Crys­tal Palace win leaves Le­ices­ter in dan­ger zone

CRYS­TAL PALACE 1, MID­DLES­BROUGH 0

The Washington Post Sunday - - SCOREBOARD - SOCCER ROUNDUP AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Hours af­ter fired coach Clau­dio Ranieri bid farewell to the Le­ices­ter play­ers, the calami­tous cham­pi­ons slipped into the English Premier League’s rel­e­ga­tion zone.

It was Crys­tal Palace’s 1-0 vic­tory over visit­ing Mid­dles­brough on Saturday in London that en­sured Le­ices­ter will take the field at the King Power Sta­dium on Mon­day against Liver­pool in the bot­tom three.

A first-half goal from Patrick van Aan­holt gave Palace its first home win since Sam Allardyce took charge in De­cem­ber.

Le­ices­ter is two points above last-place Sun­der­land — which lost at Ever­ton, 2-0 — and ahead of Hull only on goal dif­fer­ence.

The re­al­ity of Le­ices­ter’s dire sit­u­a­tion is stark for play­ers who so in­cred­i­bly won the league less than 10 months ago and now are scram­bling to con­vince fans they didn’t force out Ranieri.

“We are play­ers, and we can only af­fect [things] on the pitch; what hap­pens above our heads at board­room level is com­pletely out of our con­trol,” goal­keeper Kasper Sch­me­ichel told the BBC af­ter Ranieri’s train­ing-ground send-off Saturday. “He came in and said his piece to the play­ers, thanked us for our ef­forts and for last sea­son and said good­bye. It’s a shame it’s come to this.”

The tro­phy is, how­ever, set to be col­lected by an Ital­ian for a sec­ond sea­son run­ning, with An­to­nio Conte’s Chelsea 11 points clear at the top.

Chelsea kept its lead at the top with a 3-1 vic­tory over Swansea in London.

Cesc Fabre­gas reached 300 Premier League ap­pear­ances with only his sixth start of the sea­son, and he made the most of it. Af­ter dis­lodg­ing Ne­manja Matic from the lineup, Fabre­gas put Chelsea in front in the 19th minute with a de­flected shot.

SPAIN: His team trail­ing against its fiercest ri­val, Coach Jorge Sam­paoli or­ches­trated a 2-1 come­back at Real Betis that lifted Sevilla to the top of the Span­ish league.

Sam­paoli’s two half­time sub­sti­tu­tions sparked the turn­around in Spain’s most heated city derby.

Sub­sti­tute Vi­cente Iborra got the win­ning goal in the 75th minute to si­lence Ben­ito Vil­la­marin Sta­dium fol­low­ing Gabriel Mer­cado’s equal­izer.

“Vi­cente contributed im­me­di­ately and had a lot to do with the trans­for­ma­tion of the team,” Sam­paoli said.

Betis dom­i­nated the first half and took the lead on a free kick by Riza Dur­misi in the 36th minute that slipped through the de­fen­sive bar­rier.

But Sam­paoli’s de­ci­sions dur­ing the break to re­place Franco Vazquez with Iborra and an in­ef­fec­tive Pablo Sara­bia with Wis­sam Ben Yed­der swung the match to the vis­i­tors’ fa­vor.

“The first half didn’t re­flect who we are as a team,” Iborra said.

ITALY: The bar has been raised at Ata­lanta. The provin­cial squad has the Cham­pi­ons League within its sights af­ter win­ning at Napoli, 2-0, to move within three points of the third-place side in Serie A.

De­fender Mat­tia Cal­dara again stole the show with a goal in each half. Ata­lanta mid­fielder Franck Kessie was sent off mo­ments be­fore Cal­dara’s sec­ond, fol­low­ing two book­ings in quick suc­ces­sion.

The game ended Napoli’s run of 14 league matches without de­feat.

In­ter Mi­lan can tie Ata­lanta with a win over sec­ond-placed Roma on Sun­day.

Ata­lanta Coach Gian Piero Gasperini said last week that a win against Napoli would change his side’s ob­jec­tives, and that new aim will be tested in its next two matches — against Fiorentina and In­ter.

“Win­ning at a place like this al­lows you to dream big,” Gasperini said.

An es­ti­mated 5,000 fans greeted Ata­lanta at Berg­amo Air­port, wel­com­ing the team home with flares and fire­works, singing, “We’re go­ing to win the league.”

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