European football talking points: Casemiro screamer rescues Madrid, Bayern return with a bang and City score a century

Napoli defeated Lazio 2-1 to cut short Juventus’ lead at the top of the Serie A table to six points but third-placed Inter Milan struggled again as they succumbed to a goalless draw against Sassuolo. League leaders Juventus have a game in hand though but their dominance still can’t match Paris Saint Germain’s in the French Ligue 1. A 3-0 victory in the weekend against Amiens took the Paris-side 13 points clear of second-placed Lille, having played two matches lesser.

In the Premier League, leaders Liverpool maintained their winning run with a hard-fought victory against Crystal Palace while Spurs fans must be thinking who needs Harry Kane when they’ve got young Harry Winks after a late goal from the midfielder saw them edge past London rivals Fulham!

Meanwhile, in Manchester, City became the first club across Europe to score 100 goals in this campaign while Ole Gunnar Solskaer has the United faithful dreaming a Champions League spot after a sixth consecutive victory. It’s not going to be easy for United if Arsenal consistently put in displays like the one against Chelsea though!

Big names rise to the occasion for Real

We had mentioned in our LaLiga mid-season report that if Real Madrid are to salvage something from this season, their experienced players will have to step up. And that is exactly what they did in a battle for the third place in the La Liga table against Sevilla in the weekend. After a cagey beginning to the match which saw both teams play with caution, it was Brazilian midfielder Casemiro who unlocked the Sevilla defence with a screamer of a goal in the 78th minute.

Luka Modric added an injury-time goal to seal the match and secure the third spot for Madrid but the biggest positive for Santiago Solari’s men would be how the fans at Bernabeu reacted to Casemiro’s special goal. The noise and the belief are back at Real’s home and the victory against Sevilla could well be the turnaround the Los Blancos were looking for.

While the performances from the experienced players have been sporadic, young Dani Ceballos has been nearly flawless for Real this season. The idea behind roping in Julen Lopetegui in the summer was to transform Real Madrid into a side with a young, Spanish spine. Even though the project backfired, they have unearthed a gem in the 22-year-old. He scored a spectacular free-kick goal against his former side Real Betis in the previous gameweek and maintained that good momentum with a solid performance in the midfield against Sevilla.

Talking about Real Madrid and Spanish stars, remember Sergio Canales? The former Madrid man, who was touted to be special by many experts, is finally having an injury-less season and not-so-surprisingly playing to his potential. Real Betis’ outstanding season so far has been largely pivoted around the Spanish playmaker, who has five goals and two assists to his name in the La Liga so far.

Barcelona had an outstanding performance from Ousmane Dembele and a second-half cameo from Lionel Messi to thank for as they overcame Leganes 3-1 at the Camp Nou. Second-placed Atletico Madrid had a flawless weekend too and maintained pressure on the table toppers with a comfortable 3-0 victory against bottom-placed Huesca.

Time for Sarri to ditch his methods?

Why are Chelsea struggling when they have quality players in their ranks and a manager with a clear philosophy? While one might never be able to point out the exact reason – coach Maurizio Sarri thinks his players are very difficult to motivate – playing some of the team’s best players out of position certainly has a part in it. Is David Luiz a liability when played in a two Centre Back system? Is he better off as a libero? Does Eden Hazard have what it takes to be a false nine? Is Willian more suited for the right wing? Is N’Golo Kante a box-to-box midfielder or a defensive shield? Is Marcos Alonso better as a wing-back?

Time is running out for Sarri to answer these questions, especially after the lacklustre defeat against Arsenal. Former manager Antonio Conte’s good times at Chelsea started after a defeat to Arsenal but unlike Conte, who shifted to a back-three, a formation which he is comfortable in, Sarri does not have that fall-back option. Chelsea are playing Sarri football which means the former Napoli manager will have to venture into unchartered territory if he is to tweak the team according to the players he has at disposal. Sarri has played with a double-pivot midfield in his time at Sorrento but that was in the lower divisions of the Italian League and is certainly not the ‘Sarriball’ that shot him to glory. But dropping N’Golo Kante to his favoured position, signing a proper striker and shifting Hazard to the hole behind the striker or the left wing can go a long way in improving this Chelsea side. The Italian is notoriously famous for not changing teams and sticking to his ideology though. Tough times ahead for the Blues?

Red-hot Bayern Munich up for the title challenge

Bayern Munich have woke up from their winter breaks with a bang. The German champions produced a commanding display against a tough Hoffenheim side to win 3-1 and add to the pressure on Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund.

Leon Goretzka was the chief orchestrator for Munich, scoring two goals in the first half and creating chances in plenty. The German midfielder started in a classic number 10 position as Bayern lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Kingsley Coman and Thomas Muller taking up the wider attacking roles behind striker Robert Lewandowski. With Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara sitting back in the midfield, there was ample protection for the central defenders as well. Coach Niko Kovac finally seems to have unlocked his best-balanced side and will be hoping for a positive run in the coming months.

Dortmund refused to wilt under the pressure though and secured a 1-0 victory against fourth-placed RB Leipzig on Sunday to re-establish the six-point lead on top of the table. The league leaders missed the services of their captain Marco Reus in the match due to an injury but the German forward is expected to return within two weeks.

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Updated Date: Jan 21, 2019 12:52:42 IST

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