Chelsea, Leicester losses open up Champions League chase

West Ham United’s Andriy Yarmolenko scores their third goal in West Ham’s 3-2 Premier League victory over Chelsea on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 July 2020

Chelsea, Leicester losses open up Champions League chase

  • Man United and Wolverhampton are only 2 points behind Chelsea with 6 games remaining

LONDON: With Leicester and Chelsea both losing, the race for European spots is heating up in the Premier League.

Leicester once looked certain of returning to the Champions League, but is now winless in four games after a 2-1 loss to Everton on Wednesday. Only Chelsea’s 3-2 loss at West Ham kept Leicester in third place — ahead of Frank Lampard’s side by one point.

Manchester United and Wolverhampton are only two points behind Chelsea with six games remaining of a season that resumed two weeks ago after the three-month pandemic-enforced break.

Even north London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham will have renewed — if fainter — hopes of returning to Europe’s
elite competition.

After beating last-place Norwich 4-0, Arsenal moved within six points of United in fifth place, which will secure a Champions League spot if Manchester City’s two-season European ban
is upheld.

 

Leicester slump

Four years after its shock run to the title, Leicester had been enjoying another standout season. Until January at least.

When the Foxes beat Newcastle on New Year’s Day, they were 15 points clear of sixth place. Now they are only three in front of Wolverhampton.

Leicester has only won two of its 11 league games since Jan. 1, with five losses.

The latest came after Richarlison struck 10 minutes in and Gylfi Sigurdsson doubled Everton’s lead six minutes later with a penalty. Kelechi Iheanacho’s second half-goal couldn’t spark a Leicester recovery.

“How we have performed for the best part of this season has got us into a strong position,” Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said. “Our form hasn’t been the best for a period now but we still have it in our hands to achieve what would be a dream for us, getting into the top four. But we can only get that if the performance is right.”

 

West Ham boost

West Ham turned around a night of frustration against Chelsea to seal a victory that moved the side three points clear of the relegation zone.

Tomas Soucek was denied an opener for offside after a lengthy VAR review. But his goal from another corner did stand in first half stoppage time to cancel out a penalty converted by Willian after Christian Pulisic was tripped.

Michail Antonio put the hosts in front at the start of the second half and Willian looked like recovering a point for Chelsea when he netted for a second time in the
72nd minute.

But Andriy Yarmolenko completed a counterattack to end a run of three successive losses since before the season was suspended.

It ended Chelsea’s three-match winning run in the league.

“We had an opportunity to move third,” Chelsea manager Frank Lampard. “If there’s moments when you switch off you are going to encourage teams on. It’s been there. I’m very aware of it. The players then have to show that extra mentality, that extra bit.”

 

Aubameyang double

Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was gifted two goals by Norwich to end a four-game run without scoring. The captain also set up Granit Xhaka’s first goal of the campaign and Cedric Soares grabbed Arsenal’s fourth on his injury-delayed debut from the bench.

With 50 Premier League goals in 79 appearances, Aubameyang is the fastest Arsenal player to reach a half-century.

Now manager Mikel Arteta hopes he will sign a new contract beyond next season.

“A player that is able to score as many goals as he’s done in that short space of time tells you everything about the importance he has for us,” Arteta said.

Bournemouth missed a chance to climb out of the relegation zone after a 4-1 loss to Newcastle extended the winless run to seven games.

A club-record 19th loss in a top-division season was inflicted by goals from Dwight Gayle and Sean Longstaff in the first half and substitutes Miguel Almiron and Valentino Lazaro after the break.

Bournemouth remains a point from safety in next-to-last place.

 


Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

Updated 20 October 2020

Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

  • Barca have not won since 2015, but since then have never embarked on a new campaign amid so much disarray

MADRID: Despite managing to hang onto Lionel Messi, Barcelona begin its Champions League campaign with reduced expectations after one of their worst seasons in years.
The Catalan club appears to lack its confidence from previous seasons following an embarrassing elimination to Bayern Munich and a troubled off-season in which it nearly lost its talisman.

“Knowing what happened recently, we are not the top favorite,” coach Ronald Koeman said on Monday ahead of the team's debut in this season's competition against Hungarian club Ferencvaros. “But we are a team that can go far.”

Koeman arrived to put Barcelona back on track shortly after the 8-2 collapse against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which capped their first season without a title since 2007-08.

“Barcelona always plays to win titles, in the league and in Europe, but there are other strong teams,” Koeman said.

Barcelona have not  won the Champions League since 2015, but since then they had never embarked on a new campaign in the competition amid so much disarray.

The club avoided losing Messi after he said he wanted to leave, but it continued to endure political turmoil and even financial difficulties. President Josep Bartomeu is facing a censure motion that could force him to leave his post before the end of the year.

Koeman was given the task of revamping the first team, and he quickly got rid of veterans such as Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic, but the club failed to bring in any of the players he wanted in the transfer window.

Koeman said Messi is fine despite scoring just once so far this season.

“Maybe his performance could be better, but I see him happy,” Koeman said. “I see him training well and focused. I have nothing to complain about him in that sense.”

He said “a bit of bad luck” has played a role in keeping the Argentina star from scoring more goals so far. Koeman also downplayed criticism of Antoine Griezmann for his recent poor performances, though he admitted that “everyone in the attack” can improve.

Barcelona opened the Spanish league with two convincing wins under Koeman, but then it drew 1-1 with Sevilla at home and lost 1-0 at Getafe on Saturday.

Hungarian champions Ferencvaros return to the Champions League for the first time since 1995. They needed to get through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage.

The other Group G teams are Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv.

“We want to start with the right foot,” Koeman said. “We want to win the match and gain tranquility.”