Crystal Palace win leaves Leicester in danger zone
CRYSTAL PALACE 1, MIDDLESBROUGH 0
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.”