What’s better than a week with one El Clasico? Try one with two – Barcelona made two trips to Madrid in the space of 72 hours. In fact there were derbies galore from around Europe, which made
for seven days of entertaining viewing.
The first derby of the week was the fierce clash between Istanbul rivals Beşiktaş and Fenerbahçe. The two are usually fighting it out at the top of the table, but in this campaign Fenerbahçe have found themselves in a shock relegation battle; Beşiktaş are some way off the lead themselves, having been ousted by Istanbul upstart Başakşehir, but it looked as though they would nonetheless assert their superiority in the derby when they reached half-time with a 3-0 lead. There is something about Istanbul and unlikely comebacks, however. Beşiktaş, the last occupants of the Ataturk Stadium which saw the miracle in 2005, suffered a second-half collapse. In eerily similar fashion to the famous Champions League final, the deficit was overturned in a crazy 12-minute spell around the hour mark – Kaldirim completed the unlikeliest of revivals on 67 minutes to earn Fenerbahçe a vital point in their quest for survival.
In England, the most local derby in the country took place – Liverpool fans made the trip of less than a mile across Stanley Park to see their side continue their push for the title against Everton. They left frustrated, however: a surprisingly conservative midfield selection from Jurgen Klopp failed to create an abundance of chances, and those that were carved out were squandered by a profligate Mohamed Salah. This was undoubtedly two points dropped for Liverpool, who fell to second place; there is still almost a quarter of the season to play, so all is not lost, but momentum has firmly shifted back to Manchester. This represented a failure to build on a convincing 5-0 win against Watford in the week: Sadio Mane scored a goal of the season contender with a delightfully audacious backheel chip over Ben Foster.
Jurgen Klopp’s predecessor was on the move this week: Brendan Rodgers took over from Claude Puel at Leicester City. His first task was to take on Watford, but he could not emulate his former employers – he fell to a 2-1 defeat. His side had initially shown great – ahem – spirit to equalise after going behind to a Deeney goal, but a late goal for Andre Gray meant that it was a losing start for the Northern Irishman. Watford, for whom he briefly served as coach, took to social media after the win to welcome their new fans from north of the border: the Celtic faithful are unhappy with Rodgers, to put things mildly. This is understandable given his decision to leave mid-season with the prospect of an historic “treble treble” on the horizon – Rodgers declared that he had achieved all he could at Celtic Park.
Returns to previous employers are fairly commonplace in football, but it is not often that a manager has to take his current team to face a side he knows he will be joining at the end of the season. This was exactly the situation that Julian Nagelsmann faced, however: he has impressed during his time at Hoffenheim, so much so that RB Leipzig have an agreement in place for him to join them at the end of the season. For the time-being, however, he travelled to the Red Bull Arena in his capacity as Hoffenheim boss, and he did little to ingratiate himself to his future supporters. Leipzig currently sit third, but it looked for a long time as though the visitors would leave with all three points after Kramaric put them ahead; a late Willi Orban header salvaged a draw, but with Borussia Mönchengladbach hot on their heels they would have wanted all three points. Nagelsmann will be hoping he is still welcome for the new campaign.
Ivan Rakitic made a name for himself in the Bundesliga with Schalke, but he now plies his trade for a Barcelona side that are romping to the La Liga title. Question marks have sometimes been raised over his compatibility with the Catalan club, but he went a long way to silencing any remaining doubters with two masterful performances against Real Madrid in the space of three days. The first Clasico was the second leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final – he bossed Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the middle, helping Barcelona cruise to a 3-0 win. Suarez scored a brace either side of a Varane own goal: the second was a delightfully audacious Panenka, executed to perfection on the turf of fellow Panenka-practiser Sergio Ramos. Remarkably, it is now 4 years and 10 months since Barcelona were last knocked out of the competition. The second meeting was a league game: Barcelona travelled to the Bernabeu again and won again. The margin was just one this time, with Rakitic scoring the only goal of the game with a delicate lob over an onrushing Courtois. This leaves Real Madrid twelve points off Barcelona’s pace, and five points behind second-placed Atletico Madrid – it also means they have fallen behind in the overall Clasico tally, with 95 wins to Barcelona’s 96.
Suarez was not the only former Liverpool striker making headlines this week. Mario Balotelli is remembered somewhat less fondly at Anfield, but he has gone on to enjoy some success since leaving: he currently plies his trade for Marseille, and he scored an excellent scissor kick in their game against St-Etienne. This was notable enough in itself, but Balotelli made it all the more memorable by coming up with a celebration that is surely unique. He pulled out his phone and live-streamed the celebrations with his teammates to Instagram: unusual, perhaps, but as long as he
keeps finding the net then he can celebrate how he likes. Nonetheless, it does cast doubt on the Italian’s enigmatic question from his Manchester City days as to whether a postman celebrates when he delivers a letter – apparently the striker believes that employees of the postal service take to social media to rejoice in each delivery! Marseille went on to win the match, meaning they leapfrog their opponents into fourth.
Elsewhere in Ligue 1, Monaco continued their revival under Leonardo Jardim. The manager’s second spell at the club saw a near-instant upturn in form, and relegation fears were further alleviated by a battling draw away at midtable Angers. The Principality side found themselves two goals down at half-time courtesy of a brace from Tait, but talismanic striker Radamel Falcao got two goals of his own in the second half. The equaliser came ten minutes from time, with the Colombian holding his nerve from the spot to secure a precious point. Monaco are now seven points clear of the foot of the table.