x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

European football round-up: Barcelona close in on La Liga title with 3-0 win over Real Zaragoza

The Spanish league leaders swept to victory despite fielding seven changes from their Champions League side in midweek, while Napoli proved a stumbling block for AC Milan's path to second place in Serie A.

Barcelona's Cristian Tello fires home against Real Zaragoza.
Barcelona's Cristian Tello fires home against Real Zaragoza.


Cristian Tello bagged a brace while Thiago was also on target as Barcelona eased to a 3-0 victory over Real Zaragoza at La Romareda.

Zaragoza came into the match having taken just 27 points from 30 matches and occupying 18th place.

And their performance replicated their standing as Tito Vilanova's team - 13 points clear of second-placed Real Madrid - dominated from the off.

Barcelona made seven changes from the side who progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions League this week but it made little difference as they dominated from the first minute to the last.

Afterwards Jordi Roura, the Barcelona assistant manager, said the performance underlined how deep their squad is.

"The players have demonstrated that this is a team, today more than ever they have demonstrated that everyone has the necessary quality to be in this squad," he said.

"For me today's game was a difficult one given Zaragoza's position, and without the necessary concentration we would not have been able to take a positive result."

However, Roura refused to accept that it is simply a matter of time until Barca win the championship and said they have to keep going until it is mathematically sealed.

"The result for us is very good, the league is the most basic, fundamental thing for us.

"We have seven games left, 21 points to play for and the league is not mathematically won yet. We will continue to go game by game."

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Real Madrid coasted to a comfortable 3-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

Ronaldo struck with a fine free kick in the second minute before heading a second after 69 minutes.

Gonzalo Higuain scored a third for Jose Mourinho's side while defeat left Bilbao eight points above the relegation zone.

Radamel Falcao scored twice as Atletico Madrid continued their bid for a top-two finish with a comprehensive 5-0 home win over Granada.

Falcao, who was the centre of more transfer speculation this week with Manchester United mooted as a possible destination this summer, struck in the 27th and 47th minutes to take his tally to 30 in all competitions this season.

Diego Costa, Raul Garcia and Filipe Luis were also on the scoresheet as Diego Simeone's men made it 14 wins from 16 league matches at the Vicente Calderón this season.

The win also keeps the pressure on City rivals Real, who are three points clear with seven matches left.

Real Sociedad are a further 11 points back in fourth as their outstanding run of form continued with a convincing 2-0 win away to Rayo Vallecano.

Two goals by Imanol Agirretxe in the opening 14 minutes set the Basque side on their way to victory and although they took their foot off the gas somewhat in the second half, they were always in control of the game.

It was their fourth win in their last seven and they are four points clear of Malaga and Valencia.



Lille and Marseille had to settle for a goalless draw at the Grande Stade Lille Metropole as the visitors had goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to thank for securing a valuable point.

In the 20th minute Mandanda had to be alert in the Marseille goal to save at the feet of Ronny Rodelin. Dimitri Payet leapt on the rebound but saw his goal bound effort cleared off the line by Lucas Mendes.

Salomon Kalou should have given the hosts the lead soon after but the Ivorian's header from close range was magnificently saved by Mandanda.

The Marseille keeper went on to deny Payet twice more before making another fine stop to prevent an own goal by Mendes before keeping out a free kick from the busy Payet.

Lyon returned to third in Ligue 1 with a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Toulouse at the Stade de Gerland.

Les Gones triumphed thanks to goals from Clement Grenier, Bakary Kone and Bafetimbi Gomis.

Toulouse's Wissam Ben Yedder levelled the score midway through the first half but defeat for the Haute-Garonne club all but ended any slim remaining chance of European qualification.

Nice secured a comfortable 3-0 win over Sochaux which enhanced their European hopes but compounded the relegation fears of their opponents.

Second half goals from Mahamane Traore, Didier Digard and Dario Cvitanich were enough to secure the hosts a vital three points in their hunt for a Champions League place.

Defeat for Sochaux left them teetering precariously just above the bottom three with six games left, while they have only one victory in their previous eight matches.



Napoli's Goran Pandev scored to keep 10-man AC Milan at arm's length in the race for second spot in Serie A with a 1-1 draw at San Siro.

Mathieu Flamini's early strike denied the Azzurri the chance to pull seven points clear.

Flamini played both hero and villain as he briefly cut Napoli's lead over third place to a single point before seeing red for a reckless challenge on Juan Camilo Zuniga in the second half.

The Azzurri were hoping to maintain their pursuit of leaders Juventus but Pandev's equaliser was only enough to cut the gap to eight points with six games remaining.

Massimiliano Allegri, the Milan coach, still believes his side can make it into second place.

"With four points and six rounds to play there are still many chances for us to catch Napoli," he said.

"Napoli are a side capable of defending their lead, but this is an important point for us, because we have maintained a certain distance from Fiorentina.

"Football is unpredictable, so we have to be wary. In any case, third place is a great achievement considering how we started the season."

Meanwhile Walter Mazzarri, his opposite number at Napoli, believed his side should have taken all three points from the clash.

"I am not remotely satisfied with the result, as we pegged Milan back in their own half and I really wanted to win this game," he claimed.

"Looking at the incidents, we deserved a victory.

"Towards the end, when Milan went a man down, I really saw us coming away with all three points, but we weren't clinical enough. We always allow our opponents more chances than we should."

Cagliari made a perfect return to their temporary home in Trieste as Mauricio Pinilla scored twice to defeat struggling Inter Milan 2-0 at the Stadio Nereo Rocco.

Inter's week spent blaming officials' decisions for their disappointing campaign ended with another controversial penalty call as Pinilla fired the rehoused Sardinians ahead midway through the second half before hitting the winner 15 minutes from time.

Cagliari have left the doomed Stadio Is Arenas to move back to the Rocco, where they closed out last season, but the 600-mile journey north-east did not adversely affect their players, who now find themselves in the top half of the table.

Inter, meanwhile, drop to seventh on the back of a second consecutive defeat, with the prospect of Champions League, or even Europa League football for next season fading fast.

Roma held on for the final 10 minutes with a man less to claim a potentially valuable three-point haul from a 2-1 win away to Torino.

The visitors twice led in the match - goals from Pablo Osvaldo and Erik Lamela sandwiching an equaliser from Rolando Bianchi - but were left sweating at the end after their Italy international defender Federico Balzaretti picked up a second yellow card for a foul on Alessio Cerci.

Torino could not make the most of their numerical advantage though as Roma claimed a victory that moves them level on 51 points with fifth-placed Lazio, who play host to Juventus tonight.

Udinese moved within three points of the Europa League places after Luis Muriel scored twice in a comfortable 3-0 victory at Parma.

Bianconeri coach Francesco Guidolin was worried about visiting the Stadio Ennio Tardini without his suspended 20-goal striker Antonio Di Natale, but Muriel allayed his fears with a coolly-taken brace in the first half.

Parma, who dropped into the bottom half of the table, were at a loss for ideas after the break and Roberto Pereyra compounded their misery with a third goal on the hour mark.

Matuzalem spared Genoa's blushes with a fortuitous equaliser in a 1-1 derby draw as 10-man Sampdoria missed the chance to complete a rare double.

Samp were in no mood to do their city rivals any favours in their battle to beat the drop and Eder's improvised free kick put Delio Rossi's men on course to follow up November's 3-1 derby victory and push Genoa closer to relegation.

But Matuzalem pounced on a mistake from Samp goalkeeper Sergio Romero, after Andrea Costa had seen red, to keep the Rossoblu within two points of 17th-placed Siena with six games remaining.

Palermo saw their survival hopes suffer a setback as they were held 1-1 at home by Bologna.

Josip Ilicic gave the hosts a flying start at the Stadio Renzo Barbera with a goal after just five minutes, but Manolo Gabbiadini brought Bologna level soon after.

Palermo searched for a winner, but could not find one as they were left inside the bottom three, two points adrift of Siena and safety.

Elsewhere, Catania's hopes of competing in Europe next season suffered a blow as they drew a blank in a goalless draw at lowly Chievo.



Ajax went five points clear at the top of the Eredivisie table after substitute Derk Boerrigter's 77th-minute strike saw Frank de Boer's side to a 3-2 win over PSV Eindhoven.

The Amsterdam club went in front three times and were thankful that Boerrigter scored with his first touch to take them clear of second-placed Vitesse Arnhem.

After 33 minutes Kolbeinn Sigthorsson swept home from the edge of the six-yard box after a Christian Eriksen cross was inadvertently cleared to the striker by Mark van Bommel.

Five minutes before the break Ajax felt they should have had an opportunity to their double lead when Sigthorsson was bundled over by Van Bommel, however the referee waved play on.

And two minutes later the home side were level.

Eriksen lost the ball in the middle of the park to Kevin Strootman who broke through and put the ball on a plate for Jeremain Lens to roll a shot into an empty net.

The Dane was to make up for that error minutes into the second half when he broke down the right and with no PSV defender closing him down and with his target in the middle marked, Eriksen fooled everyone by hitting a powerful low near-post effort which flew into the net.

The home side levelled for a second time after 69 minutes when a free kick from Dries Mertens hit the front post and Lens was there to sweep home from close range.

For the third time in the game Ajax hit the front, and this time there was no way back for PSV. On the counter, Boerrigter outpaced Erik Pieters and with Boy Waterman stranded passed the ball into the net.

AZ Alkmaar eased their relegation fears after a crushing 6-0 win over nine-man FC Utrecht, with Jozy Altidore netting a nine-minute hat-trick.

The American scored the first of his brace of penalties after 28 minutes - 60 seconds after Anour Kali was shown a straight red - before Jan Wuytens became the second Utrecht player to see red.

Altidore scored again from the spot, and just three minutes later and he completed his treble.

Mike van der Hoorn put through his own net on the stroke of half-time to complete a miserable half for the visitors, who would go on to concede two more in the second period through Markus Henriksen (61) and Markus Henriksen (90).

Feyenoord are six points off top spot after they could only draw 1-1 at RKC Waalwijk.

Graziano Pelle's 13th-minute penalty had put the visitors ahead before Sander Duits equalised after 55 minutes.

Heerenveen beat Willem II 3-2 with Alfred Finnbogason's penalty six minutes before the end the difference between the sides.

Ricardo Ippel had given the visitors a 12th-minute lead before a Yassine El Ghanassy brace put the home side ahead.

Aurelien Joachim levelled after 80 minutes but Finnbogason won the game.



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