Premier League race down to the wire, Dortmund on Bayern’s heels, record-breaking Haaland: Weekend Review


Another weekend of European football is in the books and, once again, there was drama across the board. Kevin De Bruyne and Erling Haaland broke records in Manchester City‘s 4-1 thrashing of Southampton.

Elsewhere, Liverpool and Arsenal provided what could be the game of the season in a thrilling 2-2 draw, Villarreal shocked Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, Matthijs De Ligt scored a stunner for Bayern Munich and Chelsea‘s season is only getting worse.

ESPN correspondents Mark Ogden, Julien Laurens, James Olley, Alex Kirkland and Constantin Eckner break down the most interesting and important stuff you need to know about the weekend.


Talking points

English Premier League title race flipped on its head

The title race is surely going right to the wire. For the fourth consecutive Premier League weekend, Manchester City played first — and won — to ramp up the pressure on title rivals Arsenal, this time with a comfortable 4-1 win at Southampton on Saturday. And finally, forced to respond yet again, the Gunners dropped points. But Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool was complicated to compute.

On the one hand, Arsenal were 2-0 up at Anfield and had chances to secure their first league victory in this fixture since 2012. Yet on the other, Mohamed Salah missed a second-half penalty in front of the Kop, Roberto Firmino scored an 87th-minute equaliser and Gunners goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was required to make three excellent saves late on to salvage a point at the end of a pulsating 2-2 draw which stands as a strong contender for game of the season.

Liverpool ended with an expected goals number of 3.96, their highest of the season and the third highest in any Premier League game of the current campaign, but at the same time Arsenal had control of the contest and let it slip while also missing late chances of their own.

– Ogden: Arsenal lacked a killer instinct against Liverpool

When the dust settles, a point is probably a positive outcome for Mikel Arteta’s side given the difficulty of going to Anfield but it technically puts the title back in City’s hands, given they are six points behind with a game-in-hand while also hosting the Gunners at Etihad Stadium later this month.

The match threw up so many talking points but another to single out was a bizarre confrontation between Liverpool defender Andrew Robertson and assistant referee Constantine Hatzidakis at half-time. As the teams left the pitch, Robertson confronted Hatzidakis and appeared to grab the official, who reacted by allegedly throwing an elbow into the Scotland international’s face, who was booked for his furious reaction. Referees’ body Professional Game Match Official Limited will review the incident. — Olley

Real Madrid stunned by Villarreal

Real Madrid’s 3-2 home defeat to Villarreal on Saturday had it all: five goals, a display-of-the-season contender from Villarreal’s Samu Chukwueze, and a post-match punch-up in the car park.

We’ll get to the off-field drama later, because there was enough eye-catching action on the pitch, starting with Chukwueze. How often has a visiting player performed better than this at the Santiago Bernabeu? Chukwueze’s first goal — to level at 1-1 — was exquisite, receiving the ball just outside the box and pirouetting past Nacho before slotting past Thibaut Courtois.

He created Villarreal’s second, making it 2-2, taking on Nacho and Dani Ceballos this time before crossing for Jose Luis Morales to score. And then there was his 80th minute winner, an unstoppable curler into the top corner.

– Watch replay: Madrid 2-3 Villarreal (ESPN+, U.S. only)

Coach Quique Setien — who deserves praise of his own for masterminding his third career win away at Madrid — described Chukwueze as “worth the price of admission alone” although his claim that even some Madrid fans were applauding was probably a step too far.

All that was somewhat overshadowed by the post-match row which saw Madrid’s Federico Valverde punch Villarreal’s Alex Baena in the Bernabeu car park. That fact is disputed by noone, although the reasons remain controversial. Madrid sources said Valverde was fuming at comments Baena had made about his unborn son, a claim the Villarreal player dismissed as “totally false.”

Either way, it was a sour note on which to end a superb game. — Kirkland

Sarri-ball in full flow at Lazio

With Napoli walking the league, with all the drama around Juventus, with the two Milan clubs doing so well in Europe, it feels that Lazio’s superb season is really going under the radar and is underrated. Their win against Juventus on Saturday was a great performance and consolidated their second place in the table.

Maurizio Sarri is doing a wonderful job in Rome with Sarri-ball in full flow. The Romans are playing the best football in Italy with Napoli. Sarri is managing to reproduce what he did at Napoli and is getting the best out of players like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Luis Alberto, Pedro or Mattia Zaccagni. Lazio’s winning goal against Juve was beautiful with a back heel assist from Alberto for the finish of Zaccagni.

The Laziale are five points clear of Roma in 3rd and seven of Inter in 5th! They have the best defence in the league with 20 goals conceded in 29 matches and have lost only two games more than Napoli through the season. — Laurens

Dortmund showed nerves … and beat Union anyway

During stretches of their game on Saturday, Borussia Dortmund looked like a teenager who was allowed to go out Friday night for the first time. They were insecure and visibly nervous, particularly when Union Berlin pressured Dortmund during controlled build-up plays. After losing to Bayern Munich 4-2 the weekend before and then being eliminated from the German Cup by RB Leipzig in a largely one-sided affair on Wednesday, the feeling was that Dortmund would drop points against Union and crash out of the title race in the Bundesliga.

But despite showing nerves for most of the 90 minutes, Dortmund found a way to create enough chances and build dominance to beat Union 2-1 and keep up with Bayern. With seven games left in the season and a two-point gap between the two rivals, every mistake could be costly to the point that it might decide the championship. — Eckner


Goals

Matthijs De Ligt does it again

It felt like the only way Bayern Munich could break the deadlock against SC Freiburg on Saturday had to come by a screamer. That is what defender De Ligt produced in the 51st minute when he received a lateral pass from Jamal Musiala, saw an opening to shoot from roughly 24 yards and hit it perfectly to give Freiburg goalkeeper Mark Flekken close to no chance of reaching the ball. The strike was slightly deflected by defender Matthias Ginter.

In any case, De Ligt not only delivered the highlight of the entire game but also made sure that Bayern kept their two-point lead on Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Still, Bayern manager Thomas Tuchel is not happy that his team have such a hard time getting into the box and in promising shooting positions. Bayern produced only four shots on goal in the second half, with De Ligt hitting the back of the net from outside the penalty area for the second time this season. — Eckner

Haaland hits new milestone in style

Haaland became the fastest player to score 30 Premier League goals by hitting that mark with a spectacular scissor-kick in only his 27th game for Manchester City at Southampton.

On a weekend when the Premier League was littered with stunning goals, including Heung-min Son’s long-range curling shot against Brighton and an unstoppable volley by Matheus Nunes for Wolves against Chelsea, Haaland’s goal had some strong competition as the best of the weekend.

But the City forward claims the distinction because his goal wasn’t just spectacular, but it also required world-class technique to execute due to him having to reposition with a slight backwards movement to connect with the ball. The game was already won by the time Haaland scored his second goal of the game, but it was a significant one in his pursuit of more records.

He now has 44 in all competitions, moving him level with the mark previously set by Manchester United‘s Ruud van Nistelrooy (2003) and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (2018). With a potential 16 games still to play for City this season, Haaland could not only smash that record, but come close to scoring 60 goals.

And it is now seems a matter time before Haaland erases the record jointly held by Andy Cole (Newcastle 1993-94) and Alan Shearer (Blackburn 1994-95) of 34 goals in a Premier League season. — Ogden

Another blast from Blas

Four days after scoring an amazing goal against Lyon in the French Cup semi final sending his team to final again, Ludovic Blas did it again on Sunday against Monaco in Ligue 1! The Nantes playmaker is in the form of his life. At 25, he is due a big move to a bigger and better club than Nantes. His genius deserves it.

His header against Monaco won his team a point after being 0-2 down and his celebration, taking off his shirt and showing the back of it to the home crowd “a la Messi,” won him a 10 out of 10. Blas is a wonderful player and he proved it again on Sunday. He came on after 59 minutes, assisted Nantes’ first goal on 65th and scored the equaliser on 78th. He showed again how important he is to this team.

With him, Nantes are a much more competitive side. He has seven goals and three assists so far in Ligue 1 which is not a bad return for an attacking midfielder. He has everything and his goal on Sunday enabled Nantes to get a point which will be valuable in their fight against relegation. — Laurens


Teams in trouble

Leicester City fall further towards relegation

Leicester City are hurtling towards relegation to the EFL Championship, just seven years after stunning the football world by winning the Premier League title.

Having fired manager Brendan Rodgers following last week’s 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace, the Foxes have since lost successive league games against Aston Villa and Bournemouth, so the club’s owners have had no return on their gamble of sacking the former Liverpool and Celtic boss.

Saturday’s 1-0 loss at home to relegation rivals Bournemouth will have set alarm bells ringing even louder at the King Power Stadium because Leicester didn’t just lose to another team in danger at the bottom, they were outplayed and dominated by Gary O’Neil’s side.

Leicester have taken just one point from their last eight games and their run-in is the stuff of nightmares, starting with a trip to Manchester City next Saturday.

The good news is that they also face fellow relegation strugglers including Wolves, Leeds, Everton and West Ham, but with their form so poor right now, Leicester might just provide easy points for their rivals rather than win them themselves. — Ogden

No new manager bounce for Espanyol or Valladolid

Espanyol and Real Valladolid both brought in new managers last week as they look to escape relegation, but neither got the debut wins they were hoping for.

The Catalans — who brought in former forward Luis Garcia to replace Diego Martinez — were beaten 2-1 at home by Athletic Club on Saturday to leave them 18th in the table on 27 points. Just two places and two points above them, Valladolid — who sacked the popular Jose ‘Pacheta’ Rojo to appoint the little-known Uruguayan Paulo Pezzolano — fared a little better. Twice they led at home to Real Mallorca, first at 1-0, and then, in the 86th minute, at 3-2, only to concede a 94th minute penalty equaliser, Vedat Muriqi converting to see the match end 3-3.

With ten games remaining it’s still incredibly tight at the bottom. Five points separate Sevilla in 13th and Almeria in 19th, and anything is possible, but both Espanyol and Valladolid will have to wait another week for that hoped-for new manager bounce. — Kirkland

Three founding members could go down

The season could very well end with three teams who were founding members of the Bundesliga in 1963 being relegated: Hertha Berlin, Schalke 044, and VfB Stuttgart. The latter ones have just sacked their second head coach this year, as Bruno Labbadia was replaced by former Hoffenheim coach Sebastian Hoeness. The nephew of World Cup winner Uli Hoeness led his new team to an important 3-2 at Bochum but only jumped to 16th. Both Stuttgart and Schalke have recently played in the second division and seem to have a tough time escaping from that imaginary elevator between the two leagues.

Hertha have managed to stay up since 2013, but their organizational flaws have contributed to a lot of money being burned and Union Berlin taking the pole position in the Germany capital. Hertha’s new investors, Miami-based investment firm 777 Partners, are only minority shareholders but will likely have a hand in Hertha’s operations. For now, however, Hertha, like two other founding members of the league, fight for survival. — Eckner


Weekend MVP

Kevin De Bruyne delivers a masterclass

De Bruyne became the fifth player to reach 100 Premier League assists in Manchester City’s 4-1 win at Southampton on Saturday. City struggled for fluidity early on at St Mary’s Stadium but as soon as De Bruyne found space, Pep Guardiola’s side became a potent threat.

Having laid on an easy chance which Haaland missed on 41 minutes, De Bruyne put the ball on a plate again four minutes later to open the scoring. It is the seventh time De Bruyne has assisted a Haaland goal, the most one City player has ever combined with another in a single Premier League season.

De Bruyne reached that century of assists in the fastest ever time, requiring just 237 matches compared to next-best Cesc Fabregas (293). He played a role as City doubled their advantage against Southampton, feeding Jack Grealish who scored at the second attempt and also won the penalty for City’s fourth, converted by substitute Julian Alvarez If City are to reel in Arsenal over the coming weeks, De Bruyne will have to maintain this influential form. — Olley





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