European football talking points: Tottenham Hotspur show their class, Juventus take definitive step towards title and more
In England, favourites Manchester City faltered again. In Italy, Juventus all but confirmed yet another Scudetto while in Germany Borussia Dortmund raced to a six-point lead. Here are the major talking points from Europe
The festive season is here, and like every year, Santa has brought with him heap loads of football matches as Christmas gifts for fans of the sport across the globe. The ‘gifts’ haven’t been pleasant for all the European big guns though, with Premier League title-favourites (till a week ago) Manchester City faltering again, this time against a motivated Crystal Palace side. Outside favourites Chelsea didn’t have a better week either, with Maurizio Sarri’s men losing 1-0 to Leicester City. Juventus all but confirmed yet another Scudetto with a hard-fought victory against Roma while Borussia Dortmund opened up a six-point lead in the German Bundesliga after a victory against their nearest title-rivals Borussia Monchengladbach.
Pochettino’s the one
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool might go into Christmas as the top team of the Premier League, but Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur deserves a lot of praise for still competing in four tournaments with a paper-thin squad and negligible transfer budget. Spurs’ latest victims were an Everton side who were thrashed 6-2 by the Pochettino’s men.
Tottenham showed great spirit after going a goal down against Everton at the weekend. Son Heung-min started the fightback for Spurs, latching on a loose ball after a confusion near the penalty box with Jordan Pickford and Kurt Zouma before slotting it in from a tight angle.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 23, 2018
There was no stopping the Tottenham juggernaut after that with Dele Alli, Harry Kane, and Co joining the party. Pochettino’s diamond-shaped midfield, with Alli on top just behind strikers Kane and Son, and Christian Eriksen on the left has been somewhat of a revelation this season and looks best suited for the fast-paced Premier League. Pochettino hasn’t shied away from changing his team’s shape though, sometimes opting for a nuanced 4-2-3-1 formation against bigger teams in the league.
Spurs’ biggest problem remains their squad depth. A serious injury to Kane, Eriksen or Alli can lead to a dip in form for the side, though the likes of Son and Lucas Moura have performed admirably when called upon.
Considering the differences in budget and personnel, is it fair to say Pochettino has had a better season than Klopp, though?
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is no stranger to dramatic events with Manchester United, but the 5-1 victory against Cardiff on his debut must rank among his top moments with the club. The Red Devils were at their free-flowing best as they scored five goals in a Premier League game for the first time since Alex Ferguson's final match in 2013.
The new manager unleashed Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in an attacking 4-3-3 formation with Jesse Lingard occupying a free role around the two strikers. Full-backs Luke Shaw and Ashley Young were also encouraged to go forward whenever United got the possession of the football. It is the midfield where the Manchester-side probably won the game though. Paul Pogba, back from his exile, was given a more attacking role while Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera (yeah, the forgotten star) provided ample cover for Pogba to dictate the game. It is important for Solskjaer and United to not get carried away by the victory though considering Cardiff were toothless on the night. Tougher tests await but the much-needed win would have come as an early Christmas gift for a set of United fans who have been badly deprived of attractive football.
Bayern time of the year?
Borussia Dortmund have played attractive, clever football for most in 2018, but Lucien Favre’s men will be feeling the pressure of a Bayern Munich side picking up the momentum while going into the winter break. Dortmund overcame a stiff challenge against Monchengladbach at the weekend to get back to winning ways after a shock midweek loss against Fortuna. Bayern, meanwhile, have recovered from a stuttering start to the season to slowly regain some lost ground. Six points is a still a big lead, but it will all depend on how well Dortmund can pick up their game once the season restarts in January. Bayern have seasoned winners in their ranks and contrary to popular belief mid-season, the Bundesliga title is certainly not in Dortmund’s bag.
Juventus stroll past Roma
Roma’s Twitter handle might have won them a lot of fans in the recent past, but football in Serie A continues to be dominated by Juventus. The Serie A leaders were at their clinical best at the weekend where they saw off a tough match against Roma.
Mario Mandzukic scored the only goal for Juve to put more pressure on Roma and keep the champions’ unbeaten run on track. The Croatian World Cup runner-up headed in the winner 34 minutes into the match in Turin to put Juventus eight points clear of Napoli. The Naples side themselves are well clear of the rest of the opponents with a healthy eight-point lead over third-placed Inter Milan, who could only manage a draw against Chievo in the weekend.
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