European football talking points: Lionel Messi underlines GOAT status; Max Allegri struggles for his best XI at Juventus and more

From Lionel Messi's greatness to Jadon Sancho's heroics, here are top talking points from the weekend of European football

Nevin Thomas February 25, 2019 13:08:57 IST
European football talking points: Lionel Messi underlines GOAT status; Max Allegri struggles for his best XI at Juventus and more

Remember that guy Pele described as a player with ‘one foot and one skill’? Yeah, that player, who goes by the name Lionel Messi, was the star of the week once again, scoring three and assisting another in Barcelona’s 4-2 victory against Sevilla. His so-called successor, Mohamed Salah, didn’t have a weekend to remember though, with the much-maligned Manchester United defender Luke Shaw keeping the Egyptian in his pocket in Liverpool’s trip to Manchester in the Premier League.

It was a good weekend for all sides of Manchester, with City winning the Carabao Cup on penalties. Unfortunately for the Sky Blues, the headlines were stolen by Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who refused a substitution in the dying stages of the extra-time, much to the anger of his manager Maurizio Sarri.

Here are four talking points from a weekend of football that saw Europe’s league leaders fortify their stay on top with victories.

G.O.A.T-level Messi

Lionel Messi was at his sublime-best at the weekend for Barcelona as the LaLiga leaders edged past a Sevilla side who had no answers to the Argentine’s brilliance. Messi scored three and assisted another in the Catalunya-based side’s 4-2 victory but as the score would suggest, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Sevilla took the lead twice in the match and exposed Barcelona’s problems in defence once again.

Barcelona welcomed Samuel Umtiti in the starting line-up, although he was sluggish and didn’t really look match-fit against Sevilla. Pablo Machin’s side caused problems on the counter, and Umtiti’s lack of games showed at times, perhaps unsurprisingly given that he’s been out for a long time. But a fit-again Umtiti will be a huge plus for the leaders in the coming matches.

Title chasers Real Madrid had a difficult weekend too, winning 2-1 against a resilient Levante. The Los Blancos converted two controversial penalties to win the match which highlighted their reliance on the brilliance of Vinicius Jr. The Brazilian was the chief orchestrator of attacks for Real, while his teammate Gareth Bale, once the hero of Bernabeu, had another performance to forget, even though he converted the all-important penalty.

Their city rivals Atletico had a comfortable day out with Alvaro Morata and Saul Niguez scoring in a 2-0 home victory against Villarreal that keeps them in the second spot in the table.

Stalemate at the Theatre of Dreams

In the end, it was a goalless draw and an opportunity missed for Liverpool to build on their lead at the top of the Premier League table. But that’s only telling a part of the story. Liverpool were held to a stalemate by Manchester United’s grit and determination more than anything else. An already severely depleted Red Devils side lost three key players (Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, and Jesse Lingard) in the first half which meant manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was forced to throw in young, inexperienced Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay against their arch-rivals.

But his players were more than up to the challenge, with inspired performances from the likes of man-of-the-match Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof in the defense shutting down the attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Daniel Sturridge.

The result, at least on paper, doesn’t seem too bad for the visiting Liverpool team though. It meant Jurgen Klopp’s men have now faced, arguably, the most daunting fixture of their title run-in and came out with a point.  Manchester United are England’s most in-form team — United remains unbeaten in the Premier League since Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho.

But Klopp would know it was also an opportunity missed and the manager himself will be under a fair bit of criticism for his decisions. Jordan Henderson did not have an influence from the midfield and one might wonder why the likes of Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaquiri did not start the match. His decision to bring on Sturridge after Roberto Firmino twisted his ankle in the first half was also somewhat bewildering considering the England forward’s lack of game-time.

For Solskjaer though the signs are positive. This might not have been a vintage Manchester United match but it showcased two characteristics from the older, successful teams – belief in the youth and a never-say-die attitude.

Sancho the star for Dortmund again

Borussia Dortmund needed a win to keep their three-point lead  at the top of the Bundesliga intact after a bad run of matches saw their arch-rivals Bayern Munich close the gap at the top. Lucien Favre’s men gave him the perfect response with a 3-2 win against an in-form Bayer Leverkusen side in the weekend.

English sensation Jadon Sancho was once again the star for Dortmund, scoring one and assisting another in the victory.

Jonathan Tah’s 75th-minute goal for Leverkusen saw the home side being pushed to some last-ditch defending in the closing stages of the match but in the end, Dortmund’s defence held firm for a much-wanted three points.

Munich sustained the pressure on Dortmund with a narrow 1-0 victory against Hertha Berlin. The biggest surprise of the week was Borussia Monchengladbach’s 3-0 loss against Werder Bremen at home.

Allegri still searching for his best XI

What do you do when you have an array of talent at your disposal but can only use 11? Don’t ask Massimiliano Allegri because he looks very confused with is options as Juventus. The Serie A leaders secured a 1-0 away victory Bologna in the weekend but the result will only add more pressure on Allegri who saw his side suffer a 2-0 defeat against Atletico Madrid in the midweek.

Paulo Dybala scored once again for Juventus making it two in two league appearances this time he came off the bench. Allegri clearly feels his team’s shape will be sacrificed if he starts both Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo, but other players such as Federico Bernardeschi or Douglas Costa, haven’t contributed effectively in attack this season. Serie A title race is almost done and dusted with Juve sitting on a 13-point lead but the arrival of Ronaldo was supposed to have been the missing link for The Old Lady of Turin to win the coveted Champions League trophy.

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