Real Madrid weren’t the only team due to play in the CL this week who tasted victory over the weekend. On Saturday, their opponents, Manchester United, cruised to a 4-0 victory over Norwich thanks to a hat-trick from Japan international Shinji Kagawa and a last minute goal from Wayne Rooney. Now 15 points ahead of their nearest rivals, Manchester City, as well as are on an amazing 18-game unbeaten run in all competitions, the Red Devils will head into Tuesday’s crunch match at Old Trafford brimming with confidence in which surely will be one of the more entertaining clashes of the tournament.
After his meltdown mid-week, “interim” manager Rafa Benitez issued a sort of mea culpa this Friday and claimed that the title didn’t matter to him. In any case, as that drama drags on, Chelsea earned themselves a much needed 3 points over West Brom after new signing Demba Ba finally ended his drought of 7 games without a goal in the 28th minute. The result leaves the Blues in 4th place on 52 points with 10 games remaining, and still in contention for a CL spot next season.
Elsewhere, both Everton and Reading were looking for their first victories in the past few games, with the hosts’ last win being a 2-1 defeat of West Brom at the January. At the end of 90 minutes, goals from Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar, and Kevin Mirallas were enough to help them earn their first win in 4 games (and revenge over their opponents who had snapped their 8 game unbeaten streak with a 2-1 victory back in November). A late consolation goal from Hal Robson-Kanu was not enough to prevent the visitors from succumbing to their 3rd consecutive defeat, who look likely to be back playing in England’s second-tier following their promotion for this season.
Their opponents in the Merseyside derby, Liverpool, also tasted victory this weekend. He seems to garner attention as much for his actual football as he does for some of his other antics, but Luis Suarez will make headlines for the right reasons after his first half hat-trick, completed after Stewart Downing’s 2nd minute header, was enough to help the Reds to a 4-0 rout of yet another relegation candidate, Wigan Athletic.
QPR, who in dead-last place are likely to be playing in the Championship next season, earned their 3rd win of the season in a 2-1 victory over fellow strugglers Southampton. Although the victory, which saw Loïc Rémy and Jay Bothroyd net for the visitors and Gaston Ramirez, who Serie A followers will remember from his days at Bologna, for the hosts, did not help Harry Rednkapp’s men out of the drop zone, it’s certainly a morale-booster for a side that have spent much of their history bouncing around the different levels in English football and will be trying to extend their stay in the top flight for an additional season.
In another of Saturday’s fixtures, Stoke suffered a surprise defeat to West Ham. Although the two sides, prior to the match, were only separated by 3 points and, the hosts had been in a fine run of form at Britannia Stadium, as they had only lost once in league play all season (a 4-0 mauling to Chelsea in the 22nd round of action). The visitors, on the other hand, had only won 2 games on the road all season, with the most recent victory being nearly 4 months ago (a 1-0 defeat of Newcastle in November). But, as is often the case in football–the unexpected is often expected, and an injury-time 1st half goal from Jack Collison was enough to help the Hammers draw level with their opponents on 33 points.
Sunderland and Fulham registered the only draw of Round 28, with the visitors jumping ahead to a 2-0 victory after Dimitar Berbatov’s 16th minute penalty and Sascha Riether’s 34th minute strike. But the hosts fought back through a penalty of their own 3 minutes later after Philippe Senderos was judged to have held Danny Graham back in the box, and Craig Gardner stepped up to pull one back for the Black Cats shortly before half-time. Their comeback was completed in the 70th minute Stéphane Sessègnon completed a counter-attack instigated after Berbatov had failed to find the net in what surely would have earned all three points for the visitors. As a result, sharing the spoils leaves the hosts in 14th, on 30 points, but only 3 points behind 10th-placed Fulham.
The Swansea-Newcastle match looked to be another draw until the last 5 minutes of the game, when Luke Moore took advantage of the a defensive lapse on the part of the Magpies to net the only game of the game. The result helps the Wales-based club into 7th place with 40 points, while Newcastle’s poor away form continues (they’ve only one 1 fixture so far on the road) and now sit in 15th, just 6 points out of the drop zone.
On Sunday, the north London derby finished at 2-1 in favor of Tottenham. Gareth Bale continued his impressive goal-scoring run and grabbed his 10th in 8 games in the 37th minute, and the home side jumped to a 2-0 lead over their city rivals 2 minutes later after Aaron Lennon waltzed around goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. Although Arsenal pulled one back through Per Mertesacker 6 minutes into the 2nd half, it was not enough to overturn the deficit and the Spurs, who have yet to lose a league game in 2013, continue their quest to play CL football next season by climbing into 3rd place. The Gunners, on the other hand, now rest in 5th on 47 points and may find CL football hard to come by next season.
Finally, Manchester City ensured that although the PL title will not be celebrated on their side of Manchester come May, they will still have another shot at playing CL football (and hopefully doing better) next season. A solitary strike from Carlos Tevez in the dying moments of the first half was enough to earn Roberto Mancini’s men against Aston Villa on Monday.