Manchester City and Real Madrid played out a goalless draw, in a cagey first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
Manchester City were buoyed before kickoff, by the news that Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo would not play. The Madrid striker was ruled out of the squad after sustaining a thigh injury in their 3-0 win over Villarreal.
However, City were unable to capitalize on Ronaldo’s absence as chances in the game came at a premium. The best opportunities of the game came in the second half, when substitute Jese headed against the woodwork. City were then indebted to keeper Joe Hart for keeping out Pepe’s point-blank effort. City themselves, didn’t manage an effort on target until a late Kevin De Bryune free-kick was saved by Keylor Navas.
Ronaldo had been rested in Real Madrid’s 3-2 weekend win over Rayo Vallecano, and had been expected to feature at the Etihad stadium, however a simple ‘thumbs down’ from the Portuguese star to the BT Sport pundits confirmed that he would sit this one out. That news would have been welcome in the City dressing room, particularly with City captain Vincent Komapny, being fit and ready to marshal the rearguard.
The hosts pressed the Real Madrid midfield effectively in the first half, primarily through the impressive Fernandinho, however City found themselves rarely able to worry the Madrid back four. City were then left to bemoan the premature removal of David Silva on 41 minutes through injury. The Spanish midfielder was replaced by youngster Kelechi Ihenacho, but the striker who scored twice against stoke at the weekend was unable to affect the score line.
In the second half, the hosts managed to find space for Sergio Aguero to shoot from 20 yards, but the Argentine fired over. The former Athletico Madrid striker endured a frustrating game, with clear-cut chances being few and far between. He remains winless against his former cross-city rivals.
At the other end, Sergio Ramos squandered a free header from a Real Madrid corner when he directed his effort straight at Joe Hart. Real continued to press for a goal as they finished the match stronger than their Manchester counterparts. Jese headed against the bar and Pepe fired his close effort straight at Joe Hart, who had done well to make himself big to keep the effort out. Gareth Bale and Casemiro also came close to breaking the deadlock for Real, before De Bryune’s stoppage-time free-kick was saved.
The result leaves the tie finely poised for the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu. City will perhaps feel that an opportunity was missed to gain a foothold in the tie. The absence of Real Madrid’s most potent attacking threat should have boosted city’s chances. Without Ronaldo, their opponents seemed reluctant to commit men forward.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men will now almost certainly have to score at the Bernabeu on May 4th. Something which no team, other than Real Madrid has managed to do in the Champions League this season.
Northern Ireland have taken a massive step towards qualification for Euro 2016 after a 2-1 win over Finland at Windsor Park.
Kyle Lafferty’s first-half double was enough for the hosts as they held on to record their fourth win in five games in Group F.
Michael O’Neill praised the mentality of the players in recording another victory.
O’Neill said: “I’m delighted. I had drilled into the boys that we needed to stay focused throughout the game.
“Finland came with a plan but yet again we stuck to our game and got a huge win here in front of our supporters.”
The away side started positively, playing possession-based football in defence and midfield but with little end product.
This style of play almost landed Finland in trouble as a simple square ball landed the Finnish defence in trouble and sent Jamie Ward through on goal. The Derby County winger fluffed his lines and sent his shot wide of the target.
It was a let-off for the Finnish but it gave Northern Ireland the impetus that this game was there for the taking.
As we’ve so often seen in the last few games, Lafferty was to be the hero yet again in front of goal for Northern Ireland.
His opener came in the 33rd minute. An Ollie Norwood free-kick was cleared to Niall McGinn and his flick-on header was met by a sweet volley from Lafferty. The sweeping finish found the bottom corner and Windsor Park erupted.
The number of reports of discrimination in English football have risen in the past year to 184.
The anti-discrimination organisation Kick It Out have reported a 35% increase in the period August-December 2014. This compares with the same period in the 2013-2014 football season when there were 136 grievances received by the organisation.
The breakdown of these complaints shows that racism and anti-semitism were the most common forms of abuse recorded.
The complaints received came from every level of English football, from grassroots to premier league, and involved top footballers as well as fans.
At a sweeping majority 60% of the discrimination that was reported originated online, in social media.
While these figures may at first give the impression that football discrimination is on the rise, both the Football Association and Kick It Out are treating these figures as a positive sign. It is believed that the increase in the number of reports of discrimination denotes a growing refusal to accept bigotry in football. Moreover, it is thought that this increase demonstrates that people are less tolerant of prejudice generally and more willing to come forward and complain about incidents.
However, Roisin Wood, the director of Kick It Out, said that she believes these numbers “barely scratch the surface of a widespread problem”.
These figures are released in the same month that the Metropolitan Police are investigating an alleged racist incident involving Chelsea fans in Paris and while the British Transport Police are making inquiries about a separate incident involving Chelsea supporters on a train to Manchester.
Lord Herman Ouseley, Kick It Out chairman, said that “Major improvements have been made over the last 30 years” but that the incident in Paris “reminded people that such things still go on below the radar.”
Lord Ouseley went on to point out that these problems are not solely the responsibility of those in football: “there is a persistent problem, there is prejudice in society, which is being increased by the anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, anti-benefit scroungers drip-drip in politics.”
Manchester United witnessed another defeat on Sunday (26th April) after losing 3-0 to Everton. The match, held at Goodison Park inflicted a second Premier League loss on Louis van Gaal’s side.
While the game ended in defeat for Manchester United, van Gaal must have been glad that he would not suffer the same fate as his predecessor. David Moyes was famously sacked last April, only ten months into his job, following a 2-0 defeat against Roberto Martinez’s team.
While Manchester United went into Sunday’s match as favourites to win, Gary Neville believes that Everton’s win was aided by a clear, well thought out game plan. He said; “Roberto Martinez prides himself on being a possession manager but today he resigned himself to sitting off a little, and playing a little deeper”.
Goals from man-of-the match James McCarthy, John Stones and Kevin Mirallas gained Everton their biggest victory against United since October 1984.
Mark Jardine, a Manchester United supporter was at the match. He said: “They (Manchester United) had the majority of ball possession but Everton counter attacked well. Our defence was bad and Everton got an early lead when they scored in the first five minutes”. He added: “It was all downhill from there for United”.
While supporters of the Red Devils are still behind their team, Louis van Gaal accused his players of complacency. He said: “It is the first time that I have seen our motivation, inspiration and aggression was not so high as the opponent”.
Marouane Fellaini missed a golden opportunity to equalise seven minutes into the game. He blazed from over 20 yards but his presence on the team meant United’s attacking sense was predictable. This was highlighted just before half-time when Everton scored for the second time. At half-time van Gaal changed his approach replacing Fellaini with Radamel Falcao. Juan Mata was also substituted at 63 minutes by Di Maria. Mirallas heightened Manchester United’s misery when he scored at 74 minutes, Everton’s third goal.
The match showed that United need to up their game and the absence of centre midfielder, Michael Carrick exposed their lack of pace up-front.
Is the drought of trophy success that has plagued Arsene Wenger and his team since 2005 about to be sated? This likelihood became a distinct possibility after a tense encounter at Wembley yesterday when Arsenal had to raise their recent lack lustre form to overcome their championship opponents.
Resilient Wigan proved why they were creditable contenders in the FA Cup semi final when they forced yet another premiership team to battle for all of 120 minutes before succumbing to a succession of excellent taken penalties by the Gunners assisted by their outstanding second choice keeper.
It was an anxious, and for the most part, uneventful first half for both teams with Arsenal having the best of a limited number of chances. The best chance of the half fell to Yaya Sanogo after 5 minutes with a header from close range to force a great reflex save from Scott Carson in the Wigan goal.
The face of Latics manager Uwe Rosler was its impassive self as he entered the tunnel at half time but inwardly he must have been very pleased with his team’s first half performance. The strain on Arsene Wenger’s face on the hand was palpable.
The game took a dramatic turn in the 58th minute when Mertesacker brought down McManaman in the box and Gomez converted from the spot. Arsenal, as if suddenly woken from a slumber launched waves of attacks and were rewarded in the 82nd minute when Mertesacker deftly headed in from close range.
The game finished level forcing extra time.
The highlight of extra time was a thunderous shot against the angle of the Wigan post by Oxlade Chamberlain. The game ended all square and Wigan were first to step up to the penalty spot.
Wigan substitute Caldwell’s effort was brilliantly saved by Fabianski.
Arteta shoots and makes no mistake – 1 – 0 Arsenal.
Collison shoots but again Fabianski dives to his left to save.
Arsenal substitute Kallstrom sends Carson the wrong way – 2 – 0 Arsenal.
Beausejour finally scores for Wigan – 2 – 1 Arsenal.
Giroud shoots right – Carson goes left – 3 – 1 Arsenal.
Cazorla puts Arsenal into the FA Cup final – 4 – 2 Arsenal.
Arsenal are now one game away from finally winning some silverware for their trophy cabinet that has maintained its status quo for nine years and which, consequently, has had no additions since Arsenal moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006. Success on the 17th May next against Hull or Sheffield United could however force the custodian of the Arsenal trophy cabinet to finally open it.
Liverpool’s march towards their first league title in twenty-four years showed no signs of slowing down as they overcame Manchester City 3-2 at Anfield.
Goals from Raheem Sterling, Martin Skrtel and Phillipe Coutinho helped Liverpool to a tenth consecutive league victory and left Manchester City with a mountain to climb if they are to lift the Premier League trophy in May.
However, the home side showed no signs of letting their emotions get the better off them as they got off to a flying start. Luis Suarez muscled Gael Clichy off the ball impressively before slipping in Sterling who outfoxed both Hart and Kompany with a sharp turn and placed the ball safely into an empty net.
Suddenly the pre-match tensions and fears dissipated for Liverpool as they hunted down a second, passing the ball neatly and crisply up front to trouble an already rattled City defence. Kompany, who was already struggling for match fitness, and Demichelis struggled to cope with the pace and dynamism of Liverpool’s attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho.
Indeed, Liverpool’s attacking endeavour was further rewarded when Skrtel scored a superb glancing header from a Steven Gerrard corner.
For the first time, Liverpool looked genuinely troubled and they failed to withstand the pressure as Silva engineered another more attacking wizardry as he pulled the ball back for it to hit Glen Johnson and slide past Mignolet at his near post.
The special one has masterminded another special European night. Starting on the wrong side of a 3-1 deficit, Mourinho’s men secured a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba.
Unfortunately, in terms of entertainment, this match, bar the goals and the odd chance, offered little for the neutral. Chelsea were set up just as Mourinho would have wanted, in an imposing 4-2-3-1 formation that was cautious yet calculating.
For their part Paris Saint Germain, missing star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic, played right into the Special One’s hands, keeping their shape with their focus placed on not conceding rather than scoring that vital away goal.
‘Les Parisians’ only real chance in the first half saw Ezequiel Lavezzi put the ball in the back of the net only to see this ‘goal’ ruled out as he had moved a fraction offside.
Chelsea lacklustre first half was embodied in the performance of Eden Hazard, undoubtedly Chelsea’s player of the season so far, he was slow to every ball and was subbed inside the first thirty minutes with a calf strain.
Whilst many inside Stamford Bridge might have been cursing their luck as they saw the Belgian maestro leave the field, it was his replacement Andre Schurrle who gave them reason to hope.
His 31st minute goal came from a throw in as David Luiz flicked the ball on and it was met by Schurrle who rifled into the net. Chelsea could have grabbed their second by half time but Gary Cahill scuffed his shot.
The second half began in much the same fashion with PSG happy to attempt to hold what they had, even when Chelsea hit the crossbar twice in the space of two minutes through, Oscar and Schurrle.
However in the 71st minute PSG looked like they would finally score as Edison Cavani delightfully chested down Yohan Cabaye’s lofted ball, only to fail to keep his shot on target.
The visitors would rue this miss in the 86th minute as Chelsea found their vital second goal. It came, rather fortuitously, via the forgotten man Demba Ba, who poked the deflected ball into the net.
The goal forced PSG to attack but unlike last week a late goal was not forthcoming, with Petr Cech saving well from Marquinhos’ effort as the Blues ensured they advanced to Friday’s draw for the semi-finals.
Derry City were unlucky not to break their duck on Friday night with yet another chance at winning maximum points going begging. It ended nil all as Roddy Collins’ men hosted league champions St. Patrick’s Athletic at the Brandywell.
A goalless draw means a third straight draw at home for the Foylesiders, who will feel hard done by having seen the best chance of the match go begging in the dying embers of a game that at times was ill tempered and short on chances.
Michael Duffy, who recently signed a new contract with the Candystripes, saw a 93rd minute effort tipped over the bar by Pats ‘keeper Brendan Clarke. If such an effort had gone in it would have seen Derry’s fortunes transformed, instead the wait goes on for a first SSE Airtricity Premier League victory.
All in all, honors even seems a fair result. Friday night’s game was an entertaining draw even if it lacked the necessary goals and attacking football most fans at the game would have wanted. City should probably count their blessings as the visitors were denied what looked like a nail-on penalty in the first half. St. Pats striker Christy Fagan was brought down in the Derry penalty area by the towering figure of Ryan McBride only for the referee Paul McLaughlin to wave play on, much to the consternation of the travelling support.
Derry started the game quite brightly but saw that early impetus fade as current league-holders Pats came back with long-range efforts from Chris Forrester and former Derry player Killian Brennen. Both shots parried and caught respectively by the freshly recalled Ger Doherty.
Attacking highlights for the home side were restricted to the wider areas as the game went on with Derry wide men Dean Jarvis and Mark Stewart constantly running at their opposite numbers and attempting to centre the ball to the waiting Rory Patterson. A lot of effort with so little result demoralising an anxious home support.
As the game wore on play opened up somewhat. Derry forcing late corners that almost saw a vital breakthrough, indeed last season’s top goalscorer for the home side, Rory Patterson, should have scored a late winner, but the Derry striker blasted over from 12 yards.
All in all a fair result on the night, with both sides coming away with what will be seen on both sides as a vital point in a long and highly competitive league campaign.
Limavady United under 15’s kicked off their Foyle Cup, Group C, clash with Norwich at the Limavady Showgrounds with a surprisingly hard fought victory.
Many had United well and truly written off before kick-off, with predicted scores of up to 6-0 in favour of the Canaries. It certainly looked to be heading that way in the opening fifteen minutes of the game.
Norwich looked sharp, alert and composed on the ball, with pace to burn on the right and left wings courtesy of Rui Da Costa and Joshua Emmins. Da Costa in particular was a real handful on the right wing with an array of trickery at his disposal.
Norwich controlled the pace of the game with Limavady looking nervous in their surplus moments of possession. Devonte Aransibia and Emerson Mutulala-Sambu simply bossed the midfield area, patiently building up play and stringing together pass after pass.
On the 12th minute Emmins’ pace beat Limavady’s Jack McGonigle, as he played a neat one-two with Henry Pollock only to see his shot brilliantly saved by Limavady’s Tom Hegan.
Moments later Hegan’s heroics were called upon again as Mutulala-Sambu found himself through on goal after a Limavady defensive error. Hegan’s outstretched body flew across the goalmouth and brilliantly deflected Sambu’s powerful effort wide with a strong left fist.
It looked like a matter of time before Limavady would be punished, and a disallowed goal on the 24th minute from Emmins was a warning to Glen McPherson to give his defensive line a shake.
The rest of the half saw United fight hard for possession as Norwich continued to control the pace of the game.
Limavady started the second half like men on a mission. Jack McGonigle began to bomb forward down the right wing, despatching a few great balls into the opposition’s box.
Norwich continued to pose a serious threat down the wings, but for all their possession football, nothing seemed to materialise.
With their tails up, United continued to press. Hassan got more involved on the ball and began to find space much easier, particularly around the edge of the box.
Norwich resulted to fouling out of frustration, a tactic soon to prove costly.
McGonigle was pulled down on the 50th minute from yet another surging run. The referee blew his whistle and Fleming stepped up to dispatch the free kick expertly into the top corner of Gratzer’s net. 1-0 Limavady.
Norwich, shell-shocked, restarted. They began to press forward with Da Costa and Emmins on the wings and Arnsibia bombing through the middle. The Limavady boys were penned in.
A neat one-two on the 55th minute between Kerins and McCammon saw the latter play Arnsibia through on goal. His drilled shot was deflected out of play by a last minute defensive lunge from McPherson.
With a few minutes to play, Norwich went all out in attack but couldn’t break down Limavady’s defensive line with Dillon and Lewis Moore impressing late on with a series of great tackles.
Limavady’s hearts were in their mouths in injury time, as substitute Luke Faulkner was booked for a cynical challenge on Rui Da Costa. Norwich flooded the Limavady penalty area as Aaron Attree lofted in a cross towards the head of substitute Alan Fleming.
The big number 9 leaped and made contact, but couldn’t keep his headed effort down as the ball sailed over the bar to the referee’s final whistle.
Limavady United manager Damien Mullan said, “It’s a fantastic result for the lads. Everyone had us written off before the game started, but we showed what we are all about there this evening.”
You can follow Limavady United’s season on their website.