Sunday, 19 April 2015

Cristiano Ronaldo is phenomenal, spare a thought for Adam Federici


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It’s only a matter of time before Chelsea lift the Premier League trophy, while it’s hard not to feel for Adam Federici. It’s 7 truths…

Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, Kurt Zouma and Nemanja Matic celebrate at the end of the game
1) It’s (nearly) official: Chelsea have won the league

It was pretty uninspiring stuff at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening, but there can be no denying that Chelsea will lift the Premier League trophy barring the craziest of capitulations. Their ability to grind out results is unmatched in the Premier League at present and even if their fans are fearful of what next season holds, they can relax in the knowledge that more silverware is heading their way this campaign after edging Manchester United 1-0.

Goalscorer Eden Hazard did what he always does: make something difficult look incredibly easy. Perhaps that’s why there’s clamour for another player – namely Harry Kane – to scoop the individual end-of-season accolades, because the Belgian does everything with such fluidity that it’s sometimes easy to forget just how tricky his weaves through opposition territory are.
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2) Added cup hope for Liverpool/Aston Villa


Arsenal's Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck look dejected after Garath McCleary (not pictured) scored for Reading
It’s easy to assume that fans of Liverpool and Aston Villa – the two sides contesting the second FA Cup semi-final on Sunday – would above all else have preferred Reading to reach the final over Arsenal, using the basic logic that Arsenal are a bigger side with better players, and the Championship dwellers would be easier to knock off.

The way the Gunners and the Royals’ last-four clash played out, however, suggests ardent Reds and Claret and Blues alike can fill themselves with just a little extra hope of lifting the trophy, if they make it past the other. Arsenal and Reading spent the majority of their clash looking far from certain in their respective tactical set-ups, and took a rather long time sizing each other up. The goals were good, but preventable – ESPECIALLY the winner. The holders likely expected to reach the final, but in the end were relieved to do so, more than anything. If Arsenal play anything like this in the final, Liverpool/Villa may end up feeling like they ended up with the best possible final draw after all.
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3) Cristiano Ronaldo might be mortal, but he’s still extraordinary

Cristiano Ronaldo - Real Madrid 2015 (AFP)
Closing down Ronaldo must be the most daunting of tasks. Spare a thought then for Malaga defender Marcos Angeleri who looked to have edged a personal duel with the Portuguese wizard, only for the Real Madrid man to somehow roll a glorious backheel through his planted legs and sprint off gleefully in pursuit of the ball.

Ronaldo was briefly reminded of his mortality when he crashed a penalty against the post, but his haul of a goal, two assists and a cheeky nutmeg in the 3-1 win was a further reminder of his standing alongside Lionel Messi – who notched his 400th goal for Barcelona against Valencia – at the top of world football.
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4) FA Cup semi-finals should not be played at the same time as Premier League games

Arsenal fans look dejected (Reuters)
A Saturday evening kick-off for an FA Cup semi-final? Well, that's one thing, and we could live with that. But having it kick off ten minutes before Chelsea v Manchester United? Absolutely ridiculous. No wonder the FA Cup has become increasingly irrelevant. (And don't get us started on the stupidity that is the ruling that the semi-finals have to be wrapped up on the night rather than going to a replay. Football scheduling in this country has become a farce.)
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5) Southampton’s season summed up in 90 minutes v Stoke



Charlie Adam, left, celebrates the winner with Marko Arnautovic
When Southampton huddle together for their post-season review in May, there will inevitably be a mixture of pride and frustration in the air. The most unlikely of Champions League quests came to a cruel end on Saturday afternoon as Stoke inflicted a 2-1 defeat in a match that had striking parallels with their campaign as a whole.

Morgan Schneiderlin’s first-half goal put the Saints in control and although they suffered a mid-game wobble, allowing Mame Biram Diouf to equalise, they steadied themselves to look the more likely winners. However, Charlie Adam’s strike six minutes from time completed the turnaround and left the visitors contemplating a complete absence of European football (although a Liverpool win in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final would practically guarantee them a Europa League spot).

It could have been so different. Just like at the Britannia Stadium, the south coast club started strongly and built an eight-point lead on fifth by mid-November. They halted a subsequent mini-collapse and still owned a top four berth come February. But it wasn’t quite to be as a patchy run of form, coupled with their rivals’ gaining momentum, has left them just short.
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6) Timing is everything – just ask Leicester


Leonardo Ulloa scored in Leicester's win

With Chelsea pretty much securing their return to the top of the Premier League mountain with victory over Manchester United, all eyes are fixing to be on the battle at the other end of the table come matchday 38. The bottom five are separated by three points, and even sixth-from-bottom Aston Villa are far from safe considering the fact they’re also juggling an FA Cup run.

Who do you fancy to emerge from the dogfight, top-flight status intact, first? Few would have said ‘Leicester’, considering how much they’ve been part of the relegation battle furniture this season. But they’ve now won three on the bounce – a significant run at the wrong end – and finish the season playing three of their fellow strugglers, listless Newcastle, slipping Southampton and a Chelsea side who may be able to afford to take it easy. Nigel Pearson’s men are about to prove that the first 28 games of the season end up rather meaningless compared to the last 10.
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7) Spare a thought for Adam Federici

Reading's Adam Federici is consoled by manager Steve Clarke (Reuters)
In what appears to be International Nutmeg Week, the Reading goalkeeper watched in agony as Alexis Sanchez’s low drive squirmed through his legs and into the net to send the Gunners through to the FA Cup final, ending the valiant effort of the last remaining non-Premier League side.

Each replay of the incident at Wembley was met with a sufficient wave of laughter and ironic cheers from the Gooner contingent, but while the Royals didn’t quite have enough to shock the cup holders on the day, it’s quite cruel for it to end in such a way for the Championship side, especially Federici, who performed well outside of the two Sanchez goals. Of course, that’s not going to stop us from sniggering at the nutmeg. We just can’t help ourselves!
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