FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: Prolific Poles, Ace Ajax and Super Mario Balotelli

It was a good weekend for Balotelli, Solari and Lewandowski. (AFP)
Updated 11 March 2019
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FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: Prolific Poles, Ace Ajax and Super Mario Balotelli

  • Bayern striker in fine form ahead of Liverpool clash.
  • Solari hanging onto his job by a thread.

LONDON: Santiago Solari is holding on to his job as Real Madrid coach after the deposed European champions got back to winning ways on what was another good weekend for two prolific Poles. Here is what we learned from the weekend’s key action across the continent:

SOLARI STILL CLINGING ON TO HIS JOB: Real Madrid ended their three-game losing run by coming from behind to beat Valladolid 4-1 but the future of coach Santiago Solari hangs in the balance. Solari was unable to confirm whether he would still be in charge for Madrid’s next game while Nacho admitted the relationship between manager and players was “complicated” given “things are not working out”. Speculation persists around potential returns for Jose Mourinho or Zinedine Zidane, as Madrid stay third in La Liga, 12 points leaders behind Barcelona and five behind Atletico Madrid.

LEWANDOWSKI WARNS LIVERPOOL: Robert Lewandowski warmed up for Bayern Munich’s Champions League last 16, second leg against Liverpool by becoming the Bundesliga’s top-scoring foreigner with two goals in their 6-0 thrashing of Wolfsburg. His brace at the Allianz Arena left Lewandowski with 197 goals in 281 Bundesliga matches, two ahead of Werder Bremen’s Peru forward Claudio Pizarro, who is still scoring aged 40. Lewandowski has netted 36 Champions League goals for Bayern in the past five seasons, including eight in this campaign. “I’m pleased with the way we played, that was a good game for us for the Champions League,” said Lewandowski, the Bundesliga’s top scorer this season with 17 goals. Liverpool, beware.

PERFECT POLE: AC Milan’s new Polish striker Krzysztof Piatek is on track to emulate Diego Maradona by topping the Serie A and Coppa Italia scoring charts in the same season. Piatek, signed in January from Genoa, scored his 19th league goal of his debut season in Italy in a 2-1 win at Chievo, in addition to his eight in the Cup. In 1988, Napoli’s Maradona was the top league (15) and Cup (8) scorer, with Lazio’s Giuseppe Signori also achieving the feat in 1993, with 26 league and six Cup goals. The 23-year-old Piatek’s league tally matches Cristiano Ronaldo’s, with Sampdoria’s Fabio Quagliarella just one better on 20. He has two more Cup goals than Fiorentina’s Federico Chiesa (6). Milan are third and on track for the Champions League for the first time since 2014, with city rivals Inter up next.

SUPER MARIO: Mario Balotelli confirmed his return to form since signing for Marseille, as he netted his fifth goal in seven games for his new club to secure a 1-0 win over old side Nice on Sunday. A week after celebrating a goal with a group selfie, this time he marked it with a game of rock-paper-scissors with Florian Thauvin. The Italian’s arrival has helped spark a remarkable return to form for the French giants, who have won five and drawn one of their past six games to return to contention for a top-three finish in Ligue 1. Next up is the small matter of a trip to a Paris Saint-Germain side wounded from their Champions League exit against Manchester United. That is the biggest fixture in French football — will ‘Balo’ rise to the big occasion?

ACE AJAX: There was no Champions League hangover for Ajax as they returned to domestic action on the back of their stunning victory at Real Madrid. Erik ten Hag’s exciting team won 4-1 in Spain last Tuesday to dump the holders out of Europe in the last 16 with a 5-3 aggregate victory, and followed that by easing to a 4-0 win over struggling Fortuna Sittard in the Eredivisie. One of the heroes of their win in Madrid, Dusan Tadic scored twice at the Johan Cruyff Arena with David Neres also bagging a brace. Ajax have scored 21 goals in their last five matches and are piling pressure on league leaders PSV Eindhoven again. They are five points adrift with a game in hand, and with PSV due to visit Amsterdam at the end of the month.


Lewis Hamilton snatches dramatic Monaco Grand Prix pole position with record lap

Updated 25 May 2019
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Lewis Hamilton snatches dramatic Monaco Grand Prix pole position with record lap

  • An emotional second pole in Monaco and the 84th of his career
  • Last year’s race winner Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Renault

MONACO: Lewis Hamilton snatched a dramatic pole position for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix with an all-time circuit record lap in the final seconds to outpace Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.086 seconds.
The defending five-time champion and series leader clocked an unprecedented lap in 1min 10.166sec to end Bottas’ run of three successive poles as Mercedes, mourning the death this week of non-executive chairman Niki Lauda, produced a record-equalling 62nd front row lockout.
It was an emotional Hamilton’s second pole in Monaco and the 84th of his career as he dug deep in the final seconds to find the speed required to grab the prime grid position from his team-mate.
“Whoooah!” shouted Hamilton on team radio. “That’s what I am talking about...”
Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull ahead of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull and Kevin Magnussen for Haas.
Last year’s race winner Daniel Ricciardo was seventh for Renault ahead of Daniel Kvyat of Toro Rosso, Carlos Sainz of McLaren and Alex Albon in the second Toro Rosso.
Luckless local hero Charles Leclerc qualified 16th after a strategic muddle by Ferrari in the opening Q1 section of qualifying.