WHAT WE LEARNED: Delightful derbies and Lionel Messi misery

Barcelona's Lionel Messi looks dejected as Real Betis' Sergio Canales celebrates scoring their fourth goal with team mates. (Reuters)
Updated 13 November 2018

WHAT WE LEARNED: Delightful derbies and Lionel Messi misery

LONDON: It was a weekend of derbies and big clashes across Europe’s top leagues, and a genuine shock result in Spain has thrown the La Liga title race wide open. Here is what we learned from the latest round of matches.

The gulf in class between City and United was there for all to see in Sunday’s Manchester derby. Jose Mourinho has bemoaned the difference in levels of investment in the two clubs in the past, but that does not wash when you note that United will struggle to get into the top four this season, let alone challenge for the title. City completely outclassed their rivals, and 3-1 flattered the visitors — it could have been a lot worse.

This was a pulsating game of football, which the hosts Dortmund edged 3-2, and one that forced Bayern Munich to acknowledge that this is a young, talented and dynamic Dortmund side who must be favorites to clinch the title now. Lucien Favre scoffed at that suggestion post-match and insisted the title race is still open — but in the Bundesliga seven points is a monumental gap, even for a club such as Bayern to overhaul.

AC Milan’s defeat to runaway leaders Juventus showed another gulf in class — mainly due to Juventus having Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks rather than the disappointing Gonzalo Higuain. But Milan’s other club, Inter, had an even worse weekend with Atalanta resoundingly ending their seven-match winning streak. All hopes for a title race in Italy seem to rest on Napoli once again, with the Milanese and Roman clubs fading fast.

With the exception of a hopeful few in the city of Seville, nobody foresaw Real Betis’ 4-3 victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp, in the biggest La Liga shock for months. Lionel Messi managed a brace, but even that was not enough to deny victory for a very attractive Betis side — whose performance belied their 12th place in the table. It was the first time Messi had scored two goals and ended up on the losing side. He has made a stuttering start, by his own standards. It seems, sometimes, he needs his teammates to step up to the plate.

Simona Halep positive despite Dubai defeat by Belinda Bencic

Updated 21 February 2019

Simona Halep positive despite Dubai defeat by Belinda Bencic

  • Former world No.1 blames three-set loss on tiredness after nine matches in 13 days.
  • Halep has high hopes for the rest of 2019, saying her game is in good shape.

LONDON: Simona Halep is still certain a good year lies in store for her despite losing to Belinda Bencic in the Dubai quarterfinals.
The Romanian former world No. 1 was the favorite to win her second title in the emirate but ran out of steam as her Swiss opponent ran out 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 winner.
It was Halep’s ninth match in just 13 days and she admitted tiredness had caught up with her.
“It was really difficult physically. I was tired,” the world No. 2 said.

Bencic came from a set down to beat the favorite in the last-eight encounter in Dubai. (AFP) 

“After the second set, I felt like I’m getting cramping a little bit. It’s normal. I was sweating a lot.”
While, her fatigue was clear for all to see, Halep was not using it as an excuse, admitting Bencic, who has now beaten her in two of their three matches, was the deserved winner.
“Yeah, she played well. She played very well. In the end, she was a little bit stronger,” the Romanian said.
Having lost in the Qatar final last weekend and failed to make the last-four in Dubai you might think Halep would be disappointed with her Middle East stint. She was, however, far from glum and revealed she is looking forward to landing more titles to add to her collection during the rest of the year.

Cheerio from Halep after her defeat to the Swiss. (AFP) 

“I think were three good weeks. Tough weeks. A lot of tension, a lot of pressure. Also the Fed Cup,” she said.
“I take only positive things. I had great matches. My level is good. Physically also I’m good. But day by day I had to play, so is not easy.
“I’m confident for the next tournaments.”