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

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.

Sarfaraz removed as Pakistan T20 and test captain

Updated 18 October 2019

Sarfaraz removed as Pakistan T20 and test captain

  • The change in captaincy comes after Pakistan was beaten 3-0 by Sri Lanka last week in a Twenty20 series in Lahore
  • Pakistan is due to leave for Australia next week to play three Twenty20s and two test matches

ISLAMABAD: Babar Azam has replaced Sarfaraz Ahmed as Pakistan’s Twenty20 captain until next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia, and Azhar Ali has been appointed test captain for the 2019-20 season.
The change in captaincy comes after Pakistan was beaten 3-0 by Sri Lanka last week in a Twenty20 series in Lahore.
In the T20 series, Sarfaraz had scores of 24, 26 and 17 against a second-string Sri Lanka as Pakistan failed to chase in all three matches.
“His (Sarfaraz) loss in form and confidence is visible and in the best interest of the team it has been decided to leave him out and provide him the opportunity to reflect and regroup himself and try to reclaim his form away from international cricket,” Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ehsan Mani said in a statement on Friday.
Pakistan is due to leave for Australia next week to play three Twenty20s and two test matches and the PCB said the squads for both series will be announced on Monday.
Babar was the vice-captain during the T20 series against Sri Lanka and is presently leading Central Punjab in the National T20 Cup, where he scored a 59-ball 102 against Sindh.
Babar previously led Pakistan in the Under-19 World Cup in 2012. However, he has no experience leading the national team in big time international cricket.
But the world’s top-ranked Twenty20 batsman said he was ready for the challenge.
“To be named captain of the No. 1-ranked side in the world is the biggest thing that has happened to my career to date,” Babar said. “I am ready for this challenge and also willing to learn more in the process. I feel it has been a natural progression for me and I am delighted that the PCB has put faith in my capabilities.”
Pakistan, ranked No. 7 in test cricket, had an unimpressive record since Sarfaraz took over from now-head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq three years ago. Pakistan won only four test matches and lost eight during that period.
“These are exciting times in Pakistan cricket with a new team management,” Azhar said. “As a captain, I feel comfortable that there will be number of knowledgeable people in the hut who I can rely on for advice and guidance.”
The 34-year-old Azhar has played 73 test matches and scored 5,669 runs with 15 centuries.
The PCB also said it will name the ODI captain at a later date because Pakistan’s next international assignment is against the Netherlands in July.