European football talking points: Manchester United produce vintage late show; defending champions rule the roost
The never-say-die motto is back again at Manchester United and the ideology has caught on well with the players with the players who seem to have forgotten what it felt like to lose a match.
Ivan Rakitic was the star for Barcelona as they overcame Real Madrid in the latest edition of the El Clasico in a Gameweek studded with rival clashes across all top European leagues. The result meant Barcelona now have a seemingly unassailable lead in the LaLiga with their nearest rivals, Atletico Madrid, seven points behind. Juventus did no harm to their chances of winning yet another Serie A title with a narrow 2-1 win against second-placed Napoli in a match that saw both sides being reduced to ten men.
Liverpool squandered their opportunity to stay on top of the Premier League with a draw against Everton while Tottenham brought out their feisty best to claw their way back and earn a draw against London rivals Arsenal in what could be an important match in the race for the final Champions League spot.
A late comeback victory against Southampton will have Manchester United faithful jumping with joy again. The never-say-die motto is back again at the red side of Manchester and the ideology has caught on well with the players who seem to have forgotten what it felt like to lose a match.
Romelu Lukaku was the star as he scored a brace including an 88th-minute winner but it has been the rise of prominence of Paul Pogba that grabbed the headlines once again. The World Cup-winning midfielder has been at his best since the departure of manager Jose Mourinho leading to speculations that it was his clone playing in the Premier League until then. Pogba wasted an opportunity to add to his goals tally with a penalty miss against Southampton in the weekend but the Frenchman is finally playing to his potential in a United shirt.
The result also means Manchester United are in a healthy position to get the all-important fourth spot and qualification to Champions League. Chelsea, who won against London rivals Fulham in the weekend, can still top them if they win their game in hand but the Blue’s erratic run of form would have the punters putting their money on United.
United have won 13 of their 16 games under Solskjaer's management, with the only defeat coming at home to PSG, their opponents in midweek.
El Clasico disappoints
Two defeats in their home against arch-rivals Barcelona will have Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari questioning his team’s ability to challenge for the title again. While the results might not have come as a surprise, with the Barcelona side head and shoulders above the Los Blancos this season, it is the manner in which Real Madrid lost that will have upset fans, board and the players themselves.
— Muhammad Butt (@muhammadbutt) February 27, 2019
Only Vinicius Jr. was a threat going forward while Sergio Ramos impressed as a leader in the defence at the weekend. Barcelona (60) now have a 12-point lead over Real Madrid (48) in the LaLiga having played 26 matches. Atletico Madrid are second in the table with 53 points.
A summer overhaul is definitely on the cards for Madrid but if they are to salvage anything from the season they will have to hope the likes on Toni Kroos and Luka Modric rediscover their form.
In fact, it was the latter’s Croatian teammate Ivan Rakitic who grabbed all the headlines with his goal and a dominating performance in the midfield.
For all his good work, Rakitic has never really been given the status of a hero by the fans of the Catalunya club. The industrious midfielder has contributed in a lot of important goals for Barcelona but the certain lack of love might have a lot do with whom he succeeded the midfield role from — Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. When you’ve seen the best, nothing else lives up to the expectations, does it? Maybe the El Clasico goal will do him good? Or maybe Rakitic should take Jose Mourinho’s advice and pump up his social media presence a little bit.
"He's one of the most underrated players in the world.
"He needs to improve his Instagram and social media because in this moment this is very important and he's not very good on that but he's very good on the pitch!"
(p.s. Mourinho couldn't resist could he?! 😂) pic.twitter.com/3w9toQYrLM
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS) March 2, 2019
Premier League title race’s latest twist
Two goal-less draws, on either side of a 5-0 victory against Watford in the midweek, against two of their biggest rivals have cost Liverpool their lead in the title race. The latest draw came against their Merseyside rivals Everton in the weekend where Liverpool’s attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Divock Origi were shut down by a collective effort from the Everton defence. Jurgen Klopp's men now trail champions Manchester City, who beat Bournemouth 1-0 on Saturday, by a point at the top of the table with nine games remaining in the season.
The Reds will have only themselves to blame for their profligacy in front of the goal though. The visiting side created the clearest openings at Goodison Park with Salah clean through on goal twice while Fabinho missed a gilt-edged opportunity from close range.
Manager Klopp reiterated that his team are still well in the hunt for the title after the match but this is the first time since the first week of December (2018) that Liverpool have fallen behind Manchester City (having played an equal number of matches) in the title race. A fourth draw in six league matches reflects a certain lack of conviction that has haunted the Reds far too often since the beginning of the new year. Manchester City are well capable of pouncing on this opportunity that has been presented to them and it looks like we are well on our way to a tantalising finish to the Premier League season.
Bayern’s title to lose?
We have been speculating this ever since the winter break but Bayern Munich have made it official now – they are favourites to win the Bundesliga. The Munich side thrashed Borussia Monchengladbach 5-1 to equal Borussia Dortmund on points.
A rejuvenated Bayern have now won 11 of their last 12 league games to make it a two-way battle for the title. Dortmund clearly seem to be chocking with the latest defeat coming at the hands of Augsburg. They are still on top of the table on goal difference but with 14 matches left to be played in the season, it looks Bayern’s title to lose.
Gladbach’s shocking loss against Munich meant RB Leipzig overtook them in a battle for the third spot. The result also meant an unwanted record for Gladbach – the first time the club have lost three straight league home games by at least three goals.
Juventus came out on top in an ill-tempered match in the Serie A against Napoli that saw two red cards and a late penalty miss. Juventus beat Napoli 2-1 to continue their march to a record eighth consecutive Serie A title and build a whopping a 16-point lead over their nearest rivals.
Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret was the first to see a red card for a professional foul on Cristiano Ronaldo. But the match kicked into life after Miralem Pjanic converted the resultant free-kick to double the misery on the home side. Piotr Zieliński almost equalised for Napoli immediately but his effort rebounded off the far post. But Napoli was left to rue the missed chance as Emre Can's header in the 39th minute made it a two-goal lead for Juventus.
Pjanic got himself a second yellow for a deliberate hand-ball early in the second half though which resulted in a chaotic half with Jose Callejon finding a goal in the 61st minute. A penalty was awarded in the dying minutes of the match after VAR was used to identify a hand-ball on Alex Sandro. But the effort from Lorenzo Insigne shot off the post to hand Juventus the victory.
Interestingly, there was no place in the starting line-up for Argentine star Paulo Dybala in what looks to be the beginning of the end for the forward. Massimiliano Allegri clearly prefers to keep the shape of the side by playing Federico Bernardeschi as the right winger. With Real Madrid struggling for inspiration it might be time La Joya to go occupy the void left by Ronaldo in Madrid.
Champions League: Real Madrid’s Lucas Vazquez to miss trip to Liverpool due to knee injury picked up in El Clasico
Real announced the player was suffering from a left knee ligament sprain with the Spanish media suggesting he could be out for the rest of the season.
Champions League: Liverpool out for reconciliation against Real Madrid, Manchester City hope to end quarter-final jinx
Real Madrid vs Liverpool, Man City vs Dortmund, Bayern vs PSG, Porto vs Chelsea; there are the matches we'll witness play out over Tuesday and Wednesday, with signature capriciousness of the traditional Champions league quarter-finals.
A run of poor results over the past two months has whittled Atlético's once double-digit advantage down to the slimmest of margins. After two straight games without a victory, Real Madrid are now only one point behind and Barcelona are two points behind with eight games left.