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City tightens grip on Premier League lead

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring past Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson, bottom, during their English Premier League soccer match at The Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. Manchester City's Sergio Aguero celebrates after scoring past Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson, bottom, during their English Premier League soccer match at The Etihad Stadium, Manchester, England, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
February 25, 2012
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LONDON—Manchester City tightened its grip on top spot in the English Premier League on Saturday by registering a 13th straight home victory, easing past Blackburn 3-0.

City barely broke into a sweat at fortress Etihad Stadium to move provisionally five points clear of Manchester United, with Mario Balotelli, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko scoring in a routine victory.

United States defender Tim Ream made his league debut for Bolton at Chelsea but couldn't stop the home side as England midfielder Frank Lampard scored one goal and set up another in a 3-0 win. That ended Chelsea's miserable run of five straight winless games to move past Arsenal and provisional fourth place.

Arsenal hosts third-place Tottenham in the north London derby on Sunday, when United visits Norwich.

City's solid home form is allowing it to challenge for its first English title since 1968. Not since Newcastle in 1996 has a team won as many successive home league games from the start of a season.

"People say being leader you have the pressure from those behind, but I think it is the opposite," City captain Vincent Kompany said.

At the end of a week in which Carlos Tevez returned to training with City after three months of unauthorized leave, his rival strikers all scored and proved the Argentina international will have to earn his starting place.

Balotelli opened the scoring after 30 minutes before Aguero in the 52nd and Dzeko in the 81st added further goals against Blackburn, which is third from bottom.

"We seem to have found our form again," Kompany said. "There's no such thing as an easy game and for us to win the league we've got to do the same, week in week out."

Lampard completed Chelsea's easy win with a late volley to become the first player to score at least 10 Premier League goals in nine successive seasons. It was also the 150th league goal of his career.

Brazil center back David Luiz and Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba, who went off injured late on, earlier scored after a goalless first half.

"It was important to win after all the recent disappointments," said manager Andre Villas-Boas, whose job may have been untenable had Chelsea lost to a team second from last. "We have been trying so hard and today we managed to do a great, great game."

Terry Connor's first match in temporary charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers started disastrously with Papiss Demba Cisse and Jonas Gutierrez putting Newcastle 2-0 ahead after 18 minutes of their match at St. James' Park.

However, Matt Jarvis reduced Wolves' deficit at the start of the second half and Kevin Doyle snatched the equalizer in the 66th, denting sixth-place Newcastle's hopes of a finish in the Champions League spots and lifting the Wolves out of the bottom three.

Queens Park Rangers slipped to fourth from last after losing 1-0 at home to Clint Dempsey's Fulham, West Bromwich Albion beat Sunderland 4-0 and Wigan drew 0-0 at home to Aston Villa.


BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- Malaga gave up an early goal, then rallied past last-place Zaragoza 5-1 to move within one point of fourth-place Levante for the Spanish league's final Champions League berth next season.

Levante, an early season sensation, won 2-1 at Espanyol for its first victory of 2012, getting a go-ahead goal on Ruben Suarez's late free kick in the 88th minute.

Carlos Aranda's volley put Zaragoza ahead in the 23rd minute, but Seba Fernandez tied it in the 45th and Malaga went ahead in the 67th when Francisco "Isco" Alarcon's cross deflected in off Paulo Da Silva.

In Barcelona, Valmiro "Valdo" Lopes put visiting Levante ahead in the 24th, but substitute Kalu Uche tied it in the 75th. Suarez's free kick grazed a defender before bending around goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to give Levante its first win in nine weeks.

Elsewhere, Racing Santander came from behind for a 1-1 home draw against Sporting Gijon in a relegation fight, while Getafe drew 1-1 at Real Betis after Jose Dorado's own goal canceled out Jorge Molina's opener for Betis.


MILAN (AP) -- Alessandro Matri scored in the 83rd minute, and Juventus extended its unbeaten streak to 28 games with a 1-1 tie at Serie A leader AC Milan on Saturday in a match between the league's top two teams.

Defending champion AC Milan has 51 points, one more than Juventus, which has played one less game.

AC Milan went ahead in the 14th minute, when Leonardo Bonucci's failed clearance led to Antonio Nocerino's goal on a 30-yard shot that deflected off a defender and past goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Matri, who entered in the 70th, tied it when he volleyed in Simone Pepe's cross.

In the day's other game, Rodrigo Palacio scored his second goal deep into stoppage time to give Genoa a 2-2 draw against Parma.


BERLIN (AP) -- Not even the eagerly anticipated return of Lukas Podolski could stop Cologne slumping to a 2-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga's Rhine derby on Saturday.

Cologne fans had their hopes pinned on the striker who scored half of their side's league goals this season, but Podolski was unable to exert his usual influence after four weeks out injured.

Instead, Germany teammate Lars Bender scored twice for Leverkusen to leave Cologne two points off the relegation places after six defeats in seven games.

"These are hard times for us," Cologne coach Stale Solbakken said after his side's third straight defeat.

Bender opened the scoring from close range in the 16th minute, making sure Vedran Corluka's goalward header crossed the line after Stefan Reinartz's initial header hit the post. The Leverkusen midfielder coolly tucked the ball beyond Michael Rensing in the 51st, thanks to an outstanding pass from Renato Augusto.

Nuremberg stunned Werder Bremen in the late game when Alexander Esswein scored for the visitors to win 1-0 and move away from the relegation zone.

Bremen's Claudio Pizarro was agonizingly wide before the break, and the Peru striker went even closer after it when he struck the post after rounding the goalkeeper.

Pizarro set up Marko Marin in the 61st, only for Marin to scoop the ball over from close range.

"Unfortunately we didn't take our chances. Sometimes the ball doesn't want to go in, and this season we've hit the post pretty often," Pizarro said.

Nuremberg scored against the run of play in the 65th, when Jens Hegeler crossed for the unmarked Esswein to drill a shot to the far corner.

Coach Otto Rehhagel's long-awaited return to the Bundesliga could not prevent Hertha Berlin slumping to its sixth successive defeat, its seventh in all competitions.

Augsburg beat the 73-year-old coach's side 3-0 in his first game in charge to move above the visitors and leave Hertha in the relegation playoff place.

"Augsburg fought like lions," Rehhagel said. "Everyone has to understand that we're in a relegation battle. It's obvious that we can't play like Barcelona."

Elsewhere, Stuttgart beat bottom side Freiburg 4-1 in a local derby, Mainz routed Kaiserslautern 4-0 and Hoffenheim won 2-1 at Wolfsburg.


GLASGOW, Scotland (AP) -- Celtic recorded its 14th straight victory in the Scottish Premier League by beating Motherwell 1-0 on Saturday to maintain its remorseless march to the title.

Gary Hooper scored the winner in the 59th minute to extend the leaders' cushion over Glasgow rival and defending champion Rangers to 23 points.

Rangers, which visits Inverness on Sunday in one of its two games in hand, virtually relinquished its title after being docked 10 points for going into administration -- a form of bankruptcy protection -- last week.

Third-place Motherwell could have drawn level on points with Rangers but hardly troubled Celtic, ending its six-game unbeaten run.

Dunfermline is three points adrift at the bottom after losing 3-1 at fourth-place St. Johnstone.


PARIS (AP) -- Montpellier moved into the French league lead with a 1-0 victory over visiting Bordeaux on John Utaka's header off a corner kick in the 80th minute.

Paris Saint-Germain dropped into second place with a 4-4 draw at Lyon.

Guillaume Hoarau put the visitors ahead in the 21st, but goals by Bafetimbi Gomis in the 34th, Lisandro Lopez in the 36th and Michel Bastos in the 40th put Lyon ahead 3-1. Nene's penalty kick in the 45th trimmed the deficit, but Jimmy Briand's header off a corner kick in the 57th made it 4-2. Goals by substitute Marcos Ceara in the 73rd and Hoarau in stoppage time gained the draw.

Also Saturday, it was: Auxerre 0, Saint-Etienne 0; Valenciennes 2, Lorient 0; Nice 1, Caen 0; Ajaccio 2, Dijon 1; and Evian 2, Nancy 0.

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