent kick-offs should only be required on the final week of the season. To flip-flop now has also created a further dilemma over Lecce and Genoa’s fixtures. Lecce trail Genoa by three points after the latter beat Cagliari on Wednesday and would like to kick-off at the same time as their relegation rivals this weekend. That, though, creates a more significant logistical headache than Juventus’s change – at present Lecce v Fiorentina is scheduled for Saturday, and Udinese-Genoa for Sunday.
• As for Milan, their fans were just relieved to discover that the message flashing up on the scoreboard announcing Lecce’s equaliser was correct, unlike the one (noted below the line by quidellini) that claimed Cesena had equalised against them a week earlier. Theirs was another confident victory over Atalanta, and if Massimiliano Allegri’s words at full time had been uttered by Sir Alex Ferguson, they would most certainly have been classified as mind games. “The last 15 minutes were like being at the theatre waiting for the final act of an opera,” the manager said. “Five minutes from the end it seemed as though it was all over. Now, not so much.”
• The race for third, meanwhile, may be back down to two after Lazio drew at home to Siena and Inter lost at Parma. The latter represents Andrea Stramaccioni’s first defeat and, if there is no shame in losing to a Parma side who have won five of their past six games, then the manner with which Inter threw away the game provided a reminder of how they wound up so far off the pace in the first place. Having taken the lead through Wesley Sneijder, they seemed in control before Lúcio gifted Parma a soft equaliser while trying to dribble away from Sebastian Giovinco on the edge of his own area. Two minutes later Inter were trailing after again giving away possession cheaply. “We’ll do the sums at the end,” Stramaccioni said afterwards. “In any case, nobody has told me that the Europa League would be such a disaster.”
• Napoli and Udinese did each collect three points – beating Palermo and Cesena respectively. For Udinese that meant they had won consecutive Serie A fixtures for the first time since December. There were some disappointing words from Antonio Di Natale, however, disagreeing with the recent comments by Cesare Prandelli, the Italy manager, in support of gay footballers wanting to come out. “I respect and like the manager, but I do not agree with him,” said Di Natale. “I am against the idea of going public with such an important decision. How would the fans react?”
Results: Catania 0-1 Bologna, Cesena 0-1 Udinese, Chievo 0-0 Roma, Fiorentina 2-2 Novara, Genoa 2-1 Cagliari, Juventus 1-1 Lecce, Lazio 1-1 Siena, Milan 2-0 Atalanta, Napoli 2-0 Palermo, Parma 3-1 Inter
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Fernando Torres celebrated a first hat-trick for Chelsea since his British record £50m move from Liverpool 15 months ago by claiming this could prove “the first of many” for the club as the European Cup finalists ran riot with a 6-1 victory against Queens Park Rangers.
Chelsea’s biggest win in this derby hoisted Roberto Di Matteo’s team to within reach of the top four, with Newcastle United to visit on Wednesday night, and maintained the breathless momentum generated by the team over recent weeks. Torres’s treble was his first since September 2009, doubling his league tally for the season in the process, to suggest a timely return to form ahead of next weekend’s FA Cup final against his former club.
“It was an important result and I’m happy with the hat-trick,” said Torres, who had also scored his side’s equaliser in stoppage time at Barcelona. “My last hat-trick was a long time ago but hopefully it will be the first of many. Things are getting better. From my first day in English football, everything was really good and looking easy. I was scoring almost every day and things were very good. I have had one very difficult year here, going through a very difficult period of time where things were not right.
“The important thing for me is being in the best form of the season with more important games to come. It is strange because I was feeling very good [in recent weeks], with fitness and feeling sharp, but I couldn’t score. So now, to be honest, I’m not playing as well as before but I’m scoring goals. But when you work hard – it’s the only thing you can do – the rewards have to come, and it’s time to enjoy it now.”
Torres had only registered once in the league since late September, turning creator rather than scorer in the interim, but
drew praise from Di Matteo. “I was always pleased with his contribution and he was always working hard for the team, putting the assists in,” said the Italian. I’m pleased for him today. It’s great for a striker, for his confidence, but we work as a team. The whole team is playing with confidence now. I have to say the team surprised me because, after a Champions League game in midweek, it can prove difficult. But we put in a great performance.”
John Terry, dismissed at the Camp Nou, was among the home side’s scorers, with the captain using his programme notes to apologise for kneeing Alexis Sánchez in the back to prompt his red card. The Chelsea captain came face to face with Anton Ferdinand here, with his trial for allegedly racially abusing the QPR defender set for 9 July, and the pair were booed and the subject of chants from both sets of supporters. “John is a player with a lot of experience who has been challenged before,” said Di Matteo. “But he showed his leadership qualities with our ‘unusual’ back four.”
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Luis Suárez suggested that a season of gloom for him could yet end with glee as he warmed up for next weekend’s FA Cup final by scoring a superb hat-trick to give Liverpool a comfortable victory against a Norwich City team that are looking increasingly haggard as the season draws to an end.
Constant barracking from the Carrow Road crowd reminded Suárez of the controversy that led to him missing a chunk of this campaign through suspension for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra, and a miss when clean through in the second half recalled the wayward finishes that helped explain why he came into this having only scored eight Premier League goals all season. He made sure, however, that that miss will not be remembered, by hitting two splendid goals before it and then landing an extraordinary lob from 55 yards to score his first hat-trick for Liverpool since arriving from Ajax in January 2011.
A tepid start to the game gave no hint of the fireworks to come. After both sides started sluggishly, it took Steven Gerrard to raise Liverpool to a higher level, in the 24th minute. With a sudden burst that jolted Norwich, the visiting captain, returning to the team after missing the past four matches, nicked the ball off David Fox in midfield and nudged it through to Suárez, who did what he has frequently failed to do this season and converted the chance emphatically, lashing the ball into the far corner of the net from 16 yards. It was the first shot of the match.
The goal gave Liverpool their groove back. Two minutes later, they could have doubled their lead as Suárez dispossessed Elliott Ward wide on the right and cut the ball back for Gerrard, whose shot was deflected wide. Norwich began to crumple, and in the 29th minute Suárez harassed Ward into another error before dashing into the box and firing low past John Ruddy. Finally, the Uruguayan brought his Premier League goal tally to double figures for the season.
Liverpool had moved into Easy Street and Norwich looked incapable of evicting them, as the home side’s early fluency departed. Paul Lambert changed personnel and formation at half-time and in the 51st minute, the Canaries finally registered a shot, Elliott Bennett’s swirling effort from 25 yards giving Pepe Reina an opportunity to show he had lost none of his agility during his three-game suspension. Liverpool quickly reasserted their supremacy and Jonjo Shelvey nearly put them three up but his header came back off the bar.
Stewart Downing then drew a smart save from Ruddy before, in the 64th minute, Suárez nutmegged Ryan Bennett to give himself a chance of claiming his hat-trick, only to chip over the bar. In the 82nd minute he atoned for that in spectacular style. After collecting the ball just inside the Norwich half, he glanced upwards and sent a perfect lob over Ruddy from 55 yards. “I was about to give him a bollocking for a having a ridiculous shot,” admitted Gerrard, delighted to have been struck dumb.
Two weeks ago, Norwich were taken apart here by Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero in a 6-1 defeat by Manchester City — this time they were dismantled by a one-man strike force who proved just as difficult to contain as that duo. The home side’s centre-backs hardly helped themselves with some basic errors but Suárez’s elusive movement and wonderful finishing would have tormented even the best defences. “Every goal was a great goal but that’s no surprise because of the quality of the player,” said Kenny Dalglish of his centre-forward. “Luis is a fantastic player and a fantastic person and we’re very fortunate to have him playing for us. When he plays like that it is very difficult for anyone to stop him.” Suárez may be a divisive character but it is hard to disagree with that last assessment.
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It is easier to play like Barcelona when you are not actually playing against them. There was a festive air about a sodden Stamford Bridge on Sunday, and Queens Park Rangers proved the perfect opponents against whom who celebrate their triumphant passage to the European Cup final last Tuesday. Going four goals up inside 25 minutes, it was as though they had come home to show their fans that, in the right circumstances, they can turn on the style as well as anyone.
The man who delivered the coup de grâce to Barcelona in the Nou Camp walked away on Sunday with the ball and the man‑of‑the‑match award. While his team‑mates’ concentration inevitably wavered after the early avalanche of goals, Fernando Torres was magnificent for the whole 90 minutes, his hat-trick – a genuine one, with goals three, four and five, and the first of his career at Chelsea – giving the club an idea of what they can expect when Didier Drogba finally leaves the premises.
Amusingly, Torres insisted afterwards that he is not playing as well now as he was when he was not scoring regularly. But since Roman Abramovich shelled out £50m for his goals, this haul on Sunday represented a satisfactory return. It took the Spaniard into double figures in all competitions since his arrival at the Bridge 15 months ago, seven of them coming since the end of a five-month dry spell that lasted from October to March.
The manner in which he took his goals in this west London derby suggested that he is more than capable of building on the confidence engendered by that dramatic breakaway effort in Catalunya. His opener against QPR, to put his side 3-0 up in the 19th minute, came from a slick move in which he fed Juan Mata and raced forward as his compatriot transferred the ball to Salomon Kalou. Torres arrived in the right place to collect the Ivorian’s excellent pass before doing to Paddy Kenny almost exactly what he had done to Victor Valdés last Tuesday.
His second, six minutes later, represented a piece of high-class opportunism, and he hooked in the loose ball after a mix‑up between Kenny and Nedum Onuoha with the air of a man who has never missed a chance in his life. He had to wait until the 64th minute for the completion of his scoring for the day, timing his sprint down the inside left channel on to Mata’s pass quite beautifully before smoothly measuring a shot inside the far post.
Chelsea certainly dominated the conditions, probably the most difficult experienced at the Bridge since José Mourinho shamefully attempted to nullify Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona a few years ago by persuading the groundsman to prepare a pitch that resembled a potato patch. This time the club’s management had nothing to do with it. Incessant rain had produced a surface so waterlogged that in the early minutes Djibril Cissé, sliding on the seat of his pants as he delivered a cross from the left, disappeared inside a plume of water, leaving only the bleached rectangle on the top of his head – which appeared to be the consequence of an unfortunate misunderstanding with a Brazilian waxing specialist – visible above the spray.
Torres played no part in the goal with which Daniel Sturridge got Chelsea off to a flying start after 45 seconds, or the one with which John Terry doubled the lead with a header from Mata’s corner a dozen minutes later. But the sixth and last goal summed up his willingness to involve himself to the benefit of his team‑mates as he acted as a pivot, exchanging passes with Ramires, whose cut-back from the right was deflected by Anton Ferdinand into the path of Florent Malouda. Torres had been doing that sort of thing all afternoon, and in a sense his three goals were a reward for all the unselfish foraging and linking.
He did enough, in fact, to suggest that Vicente del Bosque may be inclined to look at him in a more positive light when considering his starting lineup for Spain’s opening match of the Euro 2012 finals against Italy on 10 June. Torres has not scored for his country since a double against Liechtenstein in September 2010, but on Sunday he started to look once again like the man to give a cutting edge to the midfield maestros to whom he and his Chelsea team‑mates brought such dismay last week.
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