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Soccer on the side - Salah benched as Chelsea reigns
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 05 - 03 - 2014

Two weeks ago, we saw Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid all level on points at the top of the table, only to see Real Madrid flying alone a week later after both Atletico and the Catalans suffered disastrous defeats. This week, however, was even more thrilling as the Madrid derby took place at Atletico Madrid's stadium, Vicente Calderon. Real Madrid entered the game in a hugely confident mood after destroying Schalke in the first leg of their Champions League round 16 clash as they won by six goals to one in Germany. The magnificent trio of Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale notched a brace each to ensure they're more than ready to take on Atletico Madrid. However, the hosts were amply prepared for it and did not dwell on conceding a 2nd minute goal through Benzema, managing to strike back and end the first half leading by two goals to one after Koke first and Gabi second scored two wonderful goals. The visitors seemed nervous at the end of the first half, which continued in the second half, as they struggled to create chances except for one or two half chances. They could have conceded a third on more than one occasion until the best player on the planet, Cristiano Ronaldo, rescued them yet again and scored an equaliser much to the delight of his fans who deal with a derby as a trophy on its own. The game ended in a 2-2 draw, which meant Real Madrid stayed three points ahead of their fierce rivals, but not Barcelona, who managed to collect maximum points against Almeria at home. Barca, led my their mesmerising little Argentine Messi, made their intention known from the very beginning as they took the lead through one of their stars this season Alexis Sanchez before Messi added a second as they tried to seal the victory with these two goals, which were scored in the first 25 minutes. However, three minutes later, Almeria was back in the game as they scored a consolation goal. From that minute until the 83rd minute, Barcelona players and their fans were as nervous as it gets as Almeria defended brilliantly and attacked very well on counter attacks and came very close to scoring an equalizer on two occasions only to see Valdes saving both until captain Puyol sealed the win with the third goal seven minutes from time as he lowed Messi's header that came off the bar to slot the ball into the empty net. In the last minute of the game, goal of the game came through the vice captain this time as Xavi scored a stunning curling effort from 22 yards to cap off a fine night for the Catalans with this beauty. As it stands, Real Madrid are top with 64 points, followed by a Barcelona with 63 points and Atletico sit third with 61 points.
In England, there were mixed news for the Egyptian fans. First, Salah was not part of the squad that took on Fulham at Craven Cottage, which is Fulham's home ground. Second, one of his main rivals for a place in the team, Andre Schurrle, was the star of the show as he single-handedly won the game for Chelsea with his second half hat trick enough for Mourinho's side to defeat Fulham by three goals to one. The reasons for the absence of Salah are unknown so far, but most probably was just a tactical decision from Mourinho, who said several times this season that Salah will need time to settle in the league and that the real Salah and the one Chelsea fans will love watching will be ready next season not this one. He has made it clear he thinks it is too early for such a young player to be thrown into the team in such a crucial time at the end of the season. The good part about the win is that Chelsea stayed 4 points clear of second place Liverpool who defeated Southampton 3-0 away from home to continue their unbelievable form thanks to arguably one of the best three players in the world right now, Luis Suarez, who scored one and set up two. Arsenal were defeated at Stoke City by a single goal to fall further behind after they were top of the table just two weeks ago. Man City did not play this week as they were playing in the final of the Carling Cup where they defeated Sunderland by three goals to one. They now have two games in hand and, if they managed to win both, they will go top of the table on goal difference, which will see Arsenal falling to fourth and Liverpool to third. In the same game week, Mohamady's Hull City suffered a huge home defeat at the hands of Newcastle as the game ended in a 4-1 for the visitors in a game that saw the home side totally out of sorts and saw Mohamady playing an average game.
In Italy, Juventus are doing their best to ensure they'll retain their league title for another season as they defeated AC Milan 2-0 away from home while second place Roma drew at home against Inter Milan and third place Napoli drew 1-1 against Livorno. Roma still has a game in hand, but even if they managed to win it, they will be 8 points away from Juve and will face a near impossible task in catching them as Tevez, Pogba and Co are simply unstoppable at the moment.
In Germany, Bayern Munich fans can go ahead and celebrate winning the title as of now if they choose as another huge victory over Schalke by 5 goals to one ensured they stayed top with a stunning 20 points difference between them and Dortmund, who leapfrogged Leverkusen to the second place this week. Schalke were understandably out of sorts after their hammering against Real Madrid a few days earlier, which Bayern made full usage of as they went 4-0 in the first 28 minutes. It is anyone's guess what this team will look like when the best striker in the Bundesliga Lewandowski joins them in the summer from Dortmund.

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