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The Malaysian Insider :: Sports

Europe’s ‘big four’ leagues looking settled

Posted: 18 Apr 2011 05:26 PM PDT

AC Milan''s Antonio Cassano (left) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a second goal against Sampdoria at the San Siro stadium in Milan, April 16, 2011. — Reuters pic

LONDON, April 19 — Winter has only just given way to spring in Europe yet the league titles of the continent's major leagues already appear done and dusted with about half a dozen games still to be played.

After their main challengers all slipped up, Barcelona, Manchester United, AC Milan and Borussia Dortmund would need to slip up spectacularly in the next few weeks to miss out on their respective championships, leaving France and the Netherlands to provide some excitement in May.

Dortmund, seeking their first title in nine years, are likely to be the first to close out the race among the "big four" leagues after they beat Freiburg 3-0 at the weekend to open an eight-point lead with four games remaining.

Second-placed Bayer Leverkusen lost ground in spectacular style when they were thrashed 5-1 at Bayern Munich and Dortmund can secure the title next weekend by beating Borussia Moenchengladbach if Leverkusen fail to take all three points against Hoffenheim.

Barcelona are also eight clear after their 1-1 draw with second-placed Real Madrid. Even with the distraction of a Champions League semi-final and King's Cup final against their big rivals to come, it would be a huge surprise if they allowed themselves to be reeled in over the remaining six games.

United spent the weekend being knocked out of the FA Cup in the semi-finals by Manchester City but after Arsenal were held 1-1 at home by Liverpool, Alex Ferguson's team are six clear with six to play.

The top two still have to meet at the Emirates and United also have to host last season's champions Chelsea but it still looks a formidable gap, particularly as Arsenal seem to have completely lost their form in recent weeks, drawing four and winning one of their past five league games.

Both sides are in action midweek, when a United win at Newcastle United combined with a defeat for Arsenal at Tottenham Hotspur would end any remaining debate.

AC Milan have a six-point lead after Napoli lost 2-1 at Udinese on Sunday to probably end their hopes of winning the league for the first time since Diego Maradona led them to glory 21 years ago.

Milan, 3-0 winners over Sampdoria, are on course to win the league for the first time in seven years — a success made all the sweeter as it will end Inter Milan's five-year hold on the trophy.

Although Porto wrapped up the Portuguese title two weeks ago, there are still some interesting battles to be found elsewhere in Europe.

With seven games to go in France, Lille's tilt at a first championship in 57 years seems to be getting to them.

Their lead is down to a point after they drew with Girondins Bordeux and Olympique Marseille beat Montpellier.

Lyon are a further five points back after they lost 1-0 at Paris St Germain but they also remain in the mix.

It is even tighter in the Netherlands, where PSV Eindhoven and Twente Enschede both have 65 points and Ajax Amsterdam 64 with three games to go. — Reuters

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Arsenal’s fall from grace could hit rock bottom at Spurs

Posted: 18 Apr 2011 04:30 PM PDT

Too little too late: Robin Van Persie opens scoring for Arsenal with this penalty against Liverpool at the Emirates on April 17, 2011, only to have compatriot Dirk Kuyt reply with a penalty in the last kick of injury time for a 1-1 draw. — Reuters pic

LONDON, April 19 — Four draws in five league games, three of them at the Emirates, have left Arsenal's title hopes hanging by a thread, and they face another tough hurdle tomorrow when they visit neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.

Arsenal's decline has been stark in the past two months, and defeat at White Hart Lane would be the final nail in their Premier League coffin.

It all started to go wrong when they were Birmingham City beat them in the League Cup final on February 27 — though throwing away a 4-0 lead to draw 4-4 at Newcastle United earlier in the month was also something of a psychological hammer blow.

They were then knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United, and the Champions League by Barcelona.

In the league, they drew 0-0 at home with Sunderland, 2-2 at West Bromwich Albion, 0-0 at home with Blackburn, and, after beating Blackpool, suffered the heartache of gifting Liverpool a 1-1 Emirates draw after 11 minutes of stoppage time.

That result on Sunday left them six points behind leaders Manchester United and only two ahead of Chelsea, who beat West Bromwich Albion 3-1 away on Saturday to restore their hopes of a top-two finish with six games to go.

With Manchester City seven points adrift of Arsenal in fourth, Arsene Wenger's side look unlikely to miss out on a top-three finish, but their trophy drought looks set to go into a seventh year.

They still have to play United at the Emirates, and Alex Ferguson's team also have to play Chelsea, so everything is far from settled, but Wenger has a real job on his hands to slam the brakes on the decline, starting tomorrow, where Tottenham and their fans would be delighted to ensure it does not happen.

Wenger has ranted and raved at everyone and everything except himself and his players during the lean streak, but would be better employed addressing his team's problems — not least their lack of a strong leader on the pitch and their declining ability to make and take chances.

The extraordinary finale to Sunday's game diverted attention from the fact that Arsenal had again looked relatively toothless in attack. However, Wenger criticised Liverpool for their defensive approach.

"We are maybe jaded a bit physically, you could see that some players have played around 40-45 games and we lacked a bit of a change of pace," Wenger said.

"We will have to give everything until the last game of the season and see if it is our year or not."

By the time Arsenal run out for what will be another formidable test at White Hart Lane, they could be nine points adrift if United triumph at Newcastle today.

Chelsea are also in action tomorrow, at home to Birmingham City. — Reuters

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