Go on, admit it. You thought Leicester were going to cack themselves against Swansea. Don’t be ashamed, plenty of us had the same suspicion. It was the logical next twist in the title race after Tottenham piled on the pressure with a 4-0 demolition of Stoke.
But Claudio Ranieri’s men did not crumble. They did not wilt in the absence of top scorer Jamie Vardy. Instead they took a sideways glance at Spurs, nodded at the gauntlet thrown to the ground, sensually kissed Mauricio Pochettino’s naked hand for a second or two longer than necessary, then repaid the compliment with a 4-0 victory of their own, prompting this credit-where-it’s-due headline in The Sun:
— Nick Sutton (@suttonnick) April 24, 2016
And so the screw turns once more in Tottenham’s challenge with what, on paper at least, looks like a routine home fixture against West Brom on Monday evening. A West Brom side that have hardly been pulling up trees under Tony Pulis.
West Brom have failed to hit a shot on target in 17% of their PL games under Tony Pulis (9 of 52). That is dedication to an art form.
— Duncan Alexander (@oilysailor) April 19, 2016
This should be a gimme for Harry Kane and Co, but for fans of the term ‘Spursy’ – that means everyone on Twitter – it’s probably the best opportunity for Spurs to fuck everything up in a fashion they’ve worn so well in the past. Chuck in the nagging doubt of failing to beat West Brom in four of their last five meetings at White Hart Lane – including the last three in a row and a 1-0 defeat in September 2014 – and bums could be squeaking later on.
Away from the machinations of the title race, the top two shared the spoils at Sunday’s PFA Awards, with Riyad Mahrez, sporting a dicky bow as classy as one of his through-balls, picking up the Player of the Year gong and Dele Alli claiming Young Player of the Year. Footballers don’t always make the best decisions, but we defy anyone to argue with those choices.
And so to some reading for your delectation. With the Champions League semi-finals taking place this week, focus turns to the remaining contenders. Jonathan Liew writes about Gareth Bale’s match-winning display for Real Madrid at the weekend here, ahead of the Welshman’s first return to England since his world-record departure in 2013.
For stats fans, Atletico Madrid are the team of which to take note. Sean Ingle has broken down the numbers in the Guardian, detailing Diego Simeone spinning a spider’s web around opposing attacks. Bayern beware.
And finally, we enjoyed this by Paul Doyle, on a player who has been really quite special this season: ‘In France managers like to talk of special players who apporte la folie – bring the madness – and Mahrez is the beautiful loon in Leicester’s system, the one who consistently does things no opponent can reasonably foresee.’
‘Big’ is probably the best word to define this week’s fixtures.
We’ve already touched on Tottenham’s potential sweaty mess against West Brom on Monday, while those of you who are able to sneakily split-screen at work can tune in to Roma v Napoli at 2pm on BT Sport Europe followed by Verona v AC Milan. Monday afternoon football? We’re not sure it’ll catch on.
Monday: Tottenham v West Brom, Sky Sports 1, 20.00
Roma v Napoli, BT Sport Europe, 14.00
Verona v AC Milan, BT Sport Europe, 14.00
There’s only one game on Tuesday, but it’s Manchester City’s season-defining clash against Real Madrid at the Etihad. The visitors, for whom Cristiano Ronaldo should make a timely return from injury, are the favourites for this one, but Manuel Pellegrini’s side are undefeated in seven since losing the Manchester derby. Plus it’s written that they’ll meet Pep Guardiola in the final.
Tuesday: Manchester City v Real Madrid, BT Sport Europe, 19.45
On most midweek evenings the FA Youth Cup final second leg between Chelsea and Manchester City, which is nicely poised at 1-1, would jump out of the listings between Emmerdale and Newsnight. But it just so happens that Wednesday also sees Atletico Madrid face Bayern Munich in the Champions League, so grown-ups football it is.
Wednesday: Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich, BT Sport Europe, 19.45
If the Champions League is grown-ups football, and Diego Simeone the father who took you on a camping trip when you were nine years old, who then drove off in the middle of the night and left you alone in the woods for three days, but not before scraping ‘KILL TO SURVIVE’ in the soil outside your tent, and when he eventually came back found you were now a man with the scent of blood in your nostrils, bone and sinew scattered all around like the crumbling husk of your adolescence, then the Europa League is your laid-back stoner uncle, turning up for Christmas with a different girlfriend each year, wearing the Hawaiian shirt bought as a novelty by Sharon, Denise, Rhonda – you forget which – which has seen better days before the bread sauce and booze stains, who bought you the Police Academy box set brilliantly remastered on Blu-ray, but isn’t nearly as good as Michael Winslow at doing the sound effects, but at least he tried, at least he helped you forget, for just a few hours, that weekend in the woods, the blood, oh the blood, and the screams of the animals which sound so human when you think about them as you lie awake at night.
Thursday: Villarreal v Liverpool, BT Sport Europe, 20.05
Shakhtar Donetsk, BT Sport 2, 20.05
Can Middlesbrough jump into top spot after a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Ipswich on Saturday? Can Birmingham remind us who on earth plays for them these days? Can I convince my girlfriend that we might as well save some money by staying in and watching Championship football rather than going to see the critically-acclaimed Dheepan, directed by Jacques Audiard who was also responsible for the brilliant A Prophet and Rust and Bone, because when you think about it £30 is a lot to spend on two cinema tickets, a coke and a box of popcorn, and how much does corn really cost anyway? Find out all this and more on Friday.
Friday: Birmingham v Middlesbrough, Sky Sports 1, 19.45
For all this week’s TV listings – including Saturday’s 5.15pm kick-off between Everton and Manchester United, which we covered here – come right this way.
ONE FROM OUR VAULT
Here’s our Vox in the Box with the wonderful Barry Davies:
NON-FOOTBALL THING OF THE WEEK
Reader Matt Tierney has been in touch to point us in the direction of a new forum devised for organising online tournaments for forthcoming football games Kick Off Revival, Sociable Soccer and Active Soccer 2 DX: korssastournaments.
Oh wait, that’s still football. Non-football thing is grapefruit marmalade.