FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: More Lionel Messi magic, Juve miss Cristiano Ronaldo and Ajax title wait set to continue

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Updated 18 March 2019
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FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED: More Lionel Messi magic, Juve miss Cristiano Ronaldo and Ajax title wait set to continue

LONDON: Zinedine Zidane marked his return to the Real Madrid dugout with a victory although Lionel Messi again stole the show in Spain with a magnificent hat-trick as Barcelona continued their march toward the La Liga title. Here we look at what we learned from the weekend’s key action across the continent:

ZIZOU BACK AND MAGIC MESSI

Zinedine Zidane may have made a winning start to his second spell as coach of Real Madrid but Barcelona look to have the La Liga title already sewn up. Barca blew away Real Betis 4-1 on Sunday as Lionel Messi scored his fourth hat-trick of the season and 51st of his career, prompting even the Betis fans to stand and applaud. The Catalans now have a 10-point lead over Atletico Madrid, who were beaten 2-0 by Athletic Bilbao on Saturday, four days after their Champions League heartache at the hands of Juventus.Real’s hopes of catching Barcelona were already all but over but Zidane has at least lifted the gloom. He recalled a handful of old favorites against Celta Vigo on Saturday, including Isco, who scored the opener, before Gareth Bale — who was not always appreciated by Zidane in the coach’s first spell — added another in a 2-0 victory.

Zidane enjoyed a winning start to his second reign as Real Madrid boss. (AFP)

SPALLETTI SAFE?

Under-fire Inter Milan coach Luciano Spalletti hit back at his critics with a dramatic 3-2 Milan derby win which lifted his side to third in Serie A. For Spalletti it was a third derby win in four since taking over in mid-2017, and just days after crashing out of the Europa League, as Inter extended their unbeaten run in the derby to six games, their longest run since 1999. “I read that this was to be my last derby, the ‘Last Supper’,” said the former Roma and Zenit Saint Petersburg coach. “And instead I know that there’s another supper for me,” he added, after being praised by Chinese-owned Inter’s president Steven Zhang. “We’re now already looking to the future, to the next match and next month,” said Zhang. “This derby sends an important message.” Juventus, without Cristiano Ronaldo, fell to their first Serie A defeat of the season in a 2-0 reverse to Genoa but still have a 15-point lead.

Inter extended their unbeaten run in the Milan derby to six games, their longest run since 1999​. (AFP) 

BAYERN’S YOUNG GUN

Canadian teenager Alphonso Davies became the youngest Bayern Munich goalscorer since Roque Santa Cruz in 1999, a year before the former was even born, in Sunday’s 6-0 demolition of Mainz. Bayern are level on points with Borussia Dortmund as they bid for an eighth successive Bundesliga title, but the meek nature of their Champions League exit against Liverpool posed questions about the future of a number of aging stars. With a clear-out on the horizon in Bavaria, the 18-year-old Davies, acquired last July in a $13 million move from MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps, could soon be given the opportunity to stake his claim as a core component in a new Bayern generation.

Alphonso Davies is making a name for himself at the Allianz Arena. (AFP)

LIGHT AT END OF ROAD FOR MONACO

With their Ligue 1 status under threat, Monaco’s decision to cut short a failing experiment with Thierry Henry in January and replace him with predecessor Leonardo Jardim has paid off handsomely. Friday’s 1-0 win at second-place Lille, enjoying their best points return at this stage of the campaign since 1948, extended Monaco’s unbeaten run since his return to seven games in Ligue 1. They remain just two places above the relegation play-off spot but are eight points clear of Guingamp and recent form suggests they will surely avoid the drop.

Under Jardim Monaco are making a very impressive tilt at avoiding relegation. (AFP) 

TITLE WAIT FOR AJAX LOOKS SET TO CONTINUE

Champions League quarter-finalists Ajax slumped to a 1-0 defeat away to AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie to drop five points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven. PSV won 1-0 at VVV Venlo over the weekend courtesy of a late strike by Mexico international Hirving Lozano. Ajax, who won the last of their record 33 Dutch championships in 2014, must now win their clash with PSV in Amsterdam on March 31 if they are to remain in the title race.

Are Ajax and Daley Blind to go anohter year without winning the Dutch title? (AFP) 


Ronaldo ‘committed to Juve despite Champions League flop’

Updated 55 min 6 sec ago
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Ronaldo ‘committed to Juve despite Champions League flop’

  • Cristiano is the future of Juventus. says Juve coach

MILAN: Cristiano Ronaldo is committed to Juventus next season despite his bitter disappointment at the Italian giants Champions League flop, coach Massimiliano Allegri revealed on Friday.

Allegri’s injury-hit side hosts Fiorentina on Saturday needing just a point to lift their eighth straight Serie A title, days after a shock home 2-1 defeat to the Dutch side that saw them eliminated 3-2 on aggregate.

“Cristiano is the future of Juventus. He has done very well this year and will do so next season, of course he is disappointed like all of us but he’s calm about it,” said Allegri.

“Cristiano has had an extraordinary season and will play tomorrow.”

Five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo had been bidding for a sixth Champions League title to add to his four won with Real Madrid and one with Manchester United.

The 34-year-old joined Juventus from Real last summer in a 100 million-euro ($117 million) deal which runs until 2022, with a reported annual salary of 31 million euros.

He scored six of his teams’ 14 Champions League goals this season and has 19 so far in Serie A, four behind leading scorer Fabio Quagliarella.

“Ronaldo’s arrival did not give us any certainty of winning the Champions League,” continued Allegri.

“Barcelona play a semifinal this year for the first time after four years and they have (Lionel) Messi. Football is not just about individuals.

“We have to put the disappointment of the elimination in the Champions League behind us.”

Injuries have hit Juve hard ahead of the weekend’s clash, with Sami Khedira announcing that he is set to have season-ending knee surgery, while Allegri revealed that key attacker Mario Mandzukic could also miss the rest of the season.

“(Goalkeeper) Mattia Perin is out until the end of the season, as is Sami Khedira and maybe Mario Mandzukic.” he said.

Meanwhile striker Paulo Dybala will be out for three weeks and Douglas Costa and Jose Caceres for 10 days each, while defender Giorgio Chiellini could be back for next week’s trip to Inter Milan.

However with a 17-point lead over Napoli Allegri’s side are almost certainties to lift their 35th league title as they cement their domestic dominance despite continental disappointment.

“The eighth consecutive Scudetto is a source of pride for everyone. Once it’s sealed we all have to enjoy it, it wouldn’t make sense not to celebrate it.”