Manchester City hit with Champions League ban

Manchester City made headlines for all the wrong reasons last week, with UEFA announcing on Friday that it has banned the club from the Champions League for two seasons and fined it £25m for breaching financial fair play.

UEFA’s Adjudicatory Chamber said the club was found to have been “overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to Uefa between 2012 and 2016” and also “failed to cooperate in the investigation”. The decision is based on the conclusion that City owner Sheikh Mansour was self-funding most of the club’s £67.m sponsorship by Etihad, which means he was essentially funding losses and therefore breaking FFP rules.

City hit back soon after the news broke with their own statement, stating that they will appeal the ban and adding that the club is “disappointed but not surprised by today’s announcement […] The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position.”

While it’s possible that the Court of Arbitration for Sport could overturn UEFA’s decision, it’s still devastating news for City. Rumours immediately began to circle regarding the futures of manager Pep Guardiola as well as star players such as Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne. An enforced ban could see City lose out on hundreds of millions in revenue and impact the club’s actions in the transfer market and beyond for years to come.

It’s reported that the ban means the Premier League will also be forced to sanction City, seeing as the League’s licensing pertains to UEFA’s FFP regulations. According to the Independent, a points deduction is now “highly likely”, although whether that would apply to the current season, next term or past campaigns remains unknown. There are reports that the ban could potentially lead to City being stripped of the 2013/14 Premier League title.

Spurs close the gap on Chelsea

With the Premier League title as good as decided, attention at the top of the table is focused on the race for a top-four spot, and Tottenham edged closer to that coveted position this weekend with a 3-2 win over Aston Villa.

It was a topsy turvy game, with both sides taking the lead before pegging each other back. Villa looked to have secured a hard-fought and much-needed point, surviving a number of scares in the second half. However, an error from Villa goal scorer Bjorn Engels sent Son Heung-min in the 94th minute for the South Korean to notch his second and secure the three points for Spurs.

That result moves Spurs within one point of Chelsea, who face Manchester United tonight. While Spurs have been far from scintillating under Jose Mourinho, there’s no doubt the Portuguese has improved the side’s fortunes, having taken over when they were 14th and 11 points off fourth spot. While Chelsea, United and Arsenal have faltered, Spurs will now be confident of securing a spot in next years’ Champions League.

Elsewhere in the race for European football, Leicester City and Wolves played out a 0-0 draw at the Molineux on Friday night. Although it wasn’t a bad point for third-place Leicester, it leaves Brendan Rodgers side with just one win from the last five games. The Foxes still hold a nine-point lead over Chelsea, but they’ll need to start winning again if they are to avoid getting drawn into the battle for fourth.

Real held as Barca win

Real Madrid saw their lead at the top of the La Liga table reduced this weekend, Zinedine Zidane’s side held 2-2 at home to Celta Vigo. Celta took a surprise early leader through loanee Fyodor Smolov, but second-half goals from Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos put Real back in control. That was until the 85th, when substitute Santi Mina levelled the scores to give relegation-threatened Celta a vital point.

That result put Real back on top but by just a single point, title rivals Barcelona having won on Saturday. Quique Setien’s side beat third-place Getafe 2-1 at Camp Nou, first-half goals from Antoine Griezmann and Sergi Roberto giving the home side the victory. Barca will meet Real at the Bernabeu in a huge Clasico on 1st March.

Getafe’s loss meant their rivals for the Champions League spots had the chance to close the gap, though none of them truly took advantage. Atletico Madrid and Valencia played out a 2-2 draw at the Mestalla, while Sevilla were held by the same scoreline by Espanyol. Atletico remain fourth, though they are only ahead of Sevilla on goal difference.

Lazio beat Inter to go second

All eyes were in Rome on Sunday evening, with this year’s challengers to Juventus’ Serie A dominance going head to head. Surprise package Lazio took on Antonio Conte’s expensively assembled Inter, with the Milan side needing a win to return to top spot following Juve’ 2-0 win over Brescia earlier in the day/

January recruit Ashley Young gave Inter the lead just before half time, but Lazio drew themselves level when leading European goalscorer Ciro Immobile netting a penalty in the 50th minute. The home side then completed the turnaround when midfielder Sergei Milinkovic-Savic collected the ball in the box from a goal-line clearance and guided it into the net.

That result sent Lazio above Inter into second place, just a single point behind Juve. Very few had the Rome side down for a title challenge this year, but they’ve been superb and are currently unbeaten in 19 Serie A games. Inter are now three points off Juve in third-place, though they will have the chance to make amends when the sides meet in Turn in two weeks’ time.

Leeds back on track as play-off hopefuls stutter

Leeds United got a much-needed win this weekend, a Luke Ayling goal giving Marcelo Bielsa’s side a 1-0 home win over play-off hopefuls Bristol City. That victory brought an end to a three-game streak without a victory and put Leeds back into the race for top spot, with league leaders West Brom drawing 2-2 against Nottingham Forest on Saturday, meaning the gap between first and second is reduced to four points.

It was a strange weekend in terms of the race for the play-off spots, with every team from third to seventh failing to win. In addition to the Forest and Bristol City results, third-place Fulham suffered a shocking 3-0 home loss to bottom club Barnsley, while Brentford were held 1-1 at Birmingham and Preston were beaten 1-0 at home by Milwall. Those results mean Blackburn have moved within three points of the a play-offs courtesy of their 2-0 away victory over Charlton.

Things are also hotting up at the bottom of the Championship, with Barnsley’s surprise thrashing of Fulham giving the side a fighting chance of survival with the Tykes now six points from safety. Luton picked up a second consecutive three points with a 1-0 victory at Middlesbrough while Wigan drew and Stoke lost, leaving the Latics and the Potters looking nervously over their shoulders.