Inter Back on Top, Chelsea Back on Track

No surprises in England and Spain, where Chelsea – Man United, Barcelona – Real Madrid, respectively, kept their title ambitions on pace. In Italy, another story, as Roma’s Scudetto dreams may have slipped away courtesy of a second half Pazzini dopietta that placed Sampdoria in pole position for the final Champions League spot and gifted Inter the lead with three rounds to go. Elsewhere, an untimely axe fell on Hamburg’s coach Bruno Labbadia after his team suffered a trouncing at Hoffenheim, Marseille edged closer to its first French title in 18 years, Ajax took a commanding lead over Feyenoord in the Dutch cup final and Boca defeated San Lorenzo in a lackluster encounter at the Bombonera.

Jose Mourinho and company must feel very good about their prospects at this point. They carry a 3-1 lead into the second leg against the world champions in Barcelona having regained control of their Scudetto fate and have a date with Roma on May 5 for Coppa d’Italia. Everything in play and under control, though nothing has been achieved yet. Unavailable in Barcelona is Balotelli, banished from the team by the club, yet judging from his first leg performance and the incident at the end of the match he will not be missed. Inter has a very tricky away match at Lazio next week-end, the most likely place to drop points the rest of the way. This encounter leaves Roma in the ironic predicament of having to root for its deadliest rival to advance its hopes.

Giampaolo Pazzini boosted Sampdoria's Champions League prospects and his own South Africa hopes Sunday in Rome.

Giampaolo Pazzini boosted Sampdoria's Champions League prospects and his own South Africa hopes Sunday in Rome.

Sampdoria is on course to finish Serie A as strongly as it started, but has yet to come decisive matches against Palermo and Napoli. Those three clubs, along with Juventus, are battling for the final Champions League place in Italy, though Sampdoria and Palermo are best positioned. At the bottom of the table, Lazio won three crucial points away at Genoa to boost its survival chances, while Bologna did the same with a win over Parma.

Chelsea annihilated Stoke City on Sunday in a match that seemed more like target practice, but the entire season for The Blues is on the line next week-end when they travel to Liverpool. Anything less than three points would likely hand the title to Man United, who play away at Sunderland and hope to have Wayne Rooney in the line-up. Liverpool is now fully concentrated on the midweek Europa League semifinal against Atletico Madrid, but Ancelotti has the entire week to prepare the match that will define Chelsea’s season. For better or worse, John Terry is back.

Arsenal and Manchester City played to a scoreless stalemate on Adebayor’s return to the Emirates, a result with greater impact on City, who needs every precious point to get into the Champions League. The next two matches for Man City are head-on clashes, both at home against Aston Villa and Tottenham, for the coveted fourth Premiership place. Liverpool sealed Burnley’s relegation with a resounding 4-0 away victory, a show of good form ahead of the Atletico match, while West Ham United won dramatically against fellow relegation candidate Wigan to push the battle to the limit.

Real Madrid passed a difficult test at Zaragoza over the week-end, the winner coming in the final ten minutes from senor Kaka, returning from injury. Three precious points leave Madrid just one behind with four rounds to play and a favorable schedule. Barcelona, who labored to get by Xerez, has yet to travel to Sevilla and Villareal, a situation that keeps Guardiola worried surely. The La Liga Match of the Week took place at Getafe between the local side and Sevilla. In a spectacular match that swung back and forth, Getafe triumphed 4-3 through an injury time penalty. Getafe hit the post three times in the first half and went into halftime down 2-1. Sevilla wasted a big opportunity to seize fourth place and continues to trail Mallorca for the final Champions League place in Spain.

No such drama in Buenos Aires. The classico between Boca Juniors and San Lorenzo was of poor quality, a perfect reflection of the clubs’ standings in the 2010 Clausura. San Lorenzo fielded a team featuring several unknowns, a strange decision for a club that had good momentum following wins over Independiente and Huracan in recent weeks. Boca won without pushing on two plays that involved Riquelme, but for large segments of the match nothing happened. Estudiantes beat River Plate to take sole possession at the top, as Independiente was held by Banfield. Racing won another match and is slowing lifting itself out of the relegation mix, but for Rosario Central the situation remains very tender.

In France OM took another step toward the title in Le Championat with a win over Saint Etienne, setting up a crucial upcoming showdown with second place Auxerre, the only club capable of surpassing Marseille. Auxerre is in great form in 2010 and already defeated OM in the fall, so nothing has been decided yet. But an OM win in Burgundy would all but close out the title race.

Marseille is ever closer to its first French title in 18 years.

Marseille is ever closer to its first French title in 18 years.

Tight finish in Germany as well after Bayern Munich dropped two points away at Borussia Moenchengladbach. Schalke and Bayern are now tied on points, but Bayern retains the tie-breaker edge and has two easier matches left against Bochum and last place Hertha Berlin. Schalke must play Werder Bremen next week, a club that is in a battle for third place along with Dortmund, Leverkusen and even Stuttgart. Europa League semi-finalist Hamburg suffered a 5-1 thrashing at Hoffenheim over the week-end, a result that sealed Bruno Labbadia’s dismissal. It remains to be seen how the players respond on Thursday and if the highly unusual late season move works out.

Ajax’s Nigel de Jong struck in two successive minutes at the outset of the Dutch Cup final between Ajax Amsterdam – Feyenoord Rotterdam raising the possibility of a rout. In the end, Ajax did not score again, while Feyenoord was unable to bring home the precious away goal and rarely threatened. The Dutch cup final is being played in a two leg, home-away format this year, with no traveling fans allowed due to security reasons. Ajax and Feyenoord, one of the world’s greatest derbies, meet again on May 6 to determine the Dutch Cup winner.