Football Wrap: Rampant Lukaku, Barca hunt down Madrid

Eden Hazard’s exquisite strike inspired Premier League leaders Chelsea to a 3-1 victory over Arsenal that shattered their rivals’ title challenge on Saturday.

Belgian winger Hazard left a trail of defenders in his wake to double Chelsea’s lead in the 53rd minute at Stamford Bridge.

Marcos Alonso had opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a contentious effort as the Chelsea defender clattered into Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin before heading home.

Cesc Fabregas rubbed salt into Arsenal’s wounds in the 85th minute when the former Gunners midfielder chipped into the empty net after a woeful miskick from ex-Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

Olivier Giroud’s stoppage-time goal was no consolation for third placed Arsenal, who trail Chelsea by 12 points with 14 games remaining.

At the KCOM Stadium, Liverpool fell behind against Hull City in the 44th minute when Alfred N’Diaye took advantage of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet’s poor handling to bag a debut goal.

Jurgen Klopp’s side were finished off in the 84th minute when on-loan Everton striker Oumar Niasse raced clear to boost third bottom Hull’s survival bid.

Jermain Defoe’s double helped Sunderland to a 4-0 hammering of fellow Premier League relegation battlers Crystal PalaceĀ and left their former manager and now Palace handler Sam Allardyce plenty to think about.

Romelu Lukaku was simply unstoppable as the Belgium striker scored four times in Everton‘s 6-3 thrashing of Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday.

Lukaku struck after just 31 seconds at Goodison Park and Ronald Koeman’s team took full advantage of the early boost.

The 23-year-old’s quick-fire effort set the stage for a blizzard of goals as James McCarthy doubled Everton’s lead and Lukaku pounced again before half-time.

Josh King’s brace gave Bournemouth hope, but Lukaku hit two more in the closing stages to cap his memorable day.

Radamel Falcao scored a second-half brace as Monaco defeated Nice 3-0 on Saturday to carve open a three-point lead ahead of their Cote d’Azur rivals at the top of Ligue 1.

Lionel Messi struck another trademark free-kick as Barcelona moved to within a one point of La Liga leaders Real Madrid with a 3-0 win over Athletic BilbaoĀ .

Bayern Munich left the door open for second-placed RB Leipzig to trim their lead in the Bundesliga to one point after being held to a 1-1 draw by Schalke.

Robert Lewandowski’s deft chip gave Bayern an early lead in Munich before Schalke defender Naldo drilled home a free-kick on 13 minutes to level the scores.

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IN PICTURES: Top 10 free-kick specialists

Think of the best free-kick takers, and a few obvious names come to mind.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo would top most fans’ lists, while players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Neymar would most likely feature. Christian Eriksen has gained a reputation as one of the best in the Premier League as well.

Yet none of these players are among Europe’s best. According to a Squawka list compiled based on free-kick conversion rate (goals scored versus shots taken) over the last five years, the names mentioned above aren’t even in the top 20.

Unlike many lists regarding the best of Europe, the Premier League fares well in this one, with four players in the top 10, including Alexis Sanchez and Juan Mata, while there’s only one La Liga-based player.

There’s a surprise name at the top, however. View our gallery above to find out!

Who’s your favourite free-kick taker? Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, usingĀ #360fans on TwitterĀ or getting in touchĀ via Facebook.

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From Lampard to Garcia: When goal-line technology was needed

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Controversial goals and no-goals.

Luis Suarez has often been in the spotlight for misconduct on the pitch, but when Barcelona travelled south to Seville, his dissentĀ was somewhat justified.

The CatalansĀ salvaged a draw against Real Betis on Sunday with one particular incidentĀ steeped in controversy.

Footage showedĀ that Jordi Alba had bundled the ball over the line two minutes after Betis opened the scoring in the 75th minute. However, the goal was disallowed, much to Suarez and Barcelona’s frustration.

The decision has been widely criticised, with the Catalan media quick to call outĀ “the colossal holdup”.

Recognising the gravity of the situation, the Spanish FA has vowed to introduce technology in league matches by 2018.

Here, we look back at the instances when the lack of goal-line technology has let the sport down.

Sulley Muntari

Back in 2012, all AC Milan required was a win at the San Siro for a chance to displace Juventus as Serie A champions. It seemed the night was going in favour of theĀ RossoneriĀ when Nocerino’s deflected shot bamboozled Gianluigi Buffon before finding its way into the net.

However, the most contested moment of the match had the home crowd livid – Urby Emanuelson delivers a cross met by the Muntari’s head.

The ball crossed the goal-line by 12 inches before the Juventus keeper quickly pulled the ball back into play. At first, the referee awarded the goal but his assistant linesman was not in agreement. Cries of jubilation turned into anger, as spectators at the Giuseppe Meazza were incensed with the reversed decision.

Quite predictably, theĀ BianconeriĀ equalised, returning to Vinovo with an important point; enough to to keep their Milanese title contenders at bay and secure theĀ ScudettoĀ months later.

Stefan KieƟling

It looked as though nothing was going to separateĀ Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen from ending their encounter inĀ stalemate in October 2013. However, a corner kick 20 minutes from time sawĀ the visitors take the lead from nowhere.

MidfielderĀ KieƟling adjustedĀ his body shape but failed to direct his header accurately towards goal. However, he wasĀ embraced by teammates when he turned around and noticed the ball somehow found its way into goal.

Just as confused as the player, the referee reluctantly decided to validate the effort. Much to their dismay, the men in blue gesticulated to reveal a gap in the side netting – enough for the ball to travel through.

KieƟling remained defiant – he couldn’t have known whether the ball was destined for goal since his back was turned – but has since apologised for his phantom goal.

Thomas Helmer

During the course of the season, Nuremberg spent a great portion battling for relegation whilst Bayern Munich were involved in a tough five-way vie for Bundesliga bragging rights. In a match sealing each side’s fate, one episode will forever remain imprinted in the memories ofĀ Der RuhmreicheĀ fans.

Similar to the episode at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, a set-piece from the corner arrives with Bayern’s Helmer struggling to find his footing. The player stumbled and made minimal contact with the ball as it rolled out of play.

However, the referee whistles, implying the defender had scored. This enraged Nuremberg players who were nearing a beneficial goalless draw.

With footage embarassing the officials’ decision, the German FA decided the most appropriate course of action would be a replay. This was accepted and both teams stepped onto the field once again but unfortunately for Nuremberg, Bayern Munich demolished their defence withĀ five unanswered goals.

This meant Nurember were level with Freiburg on points, but faced the drop regardless as per the goal difference rule. Had it not been for the referee’s error, perhaps the extra point accumulated may have been sufficient for their survival in the top tier.

Pedro Mendes

When Tottenham Hotspur travel to Old Trafford, it hardly spells success but every Spurs fan will remember the ghost goal incident just over ten years ago. During the dying embers of the game, midfielder Pedro Mendes spotted goalkeeper Roy Carroll off his line and attempted an audacious pot-shot from distance.

The shotstopper returned to his lineĀ in time to collectĀ the tame effortĀ but spilled it, allowing itĀ to crossĀ the line.Ā The keeperĀ pulled it back thoughĀ before the referee could pass judgement.

Mark Clattenburg later commented how it would not be appropriate for him to make a bold decision with a limited field of vision.

Frank Lampard

Played in Bloemfontein, Germany and England took to the field for a Round of 16 World Cup 2010 encounter.

The Germans dominated most of the affair, ransacking the England defence with two goals without reply.

In a moment of distraction, the Three Lions found themselves back in it thanks to a header from Matthew Upson. With momentum on their side, Frank Lampard struck a loose ball which ricocheted off the frame of the bar, bouncing in and out of the goal before Manuel Neuer would lay claim.

The England bench including coach Fabio Capello celebrated but the official believed the former Chelsea man’s effort didn’t pass the line entirely. Die MannschaftĀ regained its focus and composure, scoring two more goals as their European rivals crashed out of the tournament in disappointment.

Luis Garcia

With AC Milan awaiting one of the two English sides, Chelsea were favourites to join the Italian club for the Champions League final in Istanbul, with their impressive 28 wins in 38 games as testament. After a hard-fought goalless draw at Stamford Bridge, the Blues travelled to Anfield for the deciding second leg.

Both sides were evenly matched and it seemed nothing was going to break the deadlock. Nevertheless, one moment of confusion meant Luis Garcia was left to stretch his leg, scuffing the ball towards goal.

William Gallas cleared the danger but the official had signalled a goalĀ for Liverpool. The RedsĀ held onto their lead as Chelsea continued their onslaught but to no avail. The rest is history.

Geoff Hurst

In the 1966 World Cup final, Geoff Hurst tamed a crossĀ from the wing before having a crack at goal. Similar to Lampard’s effort decades later, the football ricocheted off the bar. Whether it bouncedĀ beyond the line remains up for debate.

Awarded by the referee, the West Germans couldn’t overturn the decision and despite their efforts, went on to lose the final against the host nation.

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