European football talking points: Runaway leaders Juventus, PSG and Barcelona stutter; Jadon Sancho shines for Dortmund
Four talking points from Europe’s top leagues in a Gameweek of surprises, including Juventus and PSG's rare blip and Liverpool icon Mohamed Salah's heroics.
There were a lot of positives for Liverpool in the 2-0 win that would have gone a long way in wiping off bad memories of that Steven Gerrard slip
Chelsea are like one of those X-men experiments that went wrong and are in desperate need of something fresh in terms of ideology and personnel
A new crop of footballers are embarking on a journey to foreign leagues and nobody has benefitted more from these adventures more than Dortmund’s Sancho
It wasn’t just HBO and the Game of Thrones makers toying people with teasers and drama in the weekend as Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint-Germain and Serie A toppers Juventus both lost opportunities to wrap up their respective league titles in the recently-concluded Gameweek. Juventus lost to SPAL, while 10-man PSG suffered a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Lille.
Manchester United, who knocked out PSG from the Champions League in the last-16, managed to squeeze out a victory against West Ham United at home to stay in the battle for a spot in Europe’s top football competition next season while Tottenham scored four against a hapless Huddersfield to regain the third position in the league.
The race for the top-four spots is getting hot in all top European leagues though with AC Milan winning against Lazio to stay fourth and a point ahead of Roma who managed back-to-back victories for the first time since Claudio Ranieri’s takeover.
Four talking points from Europe’s top leagues in a Gameweek of surprises.
Liverpool march on
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man” they said. For Liverpool, it was a case of “men” showing up on the big occasion as goals Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane ensured the Reds remained in the title race with Manchester City. There were a lot of positives for Liverpool in the 2-0 win that would have gone a long way in wiping off bad memories of that Steven Gerrard slip that cost them the title five years back. The defence looked resolute throughout the match and it is fair to say Jurgen Klopp has plugged all the holes they had in the previous seasons by bringing in Van Dijk and Alisson in the transfer windows. But there is a factor beyond the control of the players or the manager – luck. You know a team is likely to win silverware when you see things automatically fall in the place and Liverpool certainly have it going for them at the moment. Had Eden Hazard’s shot gone inside instead of rebounding off the post then we would have probably had a different game. But like they say, winners create their own luck and Klopp’s men have certainly worked hard for theirs. Another final day title decider in our hands?
Chelsea in a limbo
Chelsea are a side struggling to find an identity on the pitch. When Sarri came in there was some expectation that he would mutate the Blues’ defensive, counter-attacking DNA into something more attack-minded and pleasing to the eye. We did see glimpses of the “Sarriball” in the initial parts of the season but after the likes of Manchester City exposed Sarriball’s weaknesses, the manager has been more cautious in his approach, which shows in the team’s shape in the game. It seems the entire unit is confused – do they go forward or do they sit back and defend? Jorginho, on Sunday, was a perfect example of what is going wrong for the London side. He seemed lost about his job – neither was he sliding around and tackling like a John Obi Mikel nor was he spreading passes like a Cesc Fabregas. There he was, somewhere in the middle, but not doing any of his tasks successfully. Chelsea are like one of those X-men experiments that went wrong and are in desperate need of something fresh in terms of ideology and personnel. But with the transfer ban looming, will Chelsea be able to turn things around in the summer though? Especially with Eden Hazard’s one leg already in Madrid.
Title delays for Barcelona and Juventus
A lot of fans across the globe, especially in Turin, might have started Juventus’ title celebrations when in-form Moise Kean scored for Juventus against SPAL in the weekend. But SPAL, on a good run of form themselves, had other plans for the champions and hit back two in either side of the half time break to snatch an important victory in their bid for survival. The surprise loss means Juventus will now have to wait for the Easter weekend to wrap up the title with Napoli securing all three points against Chievo.
It was a similar story for Barcelona in the LaLiga, who like Juventus, fielded a reserve team in the league outing, with the focus on the Champions League second-leg in the mid-week. The youngest Barcelona starting XI in 24 years was however held to a goalless draw by bottom-placed Huesca. Second-placed Atletico Madrid securing all three points with a victory against Celta Vigo through goals from Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata which reduced the gap from Barca to nine points clear with six matches still remaining in the league.
Gone are those days when English footballers plying their trade in the German Bundesliga were unheard of. A new crop of exciting footballers are embarking on a journey to foreign leagues and nobody has benefitted more from these adventures more than Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho. The young Brit, who moved from Manchester City in the summer, has been the standout player for Dortmund this season and perhaps the most influential in their title challenge. His first-half brace was the difference for Dortmund as they saw out a late resurgence by a Mainz to win the match 2-1 and keep the pressure on Bayern Munich.
Bayern maintained their one-point lead on top of the table with a 4-1 thrashing of Fortuna on Sunday. Kingsley Coman scored for the visiting side while Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka scored one each in the victory. The biggest surprise of the weekend was Borussia Monchengladbach’s victory over Hannover 96 which ended a bad run of form that saw the side drop to fifth in the league.
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