WHAT WE LEARNED: City slickers, resurgent Real and bullish Bayern - European leagues round-up

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Sergio Aguero shoots from the penalty spot to score his team's fifth goal, and his hattrick. (AFP)
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Chelsea's Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta (2R) reacts after Manchester City's Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero scored from the penalty spot during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Burnley at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on February 10, 2019. (AFP)
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Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri before the match against Manchester City. (Action Images via Reuters)
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Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after Schalke's Jeffrey Bruma scored an own goal and Bayern Munich's first. (Reuters)
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PSG's Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani reacts after he gets an injury during the match against Bordeaux at the Parc des Princes stadium, in Paris, on February 9, 2019. (AFP)
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Real Madrid's Spanish defender Sergio Ramos celebrates at the end of the Spanish league football match between Atletico and Real. (AFP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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WHAT WE LEARNED: City slickers, resurgent Real and bullish Bayern - European leagues round-up

  • Aguero’s second hattrick in as many games kept the City title charge a nose ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool
  • Real Madrid overtook city rivals Atletico to become Barcelona’s closest challengers in La Liga

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might have been battling it out in the Madrid derby, but even the pull of a mouthwatering Real vs. Atletico clash was superseded this weekend by the remarkable events at the Etihad Stadium.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.

 


WHAT WE LEARNED: Dominant defences, sloppy City and simple Serie A

Updated 7 min 44 sec ago
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WHAT WE LEARNED: Dominant defences, sloppy City and simple Serie A

  • Defences dominated free-scoring attacks on Tuesday.
  • Juventus finding life far more tough in Europe than at home.

All the Champions League second round first-leg matches are done and dusted so what better time to look back at the latest clashes and reveal what we learned from the titanic tussles…

DEFENCE BACK IN VOGUE

Who would have predicted that Tuesday night’s two clashes would return the miserly total of zero goals? If you say yes, there is a good chance you are either lying or able to see into the future. Liverpool (minus Virgil van Djik), Bayern Munich and Barcelona are all much better going forward than trying to keep a cleansheet and goals were surely guaranteed. But in both matches — Liverpool at home to Bayern, and Barca away at Lyon — the backlines held firm and Bayern’s performance in particular illustrated a defensive discipline that has been deemed out of fashion the past few seasons. The fullbacks Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba rarely went beyond the halfway line and Mats Hummels was immense in the middle. Likewise the Reds without their defensive rock also looked resolute and solid with their makeshift backline. Over the past few years the top teams, especially in Europe, have generally thrown caution to the wind. Tuesday’s matches were a bit of a throwback, but no less entertaining or enthralling for it.

The disciplined performance of David Alaba typified Bayern's match at Liverpool. (AFP) 

JUVE FINDING SERIE TOO EASY?

The Turin club are once again strolling toward another domestic title. They are unbeaten and a mammoth 13 points ahead of second-placed Napoli, their eighth consecutive title is all but assured. In Europe, however, it is a different story as Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid illustrated. Already this season they have lost three of their seven Champions League matches and on now face a huge task to overturn the deficit in Turin on March 12. In four full seasons at Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri has led his team to four successive league and cup doubles and two Champions League finals. But he was out-thought by Atletico counterpart Diego Simeone. Of the result the Juve boss simply said “these things happen” but added: ““They are more used playing games of this type than us” a tacit admission that the Spaniards face tougher games in La Liga than Juve do while strolling to wins week after week in Italy.

Ronaldo and Juve are coasting to yet another Serie A title but it's a different story in the Champions League. (AFP) 

CITY’S INCONSISTENCY CLEAR TO SEE

Before the turn of the year Manchester City lost in the Premier League to Crystal Palace and Leicester City and followed that up in January with a shock loss at Newcastle. For the first time in 18 months, domestically at least, you could no longer assume the Abu Dhabi-owned club would turn up, strut their stuff and claim an easy victory. In Europe so far this season they have only lost once in seven matches, on the face of it no problem. But the defeat at Lyon before the new year has been followed up with Wednesday’s last-gasp 3-2 win at Schalke, again, on the face of it OK, but worrying signs are there. The German outfit may lie 14th in the Bundesliga but for long periods looked more than a match for Pep Guardiola’s side — albeit one down to 10 men from the 69th minute. City could well win the second-leg in a similar manner to their 6-0 win over Chelsea in the league, but this match as much as anything will have perfectionist Guardiola worried. It was not for nothing that he said after the win: “we are still not ready to fight for the latter stages.”

City found the going tough against a resolute Schalke. (AFP)