Jonathan Cook’s World Game Wrap-Up

Barca bash Madrid – for real

It won’t change the outcome of La Liga this season, but a 4-0 win over Real Madrid has provided more evidence that Xavi Hernandez is on the right track to restore Barcelona to their former glory.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice at the Bernabeu and Ferran Torres and Ronald Araujo were also on target as Barca put the brakes on a five-game losing streak against their rivals in El Clasico.

Third-placed Barcelona are 12 points behind Real, who are nine points ahead of second-placed Sevilla. Barca have played a game fewer than the top two.

Although Real look to be striding towards another title, Xavi, who was appointed Barca manager in November, will enjoy the bragging rights. Under his guidance, Barcelona are now unbeaten in their past 12 games.

Aubameyang, who joined from Arsenal in February, has been a key figure in their recent success, scoring nine goals in 11 games.

Glory coach shown the door

Richard Garcia’s last act as Perth Glory coach was to oversee a 4-1 defeat to Brisbane Roar at HBF Park.

Glory have won only one of their last 10 matches in a season complicated by COVID-19 restrictions that caused havoc with the club’s fixture schedule.

But taking only one point from a possible 12 in four recent home games prompted owner Tony Sage to axe Garcia and his assistant Steven McGarry.

Glory’s U20 coach Ruben Zadkovich and U20 assistant coach Chris Coyne have been handed the responsibility of salvaging something from the season.

But with Glory rooted to the bottom of the table and 10 points adrift of sixth place, a finals outing won’t be on the agenda.

Big guns drawn in Cup semi

Liverpool and Manchester City will clash in the FA Cup semi-finals after both teams negotiated their way past quarter-final opposition.

Liverpool were made to work hard for a 1-0 victory over Championship side Nottingham Forest, while Manchester City had it easier against Southampton.

Although Aymeric Laporte’s own goal on the stroke of half-time cancelled out Raheem Sterling’s opener and gave the Saints hope, they were blown away in the second half as City registered a 4-1 win.

Chelsea set up Palace clash

It was a case of “few fans, no problem” for Chelsea as they breezed into the semi-finals of the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Championship side Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.

Chelsea were unable to sell tickets to their fans due to sanctions against the club’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich, and only around 700 Blues fans attended the match.

But manager Thomas Tuchel, whose calmness continues to defy the club’s current predicament, masterminded a comfortable win, with first-half goals from Romelu Lukaku and Hakim Ziyech sealing victory.

Chelsea will take on Crystal Palace in the semi-final after they thrashed Everton 4-0.

Conte whistling different tune

Antonio Conte has adopted a more optimistic outlook as Tottenham Hotspur challenge for a UEFA Champions League place.

Just last month, the Spurs manager seemed to suggest he might not be the right man for the job. But a turnaround in fortunes – and last night’s 3-1 win over West Ham United – has him whistling a different tune.

“The ambition is to target fourth place,” he said. “Before my arrival this seemed difficult to reach, but now after five months, this is starting to work.”

Two goals from Son Heung-Min eased Tottenham Hotspur to a win that took them above Manchester United and into fifth place, three points back from their North London rivals Arsenal.

The Gunners scraped past Aston Villa on Saturday thanks to Bukayo Saka’s first-half goal.

Champions League draw

Darwin Nunez’s value to Benfica continues to grow after the Uruguayan scored the goal that took the Portuguese side into the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals.

Benfica will take on Liverpool after Nunez scored with his side’s only effort on target to beat Ajax 1-0 in Amsterdam and secure a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Nunez, 22, was already on the radar of several Premier League clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle United.

Liverpool, who crept into the quarter-finals with a 2-1 aggregate victory despite losing 1-0 at home to Inter Milan, will get a close look at the qualities of a player who seems certain to join the Premier League next season.

The Premier League is represented in three of the four Champions League quarter-finals with Villarreal against Bayern Munich the only match without an English club.

Chelsea take on Spanish giants Real Madrid and Manchester City face Atletico Madrid, who progressed to the last eight with a 2-1 aggregate victory over Manchester United.

Fornaroli called into Socceroos

Just as Perth Glory’s season looks dead and buried, Bruno Fornaroli has something to look forward to.

The 34-year-old’s selection for the Socceroos’ crucial World Cup qualifiers against Japan (Thursday, March 24) and Saudi Arabia (Wednesday, March 30) will be welcome relief for the Uruguayan given Glory’s current predicament.

Fornaroli’s Socceroos call-up even prompted Uruguayan football legend Luis Suarez to send a congratulatory social media post.

Australia must win both games – and hope either Saudi (against China) or Japan (against Vietnam) slip up in their other remaining game – to qualify directly for the Qatar World Cup.

If Australia finish third in the group, they will be forced through a difficult play-off route.

Inter drop more points

AC Milan maintained their three-point lead at the top of Italy’s Serie A while their city rivals Inter slipped up again.

Ismael Bennacer scored a stunning winner for Milan against Cagliari, while second-placed Napoli came from behind to beat Udinese 2-1.

But Inter’s struggles continued as they dropped points for the fourth time in their past five Serie A games.

A 1-1 draw at home to Fiorentina has left third-placed Inter six points behind Milan and three adrift of Napoli.

Leeds on the march with Marsch

An injury-time Luke Ayling goal completed a remarkable Leeds United fightback that lifted them seven points clear of the relegation zone.

Trailing 2-0 to Wolves at Molineux and with striker Patrick Bamford in tears after picking up an ankle injury, it wasn’t looking good for new Leeds manager Jesse Marsch.

But goals from Jack Harrison, Rodrigo and Ayling at the death, earned a second successive victory for the American manager.

Leeds had failed to win any of eight games before last weekend’s narrow win over struggling Norwich City. Victory over eighth-placed Wolves was a far greater achievement.