Four of the six nominees for this season’s PFA Player of the Year award were well involved in the Premier League over the weekend, on Sunday to be exact, and duly enhanced their status as the league’s elite footballers.
First out was Tottenham Hotspurs’ wing marshall Gareth Bale, returning from a two-week ankle injury lay-off in a match against Manchester City. And the lay-off told in an anonymous first half from the Welshman as City went into the break a goal up.
Things dramatically turned in Spurs’ favour following the introduction of Jermain Defoe and Tom Huddlestone in the second half, with Clint Dempsey getting on the end of an inside-foot cross in from Bale to level scores.
Defoe then found the net for the first time this year to put Spurs ahead minutes later before, rather surprisingly based on his display before the equaliser, Bale chipped over an onrushing Joe Hart to silence a few critics and seal a 3-1 win for the home side.
The win keeps Spurs right in the mix in the three-team race for the two remaining Champions League spots on the league table while also ensuring a win tonight for Manchester United at home to Aston Villa would seal a 20th league title for the Red Devils that have Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie nominated for the POTY award.
Spurs meanwhile remained in fifth place, the north Londoners having gone level on 61 points with Chelsea that visited Liverpool later on Sunday looking to regain third spot from Arsenal that had gone two points clear of both following a below-par lone goal win at London rivals Fulham on Saturday.
Chelsea’s visit of Anfield saw Rafael Benitez face the club he had won the Champions League with in 2005. And after a boisterous start from the Reds, it was the Blues that took the lead when Oscar headed home a Juan Mata corner kick. That kick was the latter’s 33rd assist in all competitions this season, showing just why he is one of two Chelsea players nominated for the POTY award.
The other, Eden Hazard was also impressive with his neat footwork and technical ability, putting Chelsea back in front in the second half from the penalty spot soon after former Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge had equalised minutes into the second half off a ball in from Luis Suarez.
Liverpool’s Uruguayan, nominated for the POTY as well, had an eventful afternoon that saw him set up Sturridge’s goal, handle in the area to concede the penalty dispatched by Hazard minutes later, before bizarrely making Branislav Ivanovic’s arm into a snack and then dramatically heading a 97th minute equaliser for the Reds to deny Chelsea a return to third spot.
The Blues, now a point behind Arsenal, will strongly feel Suarez shouldn’t have been on the field to head home that stoppage time sucker punch after biting Ivanovic, an action that could earn the Liverpool forward a season ending ban from the league’s disciplinary board and almost certainly cost him the good odds of being named POTY too.
Only recently the Uruguayan FA felt the player was been castigated by, most of all, the English FA. Not sure how they’ll react to a repertoire that’s seen biting added to a cocktail of antics which include diving, ball handling… alleged racism.
Suarez has apologised for his “inexcusable behaviour” on Sunday but has been fined by his club and now, charged by the FA and faces a lengthy ban after the FA commented that a three-match ban – the usual punishment for violent conduct – is “clearly insufficient in these circumstances”.
He previously has been banned seven matches for biting (yes, not his first) a PSV Eindhoven player during his Ajax days before getting eight matches for his ‘words’ to Patrice Evra. Skillful player, reckless sportsman, apologetic 26 year old… Luis Suarez.
Not so far at the Bundesliga, Bayern Munich continue being reckless to opponents despite wrapping a 23rd league title two weeks ago, handing a 6-1 thrashing to Hannover 96, with a second string team, in front of the Hannover fans.
Second string implies the Bavarians left Philip Lahm on the bench through the match, substituted Thomas Müller and Franck Ribery at half time for Arjen Robben and Xherdan Shaqiri and left Mario Mandzukic, Bastien Schwensteiger and Dante from the match-day squad altogether.
Coupled with scoring 18 goals in its last four matches, a 20-point gap with a +75 goal difference atop the Bundesliga and a run of winning its last eight matches and 19 of its last 20 matches in all competitions, Bayern head into Tuesday night’s UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg at home to Barcelona in just the form to face Barcelona.
The Catalans may have struggled to a lone goal win at home to Levante in La Liga but Lionel Messi’s side still hold a 13 point gap atop the Spanish top division with a +66 goal difference, but have lost three and drawn four of its last 13 matches in all competitions. Maybe, just maybe, Bayern will prove to be a problem too quantum physics to solve.
It may not be anywhere near that magnitude, but Enugu Rangers find themselves in a bit of a situation after being held to a goalless draw at home by Angolan side Recreativo do Libolo in a CAF Champions League final qualifying round first leg encounter.
Nigeria’s only remaining representative in continental football were joined by Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek in the bit of a situation corner after both sides were held to 1-1 draws while four time winners TP Mazembe must overcome a 3-1 deficit against South Africa’s Orlando Pirates in order to make the group stages.
In tennis, world number one Novak Djokovic won his first Monte Carlo Masters title with a straight sets defeat of Rafael Nadal, the latter’s first defeat at the Principality in nine years… a streak that earned him nine titles and 46 consecutive wins there.
One not about to relinquish his crown is German driver Sebastien Vettel who won the Bahrain Grand Prix for a second year running and open a 10-point lead on top of the drivers’ championship table as he races towards a fourth successive Formula 1 title.
With a seeming undisputable champion, which could make for a boring sport, Formula 1 this season has had its dramatic moments especially when Vettel and Redbull teammate Mark Webber went tyre to tyre two races ago in Malaysia, not to mention Nico Rosberg forcibly doing Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton a favour.
Over the weekend, it was the turn of McLaren teammates Jenson Button and Sergio Perez to have a go. With both going turbo for fifth spot during the race, Perez serged into Jenson’s button from the rear and soon after, bumped wheels with the Briton much to Button’s initial displeasure.
Unlike the Vettel-Webber tangle, little animosity came about from the latest episode from Button and Perez. Worse still, Perez finished in sixth place while Button dropped all the way down to 10th. Would be interesting to see Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa get in the tangle next sometime soon.
For now, there’s the Champions League semi-final matches in Germany on Tuesdsy and Wednesday followed by the Europa League semis between Basel and Chelsea, and Fernabahce against Benfica on Thursday, with the week culminating at the Emirates where Arsenal could perform a guard of honour for arch-rivals Manchester United that should wrap up the Premier League title win tonight at home to Aston Villa.
Have a hostile free week and enjoy a chronicle of previous ‘sporting’ bites.