European football talking points: From Sevilla's adaptability paying dividends in LaLiga to Napoli, AC Milan firing blanks

With the English Premier League taking a break due to FA Cup duties, the spotlight was on the other big European tournaments this weekend. Teams leading the leagues -- Juventus, PSG, Borussia Dortmund, and Barcelona – all had a victorious Gameweek, albeit in different styles. However, it’s the action below them that caught the eye.

Here are four talking points from the top European leagues.

Big wins for Sevilla and Valencia

European football talking points: From Sevillas adaptability paying dividends in LaLiga to Napoli, AC Milan firing blanks

Sevilla are giving Real Madrid a run for their money for the third spot in LaLiga this season. AP

Sevilla ensured the battle for the third spot in the LaLiga will a hard fought one with Sevilla by thrashing Levante 5-0 in the weekend and ending a four-match winless streak in the league. Pablo Machin’s men were dominant throughout the match and reaped benefits of a bold strategy that has them punching above their weights in the league.

Machin uses a three-man centre-back system, similar to what Antonio Conte brought to Chelsea, but unlike the English team, Sevilla play with two strikers, usually Wissam Ben Yedder and Andre Silva, in a midfield-heavy 3-5-2 formation. The key to the system is the attacking wing-backs, who join the attackers at every opportune moment. Former Manchester City star Jesus Navas, Dutchman Quincy Promes and Aleix Vidal, all attack-minded players, have occupied the wings for Sevilla this season along with the defensive-minded Sergio Escudero. During the attack, someone from the central midfield, usually Ibrahim Amadou or Roque Mesa, drops to the defence to form a four-man line against any counter-attacks.

The coach hasn’t shied away from tinkering his team depending on the opposition though. Against Real Madrid, in Sevilla’s previous LaLiga match, Machin started with a five-man defence with Navas and Escudero sitting unusually back. It was this extra respect for Real Madrid which finally gave Casemiro the opportunity to unlock the scores with an excellent effort from distance. In the 2-0 victory against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, Machin played the same wing-backs, but they didn’t sit back and let Barcelona come at them. Against Levante, it was an all-out attacking approach with Navas and Promes bombing the wings. Adaptability has been the key to Sevilla’s successful first half of the season, and Machin will have to keep tinkering his team if he is to ensure a Champions League spot for the Los Hispalenses.

Valencia, who struggled to score till the turn of the new year, have started the post-Winter session with a bang. Two wins in two matches and most importantly five goals in the process. Mouctar Diakhaby, Denis Cheryshev, and Rodrigo were on target against Villarreal for Los Che, who jumped to seventh in the table with the victory.

The result meant more misery for the struggling Villarreal though, who are second from the bottom and looking destined for the drop along with Huesca.

Atletico lead Barcelona chase

Antoine Griezmann was the chief orchestrator of the attack again as Atletico Madrid beat an in-form Getafe 2-0 to keep the pressure on league leaders Barcelona.

Diego Simeone’s side scored both their goals in the first half and did enough in the second half to hold on to the lead after defender Diego Godin went out injured. Atletico are going through an injury crisis with Diego Costa, Koke, Filipe Luis, and Angel Correa out of contention, which forced Simeone to play 18-year-old Victor Mollejo in the second-half against Getafe.

Luckily for Atletico, Alvaro Morata seems all set to sign for them on an initial 18-month-long loan deal with an option to buy from Chelsea. Gelson Martins’ loan move to Monaco paved the way for Morata’s arrival. While the former Real Madrid man didn’t have the best of times at Chelsea, he remains a top prospect and will certainly be an upgrade to Martins.

Real Madrid maintained their winning run by beating Espanyol 4-2. Karim Benzema scored two while Gareth Bale scored one on his return from injury.

Big guns fire big in Germany

Robert Lewandowski atoned for a rare mistake from the penalty spot by scoring a goal and helping Bayern cruise to a 4-1 victory over Stuttgart and staying six points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga title race.

German midfielder Leon Gortezka was again the shining star for Bayern, pulling the strings from the midfield and being involved in everything positive for the Munich-side. The result ensured they remain in touching distance from Dortmund who beat Hannover 96 5-1, with Marco Reus impressing in the victory. English youngster Jadon Sancho was in the thick of things as well, setting up Mario Gotze’s goal after making a wonderful run.

Piatek v Milik ends goalless

Napoli might be head and shoulders above AC Milan in the Serie A but their match against AC Milan, billed as the battle between two polish strikers – Milan’s new-signing Krzysztof Piatek and Napoli’s Arek Milik – still had importance for Milan who are fighting for a spot in the Champions League.

Unfortunately for a lot of fans, Piatek didn’t start for Milan as manager Gennaro Gattuso maintained his faith in striker Patrick Cutrone. It was Milan who were positive throughout the match and were unlucky to not to convert the chances that fell to them in the 0-0 draw. Franck Kessie, Cutrone and substitute Piatek all had chances to win the match for the home side, but in the end, it was the same old story, as the Rossoneri succumbed to their fifth goalless match in seven games. The lack of goals doesn’t seem to worry Gattuso though, who indicated in the post-match conference that he won’t play strikers Cutrone and Piatek together in a match as it would affect the team’s balance.

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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2019 12:07:01 IST

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