It was a week of upsets across Europe, with the likes of Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Juventus all succumbing to defeats at various points. Perhaps the biggest shock of the lot was Monaco finally winning: one way or another, it was not a good week to put on an accumulator.
On Saturday Bayer Leverkusen came from behind to triumph over Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich 3-1. Leon Goretzka had given Bayern a half-time lead, but goals from Bailey, Volland and Alario turned the game on its head. This was another blow in Niko Kovac’s side’s hopes of retaining the title; a strong run of league wins dating back to November had kept the pressure on Dortmund after a poor start, but the Bavarian side now find themselves seven points adrift. They can take a degree of solace in the fact that it would have been a gap of nine but for Dortmund’s failure to beat Eintracht Frankfurt: it was honours even in the battle between two of the league’s form players, with both Marco Reus and Luka Jovic getting on the score-sheet.
It was a remarkably similar story in the midweek Premier League games. Manchester City have been cast in the same role as Bayern Munich – the defending champions find themselves in second place, looking to chase down a Liverpool side managed by the last manager to win the league with Dortmund. This pursuit took a big blow through defeat at Newcastle, masterminded by former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez. City led inside a minute through Sergio Aguero, but thereafter the Magpies defence was stubborn. At the other end there was always the looming threat of a counter attack, as is the way with any typically well-drilled Benitez team: this ultimately translated into a goal for Salomon Rondon, which was no less than he deserved for his excellent hold-up efforts. Things went from bad to worse for Guardiola when Fernandinho got himself caught up in Newcastle’s press, and hacked his man down in the box after giving the ball away. Matt Ritchie converted the spot kick to give Newcastle an unlikely three points. However, like Dortmund, Liverpool could only take partial advantage – they were held to a draw against Leicester in snowy conditions, meaning they could only extend the lead to five points. This is down to two for the time-being following City’s Aguero-inspired win over Arsenal.
Meanwhile, a former Liverpool man was making himself a hero in Italy. Lucas Leiva converted the winning spot kick in a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Inter Milan. The teams had been level after 90 minutes, but both sides netted in extra time – Ciro Immobile must have thought he’d won it in the 108th minute, but with 124 minutes on the clock Stefan Radu conceded a penalty and was dismissed. Icardi kept his cool to score from the spot, but it was ultimately for nothing as Lazio prevailed in the shootout – a miss by former Roma man Radja Nainggolan ultimately proved decisive, something which made the win all the sweeter for the Lazio faithful. Roma themselves got absolutely demolished by Fiorentina, exiting the competition after a thoroughly comprehensive 7-1 defeat. Two goals for Chiesa inside the opening twenty minutes set the tone; there was a brief response through Kolarov, but four second half goals including a completion of Chiesa’s hat-trick ensured a memorable win for The Viola.
Elsewhere in the competition, Krzysztof Piatek got off to the perfect start at new club AC Milan. The promising young striker was plying his trade in Krakow less than a year ago, but after a breakthrough six months with Genoa he finds himself at one of Italy’s most historic clubs. He fired them to a 2-0 win over Napoli on his full debut, scoring both of the goals to secure progression for the Rossoneri. The second in particular was a lovely effort, curling into the corner from the edge of the box. This form continued into the league – he was on target once more against Roma, netting in a 1-1 draw along with fellow youngster Nicolo Zaniolo. If the Pole is feeling the pressure of filling Higuain’s shoes, he is not showing it. Higuain himself has started strongly at Chelsea, scoring a brace of his own in his first league match against Huddersfield. As for his parent club, Juventus struggled this week: Atalanta dumped them out of the Coppa Italia with a 3-0 win, before a late brace from former Arsenal man Gervinho meant that The Old Lady were held 3-3 at home to Parma in the league.
The domestic cup action in Spain proved to be less fertile ground for upsets. If there is one thing that can be relied on it is Barcelona’s ability to progress, and they did so in style against Sevilla despite trailing 2-0 after the first leg. The much-maligned Philippe Coutinho got them on their way from the penalty spot, before Rakitic tied up the aggregate scores. Coutinho gave the Catalans the lead in the tie after the break, and just a minute later Sergi Roberto all but killed the contest. Sevilla briefly looked to have made a game of it when they pulled one back, but a late flurry saw Suarez and Messi make it 6-1 on the night. The goal from the Argentinian may well go down as one of his best, which is saying something: he rounded off a team move reminiscent of the Pep Guardiola heyday at the Camp Nou. Sevilla simply could not keep up with the rapid passing and movement, and the finish was typically lethal. Regardless of club allegiance, it is hard not to enjoy such a goal.
Barcelona were able to rely on one penalty to set them in the right direction, but at Ibrox Rangers were awarded four. The referee pointed to the spot for the first time after just two minutes and James Tavernier converted to put Steven Gerrard’s side in front. He had an opportunity to make it two from the spot later in the half following a handball, but struck the post; he was able to make amends in the second half when a third penalty was awarded, which he stuck away. Interestingly, his manager has previously missed the chance to complete a hat-trick of penalties in similar circumstances, scoring two and hitting the post from a third against Manchester United in 2014. The penalty controversy was not over in this one, however: a fourth was awarded after a tangle of legs that looked to be just outside the area, and this time Jermain Defoe slotted it home. Liverpool loanee Ryan Kent sealed a 4-0 victory with the only goal from open play.
Thierry Henry looked to emulate Gerrard’s relatively successful start to management when he took up the reins at a struggling Monaco, but this ill-fated stint was brought to an end last week. His replacement was Leonardo Jardim, back for a second spell: he has rapidly succeeded in turning the fortunes of the Principality side around, securing a first league win since 4th December against Toulouse. Golovin’s 15th minute strike was cancelled out by a header from defender Christopher Jullien, but new boy Cesc Fabregas was on hand to score the winner for Monaco. Ironically, the acquisition of former teammate Fabregas had been one of Henry’s last acts – it was Jardim who profited, and Monaco now only remain in the relegation zone on goal difference.