WHAT WE LEARNED: City slickers, resurgent Real and bullish Bayern - European leagues round-up
LONDON:Two giants of the Spanish game might have been battling it out in the Madrid derby, but even the pull of a mouthwatering Real vs. Atletico clash was superseded this weekend by the remarkable events at the Etihad Stadium. Arab News examines scintillating City and the rest of European football’s major talking points this weekend.
CITY-LIVERPOOL RACE HOTTING UP
Manchester City’s dismantling of Chelsea has sent huge shockwaves throughout English football, with the rest of Europe feeling the aftershocks. It was a blistering performance from the reigning champions, but also one that led many fans to question if Maurizzio Sarri has lost his fingertip-grip on the Chelsea dressing room.
“I don’t know. You have to ask the club,” the embattled Italian said when asked if he feared being fired just eight months into a three-year contract at Stamford Bridge.
But we have been here before with the west London club, the players seem to have far too much power. To outsiders, it appears that if they dislike a manager or the way he sets up his teams, they collude to get him sacked.
Think Roberto Di Matteo in 2012, months after he won the club’s first — and, to date, only — Champions League trophy. Think Jose Mourinho in the wake of the Eva Caniero scandal. Think Antonio Conte after the Italian led them to an unlikely Premier League title.
Player power is on the rise in Europe’s top leagues — often not for the better — and Chelsea’s squad have recently been at the vanguard of a toxic culture of drastically underperforming to get a manager sacked. Let us hope Chelsea stick by Sarri.
Meanwhile, Aguero’s second hattrick in as many games kept the City title charge a nose ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Despite a robust performance from Tottenham to beat Leicester at Wembley, it still looks like a battle between Guardiola’s City and Klopp’s Reds for glory come May.
RAMOS TO THE RESCUE
Real Madrid overtook city rivals Atletico to become Barcelona’s closest challengers in La Liga, with the gap down to six points between the bitter old rivals.
For Santiago Solari, who had come under extreme pressure earlier in the season, the 3-1 win was his best yet at the Real helm and it continued their resurgence since claiming the Club World Cup last year. It was also Atletico’s first home defeat of the season.
And a good weekend for the reigning European champions got even better as an injury-hit Barcelona were held to a goalless draw away to Athletic Bilbao.
Lionel Messi played but was not fully fit while the likes of Jordi Alba, Arthur Melo and Ousmane Dembele were also missing from the starting line-up. Barca will be grateful now for five days off, with their Champions League tie against Lyon coming next week. La Liga could be a tighter race than we originally thought.
INJURY STRIKES PSG
Paris Saint-Germain must have been rubbing their hands when, late last year, they were drawn against a woefully out of form Manchester United managed by Jose Mourinho in the Champions League last-16.
But injuries to Neymar, and now Edison Cavani after this weekend’s labored 1-0 win over Bordeaux in Ligue Un, have threatened to derail their European ambitions for yet another season.
The French giants will be without both for Tuesday’s trip to Old Trafford.
And under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, United have gone through a remarkable renaissance, winning 10 of their last 11 games under the Norwegian. In a matter of months, fortunes have changed and many are now backing the Red Devils to go through against the Parisians.
BAYERN HANGING ON
Defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich had Hoffenheim to thank after they trimmed the gap in the table to five points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Dortmund were cruising 3-0 at home with 20 minutes remaining in their game against Hoffenheim, then conspired to blow a three-goal lead, with the visitors scoring three very late goals, in a dramatic 3-3 draw.
It meant that Robert Lewandowski’s 100th home goal for the Bavarian behemoth in a 3-1 win over Schalke 04 was enough for Bayern to hang on to the coattails of their Rhine rivals.
It promises to be a tough week for Dortmund too as they face a trip to Wembley to take on Tottenham in the Champions League, while Bayern can take their foot off the gas for a week, with their trip to Anfield to play Liverpool not until next week. The fat lady is not singing just yet in Germany.