Soccer

Dortmund, Bayern serve up thriller: Weekend review

Der Klassiker did not disappoint this weekend, but Barcelona certainly did. Elsewhere, the Simeone family had an up-and-down time of things, while Liverpool left it late and Man City were thankful for a player who almost left the club.

Here are Mark Ogden, Andrew Richardson and James Tyler with what you need to know from around Europe.

Go to: Talking points | Top goals | Troubled teams | Weekend MVP


Four talking points

Der Klassiker delivers drama as Bayern edge Dortmund

The Bundesliga‘s biggest game had the same result for the seventh straight time, but Bayern’s latest win — this time via a 3-2 scoreline — only tells some of the story. This was a match mired in high drama, which featured lead changes, star strikers in top form, controversy over refereeing decisions and postgame acrimony aplenty.

In the fifth minute, Julian Brandt opened the scoring for hosts Dortmund before a crowd capped at 15,000 due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the goal was cancelled out by Robert Lewandowski four minutes later. Bayern took the lead just before half-time through Kingsley Coman, only for Erling Haaland to get his name on the scoresheet with a curling effort three minutes into the second half.

FC 100: Lewandowski, Haaland finish 1, 2 among strikers

But if a Haaland goal was near inevitable, perhaps almost more of a dead cert was that Lewandowski would settle matters. His 77th-minute penalty was the Poland international’s 26th goal in 25 matches against his former side and handed Bayern a win that takes them four points clear at the top of the table, but only added to Dortmund anger.

The awarding of the penalty for handball against Mats Hummels, as well as an earlier failure to point to the spot following a coming together between Lucas Hernandez and Marco Reus, led to outcry among home players: Haaland labelled referee Felix Zwayer “arrogant,” while Jude Bellingham questioned the appointment of an official previously involved in a match-fixing scandal.

The narrow, hard-fought defeat for Dortmund continues a norm of recent seasons and while they remain within touching distance of their great rivals, their ongoing inconsistency is doing little to give neutrals hope of a proper title race.

BVB showed glimpses of their talent, but did not do enough to show they can challenge over an entire campaign. Bayern, meanwhile, did what they do and, following this box-office clash, remain hot favourites to win a 10th-straight title. — Richardson

Barcelona face Champions League oblivion

All of the focus with Barcelona is centred on their win-or-bust Champions League clash at Bayern Munich on Wednesday. After all, a failure to win in the Allianz Arena would leave them reliant on Dynamo Kiev denying Benfica victory; otherwise, the Blaugrana will fail to make the knockout rounds for the first time in 20 years.

But while the stakes are undoubtedly high for Xavi’s team against in-form Bayern, Saturday’s 1-0 defeat against Real Betis at Camp Nou underlined the challenge Barca also face to secure Champions League qualification for next season. They sit seventh, six points behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid.

Approaching the halfway stage in LaLiga, Barcelona have a fight on their hands to qualify for the club game’s biggest competition. Failing to reach this season’s knockout stage is one thing, but missing out completely? That would be a wholly different matter and leave a club beset by financial problems facing the prospect of losing more star players.

Barcelona were last absent from the Champions League in 2003-04, so it would be a hammer blow, in terms of prestige and finance, if they do not make it this season. But that is what fans must face: One of the world’s biggest clubs is an outsider to qualify. — Ogden

Moyes, West Ham continue to shock the big boys

It is time to start talking about whether West Ham can upset the Premier League‘s so-called Big Six by sealing a top-four spot and Champions League qualification. Their 3-2 win against Chelsea was no fluke, given they saw off Liverpool by the same margin at the London Stadium last month.

The win, sealed by Arthur Masuaku‘s spectacular late winner, served as the latest sign of the Hammers’ rise; in league and cup, David Moyes’ team have beaten Chelsea, Liverpool, both Manchester clubs, Tottenham and Leicester. They have also cruised into the knockout stage of the Europa League.

It is five years since the club moved to the London Stadium with talk of playing in the Champions League and becoming the capital city’s top club. Both targets are a huge ask, but West Ham have a huge and loyal support. When things are going wrong, it can be a turbulent, chaotic club, but when they are on the up, their passionate fan base can make a big difference.

The second strand is Moyes. He will always be associated with a disastrous 10-month spell as Man United manager, but is exhibiting the team-building qualities he showed at Everton, which earned him the right to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson. Give Moyes time and support and he will build a team that can punch above its weight. — Ogden

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Real Madrid keep rolling

With much of the focus in Spain trained on Barcelona’s travails, it has almost gone unnoticed that Real Madrid are inching ahead at the top of the table. Saturday’s bloodless 2-0 win at Real Sociedad — the latest in-form challenge dispatched, having earlier beaten Barca, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao — means Madrid lead by eight points and it is hard to see anyone else contending.

Yes, plenty can go wrong — Karim Benzema‘s injury could prove more serious than first thought, while the midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric cannot possibly play every game, — but they are ticking along with an absence of drama and tumult. Carlo Ancelotti is a low-maintenance, low-profile manager; this team has taken on that same quality, rarely destroying opponents by force, but quietly persuading them to surrender.

Seven of Madrid’s 12 league wins have been by a single goal, so their latest win saw not just a rare margin, but a rare scorer. After Vinicius Junior blasted in his 10th league goal early in the second half, oft-forgotten Luka Jovic popped up for a close-range header. The Serbian striker had not had the best time since his dream move in 2019, but a lively performance after replacing Benzema showed he can still play a part.

Ancelotti hopes Benzema will be available for Sunday’s Madrid derby against Atletico (stream LIVE on ESPN+ in U.S.). Others, like Jovic, might need to step up and Vinicius’ incandescent form can certainly cushion any absence, but whatever happens, Madrid will handle this tidily and without fuss: Think Pulp Fiction’s Mr. Wolf in football boots. — Tyler


Three must-see goals

Origi is Liverpool’s magic man again

Was it the best goal you’ll ever see? No. Was it the best goal you’ll see this weekend? Also no. But we have to include Liverpool striker Divock Origi‘s late, late, late strike at Wolves because of what it meant (even if it was actually quite a nifty finish).

Jurgen Klopp’s men spent 94 minutes huffing and puffing at Molineux, unable to blow Wolves’ house down. The Reds took 17 shots; many of them wayward and some inexplicable — at one point, Diogo Jota had all the goal to aim at, but blasted a shot at Conor Coady — as they tried to capitalise on Chelsea’s defeat to West Ham. But just as it seemed like two points dropped, up stepped Origi.

Given the panic with which Liverpool scuffed earlier chances, the Belgian striker was cool and calm under pressure, first controlling a cross, then turning with speed and arrowing a shot beyond the previously impervious Jose Sa. It was Origi’s latest entry in the annals of Anfield cult heroes; having scored so many late, crucial goals, he should get a key to the city. — Tyler

Sporting’s stunner against Benfica

In continuing an impressive march on four fronts with an emphatic 3-1 victory at the home of arch-rivals Benfica on Friday, Sporting got a goal from Pablo Sarabia‘s opener that will live long in the memory.

Just seven minutes into the Derby de Lisboa, Pedro Goncalves delivered a perfect ball that Sarabia met with a side-foot volley into the top corner. Further strikes from Paulinho and Matheus Nunes kept Sporting joint-top of the Primeira Liga with Porto, while Benfica only had a late Pizzi consolation to show for their efforts.

After winning their first league title since 2001-02 last season, Sporting made a slow start to the current campaign, but have won 12 straight matches in all competitions since a Champions League defeat at Borussia Dortmund in October. The form of Sarabia, Goncalves and Co. is a major reason why. — Richardson

Simeone seals improbably Verona win

Verona’s incredible comeback win against Venezia, which saw them recover from a 3-0 half-time deficit, was capped by a spectacular winning goal by Giovanni Simeone, who unleashed a right-foot strike from 20 yards that left his fellow Argentina international Sergio Romero grasping as the ball flew into the top corner.

It was Simeone’s second goal of the game, having equalised with a neat chip following Pietro Ceccaroni‘s 62nd minute red card for Venezia, and takes the son of Atletico Madrid coach Diego to an impressive 11 goals in 15 Serie A games for Verona since arriving from loan from Cagliari at the start of the season.

Fiorentina‘s Dusan Vlahovic leads the race for Capocannoniere award as the top scorer in Italy‘s top flight, but more days like this for Simeone Jr. will keep him in the running. — Ogden


Two teams that should be worried

What’s happening to Atletico Madrid?

Is Diego Simeone missing something this season? His team certainly is; where once stood a formidable, mentally strong and defensively nasty team, now lies something of a listless mess. Atletico are not in trouble, per se, but they are clearly not what we expected, with a 2-1 home defeat to Mallorca proving the malaise.

After a string of missed chances in a broadly dominant display, the LaLiga champions finally broke through via Matheus Cunha‘s scrappy opener, only to collapse late on with the concession of two un-Atletico goals.

First was an uncontested header from a deep free kick with 10 minutes remaining, before bizarrely lazy defending allowed Take Kubo — on loan from Real Madrid, making it more delicious — to speed clear from the halfway line in stoppage time and calmly nutmeg Jan Oblak from 15 yards.

Staying in fourth until May would render their season a success in the context of securing a Champions League spot (a good thing, as they could drop into the Europa League in this campaign), but they are very much underperforming. Simeone’s Atletico used to be about controlled chaos; all that’s left is the chaos. — Tyler

Roma, Mourinho continue to spiral

It is all going wrong for the Giallorossi after the joint-heaviest home defeat of Jose Mourinho’s career made it seven Serie A losses in just 16 games this season. Facing Inter Milan for the first time since he led them to the Treble in 2009-10, the Roma coach watched as goals from Hakan Calhanoglu, Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries sealed the champions’ one-sided win.

During his time at Inter, as well as Chelsea and Porto before that, Mourinho was able to galvanise an underdog mentality to achieve success. While his more recent positions have brought mixed fortunes amid high expectations, the move to Roma presented an opportunity to tap into a passionate fan base, starved of success, while pointing to the northern powers of Juventus, Inter and Milan as something to fight against.

Meanwhile, the club’s new owners showed they were not afraid to splash cash in the transfer market and, given eight of last season’s Top 10 changed manager in the summer, a sense of instability at the top suggested that Roma’s long wait for silverware — their last title came in 2000-01 and the last trophy of any kind was in 2007-08 — might soon end.

Instead, Mourinho has faced familiar same issues, including a confusing system, public criticism of players and some shocking defeats. After a positive start, Roma have won just four of their past 11 matches and the odds are against Mourinho turning it around this season. — Richardson


Weekend MVP

Silva is Man City’s key player

The Premier League champions’ 3-1 win at Watford was a lesson in how important Bernardo Silva, who scored two goals and made another for Raheem Sterling, has become for Pep Guardiola’s team. It also served as a reminder of how quickly things can change in football, given the Portugal international looked set to leave the club in the summer.

Following the club record £100m signing of Jack Grealish from Aston Villa, Silva appeared to be on his way out of the Etihad Stadium. In different times, when clubs were not financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he would surely have moved to the likes of Barcelona, Juventus or Atletico Madrid, all of whom wanted to sign the 27-year-old.

But he stayed in Manchester and has responded magnificently to become his team’s best player. While Grealish struggles for form and goals, Silva’s return of seven goals in 14 games has already equalled his best Premier League campaign.

His most recent two at Vicarage Road built on a midweek stunner against Aston Villa, but while Silva is rightly being mentioned as a potential Footballer of the Year, his biggest achievement is the manner in which he has become such a key figure for Guardiola. — Ogden




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