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might have been battling it out in the Madrid derby, but even the pull of a mouthwatering Real vs. Atletico clash was superseded this weekend by the remarkable events at the Etihad Stadium.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

 


Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

Updated 16 February 2019
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Uruguay’s Indian cricketers searching for a permanent home

  • Descendants of Indian immigrants carry banner for Uruguay in the cricket field

MONTEVIDEO: Every Sunday, close to a statue of Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, a group of Indian ex-pats take over a patch of land in Uruguay’s capital Montevideo for a game of cricket.
Tucked in between the Rio de la Plata estuary and the long promenade known as the “rambla” that stretches from one side of Montevideo to the other, Avijit Mukherjee prepares to bat, watched eagerly by his Uruguayan girlfriend.
“I played in my country but with a lot more infrastructure,” said the 28-year-old Mukherjee, whose girlfriend Veronica is the main reason he has stayed in Uruguay.
“There are stadiums and many places to play in India, whereas here we only have one.”
Although cricket was first played in Montevideo by British expat workers even before the foundation of the independent republic in 1828, its practice died out in the 1980s.
But following an influx of Indian immigrants to Uruguay at the turn of the century, cricket steadily returned to Montevideo.
First there were one-off matches. Then, the players organized their own league and even set up a Uruguayan national team.
At the end of last year, Uruguay, whose team was made up almost entirely of Indian expats, finished second in the South American championships in Colombia.
While the cricketers are now established on their little patch of land, their initial appearance was not entirely welcomed by local footballers playing on an adjacent pitch.
“We came like spiders and rebuked them,” recalls Daniel Mosco, a local resident who has been playing football in that field for 30 years.
The issue was quickly resolved, though, and the cricketers agreed to start playing only once the football matches had finished.
With no fixed cricket markings, players use flour to draw white lines.
Now, bat can be heard crashing against ball until sunset.
Even though they’ve been here for years, the shouts of “howzat!” and “wait on” still elicit glances from locals making their way along the rambla.
They make a curious spectacle for people little accustomed with either cricket or India.
Mosco, for one, was surprised that the players speak to each other in English.
And there’s another surprise in the form of 29-year-old doctor Saied Muhammad Asif Raza: he’s from Pakistan.
“Between the governments and in (professional) cricket there are always problems, but the people get on really well and within the team the are no problems whatsoever,” said Asif.
He left his home town of Multan, 10 hours from Islamabad, at 19 and moved to Cuba thanks to a Fidel Castro scholarship.
After returning home, he found he couldn’t readapt to his own culture.
“I didn’t come here to find a better life economically, I had a better life in my country because in my family we didn’t lack for anything,” said Asif.
“The thing is that when you live many years away, nowhere is home, and cricket brings me close to it.”
Although now at home on their small patch, finding something more permanent is crucial to Montevideo’s cricketers.
“We’re looking for a permanent ground,” Beerbal Maniyattukudy, the Uruguayan cricket association’s secretary, told AFP.
“We have 120 players this year. On top of that we’re starting some women’s teams and for now we have 20 people interested. We also have plans for an under-15s league.”
The solution may lie with Uruguay’s most popular football team: Penarol.
Penarol started life as the Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club (CURCC), founded by British railway workers in 1891.
It was a multisport club — but just over 20 years later, its football section broke off and was absorbed by a newly created team, Penarol.
The original club’s cricket section disappeared as football became the main focus — but it was relaunched a week ago.
And crucially, Penarol are planning to build a cricket pitch an hour outside Montevideo.
“When we raised the idea of cricket, there wasn’t much to sort out; everyone was aware of what it meant to the history of the club, we just needed to work out how to make it happen,” said Leonardo Vinas, who is heading up the project.
While many club members signed up to be involved, very few have ever played cricket.
Vinas says the project will take time, not just to spread interest in the sport, but also for the club’s staff to get their heads around the rules of the game.
“Even now, we’re still not clear about certain rules.”