It’s rarely a dull week in football, but a seven days that has given us a spying scandal and multiple goals from keepers has to go down as eventful even by the usual standards. Just to top things off, the greatest player ever to grace the game reached yet another personal milestone.
There is precious little Tyne-Wear action since Sunderland’s freefall from the Premier League, but there was a derby of sorts this week in the Checkatrade Trophy. Newcastle are one of the top tier sides to have agreed to enter their u21s into the competition, which also comprises teams from League 1 and 2; Sunderland’s seniors were drawn against the development squad of their bitter rivals. That such a fixture is even taking place is something of an embarrassment to Sunderland, so their victory was understandably somewhat hollow – they did the necessary, however, advancing comfortably courtesy of a 4-0 win. This did not deter some gloating from Newcastle fans, who gleefully serenaded the home supporters with a chorus of “we saw you crying on Netflix”. Sunderland will be hoping to restore parity with their neighbours before too long: they also played Luton Town this week in a top-of-the-table clash, earning a 1-1 draw that leaves them third.
PSG v Guingamp looked to be a similar cup mismatch on paper, but the side currently sitting rock bottom of Ligue 1 produced a famous victory in their Coupe de la Ligue clash with the team from the capital. Thomas Tuchel’s side have won this competition for each of the last five seasons; they looked on track to keep their chances of extending this run alive when Neymar gave them a second-half lead following an earlier missed penalty from Marcus Thuram, but two further late penalties for Guingamp turned the match on its head. Despite dominating possession, the hosts could only muster two shots on target all game – the disciplined showing from their opponents always kept them in with a chance, one which they ultimately seized emphatically. Thuram scored the decisive spot kick in the 93 rd minute, making amends for his earlier miss.
The same competition served up further drama in the meeting between Rennes and Monaco. Thierry Henry’s men went behind in the first half but forced the game to an eventual penalty shootout through a Rony Lopes equaliser. All eleven players from each side had to be called upon to find a winner; Naldo and Glik both squandered opportunities to win it, while Youri Tielemans and Hatem Ben Arfa also both missed earlier on. At last, Monaco stopper Loic Badiashile put his penalty away to secure progression for his side. Unbelievably, this was arguably not even the highlight of the shootout – that belonged to 18-year-old Sofiane Diop, who produced a picture-perfect Panenka to convert his spot kick when a miss would have sent the Principality side out of the tournament. Monaco will now face Guingamp in the semi-final, thus ensuring that one of the sides currently in the relegation zone will at least have a shot at cup glory in the final.
Leeds against Derby County promised to be a similarly engrossing encounter, with both sides pushing for promotion to the top flight. However, Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa caused controversy in the build-up by admitting that he was watching more than just the match – a club employee was caught spying on Derby’s training session. The Argentine showed refreshing candour in confessing that he was indeed looking to gain an advantage through covert gathering of intelligence on the opposition, adding that he had done so since 2002; this was understandably not enough to satisfy Frank Lampard, who remained unimpressed. It is a shame that this sub-plot partly overshadowed the result, which was a comprehensive 2-0 win for Leeds – it truly looked like the performance of potential champions. Kemar Roofe and Jack Harrison provided the goals that will have United fans dreaming of the title.
There was perhaps a little less interview honesty on show from Glentoran goalkeeper Elliot Morris, who insisted that his goal against Institute in the Irish top flight was intentional. Morris struck the ball from well inside his own half; the wind then caught it and carried it over his scrambling opposite number to put Glentoran in front. It looked like a fortuitous clearance, but Morris claims he spotted the goalkeeper off his line – either way it was an enjoyable moment for the man making his 723rd club appearance, and it put his side on their way to a 2-0 victory. One strike with no such doubt surrounding it came from Southend’s Charlie Kelman; his long-range effort was definitely more Xabi Alonso than Asmir Begovic, arching through the air and over a stranded Plymouth keeper. It was not enough to get a result for Southend, however – they fell to a 3-2 defeat to Argyle in League One.
Burnley couldn’t muster a shot on target from any range against Fulham, but they still contrived to win 2-1. A lovely Andre Schurrle goal put the Cottagers 1-0 up at Turf Moor, but two own goals within five calamitous minutes meant that they returned to London with nothing. Joe Bryan and Denis Odoi were the unfortunate defenders; the deflection off Odoi in particular was completely freakish, leaving Sergio Rico bemused. It is cruel that this result could prove so pivotal – Claudio Ranieri’s men could have moved to within a point of Burnley with a win, but they now find themselves seven points adrift and in 19th place. The Italian will need to produce a miracle of a very different kind to the one he conjured at Leicester if Fulham are to retain their Premier League status.
There was rather more quality on display in Catalonia. Barcelona shared a video of a beautiful red- tinged sky over the Nou Camp before the game against Eibar; this proved to be auspicious, as on the pitch below the Spanish champions produced an excellent performance. It was a pair of former Reds who combined for the opener – Luis Suarez played a give-and-go with Philippe Coutinho before firing home. Lionel Messi added a second shortly after the restart, and in doing so moved on to 400 La Liga goals. He is the only player to ever reach this landmark, and will rightly take the accolades as the greatest player of all time. On the night, though, he was ultimately outshone by Suarez. The Uruguayan was unplayable all game, and scored a deserved second goal to seal a 3-0 win.