Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league

(FromL) Barcelona's Uruguayan defender Ronald Araujo and Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets challenge Real Madrid's French forward Karim Benzema during the "El Clasico" between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona on April 10, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 11 April 2021

Real Madrid beats Barcelona 2-1 to go top of Spanish league

  • Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead

MADRID: Real Madrid continued its impressive run on Saturday, going top of the Spanish league with a 2-1 win over Barcelona in what may have been Lionel Messi’s last league clásico.
The victory in pouring rain in the Spanish capital left Madrid tied on points with Atlético Madrid, which on Sunday can return to the top when it visits sixth-place Real Betis. Madrid is ahead of its city rival on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Barcelona, which had been unbeaten in 19 straight league games, stayed one point off the lead.
Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos scored first-half goals to give Madrid its sixth straight win in all competitions. The defending league champions were coming off a win over Liverpool in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Champions League on Tuesday.
“It was a very important victory for us,” Madrid defender Nacho Fernández said. “It’s always special to win a clásico, and even more when we are so close together at the top in the fight for the title. You could say today was a final, but there is still a lot left in the league.”
Barcelona got on the board in the second half with a goal by Óscar Mingueza. It nearly equalized with a shot from young substitute Ilaix Moriba that struck the crossbar in the final play of the match.
“We tried until the end but it wasn’t possible. We almost had it in that final play,” Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto said. “We depended on our own results had we won, but now we need to hope that our rivals stumble. We will keep fighting until the very end.”
This was the first time Madrid has taken the league lead since the early rounds of the competition, and it trailed Atlético by 11 points at one stage.
The result ended Barcelona’s six-match winning streak in the league. It had won nine away matches in a row in the competition.
The 33-year-old Messi, who reached seven straight clásicos without a goal, has his contract with Barcelona ending this season. The Argentina star expressed his desire to leave the Catalan club last year but had the request denied.
One of his best chances was with a corner kick that curled across the area and hit Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ far post in first-half stoppage time. Messi’s free kick in second-half stoppage time was easily stopped by Courtois.
It was an even start at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium in Madrid’s training center, but the hosts opened the scoring in the 13th minute with Benzema’s superb flicked shot from close range after a low cross by Lucas Vázquez.
The French striker, who has scored 10 goals in his last nine matches, got in front of Barcelona defender Ronald Araújo and flicked the ball toward the net with his back foot. He hadn’t scored against Barcelona in nine consecutive clásicos.
The Catalan club complained of a foul by Vázquez on Messi just moments before the opening goal.
Kroos added to the lead in the 28th from a free kick following a foul on Vinícius Júnior, who was coming off an outstanding performance in Madrid’s 3-1 win over Liverpool. Kroos shot from just outside the area and the ball deflected on American defender Sergiño Dest before going into the net.
Madrid almost added to the lead in the 34th when Federico Valverde hit the post after a breakaway led by Vinícius Júnior, who also hit the post in the second half. That was after Barcelona pulled one back in the 60th with a shot from inside the area by Mingueza after a low cross by Jordi Alba.
Madrid played the final minutes a man down after Casemiro was sent off with a second yellow card.
The visitors complained about being denied a penalty in the final minutes, with Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman saying it was “a clear penalty.”
“I don't know why there is VAR in Spain,” he said.
Madrid got the win despite a depleted defense — with the absences of central defenders Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. Barcelona was without the injured Gerard Piqué.
Right back Vázquez, who has been key for Madrid in recent games, had to be replaced due to an injury before halftime.
Barcelona’s next match is the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, while Madrid travels to England to play Liverpool again in the Champions League on Wednesday.


Zverev beats Berrettini to win his 2nd Madrid Open title

Updated 10 May 2021

Zverev beats Berrettini to win his 2nd Madrid Open title

  • Zverev won his first Madrid title in 2018 in a final against Thiem
  • The win on Sunday gave him his fourth Masters 1000 title

MADRID: Alexander Zverev continued his impressive form going into the French Open by winning his second Madrid Open title on Sunday.
After beating top-seeded Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals and fourth-ranked Dominic Thiem in the semifinals, Zverev rallied to defeat Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-3 for his second title this season. The sixth-ranked German also won the Mexican Open in Acapulco in March.
Zverev won his first Madrid title in 2018 in a final against Thiem. The win on Sunday gave him his fourth Masters 1000 title, and first in three years. Zverev will be trying to improve from his fourth-round exit last year at the French Open.
“To do well at the French Open, you need to be playing well during the clay court season,” the 24-year-old Zverev said. “That is in a way important for me, as well. At the end of the day I won a Masters. There’s really very little in terms of bigger than this one right here. I’m happy with this achievement. Obviously, yeah, I look forward to the next few weeks. I look forward to what’s ahead.”
The 10th-ranked Berrettini won the title in Belgrade last week. The Italian has been gradually returning to form after struggling with an abdominal injury that kept him from playing his quarterfinal match against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Australian Open. The injury kept Berrettini out until Monte Carlo, where he lost his opening match.
“This was my first (Masters 1000) final. Hopefully it’s not going to be my last,” Berrettini said. “But like I said before, I’m really happy on my level. Today unfortunately I think I didn’t play my best tennis.”
After exchanging a break each in the first set, Berrettini opened the tiebreaker with a 5-0 lead but allowed Zverev to come back. The Italian closed it out on his fourth set point after Zverev also squandered a set point in the back-and-forth tiebreaker. It was the first set dropped by Zverev this week.
Zverev, who finished with seven double-faults, evened the match after breaking Berrettini at 4-4 and serving out to clinch the second set at the Magic Box center court, which had its roof closed because of rain in Madrid.
Berrettini, who ended with 50 unforced errors, squandered a break point early in the third set, and Zverev broke him in the following game to take the lead. He earned another break at the end, converting on his second match point to clinch the victory.
In the men’s doubles final, Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina defeated Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic of Croatia 1-6, 6-3, 10-8.
The Madrid Open was one of the first sporting events in Spain that allowed the presence of a limited number of fans. The tournament was among those canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Local health workers were honored by tournament organizers before the final on Sunday.
In the women’s edition, Aryna Sabalenka beat top-ranked Ash Barty 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 in Saturday’s final.


Mercedes masterstroke in Spain helps Hamilton deny Verstappen

Updated 09 May 2021

Mercedes masterstroke in Spain helps Hamilton deny Verstappen

  • Hamilton moved on to 98 career wins after a surprise second change of tires hoodwinked Red Bull to lift him 14 points clear of Verstappen
  • Bottas took third in the second Mercedes with Leclerc’s Ferrari in fourth and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull completing the top five

BARCELONA: Lewis Hamilton claimed his fifth successive Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen after a Mercedes pit-stop masterstroke.
Hamilton moved on to 98 career wins after a surprise second change of tires hoodwinked Red Bull to lift him 14 points clear of Verstappen in the drivers’ standings.
“It was a really great strategy by the team. What a day!” beamed Hamilton, who was quick to acknowledge the smattering of fans allowed in to watch, a rare occurence in the time of coronavirus.
“It is great to see. I saw a British flag out there which I haven’t seen for a long, long time. I feel great after this. I feel like I could go again.”
Hamilton had set off from pole for the 100th time but was beaten to the first corner by Verstappen, with Charles Leclerc for Ferrari dishing out the same treatment on Valtteri Bottas on turn two.
On lap eight Yuki Tsunoda’s Sunday drive in Catalonia suffered a premature end when his AlphaTauri came to a grinding halt.
“Engine stop” the Japanese rookie lamented as the safety car emerged briefly to remove the immobile obstacle.
Verstappen held off Hamilton comfortably on the restart on lap 11, with Leclerc continuing to split the two Mercedes.
With a third of the race completed the first round of pit stops began, with all eyes on which of the front two with less than a second between them would blink first.
Verstappen it was who came in on lap 25, but the pit stop was slow by a couple of seconds in another minor but potentially critical error by the Red Bull title pretenders.
The Mercedes pit wall pulled Hamilton in for a lightning stop a few laps later as they pinned their hopes on fresher medium tires making the difference toward the finish.
At the midway point Hamilton set the fastest lap to go less than two and a half seconds behind his Dutch rival. The gap was less than a second shortly after.
On lap 43 Mercedes played their ace card.
Hamilton, half a second off the lead, came into the pits for a second new set of mediums.
He reemerged with under 23sec to make up on Verstappen, who with tire wear was in danger of becoming what he would describe afterwards as “a sitting duck” for the man in pursuit of a record eighth drivers’ title.
Hamilton asked his pit wall: “How far have I got to catch up?“
“Currently 22 seconds... we’ve done it before...” came back the reply.
There was a note of desperation on Red Bull’s radio with Verstappen suggesting “I don’t know how we are going to make it to the end.”
Hamilton moved into second but there was no hint of team orders with Bottas forcing his teammate into full overtaking mode.
Ten laps to go and Hamilton had only three seconds to make up on Verstappen and on lap 60 he did it, surging past the Dutchman on turn one — Toto Wolff, his team boss, punching the air with delight as their masterstroke paid off.
Hamilton said he was in two minds as to whether to obey the order to come in.
“I was about to get a shot to get past him as I pitted. I was really conflicted — ‘do I come in or ignore the call?’.
“I did what the team asked because there is a great trust between us. Remarkable job by everyone in this team. What a day.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner was magnanimous in defeat, saying: “In fairness, hats off to Mercedes and Lewis.”
Verstappen said: “We’re not where we want to be and we still need to push hard and catch up because at the moment we are a little bit slower. But compared to last year, it has been a jump for us.”
Bottas took third in the second Mercedes with Leclerc’s Ferrari in fourth and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull completing the top five.
Formula One takes a breather next weekend before returning for the Monaco Grand Prix with Hamilton possibly having a tilt at his century of wins in Azerbaijan at the start of June.


Sabalenka wins Madrid Open; Zverev faces Berrettini in final

Updated 09 May 2021

Sabalenka wins Madrid Open; Zverev faces Berrettini in final

  • It was the second title for Sabalenka this year after winning the season-opener in Abu Dhabi
  • Zverev defeated Dominic Thiem and No. 10-ranked Berrettini beat Casper Ruud in their semifinal matches

MADRID: Aryna Sabalenka is glad she changed her mind about playing at the Madrid Open.
Two weeks after nearly withdrawing from the tournament because of a muscle injury, Sabalenka was standing on center court with the winner’s trophy in her hands on Saturday.
Sabalenka defeated top-ranked Ash Barty 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 for her 10th WTA title — and first on clay.
In the men’s final on Sunday, 2018 champion Alexander Zverev will face eighth-seeded Matteo Berrettini.
Sabalenka’s victory, coming two weeks after she was hurt in a loss to Barty in the Stuttgart final, will move the Belarus player to No. 4 in the world next week.
“To be honest, after the final in Stuttgart I was injured, I couldn’t even move, I really wanted to withdraw from here,” she said. “And I don’t know how, but my team ... the recovery was really good. In four days they made me feel much better. Somehow I’m here standing as the champion of this tournament.”
Sabalenka injured an adductor muscle in the three-set loss in Germany to Barty, who had won all of her three previous finals this year.
It was the second title for Sabalenka this year after winning the season-opener in Abu Dhabi. She also lost to Barty in the Miami quarterfinals.
In the men’s semifinals, Zverev followed his triumph over Rafael Nadal with a win over Dominic Thiem to reach another Madrid Open final. He will face No. 10-ranked Berrettini, who beat Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-4.
No. 6 Zverev defeated No. 4 Thiem 6-3, 6-4 to reach the final again after beating Thiem for the 2018 title. He will be trying to win his second title this year after triumphing in Acapulco in March.
Zverev broke Thiem’s serve once in the first set and twice in the second on the Magic Box center court.
The German has yet to drop a set, including against Nadal in the Friday quarterfinals.
“They’re probably the two clay-courters that you think of right now when you’re thinking about Roland Garros and the biggest chances of winning,” Zverev said of Nadal and Thiem. “Rafa is the favorite no matter what. Probably Novak (Djokovic) second, Dominic a close third. It’s been so far a good week for me. The job is not done yet.”
Berrettini didn’t face a break point as he defeated Ruud to return to a final after winning Belgrade two weeks ago. He will be trying to win his first Masters 1000 final.
“The key today was putting pressure on his serve,” Berrettini said. “I was always trying to get the momentum and attacking even his first serve. I know that he likes to have time, run around the forehand. I tried to do that. It worked out pretty well.”
Thiem was playing in his first tournament since March after consecutive losses in Dubai and Doha. He has mostly struggled since winning the US Open for his first grand slam title.
“In general I’m super happy with the week,” Thiem said. “I would have never expected to be in the semifinals, to play in the semifinals a player like him. I cannot complain about anything. Just, of course, there are many things to improve.”
In the women’s doubles final, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, both from the Czech Republic, defeated Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Demi Schuurs of France 6-4, 6-3.


Chelsea beat Man City to delay Premier League title party

Updated 09 May 2021

Chelsea beat Man City to delay Premier League title party

  • Tuchel’s in-form team score 2-1 victory as Alonso bundles in the winner in dying seconds

LONDON: Chelsea forced Manchester City to put their Premier League title party on hold on Saturday, winning 2-1 to strengthen their grip on a top-four place as Liverpool kept their Champions League qualification hopes alive.
Victory for City in a rehearsal for the Champions League final would have confirmed them as English champions for the third time in four years but they must wait for their inevitable coronation.
Hundreds of City fans had gathered outside the empty Etihad Stadium hoping to spur their team on to victory.
As supporters spilled into the road and blue flares were lit, the coaches carrying the players needed to slow down to get through the crowds as they made their way to the ground.
Pep Guardiola's men were on the right track when Raheem Sterling gave them the lead but Hakim Ziyech levelled in the second half and Marcos Alonso grabbed the winner in the dying seconds.
Sergio Aguero could have made his side's task much easier on the stroke of half-time but saw his casual Panenka spot-kick easily saved by Edouard Mendy, with Guardiola turning away in frustration.
The win lifts the Londoners into third spot above Leicester and six points clear of fifth-placed West Ham with just three games left for Thomas Tuchel's side.
Outgoing champions Liverpool beat Southampton 2-0 in the late kick-off to stay in the mix for the top four but a 3-1 defeat at Leeds was a hammer blow for managerless Tottenham.
Guardiola was frustrated at the manner of his side's defeat -- just their fifth loss of the season -- but they have a huge 13-point lead over second-placed Manchester United.
"We missed our chance in the last minute of the first half for the penalty, but we were in a good position," he told Sky Sports.
"We conceded a goal, suffered for 15 minutes, then reacted well, but in the end they scored."
On the missed spot-kick, Guardiola said: "I have always said to him (Aguero), take one decision and take it full convincing, so he decided to do it this way. I have nothing to add."
Tuchel's in-form team ended City's dreams of a historic quadruple by beating them in the FA Cup semi-final last month and they once again proved tricky opponents.
Guardiola made nine changes from the side that saw off Paris Saint-Germain in midweek while Chelsea made five changes following their triumph over Real Madrid.
Sterling broke the deadlock shortly before half-time, tucking home after a poor touch from Aguero following a pass from Gabriel Jesus.
City should have gone into the break two goals in front after Jesus won a spot-kick when he was bundled over by Billy Gilmour but Argentine striker Aguero squandered the chance.
As the second half wore on the visitors started to establish a foothold and they equalised just after the hour mark when Cesar Azpilicueta picked out Ziyech, who drilled home from the edge of the area.
The finish was frantic. Chelsea substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside before Sterling had a penalty appeal turned down.
Alonso slotted home the winner in stoppage time after Timo Werner pulled the ball back to complete the turnaround but City could be crowned champions as early as Sunday, if Aston Villa beat United.
Tuchel admitted the match would have had a different complexion if Aguero had converted from the spot.
"If they score the penalty maybe it is over before it starts -- at 2-0 you have no chance to come back," the Chelsea boss said.
"I was impressed by the reaction and the performance in the second half. If you want to steal all three points here after being down, you need a bit of luck, decisions from the referee."
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was delighted to see his team back to winning ways following two costly draws, with Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara both finding the net at Anfield.
Speaking about his side being in the race for the top four, he told the BBC: "We are, kind of. It's not impossible but it's difficult. We will give it a try and see where we get to."
Earlier, Crystal Palace beat already relegated Sheffield United 2-0.


Stalemate between Atletico and Barca hands advantage to Real Madrid

Updated 09 May 2021

Stalemate between Atletico and Barca hands advantage to Real Madrid

  • Four wins from their last four games will now be enough for Zinedine Zidane's side to retain their La Liga crown, with a crunch game at home to fourth-placed Sevilla up first on Sunday

MADRID: Barcelona and Atletico Madrid knew victory could fire them towards the La Liga title but Saturday's 0-0 draw at Camp Nou handed Real Madrid the chance to go top.
Four wins from their last four games will now be enough for Zinedine Zidane's side to retain their La Liga crown, with a crunch game at home to fourth-placed Sevilla up first on Sunday.
The first part of a blockbuster weekend in the Spanish title race pitched first against third but neither could take a decisive step forward, despite the best attempts of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, who faced each other for the first time since Suarez departed last summer.
A point each leaves Atletico three points clear of Real Madrid, who have a game in hand and also the superior head-to-head over both Atleti and Barcelona.
Barca remain two points off the top but their chances took the biggest hit, given they now need both Atletico and Real Madrid to slip up in the final stretch.
Anything can still happen because of what we've seen so far," said Gerard Pique. "If Madrid wins their four games they will be champions, but it is difficult for the big teams to be consistent. If we win all our three games, I think we'll have a chance."
Atletico will be disappointed too, given they spurned a number of chances in during a dominant first half, before Ronald Koeman's side recovered in the second.
Jan Oblak had to deny Messi after a vintage run forward from the Argentine, who then had a well-placed free-kick in the last minute, only for Atletico to watch the ball spin inches wide.
"We started better and they finished a little better," Oblak said. "Real Madrid has four games left but for sure they are going to be tought games. We have to keep going."
Diego Simeone said on Friday Suarez had been "vindicated" since being forced to leave Barcelona, his 19 goals making him top scorer for the team.
Koeman admitted it would be "strange" for everyone, including Messi, who sent a heartfelt open letter to his former team-mate, neighbour and best friend last year.
The pair shared a few words in the centre circle before kick-off after the Camp Nou stadium announcer had already beamed that Suarez "will always be welcome".
But, in truth, the Uruguayan was not at his ruthless best as a handful of openings went unconverted in a contest full of chances but that lacked precision when it mattered most.
Messi was repeatedly knocked over in the opening few minutes before Gerard Pique went through the back of Suarez, both teams scrapping for control.
Atletico slowly took charge, helped by the departure of Sergio Busquets, who was replaced by Ilaix Moriba after a clash of heads that meant he had to be taken to hospital for tests.
Without Busquets, Barcelona were rudderless for a while and the Atletico chances came thick and fast.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen had to palm away Marcos Llorente's shot and then stick out a foot to deny Suarez from the angle.
Suarez then tried to nod in the rebound after a winding run from Yannick Carrasco before claiming a penalty after feeling a flick of Ter Stegen's hand across his head.
Barcelona were rattled, the usually steady Ter Stegen booting one ball straight into the stands, only for Messi to give Atletico a reality check, his driving run past six chasers opening the space for a shot, but Oblak tipped it wide.
Felipe fired over from a well-worked Atleti short corner before half-time but Barca were better after the break, with both Ilaix and Pique going close shortly after the hour.
Both coaches made changes, hoping to inspire a winner. Ousmane Dembele was one of them and he should have grabbed it with six minutes left but headed over from six yards in perhaps the best chance of the game.
Messi could have won it at the end, standing over the ball with a free-kick placed centrally and 25 yards out. Atletico held their breath, the ball whistling just wide of Oblak's post.