Leagues and cups across Europe are approaching the business end, so there are plenty of talking points from the week’s football.
Neutrals looking for nicely-poised ties heading into the second legs would have been left disappointed by the week’s Champions League action. Fans of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are unlikely to mind – their sides all turned in impressive performances to place one foot into the semi-finals. Zidane’s reigning champions thrashed Juventus 3-0 away from home, aided by a remarkable overhead kick from Ronaldo. Liverpool defied the odds to win at home against City by the same margin: goals from Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mane will have them believing that a sixth Champions League title is a possibility. Barcelona brushed Roma aside 4-1 at the Camp Nou, while Bayern came from behind to take a 2-1 lead back with them to Germany.
Bayern also found joy on the domestic front: The Bundesliga is the first of the big five leagues to be officially decided, after they defeated Augsburg to claim a sixth successive title. Jupp Heynckes’ side had to come from behind, but eventually ran out 4-1 winners. The comfortable victory following an initially rocky start is a microcosm of Bayern’s entire season – it is hard to believe that the campaign began so poorly for the German giants, but they have not looked back since the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti. Astoundingly, this is the club’s 28th league title: unless something drastic happens to break the monopoly, that number will surely only continue to grow.
Another of Ancelotti’s former teams, PSG, is also within touching distance of the title. They kicked off prior to their closest challengers, Monaco, knowing that victory against Saint- Étienne would leave their rivals needing a win to keep their mathematical chances alive. However, PSG could not emulate the form that has got them into such a dominant position – Emery’s men went behind inside twenty minutes, and were further hindered by a red card just before half time. It looked like they might still manage to produce a win, but Cavani derailed these hopes with a contender for miss of the season. Angel Di Maria had raced clear and squared it to the Uruguayan, but faced with an empty net he could only steer the ball wide. A very late Mathieu Debuchy own goal meant that the Parisians at least escaped with a point, but Monaco’s win from behind against Nantes means that the six-time Ligue 1 winners will have to wait for confirmation of another league title.
Similarly, the Premier League remains mathematically up for grabs following Manchester City’s collapse in the derby. They led United by two goals to nil, and could have been out of sight had Raheem Sterling not spurned multiple clear-cut opportunities, but a colossal second half showing inspired by Paul Pogba fired Mourinho’s side to a remarkable 3-2 victory. The Frenchman scored two goals in ninety seconds shortly after the break to restore parity, before Chris Smalling steered home what turned out to be the winner. Sterling had yet another great chance in the closing minutes but struck the post, while Aguero was denied an equaliser by a phenomenal David De Gea save. This is the first time in Guardiola’s managerial career that he has conceded three times in two successive matches: his team will need to improve dramatically to have any chance of overturning the 3-0 aggregate deficit against Liverpool on Tuesday.
This upcoming Champions League clash was clearly on Klopp’s mind when he picked his team for the Merseyside Derby. Ings, Solanke, Clyne and Klavan were all given run-outs for Liverpool, and those first-teamers that did play were simply looking to avoid injuries. They succeeded in this regard, and also managed to come away with a point – this was little more than a bonus, but it did ensure that Liverpool now have the outright longest unbeaten run in the history of the fixture, stretching back seventeen games. This beats Everton’s run of sixteen derbies without a loss, which they managed during the turn of the 20 th century. The Reds could have won the game, but Dominic Solanke saw the best chance of the match saved smartly by Jordan Pickford.
Perhaps Liverpool would have been able to break the deadlock had they still been able to call upon a certain Iago Aspas. He returned to boyhood club Celta Vigo, via Sevilla, after flopping on Merseyside – he has been able to recreate the form that earned him a Premier League move in the first place, and was in particularly lethal form this weekend against the side for which he played in 2014/15. He put three past the Champions League quarter- finalists in a 4-0 rout, moving Celta to within just three points of their opponents in the process. This was a dent in Sevilla’s hopes of qualifying for Europe next season – they now find themselves in seventh place, three points adrift of fifth and having played a game more than sixth-placed Villarreal.
Did the fire ever truly go out? Will Grigg was another player who was able to go home with the match ball this weekend, firing three past MK Dons in a convincing 5-1 win. Coincidentally, he was also facing a former club – his 20 goals in 44 appearances for the Dons in 2014/15 was where his incredible goal-scoring run started to get going, but his treble against them here may well condemn the side to relegation. It might prove equally important for Wigan: the big win moves them to within two points of first, having played one game fewer than Blackburn. The title would be a great achievement for The Latics, who are looking to bounce straight back following relegation from The Championship last time out.