WHAT WE LEARNED: La Liga, Borussia Dortmund on fire as Juventus dominate Serie A

Lionel Messi's Barcelona are battling in a four-horse title race in La Liga this season. (Reuters)
Updated 24 December 2018
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WHAT WE LEARNED: La Liga, Borussia Dortmund on fire as Juventus dominate Serie A

LONDON: As we reach the turn of a new year, Arab News examines the state of play across Europe’s top leagues and what we can expect in 2019.

FOUR HORCE TITLE RACE?
While the other teams chasing Barcelona in La Liga would rather be in the Catalans’ position, there is no denying that a genuine title race is emerging in Spain and Atletico Madrid and Sevilla must be delighted with their positions in the table (second and third respectively) as the league stops for the winter break.
Atletico are just three points behind Barca and find themselves in a battle with the Catalonia club for the first time since their improbable title win in 2014, and Sevilla are having their best season for a decade. Throw into the equation that newly-crowned FIFA World Club champions Real Madrid have a game in hand and can close the gap between them and Barcelona to five points, you cannot rule Los Blancos out at any stage. We certainly hope La Liga stays this open in the second half of the season, and we get an exciting title race in Spain again.

NAPOLI CLINGING ON
Speaking of title races, we wrote on this page before the season began that we had high hopes for a much closer battle between Juventus and Italy’s other top clubs. That has failed to materialize, with “La Vecchia Signora” miles ahead of the pack with 16 victories from their 17 games so far this season. The Turin club are a whopping 16 points clear of Inter Milan in third place and eight points ahead of Napoli in second. The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo has paid dividends for Juventus, the Portuguese has scored 11 goals this season and is only two behind the top-scorer Krzysztof Piatek of Genoa.
Napoli scraped to a 1-0 win over lowly Spal at the weekend to keep their hopes alive of catching Juventus, but it seems inevitable the reigning champions will win an eighth scudetto in a row. The only glimmer of hope for the Neapolitans will be Juve’s obsession with landing a third European crown, which might distract them domestically. But, in truth, they will be clutching at straws.

DORTMUND STAYING STRONG
The German league, like the rest of Europe’s top competitions, has also stopped for the winter break and Borussia Dortmund are in the driving seat. They had built a nine-point gap over eternal rivals Bayern Munich before a shock defeat to Fortuna Dusseldorf last weekend saw that gap close to six points. Borussia Monchengladbach had threatened to muscle their way into contention, but a defeat to leaders Dortmund at the weekend saw them drop nine points back and they will need a small miracle to overhaul the “Big Two” in the second half of the season.

WHO WILL BLINK FIRST?
The Dutch league is not usually on most people’s radars given the dominance of PSV Eindhoven and Ajax in recent years, but an epic battle between the two has broken out this season, and it will be a case of who blinks first in the new year. PSV’s near perfect record (just one defeat to Feyenoord) this season has been matched by Ajax who have won 15 of their 17 games to remain two points behind the reigning champions, having scored (60) and conceded (8) exactly the same as PSV. Feyenoord are 10 points back in third, so the rest of the season will be a straight shootout between Eindhoven and Amsterdam’s finest, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. Definitely one to watch.


Kane stunner earns Spurs victory over Juventus

Updated 21 July 2019
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Kane stunner earns Spurs victory over Juventus

  • Juventus struggle to adapt to their new manager’s ‘Sarri-ball’ tactic of playing out from the back with short, quick passes

SINGAPORE: Harry Kane scored a stunning 93rd minute winner from the halfway line as Tottenham Hotspur edged Juventus 3-2 in an entertaining pre-season friendly in Singapore on Sunday.

The England captain latched onto Lucas Moura's short pass and launched a first-time shot high over a scrambling substitute Wojciech Szczesny in the Juventus goal as Spurs rallied past new manager Maurizio Sarri's Italian champions in front of a delighted National Stadium crowd.

“It’s probably one of the best goals of my career. I noticed the keeper was often off of his line and thought if I get a chance to shoot I will, and it just went in,” Kane said in a post-match interview.

A youthful Spurs dominated the first half as Juventus struggled to adapt to their new manager’s “Sarri-ball” tactic of playing out from the back with short, quick passes. Instead of moving the ball forward, Juventus often found themselves defending desperately after being caught in possession as Spurs pressed high up the pitch with the Premier League side going on to take a deserved lead on the half-hour mark.

Son Heung-min started the move by holding up play and feeding Troy Parrott for a clear run at Gianluigi Buffon in the Juventus goal, with the 17-year-old forward's low strike parried by the keeper straight into the path of an unmarked Erik Lamela for a routine tap-in.

Juventus had more success after the break when they increased their tempo and went more direct, and halftime substitute Gonzalo Higuain levelled the score in the 56th minute with a drilled strike after exchanging passes with Federico Bernardeschi.

Buoyed by the equalizer, Juventus were soon ahead when Ronaldo arrived late to drive home Mattia De Sciglio's cutback four minutes later, leaving to rapturous applause by an adoring crowd when he was substituted immediately after scoring.

Spurs were level five minutes later, however, when Champions League semifinal hero Lucas fired home record-signing Tanguy Ndombele's low cross, the French midfielder finding the Brazilian with his first touch after coming on as a substitute.

Kane and Higuain both squandered good chances to score winning goals in the final 10 minutes before the England striker prevented the contest going to a penalty shootout with the most brilliant of strikes.

Meantime, Tottenham forward  Moura insists he does not  hold a grudge against boss Mauricio Pochettino despite being dropped for the Champions League final.

“I need to respect the decision of the coach and respect my teammates, so no problem with this,” said Lucas who was left on the bench for the final in spite of scoring a dramatic hat rick in Spurs' stunning semifinal comeback at Ajax.

Pochettino preferred to use  Kane in attack against Liverpool in Madrid despite a lengthy absence following injury.

Brazil international Lucas eventually came on in the 66th minute, but was unable to prevent Tottenham slipping to a 2-0 defeat.

“Of course it was difficult because every player wants to play. But it was even more to lose the game,” Lucas was quoted as saying by several British media outlets.

“For sure he (Pochettino) has a good reason for this (decision) and I am sure that it was difficult for him as well to choose a player. He needs to choose only 11.”

“I respect, I am a professional. No problem for this. Now I look forward to the next season.”