United replaces stumbling Chelsea at the top
United replaces stumbling Chelsea at the top
Robin van Persie was United’s inspiration against his former club, punishing poor defending in the third minute with a league-high eighth goal of the campaign before Patrice Evra’s header sealed a deserved victory at Old Trafford.
Chelsea’s 10½-week stay at the summit was ended in the driving rain at Liberty Stadium when Spanish winger Pablo Hernandez grabbed an 88th-minute equalizer for Swansea, canceling out Victor Moses’ opener.
Everton conceded in the last minute in a 2-2 draw at Fulham but climbed a place to fourth above Tottenham, which was jeered off after surprisingly losing 1-0 at home to Wigan.
Norwich and Aston Villa moved clear of the bottom three by grinding out 1-0 victories, against Stoke and Sunderland respectively.
Van Persie has settled seamlessly into the United team since his 24 million pound ($38 million) move from Arsenal in August, and he showed his old employers just what they are missing this season.
The prolific Dutchman pounced on a fluffed clearance by Thomas Vermaelen to drive a right-footed shot into the bottom corner from outside the box, although he refused to celebrate the goal having spent the past eight years at Emirates Stadium.
“I had a fantastic time there. I have respect for the fans, the players, the manager and the whole club,” Van Persie said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever played against a former club, so it’s a special day.” Wayne Rooney missed a penalty in first-half injury time after Santi Cazorla was adjudged to have handled the ball, but the England striker made amends by crossing for Evra to nod home the clinching second goal in the 67th.
Jack Wilshere, playing his second game back after 17 months out injured, was sent off for Arsenal two minutes later for picking up a second booking. But the visitors managed a late consolation through Cazorla in stoppage time.
Arsenal stayed sixth on 15 points — the team’s worst start to a Premier league season since Arsene Wenger joined in 1996.
“We had a lot of the ball, but we were not very efficient in our final third or in their final third,” Wenger said. “Then you feel the domination was a bit illusionary — they created more chances and deserved to win the game.” Chelsea hasn’t been headed in the league since Aug. 22, but Hernandez’s low strike means the team has won just one of its last four matches in all competitions.
After two straight draining matches against United — a 3-2 loss in the league and a 5-4 win in the League Cup — Chelsea lacked spark, especially with Juan Mata out injured and captain John Terry serving the final match of his four-game suspension for racially abusing an opponent.
“Mentally and physically, it was very demanding playing two times against United,” said Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo.
“When you are so close to winning away from home, you are always disappointed.” Tottenham lost touch with the leaders by slumping to a lackluster loss to Wigan, leading to the home supporters venting their anger toward the team and manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Ben Watson scored the winner in the 56th minute for Wigan, which could easily have won by a bigger margin. Having lost to Chelsea in the league two weeks ago, Spurs have lost back-to-back Premier League games at White Hart Lane for the first time in four years.
“The performance was more pleasing than the result today,” Wigan manager Roberto Martinez said. “It was a perfect performance.” Steve Sidwell scored Fulham’s last-gasp equalizer against Everton, pegging the visitors back after a double from Marouane Fellaini had helped them recover from conceding an early own goal by goalkeeper Tim Howard.
“It feels like a defeat ... we’re as sick as it gets,” Everton manager David Moyes said.
Bradley Johnson grabbed Norwich’s winner at home to Stoke, extending the team’s unbeaten run to three matches, and Gabriel Agbonlahor was Villa’s scorer at Sunderland.
Saudi Arabia set to face Mario Balotelli after striker earns Italy recall
- Saudi Arabia play Italy on May 28
- Balotelli set to play for the Azzurri for the first time in four years
TURIN: New Italy coach Roberto Mancini on Saturday recalled Nice striker Mario Balotelli to the Azzurri fold for three upcoming friendlies as he begins the job of reviving Italian fortunes.
Mancini was appointed last Monday, six months after Gian Piero Ventura was sacked following the four-time world champions’ failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
The 53-year-old, who left Zenit Saint Petersburg to take the job, unveiled his first 30-man squad for matches against Saudi Arabia, France and the Netherlands.
Mancini takes charge of his first game against the Green Falcons in St. Gallen, Switzerland on May 28.
As expected, the 27-year-old Balotelli was included for the first time in nearly four years.
Balotelli has scored 13 goals in 33 appearances for the Azzurri but has not played international football since Italy’s humiliating group-stage exit from the 2014 World Cup.
Balotelli was last called up by coach Antonio Conte in November 2014 but did not play because of injury.
He has now been given another chance by Mancini, who coached him at both Inter Milan and Manchester City.
Balotelli has resurrected his career since joining Nice in 2016 after less successful spells with AC Milan and Liverpool, scoring 26 goals in all competitions this season, without any of the bad-boy behavior that previously dogged his career.
Italy are not spoilt for choice with forward so Balotelli’s success with Nice could not be overlooked by Mancini.
As a youngster, Balotelli was part of the Inter side coached by Jose Mourinho that won the Champions League in 2010.
He also won three Serie A titles with Inter before switching to Manchester City and helping them claim the Premier League crown in 2012.
Meanwhile, Mancini’s squad was without goalkeeping great Gianluigi Buffon who this week confirmed he would not play again for the national side.
The presence of Buffon — who holds the record for Italy caps with 176 — proved controversial during friendlies in March with his critics wanting him to move over for a younger generation.
In his absence, Mancini has recalled Salvatore Sirigu, who has had a successful season since joining Torino, alongside AC Milan teenager Gianluigi Donnarumma and Genoa’s Mattia Perin.
Among the veterans there was no call-up for Roma captain Daniele De Rossi, with Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini absent through injury.
The captain’s armband is expected to go to AC Milan center-back Leonardo Bonucci.
Five players have been given a first call-up — Chelsea left-back Emerson Palmieri, Torino midfielder Daniele Baselli, Crotone midfielder Rolando Mandragora, Sassuolo striker Domenico Berardi and Atalanta defender Mattia Caldara.
Along with defenders Alessio Romagnoli and Daniele Rugani, midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini and strikers Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi are among the promising youngsters who are expected to put Italy back on the road to victory.
The squad will meet for the first time at the Italian national team’s training camp at Coverciano near Florence on May 23.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Torino);
Defenders: Leonardo Bonucci (AC Milan), Mattia Caldara (Atalanta), Domenico Criscito (Zenit St. Petersburg/RUS), Danilo D’Ambrosio (Inter Milan), Mattia De Sciglio (Juventus), Emerson Palmieri Dos Santos (Chelsea/ENG), Alessio Romagnoli (AC Milan), Daniele Rugani (Juventus), Davide Zappacosta (Chelsea/ENG)
Midfielders: Daniele Baselli (Torino), Giacomo Bonaventura (Milan), Bryan Cristante (Atalanta), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Jorginho (Napoli), Rolando Mandragora (Crotone), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma)
Forwards: Mario Balotelli (Nice/FRA), Andrea Belotti (Torino), Domenico Berardi (Sassuolo), Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus), Federico Chiesa (Fiorentina), Ciro Immobile (Lazio), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Matteo Politano (Sassuolo), Simone Verdi (Bologna), Simone Zaza (Valencia/ESP)