FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Pulsating Premier League and boring Bundesliga

Mohamed Salah's Liverpool made it four wins from four at the weekend when they beat Leicester, and remain at the top of the Premier League table with Manchester City and Chelsea. (AFP)
Updated 04 September 2018
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FOUR THINGS WE LEARNED: Pulsating Premier League and boring Bundesliga

LONDON: After an action-packed weekend of football across Europe, here is what we learned from the top divisions of the football-mad continent.

THREE WAY BATTLE FOR THE PREMIER LEAGUE?
With all due respect to Watford, whose blistering start to this season has taken even the most ardent of their fans by surprise, it is highly unlikely the Hornets will be lifting the Premier League trophy come May next year. But three clubs that might be — Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool — showed again this weekend why they are most people’s favorites to be battling it out all year at the summit. Aside from an Allison blunder, the Reds once again looked extremely solid in defense during their comfortable victory at Leicester. And while City labored to three points at Newcastle, it was the sort of gritty performance they will need from time to time in this league. Chelsea, meanwhile, under Maurizio Sarri have gone under the radar in the opening weeks, but showed themselves to be a classy outfit with the Italian at the helm in a win against Bournemouth. Expect these three to take the top spots at the end of the season.


HAND BAYERN MUNICH THE TROPHY NOW...
It was another depressing display of monotony and predictability in the Bundesliga, as the six-in-a-row champions Bayern comfortably dispatched VfB Stuttgart away from home. Even after two games, it looks highly unlikely anyone will stop the Bavarian juggernauts from claiming a seventh straight title. To make matters worse, the only team truly capable of challenging them — Borussia Dortmund — slipped up to draw with Hannover. Two dropped points when Bayern will probably not drop more than 10 throughout the season means Dortmund are playing catch-up after just two games. What can be done to break Munich’s stranglehold? Suggestions of a complete revamp of the league, to allowing foreign ownership of clubs, to introducing an American style “draft system” have all been proffered. Whatever happens in the future, it will not stop Niko Kovac’s charges from storming the league once again.


RETURN TO THE GOOD OLD DAYS FOR SERIE A?

Bear with us on this one. Yes, Juventus have walked the Italian league for years now, but the other big guns of Italian football — the Milan duo, the Rome pair, Napoli — have usually been nipping at their heels. This year, the so-called “predictable” Serie A has been anything but. Inter and Lazio have had a shocking start to the season while Napoli were beaten this weekend by Sampdoria. Perhaps the biggest story in European football, however, is the unbeaten start by Sassuolo. After their famous opening day win over Luciano Spalletti’s Inter, the minnows from Modena sit second in the table behind the mighty Juve. It has been a long time since smaller clubs have made an impact in Italy’s top flight. And even if they do fade away, seeing a smaller provincial club mixing it up with the big boys reminds us of a better time in Serie A. Long may it continue.


THE RETURN OF THE “ETERNAL STRUGGLE” IN SPAIN

While football fans across the world hailed Diego Simeone and his Atletico Madrid mavericks for breaking the Real-Barca La Liga party back in 2014, millions of people tune in to watch the Spanish league because of the hard-fought, down-to-the-wire battle at the top of La Liga between bitter rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. Which is exactly why, after last season’s damp squib when Real finished third and 17 points behind Barca, this season is already shaping up to be one of the best. Can a Barcelona side led by the mercurial, evergreen Lionel Messi claim an eighth title since 2009? Or will a Real Madrid side without Cristiano Ronaldo wrest back the Spanish crown from Barca’s grasp? Normal service resumed, and we cannot wait.


Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

Updated 18 April 2019
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Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal into Monte Carlo last eight

  • Medvedev eliminates 6th seed Tsitsipas in three sets

MONTE CARLO: Top seed Novak Djokovic and 11-time champion Rafael Nadal showed no mercy in dominating wins to power into the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals on Thursday.

Djokovic extended his winning streak against US players with a 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Taylor Fritz.

The two-time tournament champion has now won nine in a row over Americans since losing at Wimbledon in 2016 to Sam Querrey.

“It was very challenging to play in these (windy) conditions,” Djokovic said. “Taylor just flattens the ball.

“We had five, six close games in the first set, I just managed to break his resistance midway through.

“After that, things went on my side and I felt more comfortable.

“This was one of these days where you just have to hang in there and try to put an extra ball back in the court — that was enough.”

Nadal repeated last year’s semifinal win over Grigor Dimitrov, beating the Bulgarian for the 12th time, 6-4, 6-1.

“I’m very, very happy, this is an important victory for me,” the second seed said after winning his 23rd consecutive set at the tournament.

“Grigor is a super talent and is very dangerous. It was a positive match for me.

“I had a good day, I can be happy with what I did on court.

“When you don’t play on clay for almost a year, every win is important for the confidence, especially as I’m coming back from injury.”

Spain’s 17-time Grand Slam champion started his clay season this week after missing a month with another knee problem and has title-holder points to defend here plus Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros.

The king of clay is bidding for a 12th trophy in the principality. His record at the event is a staggering 70-4.

Nadal spent almost an hour in securing the first set but picked up the pace in the second as he ran out the winner.

He next faces Guido Pella, who defeated Italy’s Marco Cecchinato 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

World No. 1 Djokovic will be playing his ninth quarterfinal here from 13 appearances at his home event.

Djokovic turned in a steady performance with a dozen winners and unforced errors, while his opponent committed nearly 30 unforced errors in 68 minutes.

Sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier lost 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 as Daniil Medvedev continued his run of form.

The Russian will next line up against Djokovic after losing to him in January in the Australian Open fourth round.

Tsitsipas was caught on the back foot facing three match points as he trailed 0-40 on his serve late in the second set. After saving the first two, the Greek botched the third to seal his exit after an hour and three-quarters.

Medvedev increased his leading total of ATP season match wins to 20 as a result after he beat Tsitsipas for the fourth time in as many attempts.

“This was a great achievement for me,” Medvedev said. “Everything was perfect today.

“Some wind came up in the second set and I could not get used to it. But in the third, I just worked to put every ball in the court.

“I was pleased to fight back after going a break down in the third set.”

The player who stands a career-high 14th credits his rising form to a renewed dedication to the sport.

“I’ve been working hard for the past 18 months —  since before the start of 2018. I’ve dedicated my life to tennis, which I did not do before,” Medvedev said.

“I had my best season last year — hopefully this year will be better.”

The Russian reached his first quarterfinal at the Masters 1000 level after winning his second match against a Top 10 opponent.

Tsitsipas, runner-up last season to Nadal in Toronto, suffered his eighth defeat of the season against 18 wins and will try and lift his game next week on the clay of Barcelona. 

Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego defeated Britain’s Cameron Norrie 6-2, 7-5.