West Bromwich Albion dealt Manchester United's hopes of automatic Champions League qualification a serious blow with a smash-and-grab 1-0 victory at Old Trafford on Saturday.
– #Quiz360: Saturday – WIN Real Madrid 2014/15 shirt
– LA LIGA: Ancelotti stands by misfiring Ronaldo
West Brom took a 64th-minute lead when Chris Brunt's free-kick cannoned into the net off team-mate Jonas Olsson and goalkeeper Boaz Myhill preserved their advantage by saving a Robin van Persie penalty. It meant that United fell to a third consecutive Premier League defeat for the first time since December 2001, following previous losses at Chelsea and Everton.
Victory would have provisionally taken Louis van Gaal's side into second place, but they were left two points below both Manchester City and Arsenal, having played a game more than the former and two more than the latter. With only three games left to play, it leaves United struggling to avoid finishing in fourth place, which would oblige them to enter next season's Champions League in the play-off round.
Bottom club Burnley, promoted last season, lost 1-0 at West Ham United, who prevailed through a 24th-minute Mark Noble penalty after visiting defender Michael Duff had been sent off for a foul on Cheikhou Kouyate.
QPR are only a point better off following a 2-1 defeat at Liverpool that took place against a sombre backdrop following the death of Rebecca Ellison, the wife of QPR defender Rio Ferdinand, from breast cancer. With players from both teams sporting black armbands, Liverpool took a 19th-minute lead through Philippe Coutinho. Leroy Fer equalised with a volley from a Joey Barton corner in the 73rd minute, before Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard saw a penalty saved by former England colleague Rob Green. But the momentum swung back in the hosts' favour when Nedum Onuoha was sent off for a second bookable offence and Gerrard atoned for his penalty blunder by heading home an 87th-minute winner.
Sunderland moved in the opposite direction after Jordi Gomez scored two penalties in a 2-1 win at home to Southampton, who replied through Sadio Mane and had James Ward-Prowse sent off. The victory left Dick Advocaat's side a point below fourth-bottom Leicester City with a game in hand.
Aston Villa likewise bolstered their chances of avoiding the drop as Christian Benteke took his tally to 11 goals in nine games with a brace in a 3-2 win over Everton. Tom Cleverley also scored for Villa, with Romelu Lukaku and Phil Jagielka hitting back for Everton, as Tim Sherwood's side preserved their two-point cushion over the bottom three.
Leicester enhanced their survival hopes with a one-sided 3-0 home win over flatlining Newcastle United, with Leonardo Ulloa scoring twice and captain Wes Morgan also finding the net. Newcastle finished the game with nine men after defenders Mike Williamson and Daryl Janmaat were both sent off for two bookable offences. Williamson's second booking was for a wild touchline lunge on Jamie Vardy and manager John Carver accused the centre-back of being sent off deliberately.
Elsewhere, Jefferson Montero and Ki Sung-yeung scored late goals as Swansea City won 2-0 at home to Stoke City, who had Marc Wilson sent off.
With four games separating his table-topping team from the title, Luis Enrique insists Barcelona are only focusing on what they have to do rather than worrying about the threat from Real Madrid.
The Catalans travel to bottom-placed Cordoba this afternoon knowing that Madrid face a stiff examination against Sevilla later in the day, with the distinct possibility of Barca’s challenge being boosted by their nearest rivals dropping points.
Enrique is philosophical about that prospect, however, saying: “If we win all our games, it doesn’t matter what everyone else does.
“Obviously I would prefer Madrid to drop points. And I would prefer to have won the league title 15 games ago. But we can only worry about our own games, which are independent of anyone else. There is a league title at stake and the players know that.”
— Sextuple (@BarcaStat) May 1, 2015
Today’s encounter is even more significant for hosts Cordoba, who will be relegated with anything less than a victory.
The Andalusian team, who were promoted through the play-offs at the end of last season, have only won three league games all season – most recently in January.
Cordoba’s dire form is illustrated by their statistics of just two points gained and six goals scored from their last 15 league encounters, but Enrique believes they will be determined to go down in a blaze of glory.
“They are in big trouble and that can have a liberating effect,” he added. “I am convinced it will be tough and we will go into the game not thinking about where they are in the table.
“We know that when the first whistle blows, there is no credit in the bank. Every victory has to be earned.”
Today’s match is Barca’s last before their eagerly-anticipated Champions League clash with Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp on Wednesday, and Enrique is not concerned by the fact that Bayern – with the Bundesliga title already won – can already fully focus on their European endeavours.
“It’s neither an advantage nor disadvantage for us,” he said. “It means we will be already fully awake.”
Enrique has signalled his intention to take Cordoba with all seriousness by naming a full-strength squad, leaving behind only fringe players such as Douglas, Martin Montoya and Sergi Roberto.
That suggests the Barca coach is intent upon focusing his core players together for this pivotal stage of the season.
“We can’t stop,” he said. “The goal for Barca is always to win trophies. We have not done that yet but we are in the position to do it. This is a marathon and we’re coming into the final straight in good shape.”
Carlo Ancelotti has backed Cristiano Ronaldo to return to the goal trail and doesn’t understand the criticism of the Portuguese superstar.
Ronaldo has failed to score in his three last games and was visibly frustrated by his failure to find the target in Wednesday’s victory over lowly Almeria despite nine attempts at goal, with fans also whistling the 30-year-old.
But he is still this season’s leading scorer in La Liga with 39 – one more than Lionel Messi – and Ancelotti said he is baffled by any criticism aimed at the Portuguese, especially from the club’s fans.
Cristiano vs Sevilla: 12 games 18 goals 1.5 goal/games pic.twitter.com/Xxmvq6pf1d
— Cristiano Ronaldo (@CRonaldo_indo) May 2, 2015
“I don’t understand the Bernabeu whistling Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Ancelotti. “If he has scored so many goals this season, it’s because he has the personality that he always wants to improve. That’s why he has scored so many goals for such a long time.”
Madrid could certainly use Ronaldo at his best tonight as they travel to face a Sevilla team protecting a remarkable 14-month unbeaten record at home.
Unai Emery’s dynamic side have played 34 games at the Sanchez Pizjuan without suffering a single defeat since they lost to city rivals Real Betis last March, and they recently held Barcelona to a thrilling 2-2 draw thanks to an impressive comeback.
The Andalusians’ outstanding home form has propelled them into the thick of the race for a Champions League spot, currently level on points with Valencia in the battle for fourth place, and also sent them through to the semifinals of the Europa League.
And having suffered a damaging 2-1 defeat against Sevilla towards the end of last season, Ancelotti does not need reminding how dangerous they are.
“We have to play as well as possible,” he added. “It’s a very tough match against a team who particularly at home are really strong.
“It will be a really intense, demanding game. They are on a very, very good run and we will need to be at our best to win.”
One player always in the spotlight against Sevilla is Sergio Ramos, who started his career with the Andalusian club.
And Ancelotti emphasised how highly he regards the centre back as he described Ramos as the “most complete” defender he has ever worked with.
“There are defenders with extraordinary technical qualities, others who are focused and have great defensive ability,” he said. “Fabio Cannavaro was fantastic at marking. Franco Baresi had personality and the ability to lead the defensive line. But Ramos is the most complete. He has a bit of everything.”
Sevilla coach Emery admits tonight’s match is just part of what is an exciting end of the season for his side. Emery said: “The greatest satisfaction is the group. Everyone wants to write their name in Sevilla history. Every game is special.
“We will enjoy Saturday. We know it will be difficult to win but we will try to do it.”