Chelsea, Leicester losses open up Champions League chase

West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko scores their third goal in West Ham’s 3-2 Premier League victory over Chelsea on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 July 2020

Chelsea, Leicester losses open up Champions League chase

  • Man United and Wolverhampton are only 2 points behind Chelsea with 6 games remaining

LONDON: With Leicester and Chelsea both losing, the race for European spots is heating up in the Premier League.

Leicester once looked certain of returning to the Champions League, but is now winless in four games after a 2-1 loss to Everton on Wednesday. Only Chelsea’s 3-2 loss at West Ham kept Leicester in third place — ahead of Frank Lampard’s side by one point.

Manchester United and Wolverhampton are only two points behind Chelsea with six games remaining of a season that resumed two weeks ago after the three-month pandemic-enforced break.

Even north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham will have renewed — if fainter — hopes of returning to Europe’s
elite competition.

After beating last-place Norwich 4-0, Arsenal moved within six points of United in fifth place, which will secure a Champions League spot if Manchester City’s two-season European ban
is upheld.

 

Leicester slump

Four years after its shock run to the title, Leicester had been enjoying another standout season. Until January at least.

When the Foxes beat Newcastle on New Year’s Day, they were 15 points clear of sixth place. Now they are only three in front of Wolverhampton.

Leicester has only won two of its 11 league games since Jan. 1, with five losses.

The latest came after Richarlison struck 10 minutes in and Gylfi Sigurdsson doubled Everton’s lead six minutes later with a penalty. Kelechi Iheanacho’s second half-goal couldn’t spark a Leicester recovery.

“How we have performed for the best part of this season has got us into a strong position,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said. “Our form hasn’t been the best for a period now but we still have it in our hands to achieve what would be a dream for us, getting into the top four. But we can only get that if the performance is right.”

 

West Ham boost

West Ham turned around a night of frustration against Chelsea to seal a victory that moved the side three points clear of the relegation zone.

Tomas Soucek was denied an opener for offside after a lengthy VAR review. But his goal from another corner did stand in first half stoppage time to cancel out a penalty converted by Willian after Christian Pulisic was tripped.

Michail Antonio put the hosts in front at the start of the second half and Willian looked like recovering a point for Chelsea when he netted for a second time in the
72nd minute.

But Andriy Yarmolenko completed a counterattack to end a run of three successive losses since before the season was suspended.

It ended Chelsea’s three-match winning run in the league.

“We had an opportunity to move third,” Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. “If there’s moments when you switch off you are going to encourage teams on. It’s been there. I’m very aware of it. The players then have to show that extra mentality, that extra bit.”

 

Aubameyang double

Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was gifted two goals by Norwich to end a four-game run without scoring. The captain also set up Granit Xhaka’s first goal of the campaign and Cedric Soares grabbed Arsenal’s fourth on his injury-delayed debut from the bench.

With 50 Premier League goals in 79 appearances, Aubameyang is the fastest Arsenal player to reach a half-century.

Now manager Mikel Arteta hopes he will sign a new contract beyond next season.

“A player that is able to score as many goals as he’s done in that short space of time tells you everything about the importance he has for us,” Arteta said.

Bournemouth missed a chance to climb out of the relegation zone after a 4-1 loss to Newcastle extended the winless run to seven games.

A club-record 19th loss in a top-division season was inflicted by goals from Dwight Gayle and Sean Longstaff in the first half and substitutes Miguel Almiron and Valentino Lazaro after the break.

Bournemouth remains a point from safety in next-to-last place.

 


After 2 losses, Madrid reeling before trip to Barcelona

Updated 22 October 2020

After 2 losses, Madrid reeling before trip to Barcelona

BARCELON, Spain: After being humbled by a recently promoted club and a Ukrainian side playing with reserves, Real Madrid face  a trip to Camp Nou.

Barcelona host  Madrid on Saturday in the first clasico under new coach Ronald Koeman. And even though Barcelona are undergoing a rebuilding process after they ended last season without a trophy, Madrid come  to the clash with even more doubts.

Madrid have been outplayed at home by the modest Cadiz and a Shakhtar Donetsk that was without several starters due to a coronavirus outbreak among the squad.

In both losses, Madrid were sluggish and disorganized in defense, leaving opponents time and space to successfully launch counterattacks. Barcelona’s attack of Lionel Messi and Philippe Coutinho and the young legs of Ansu Fati, Francisco Trincao and Ousmane Dembele will have taken notice.

Madrid were stunned 1-0 last Saturday by a Cadiz packed with several players who spent their careers in the second division until last month. During that loss, coach Zinedine Zidane said he would not have been surprised if Madrid had gone into halftime down by two or three goals.

That is exactly what happened on Wednesday when Shakhtar won 3-2 in their Champions League opener after a Madrid backline fell apart without Sergio Ramos, who was resting after hurting his left knee against Cadiz.

Madrid hope  to have their  captain back against Barcelona.

Zidane has tried to absorb the blame for the embarrassing defeats.

“I’m responsible. As the first half was negative for my side, it means I did something wrong,” Zidane said after the loss to Shakhtar.

“I feel for the players because they have helped me win a lot of things. It was a bad game and they don’t deserve it. But that’s football. You have to keep going and think that if today is gray, tomorrow will be sunny.”

But his squad is under pressure, both veterans and newcomers.

Against Shakhtar, Raphael Varane should have been its defensive leader with Ramos out. But Varane showed the same fragile defending that was behind his two errors that led to goals in Madrid’s exit to Manchester City in the Champions League in August.

Caught behind a Shakhtar player, Varane’s lunge to poke away the ball put it into his own net, making it 2-0.

Marcelo and Eder Militao were unable to stop goals from Tetê in the 29th minute and Manor Solomon in the 42nd.

Down 3-0 at halftime, Luka Modric and Vinícius Júnior pulled two goals back, but with half an hour remaining the team could not culminate the comeback.

“When we don’t play well under pressure, everyone suffers. We found it difficult at the back,” Varane said. “It’s a difficult time for the team, but we’ve got a very important game (Barcelona) and we’re focused on winning.”