Sergio Aguero downs Spurs to lift Man City spirits

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Hero-Kun: Serhio Aguero.

Sergio Aguero lifted Manchester City’s spirits as the Argentine’s fine finish clinched a 1-0 win at Tottenham on the day his side’s reign as Premier League champions came to an end.

– Eden Hazard storms Crystal Palace to give Chelsea title
– LA LIGA: Ancelotti stands by misfiring Ronaldo
– VIDEO: Wenger feels Mourinho should have more respect

Manuel Pellegrini’s team kicked off just half an hour after Chelsea were crowned champions with a victory over Crystal Palace and, given the lacklustre nature of their title defence, it would have been little surprise to see City turn in a disinterested display at White Hart Lane.

But Aguero’s predatory instincts came to the rescue as he netted the first half winner that kept City in second place and effectively guaranteed their berth in next season’s Champions League.

City’s third successive win moved them nine points clear of fifth placed Liverpool with a vastly superior goal difference and only three games remaining.

While City were able to restore some pride in north London, Tottenham’s eighth defeat in their last nine encounters with the Eastlands outfit all but ended their own bid for a top four finish, leaving Mauricio Pochettino’s side seven points behind fourth placed Manchester United.

With Chelsea’s title party in full swung across London, Pellegrini’s men badly needed a dynamic performance to raise morale after limply surrendering their crown.

But Eric Dier had a golden opportunity to give Tottenham the lead with less than two minutes played when the defender planted his header wide from no more than five yards out.

With 20 league goals to his name, Tottenham striker Harry Kane was only one behind Aguero in the race to finish as the Premier League’s top scorer.

Kane should have drawn level with Aguero before five minutes were on the clock after woeful City defending allowed him to race unopposed onto Erik Lamela’s pass, but the England international dragged his hurried shot wide.

After that shambolic opening, City settled and Aguero smashed a volley narrowly past the far post.

Aguero should have punished a rush of blood from Hugo Lloris when the Tottenham goalkeeper sprinted out of his area in a failed attempt to intercept Pablo Zabaleta’s long pass.

The ball bounced through to Aguero but before he could take aim at the empty net he lost his balance with Tottenham defender Federico Fazio in pursuit, sparking an unsuccessful penalty appeal.

Aguero had pounded the turf in frustration when he was denied that spot-kick, but he was soon celebrating a typically clinical piece of finishing in the 29th minute.

Prompted by City goalkeeper Joe Hart’s quick clearance from a Tottenham corner, David Silva advanced unchecked before delivering a fine pass to pick out Aguero’s astute run and, with Tottenham’s defenders failing to pick him up, the Argentina forward had time and space to blast his shot high into the roof of the net.

Aguero’s fifth goal in his last four appearances was nearly followed by a much rarer strike for City team-mate Fernandinho, who saw his effort cleared off the line by Danny Rose.

Another quick City break exposed Tottenham’s fragile rearguard again, but Fernandinho fired wide and Pochettino’s side would have been level before half-time if Hart hadn’t made an excellent stop to deny Ryan Mason.

City’s costly penchant for suicidal defending has haunted them this season and they were fortunate to escape on the hour when Martin Demichelis inexplicably let the ball run through to Kane, whose shot was blocked by Hart.

Aguero scuffed wide from close-range after losing his balance as he rounded Lloris, who then had to produce a leaping save to keep out Aleksandar Kolarov’s fierce drive.

The departure of injured City substitute Samir Nasri just moments after he came on amused Tottenham fans who still dislike the former Arsenal star.

But the home supporters didn’t get the last laugh as Hart’s excellent saves denied Paulinho and then Lamela as Tottenham failed to land a late equaliser.

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Eden Hazard storms Crystal Palace to give Chelsea title

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Matchwinner: Eden Hazard.

Eden Hazard scored the only goal as Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 1-0 at a festive, sun-soaked Stamford Bridge on Sunday to claim their first Premier League title since 2010.

– LA LIGA: Ancelotti stands by misfiring Ronaldo
– VIDEO: Wenger feels Mourinho should have more respect

The Belgian headed in after Julian Speroni had parried his self-won penalty late in the first half to register his 19th goal of the season and carry Jose Mourinho’s side over the line with three games to spare.

Chelsea moved 16 points clear of outgoing champions Manchester City, who visit Tottenham Hotspur later on Sunday, and Arsenal, who travel to Hull City on Monday, meaning they can no longer be caught.

The title success, the club’s fifth in total, follows Chelsea’s triumph over Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup final and sets the seal on a campaign they have dominated from start to finish.

The title-clinching win was characteristic of Chelsea’s gritty recent displays and it gave Mourinho the first league crown of his second stint at the club, as well as the eighth of his managerial career.

The Portuguese sent his side out with a succinct message in the match-day programme — “Three more points to be champions. Let’s do it together.” — but it took the hosts a while to get going.

With Didier Drogba dropping deep up front, Chelsea struggled to get in behind the visitors, who posed a threat on the break through the quicksilver dribbling of left-winger Wilfried Zaha.

When Chelsea did began to create chances, they found Palace goalkeeper Speroni in jittery form.

The Argentine was obliged to save at his near post from Nemanja Matic after failing to claim a Cesc Fabregas free-kick, while another set-piece saw him unconvincingly fumble away a shot from Drogba.

It required a trademark, full-bodied block from John Terry, meanwhile, to prevent Jason Puncheon giving Palace the lead, the ball flicking away off the Chelsea captain’s arm.

But on the cusp of half-time, Hazard, as he has done so often this season, supplied the breakthrough.

Despite minimal contact, James McArthur was adjudged to have impeded the Belgium forward in the penalty area as he burst onto Willian’s back-heel.

Hazard took the penalty himself and although Speroni blocked his initial shot — the first time he has failed to score from the spot in 10 attempts in the Premier League — he followed in to head home.

Chelsea’s fans spent part of the second half addressing odes to their club’s former stars, but Thibaut Courtois had to save decisively from Zaha before the champagne could be uncorked.

Palace have now lost three games in succession, but with survival long since secure, even their fans left the Bridge with smiles on their faces.

Chelsea captain John Terry said his side had ended five years of hurt after they secured the Premier League title with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday.

“This is what I live for. It’s been five years since we’ve won it,” Terry told Sky Sports in an on-pitch interview at a jubilant Stamford Bridge.

“The first one (in 2005) was special and when you go four or five years without it, it hurts. So I’ll really enjoy it today.”

Chelsea prevailed when Eden Hazard, after seeing his penalty saved by Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni, followed up to head in on the stroke of half-time.

Victory enabled Jose Mourinho’s side to establish an unassailable, 16-point, lead at the top of the table and claim a first English crown since 2010.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” added Terry, who has led Chelsea to four of their five English league titles.

“We’ve worked so hard, so to get over the line is great. It was a bit nervous. They (Palace) are a good side and made it difficult. 

“Thankfully, Eden got the goal and we won the game.”

Hazard, recently voted player of the year by England’s Professional Footballers’ Association, said: “We deserve to be champions, and everyone at Chelsea is happy today. 

“The manager (Mourinho) gives me a lot of feelings and I can play my best football on the pitch which is the most important thing,” added Hazard.

“I know the team need me and a player like me. I am here to score, and this season all the players did well.”

Veteran Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, like Mourinho in his second spell at Stamford Bridge, said: “This one is sweet. Chelsea will always be my number one club. 

“It’s my third time to win it in front of the fans and it’s amazing.”

Meanwhile Terry also spared a thought for his former England defensive partner Rio Ferdinand, whose wife, Rebecca Ellison, died of breast cancer at the age of 34 on Friday.

“On behalf of myself and everyone at Chelsea, we send our condolences to Rio Ferdinand and his family,” said Terry, who was banned for four games for racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother, Anton, in 2012.

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Same old story for improving Juventus

Adam Digby 3/05/2015
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Juventus have been dominant in Serie A.

Thanks to Saturday’s victory over Sampdoria, Juventus claimed their fourth consecutive Serie A title, continuing to exert complete dominance over their opponents on the peninsula. Clinching the Scudetto with four games to go – and with the likes of Inter, Napoli and Milan all struggling to keep pace – this run shows little sign of slowing in the immediate future.

– Serie A: Marotta praises Allegri influence at Juve
– La Liga: Ronaldo hat-trick inspires Real Madrid win
– EPL round-up: West Brom topple poor Man Utd
– FOLLOW: Football scores around the world LIVE

It is a predictable triumph, and yet it was seen very differently last summer. Antonio Conte’s shock resignation on the second day of pre-season training rocked the club to its core, with many believing that would allow AS Roma to close the gap. The Giallorossi had enjoyed a fine 2013-14, and it took a new record of 102 points from the Old Lady to hold them off, with Rudi Garcia’s side expected to be even stronger in their second season.

A day after Conte turned his back on the club, those doubts intensified as Max Allegri was appointed as his successor, the coach who had been dumped by AC Milan just five months earlier as the San Siro giants imploded. With Alvaro Morata, Roberto Pereyra and Patrice Evra as the only real additions to the squad, nobody could have predicted what followed in Turin, the new man overseeing a remarkable campaign in his very first year.

Using an intelligent mix of experience, tactical nous and excellent man-management skills, Allegri has led the club to not only the league title, but also to the final of the Coppa Italia and a place in the last four of the Champions League. That is a far cry from last year’s group stage exit, and those accomplishments are testament to just how good the Bianconeri have been over what has been a truly testing season.

The team initially continued just as they had ended the previous year, employing the 3-5-2 framework which had been at the heart of everything positive they had accomplished under Conte. Yet when the side faltered in October, Allegri quickly changed to a more orthodox four-man defence to use what he labelled a “4-3-and then we’ll see” formation. It paid immediate dividends, as Juventus smashed no fewer than seven goals past Parma in only the second game after the switch, and it was clear the side were playing with much greater freedom than they had previously.

The coach of course deserves huge credit for the way he has somehow managed to improve upon what Conte had built, but the players too have made significant strides forward. Leonardo Bonucci has matured into a genuine leader in defence, and has also weighed in with important goals against Roma, Fiorentina and Lazio. Claudio Marchisio – who made his 300th appearance for the club last week – became adept in Andrea Pirlo’s creative role whenever the bearded genius was absent, with the attack perhaps making the most marked improvement.

Netting twice against Fiorentina in midweek, Tevez surpassed last season’s tally of nineteen goals with five games to spare and has also scored six times in the Champions League, ending a drought which stretched all the way back to his time at Manchester United. Speaking in an interview with El Pais earlier this year, the striker stated his belief that the coaching change had benefitted him greatly.

“With Allegri, I have more freedom of movement than under Conte. Under the previous Coach, we played with two strikers, in fixed positions and close together,” Tevez explained to the Argentinean newspaper. “Under Allegri we only have a fixed position when we don’t have the ball, but we’re more free to play the way we want to play when we attack. Conte was demanding, a winner. You couldn’t relax for a second with him, either in training or during the game.

“Winning was everything for him, there was nothing else. Allegri is more relaxed, he gives us a rest, especially after a victory.”

It is perhaps that final sentence which sums up this season for the Bianconeri, as the former Milan boss has clearly allowed his players to coast at times, with recent losses to Parma and Torino being prime examples.

Previously, the club would have fielded a full strength side in each and every game possible, never seemingly aware of the detrimental effect that would have over time. Allegri has managed the challenge of competing on multiple fronts much better, and Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Real Madrid – their first semi-final appearance since 2003 – is testament to that ability.

Juventus are champions of Italy once again, but this time it’s different.

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