European football talking points: Borussia Dortmund hang on as Bundesliga race heats up, Chelsea stumble and more
From Dortmund's narrow win over Hertha to Chelsea's latest slip-up, here are top talking points from the weekend of European football
Manchester United didn't have the best of weekends, after goals from Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota helped Wolverhampton Wanderers stun them in the FA Cup.
Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri's side lost 2-0 to the Toffees and missed out on a chance to pile pressure on Arsenal and Manchester United in the race for top four.
Athletic Bilbao beat Atletico Madrid 2-0 in the weekend and it was their star, Inaki Williams, who was at the heart of all things positive again.
There is something about Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid that defies conventional logic. Even in his previous stint, the team never looked complete, like a Pep Guardiola-managed Barcelona, but his men always knew how to grind out important victories and get the job done.
And it certainly feels like the French maestro has brought the mojo back into the Madrid camp with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Celta Vigo making the team look like it was well past its days of misery.
Liverpool, the side Zidane's men defeated in the previous Champions League final, maintained their good run of form in the Premier League and made the best use of Manchester City's FA Cup duties to overtake them in the race for the title with a 2-1 victory against Fulham.
But Manchester United, both title-chasing clubs' biggest rivals, didn't have the best of weekends, after goals from Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota helped Wolverhampton Wanderers stun them in the FA Cup.
Here are five talking points from a weekend of European football:
Dortmund stay in the Bundesliga title fight
Borussia Dortmund ensured they remained level on points with Bayern Munich with a 3-2 victory against Hertha Berlin on the weekend. Captain Marco Reus and mercurial winger Jadon Sancho were impressive for Dortmund once again, but the match showed frailties within the side that opposition teams are likely to target in the future. The defence was shaky once again and it is fair to say Axel Witsel's presence in midfield was missed in the match against Hertha. The home side was able to stifle Dortmund's midfield by applying pressure — something Witsel is good at managing. He thereby frees others of their defensive duties.
The Belgian midfielder is also a key player in linking the defence with the attack. Julian Weigl struggled to have the same impact while partnering Thomas Delaney in the midfield.
All of Dortmund's good work might still not be enough to prevent Bayern Munich from clinching another title come summer though. The Bavarians are on a good run of form in the Bundesliga and thrashed Mainz 6-0 in the weekend to ease to pressure on coach Niko Kovac. The manager was questioned for his side's defensive approach that saw the team lose in the Champions League to Liverpool in the midweek. James Rodriguez scored a hat-trick for the Munich side, which now looks to be the clear favourites for the Bundesliga title.
Juventus' week of ups and downs
Massimiliano Allegri, unlike Kovac, must have thought the pressure on him would fade after a great comeback second-leg victory for Juventus in the midweek against Atletico Madrid.
The victory had everything the Juventus faithful wanted — grit, passion, goals, and some never-before-seen faith in the youth. But the criticism is back against the manager after an uncanny 2-0 loss against Genoa, which saw Juve going back to an experienced starting line-up.
With the Serie A wrapped up, Allegri had a chance to field more homegrown players in his starting XI just like he had in the game against Udinese in the previous weekend, where he handed starting roles to Moise Kean and Leonardo Spinazzola (two bit-part players for most of the season).
Both players impressed in that outing with Kean scoring a brace. But against Genoa, both went back to substitute roles. Time is right for Allegri to unleash the likes of Kean, Spinazzola, and Champions League hero Federico Bernardeschi, and the pressure will only mount if he doesn't.
Inter win Derby Di Milano
With Juve wrapping up the title and Napoli still considerably ahead of rest of the chasing pack, the competition for the final Champions League spots have become more intense in the past few weeks. AC Milan hosted Inter in the Milan derby with the third spot in the Serie A up for grabs. Inter edged an incident-filled match 3-2 to earn the bragging rights and help coach Luciano Spalletti breathe easy after his side were knocked out of the Europa League in the last 16 by Eintracht Frankfurt in the midweek. The result stretched their unbeaten Milan derby run to six games, their best spell since 1999, and moved them to 53 points, two clear of fourth-placed Milan. Milan's loss also ended a five-match winning spree for Gennaro Gattuso's men.
Inaki — The force behind Bilbao's revival
Athletic Bilbao were favourites for relegation half-way through the LaLiga season, but they have turned their fortunes around and how! The latest victim of Bilbao's amazing form, which has catapulted them to ninth in the league, was Atletico Madrid.
The Basque side beat Atletico 2-0 in the weekend and it was their star, Inaki Williams, who was at the heart of all things positive again. Athletic have identified Williams' pace and acceleration as their most potent weapon in attack and have crafted a team that feeds him passes into spaces he can run into.
Williams' versatility means he can operate both as a winger and a central striker, therefore, making him a threat for the opposition in counter-attacking situations.
Athletic Bilbao is a club that only fields players from the Basque country and the team will be happy Williams' Liberian parents chose to move to Spain as refugees. He is the first Black player to score for the Basque-based team and one wouldn't be surprised if bigger clubs came looking for him in the summer transfer window.
The result on the weekend also meant Real Madrid are now in touching distance of their Madrid rivals in the race for the second spot in the LaLiga with only two points separating the two sides.
Chelsea still in shambles
Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri had underlined two things before their match against Everton in the weekend — he was happy with Chelsea's defensive solidity in the recent few matches, but still wanted them to start playing ‘Sarriball’ he craves for.
Sadly, neither happened for the Italian coach as his side lost 2-0 to the Toffees and missed out on a chance to pile pressure on Arsenal and Manchester United in the race for top four. To be fair to Sarri, Chelsea didn't play too badly for most parts of the match.
Eden Hazard, Pedro, and Ross Barkley had great chances for the Blues in the first half but failed to grab the opportunities and a second-half capitulation saw Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson score to help Everton secure all three points.
The criticism, in fact, should be directed at the entire team, including the board, and not just the manager. This Chelsea side is the polar opposite of what they had come to represent in the past two decades — mental strength, athleticism and the ability to grind out a result even in hostile territories. They have completely forgotten the art that saw them win the Champions League against all odds in 2012 and the board should start questioning their own transfer policies and management decisions that have led to this change in attitude.
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