We were treated to a packed midweek of football with full rounds of league fixtures featuring title deciders and relegation six-pointers, as well as some continental knockout action. Here are the five biggest matches and results:
🏴 England: Manchester City 4-1 Arsenal
As we firmly entered the final straight of the Premier League season, it was time for a title decider. Manchester City hosted league leaders Arsenal, whose five-point lead was undermined by the fact that City had two games in hand.
Their lead had been slowly reducing in recent weeks, as three straight draws in the league against Liverpool, West Ham United and Southampton took away all their momentum.
Those results meant that another draw here would be a decent result for the hosts, who would still have the title in their hands if they won all their remaining fixtures.
But Man City did not come to play for a draw. Pep Guardiola made several tweaks to his usual system in an attempt to give his side the best shot at winning.
He moved away from the 3-2-4-1 shape in possession to more of a straightforward 2-4-1-3, which featured Kevin De Bruyne as the number ten ahead of Rodri and İlkay Gündoğan in midfield.
The Belgian maestro proved to be the point of difference in this match, putting in a man-of-the-match performance with two goals and an assist.
His strikes included the opener, which was created when Erling Braut Haaland brought down a long ball for him around halfway, which he carried to the edge of the box before picking out the bottom corner.
His assist was a set-piece delivery which John Stones headed in on the stroke of half-time, and on the other side of it, De Bruyne scored again after some help from Haaland.
The Norwegian centre-forward eventually got his goal in stoppage-time, only after Rob Holding pulled one back for Arsenal.
On the whole, this was an utterly dominant performance from Manchester City which certainly makes them the overwhelming favourites in the title race and a good shout for the treble.
Given the gulf in quality between the sides on the night, Arsenal should be quite proud of themselves for drawing out the title race for so long, but they will surely finish second now.
🏆 UEFA Women’s Champions League: Barcelona 1-1 Chelsea (2-1 on aggregate)
The scheduling of the UWCL semi-finals’ second legs is quite interesting. Arsenal and Wolfsburg are due to play each other on Monday, but Barcelona and Chelsea’s tie ended on Thursday evening.
The second leg was held at Camp Nou, where the hosts brought a one-goal aggregate lead from Stamford Bridge thanks to Caroline Graham Hansen’s wondergoal.
They were certainly the favourites to advance given their record at Camp Nou, but Chelsea did not go down without putting up a fight.
Emma Hayes set her side up in a fairly unique 5-2-1-2 shape out of possession for the first leg, and they were able to restrict Barcelona pretty well. Here, they slightly tweaked it to make it a 5-3-2, achieving a similar result.
In both cases, the downside was that the Blues posed very little attacking threat, and that proved particularly problematic in the second leg when they had a deficit to overturn.
It should be said that Barcelona created some fairly presentable chances and might have been disappointed not to have scored before half-time.
Eventually, they took the lead on the day thanks to Hansen, but Chelsea responded through their Norwegian international, Guro Reiten.
Even after that flurry of activity, Barcelona were able to re-establish some degree of control on the match and hold on to their aggregate lead, reaching their fourth UWCL final in five years.
🏆 CONCACAF Champions League: Tigres 2-1 León
We had continental action in North America too, where the CONCACAF Champions League’s semi-finals got underway with their first legs.
This tournament has unsurprisingly been dominated by Mexican and American teams over the years. Since its inception in the 2008/09 season, there has only been one finalist not based in those countries, and that was Major League Soccer outfit Montréal Impact in 2015. That record will not change this year, as we have an all-Mexican and an all-American semi-final.
In Mexico, we’ve got 2020 champions Tigres against Club León, who have never reached the final of this competition in the past. This is the first time they are facing a fellow Mexican side in the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage, and it might spell the end of their campaign too.
Tigres have the aggregate lead from the first leg after a first-half turnaround. The scoring began with Víctor Dávila’s strike for the visitors in the sixth minute.
A quickfire double on the stroke of half-time is what changed the complexion of the tie, as Sebastián Córdova and Luis Quiñones scored in quick succession.
These two teams will be facing each other twice more in the upcoming week, as the schedule is such that they have a league fixture on Sunday night before the second leg of the Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia: Al Ittihad 2-1 Al Shabab
Most of the mainstream attention on Saudi Arabian football this year has been on Al Nassr and Cristiano Ronaldo, but more eyes should be on the dramatic title race in the league.
Al Nassr are involved as they are currently second, but league leaders Al Ittihad should be spoken of more. They are now six points clear after an incredibly dramatic match against third-placed Al Shabab on Thursday night.
Penalties were the theme of the night. Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opener from the spot for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side in the 18th minute, and Cristian Guanca scored Al Shabab’s eventual equaliser from 12 yards out too. Then, it was time for the late penalty drama.
The visitors had a golden chance to get a winner when Aaron Salem Boupendza stepped up to take a penalty in the 89th minute, but his panenka attempt when straight into the hands of the keeper.
Al Ittihad then suffered a big blow as they had a player sent off in the fifth minute of stoppage time, but 10 minutes later, something absolutely crazy happened.
After all that, Hamdallah stepped up to take a penalty that would win the game. He did this:
That ice-cold spot-kick brought Al Ittihad a crucial step closer to their first league title since 2009, as only six league fixtures remain until the end of the season.
🇪🇸 Spain: Getafe 1-2 Almería
The relegation battle in La Liga is continuing to intensify, and some people are paying with their jobs.
Getafe’s loss to Almería proved to be Quique Sánchez Flores’ last match in charge of the club, as he was sacked the following morning.
A brace from Luis Suárez condemned the Azulones to a third defeat in five straight matches without a win, after which other results saw them sink back into the relegation zone.
As the above chart shows, they did have some good patches of form this season but were never able to consistently get results and kept getting sucked back into the relegation zone.
So, after steering them to safety last season, Sánchez Flores is a casualty of this relegation battle.
Sporting director Rubén Reyes will take over as the interim head coach. His first assignment will be a huge relegation six-pointer against Espanyol, and with just six matches left till the end of the season after that, Getafe must act very fast if they want to find a full-time replacement for Sánchez Flores.
👀 What To Watch Next:
It’s cup finals galore this weekend, and you can watch them all via football live streams online:
🏆 AFC Champions League: Al Hilal vs Urawa Red Diamonds (Saturday, 17:30 PM UTC)
The final of the AFC Champions League sees Al Hilal take on Urawa Red Diamonds for the third time in the last six seasons. The first leg is in Saudi Arabia, at the home of the defending champions.
🇫🇷 France: Nantes vs Toulouse (Saturday, 19:00 PM UTC)
Defending Coupe de France finalists Nantes have made yet another memorable cup run, returning to the Stade de France once again. This time, they will face Toulouse, who last won this trophy in 1957.
🇧🇪 Belgium: KV Mechelen vs Royal Antwerp (Sunday, 12:30 PM UTC)
Neither KV Mechelen nor Royal Antwerp would have been expected to make the Croky Cup final at the start of the season, though they have both recently won the trophy in 2019 and 2020 respectively. They will be gunning for glory again this Sunday.
🇳🇱 Netherlands: Ajax vs PSV Eindhoven (Sunday, 16:00 PM UTC)
Just one week after PSV dealt a major blow to Ajax’s Champions League hopes with a 3-0 win in a league fixture, they will go at it again in the cup final. They faced off in this match last year when the Eindhoven-based outfit emerged victorious.
While it’s not at the same historical level as Ajax vs Feyenoord, PSV’s recent success has made this mixture into a fiesty Dutch rivalry where Ajax are surprisingly the underdogs.
🇦🇹 Austria: Rapid Wien vs Sturm Graz (Sunday, 18:30 PM UTC)
For the first time in a decade, the Austrian cup final does not feature RB Salzburg. Sturm Graz were the only side to deny them the title in that time, and they will face 14-time winners Rapid Wien this time around.
Stats courtesy Transfermarkt.
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