Premier League

Carrick amused by sudden praise

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Sun, 26 May 2013 22:27:00

Valencia beat Granada to boost their top-four hopes as Real Sociedad played out a thrilling 3-3 draw with Real Madrid, while all three relegation places remain undecided ahead of the final week of the season after Deportivo La Coruna lost to Malaga and Celta Vigo overcame Real Valladolid.

Elsewhere, champions Barcelona moved a step closer to claiming a club-record 100 points this season after beating derby rivals Espanyol 2-0 at the Estadi Cornella-El Prat.

Barca, who look set to seal the signing of Brazil superstar Neymar on Monday, were put on course for a 31st league win of the season through Alexis Sanchez's 14th-minute opener.

Espanyol's hopes of getting anything out of the match then suffered a blow when they lost Mubarak Wakaso to a red card in the 80th minute, and six minutes later Barca sealed the victory through substitute Pedro Rodriguez.

Tito Vilanova's men now need to beat Malaga in next weekend's final round of fixtures to become only the second side after Real Madrid to reach 100 points in a single season.

With the top three spots in La Liga already decided, the two-horse race for the fourth and final Champions League spot will garner much of the attention on the last weekend.

Valencia currently hold the upper hand after their 1-0 win over Granada, secured through Roberto Soldado's 60th-minute strike, saw them move two points clear of Real Sociedad, who drew 3-3 at home with second-placed Real Madrid.

Sociedad dominated almost from start to finish but had to battle back from 2-0 and 3-2 down just to get a point.

Madrid, who were without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, went ahead through goals from Gonzalo Higuain (six minutes) and Jose Maria Callejon (57) but Sociedad deservedly drew level with strikes from Xabi Prieto (64, pen) and Antoine Griezmann (78).

Visitors Madrid soon resorted their lead through Sami Khedira but Sociedad battled back again and Prieto's second just before the final whistle earned them a point which could yet prove vital.

The relegation battle will also go to the wire with four clubs - Real Mallorca, Real Zaragoza, Celta Vigo and Deportivo La Coruna - fighting to avoid finishing in the bottom three.

Mallorca claimed a creditable 0-0 draw at third-placed Atletico Madrid while Celta were 2-0 winners at Real Valladolid, goals in either half from Gustavo Cabral and Iago Aspas earning the Galicians the points.

Heavy defeat



Both Zaragoza and Depor crashed to defeat, losing away to Europa League hopefuls Real Betis and Malaga, respectively.

Seventh-placed Betis won 4-0, with Ruben Castro opening the scoring inside 15 seconds and Dorlan Pabon (17, 71) and Jorge Molina (50) adding to the scoreline, while sixth-placed Malaga defeated Depor 3-1.

Javier Saviola (45), Julio Baptista (64) and Isco (80) struck for the Andalusian side with Depor's consolation coming from Diogo Salomao 15 minutes from time.

Those results mean that Osasuna are guaranteed another season of top-flight football after they secured a 2-1 comeback win over Sevilla.

Alvaro Negredo put Sevilla ahead just after half-time but Patxi Punal drew Osasuna level around the hour-mark and then substitute Alvaro Cejudo curled home a free-kick with 12 minutes remaining to earn the hosts all three points.

San Mames misery


Athletic Bilbao suffered disappointment in their final league game at their famous San Mames stadium as they went down to a last-gasp goal to Levante.

Juanlu struck the winner in stoppage time after Athletic had lost striker Iker Muniain to a 62nd-minute sending off.

In Sunday's other game, Diego Castro's late own goal saw eighth-placed Rayo Vallecano win 2-1 at local rivals Getafe.

Alejandro Dominguez cancelled out Rafa Lopez's opener before Castro put through his own net to earn Rayo the spoils.

Robin van Persie may have grabbed all the headlines after scoring 26 goals in his debut year at Manchester United, but Carrick's input has been just as important in delivering Sir Alex Ferguson a perfect send-off in the form of the Premier League title.

Over the last few years Carrick has perhaps not received the recognition that his ability merits.

Since he moved from Tottenham in 2006, the midfielder has been a near ever-present in the United team, averaging around 45 games per season during a period that has seen the club win five titles, one Champions League and one League Cup.

The fact that he has been playing alongside Paul Scholes for the majority of that time is probably the reason why Carrick has not received so much acclaim.

But now that age has caught up with a player who many regard as United's greatest ever midfielder, Carrick's contribution has been more widely noticed - much to his surprise.

Carrick said: "It slightly amuses me when I see or hear people saying different things (about me), as if I have suddenly appeared from nowhere.

"I have maybe played a little bit better than I have done in the past, but I have been happy with my form for a long time really.

"A couple of people say something and it snowballs from there.

"Obviously you have to be doing things right on the pitch, but it is slightly strange how it has come about this season."

To say Carrick has merely been doing "the right things" this season is quite an understatement.

The 31-year-old has completed 2147 passes in the league this year, second only to Arsenal's Mikel Arteta.

And what is more, United's players' player of the season has a 90% pass completion rate.

This has not gone unnoticed by Roy Hodgson. The England manager considers Carrick an integral part of his squad, and given the absence of Steven Gerrard, Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere through injury, the Manchester United man is likely to feature against the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday and in the Maracana on Sunday versus Brazil.

It seems strange to think that just three years ago Carrick made Fabio Capello's World Cup squad, but did not play one minute of a disappointing campaign in South Africa.

Carrick does not wish to dwell on that experience, and is instead determined to focus on trying to help the Three Lions qualify for Rio 2014.

"What's done is done, whether it's good, bad or indifferent, it's about the next challenge and making the most of that challenge," Carrick said.

"The next challenge is to qualify for the World Cup and then to make your mark as a team. Looking back doesn't really help you or achieve much, you should only do that when you're retired and have your slippers on."

Carrick knows England still have some way to go before he can add competing in a Brazil World Cup to his impressive CV, however.

A 1-1 draw in Montenegro two months ago has left Hodgson's men two points behind the Balkan country but, with four games left, Carrick insists England should not be too worried about their plight.

"We are quite happy with the situation we are in," he said.

"It's in our hands. If we win the games we need to we will be okay.

"We feel we are close to being a very, very good team at this level, close to challenging anyone, but it's up to us to prove it now."

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