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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

United closes in on title as City implodes against Arsenal

AP

LONDON — Manchester United surged closer to a 20th English league title on Sunday, opening up an eight-point lead by beating Queens Park Rangers 2-0 and with floundering neighbor Manchester City losing 1-0 at Arsenal.

News photo
Out of control: City striker Mario Balotelli (right) challenges Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny during their match on Sunday in London. AP

Having spent most of the season in City's shadow in the Premier League, United has eclipsed its big-spending rival to take control of the Premier League title race.

"We know what it takes to get over the finishing line first," United defender Rio Ferdinand said. "We've got to use all that experience to make sure we do it again."

United has six games remaining to extend its title record after rattling off an eighth successive league win.

Wayne Rooney scored the opener from the penalty spot after QPR captain Shaun Derry was sent off in the 15th minute for pushing over Ashley Young, although there was minimal contact and the United winger appeared to be offside.

There was no disputing Paul Scholes' 68th-minute goal, with a trademark drive blasted in the net.

"You have to get momentum at this stage of the season," Ferdinand said. "That's the most important thing, making sure you get a good run together and win all your remaining games. We've ticked one off today and hopefully we can keep on going."

The Red Devils have been calmness personified, even when City made top spot its own until its grip was loosened a month ago. There appears to be no way back now for Roberto Mancini's side, which has imploded amid internal strife.

The frustrated manager even criticized one of his own players, with petulant striker Mario Balotelli earning a stinging rebuke for his second dismissal of the season.

A dangerous-looking, knee-high tackle on Alex Song had gone unpunished after 10 minutes, but Balotelli was sent off in the 90th minute when he was booked again for a second lunge on Bacary Sagna.

Mancini says he wants the F.A. to investigate the foul on Song, which could lead to a lengthy ban. After a stamp on Tottenham's Scott Parker was missed by a referee in January, a four-match suspension was imposed on Balotelli by the Football Association.

"We have six games and he will not play in the next six games," Mancini said.

Asked if the Italy striker could be sold at the end of the season, his compatriot: "Probably — but I don't know."

"Every time, we risk one sent off, like today," Mancini added. "But he can score also in the last minute."

But the only goal of the game only ever looked like coming from Arsenal at Emirates Stadium. It came with three minutes remaining when Mikel Arteta blasted the ball from outside the penalty area inside goalkeeper Joe Hart's left post.

While City has won 15 of 16 home league matches and drawn the other, it has now lost five times on the road this season.

"It's clear now that it's very difficult," Mancini said of the title race. "In the end, if we don't win it's probably because they (United) did better than us."

Arsenal, meanwhile, is closer to securing its place in the Champions League having being closer to the relegation zone earlier in the season.

Arsene Wenger's side has a two-point cushion in third over Tottenham.

"Tottenham are still in there and it's going to be a big fight from here to the end of the season, but we knew that today was one of the more difficult games for us," Wenger said.

Real stumbles to draw

AP

BARCELONA, Spain — Real Madrid's bid for its first Spanish League title in four seasons received another setback Sunday after the leaders slipped to a 0-0 home draw with Valencia.

Madrid's third draw in five matches has cut its commanding 10-point lead over defending champions Barcelona to four with seven rounds to play.

Barcelona piled the pressure on with a ninth consecutive league victory on Saturday, and Madrid failed to respond as Valencia came close to scoring with two shots that hit the goal-frame in a high-tempo thrilling match that shouldn't have ended scoreless.

Madrid captain Iker Casillas said his team was paying the price for its complacency.

"We can't sit back and live off a 10-point lead we built up in the past," said Casillas. "We are facing teams that are also playing for their own goals."

Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita ensured the good result for the visitors with a series of superb saves late on, including denying Angel Di Maria deep into stoppage time.

"We knew it was important to hold off their counterattack and get out on the break ourselves," said Guaita. "The entire team made an excellent effort."



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