There's plenty to talk about following what a massive week of European football as Liverpool slipped up against Spurs, United were thrashed by Brighton and the race for the Serie A title intensifies!
Liverpool’s title hopes dented
Liverpool’s seemingly relentless push towards quadruple glory took a significant hit this weekend at the hands of Conte’s Spurs. The North London club drew the ire of Klopp with an ultra-pragmatic display that frustrated the Reds.
Did Klopp really expect Conte’s side to go toe-to-toe with this Merseyside machine? Counter-attacking was the only option for Spurs, and they executed their plan with aplomb.
This heaped the pressure on City as they hosted Eddie Howe’s upwardly mobile Newcastle United on Sunday. They could almost have been forgiven for being slightly gun-shy following their melodramatic choke in Madrid last week.
Seriously, nobody can beat this City side when it comes to finding creative European exit strategies. But Brexit FC were resplendent on Sunday, playing some scintillating football en route to a 5-0 win.
Pep may be cursed when it comes to continental glory. But in this era of Klopp, a fourth title in five years should feel every bit as significant as European success.
United at all-time low
Growing up in the 90’s, I just became inured to the notion of Man United excellence. Even if they didn’t win the title, you could be sure that they were routinely savaging lower-level opponents.
And that’s the thing that has been most depressing about this current United mob. You can count on one hand the amount of matches they have dominated this year. In fact, I think their current position in the table is actually flattering.
Brighton’s 4-0 demolition of the Red Devils was just emblematic of everything that is wrong at the club. The apathy on display was there for all to see. Sure, Ralf Rangnick’s tenure as interim manager has been nothing short of a disaster.
But there has been something refreshing about his honest appraisal of the club’s performances. With the clock winding down on his stint as number one, I wouldn’t be surprised if the beleaguered German offers even more frank assessments of this mess in the coming days.
United don’t need a ‘culture shift’ as much as they need a clearance sale. I don’t care if you are Erik Ten Hag or Matt Busby reincarnate. No manager is going to be taking this club forward with this ragtag group of players.
Barcelona secure Champions League football
I know this doesn’t exactly read like the most startling headline ever. Barcelona are one of the most successful clubs in the Champions League era. But their prospects of qualifying for Europe’s elite club competition looked precarious prior to Xavi’s appointment.
The Barcelona legend has transformed the fortunes of the club, helping to return that sense of swagger to the Catalan giants. It hasn’t been easy with arch-rivals Real Madrid on the cusp of greatness this season.
Los Blancos have already secured the LaLiga title and performed a midweek miracle to reach yet another European Cup final. So, it was all the more important that Barcelona were able to decisively settle their Champions League destiny at Betis.
Their 2-1 away victory wasn’t without its complications. Barcelona took the lead through Ansu Fati. But former Barca man Marc Bartra equalized immediately, setting up a wild finish at the Villamrin.
But it was veteran fullback Jordi Alba who secured all three points for Barcelona, smashing in a glorious 94th minute volley to secure Barcelona’s place amongst the crème de le crème of European football.
Milan battle intensifies
Italy continues to deliver with every passing week. The battle for this year’s Scudetto is so different in character to this year’s Premier League title race. You just get the feeling that either Inter or Milan could slip up at any moment.
And both of the Milan giants were in jeopardy at some point this weekend. Inter were absolutely rocked by Empoli, trailing 2-0 with half an hour at the San Siro. But they rallied in incredible fashion, bringing the house down with a magnificent 4-2 comeback win.
Lautaro Martinez- who is currently on the wish-list for several English clubs- was central to their comeback victory. Milan had to answer the call in their Sunday trip to mid-table Verona.
And they also had to come from behind after Hellas Verona took a first-half lead. Sandro Tonali and Rafael Leao were instrumental in orchestrating their comeback. Leao set up both of Tonali’s goals before Florenzi rounded out the scoring in a 3-1 comeback win.
Milan may hold the advantage now but they do have a tricky encounter with Atalanta next week. That match is going to prove decisive in determining this year’s Scudetto.
RB Leipzig poised for Champions League
Bayern Munich dropped points for the second straight week since becoming champions while Dortmund picked up a comfortable away win. That’s all I’m going to say about the only two German sides I ever seem to talk about.
The real drama this week came in the race for that all-important 4th spot. SC Freiburg seemed well-positioned to maintain 4th with a home match against Union Berlin.
But a shock 4-1 home defeat opened the door to RB Leipzig and they duly obliged. Leipzig destroyed Augsburg 4-0, with in-demand Christopher Nkunku scoring a brace. Domenico Tedesco’s side will now go into the final match in possession of that all-important final Champions League spot.
Player of the Week- Christopher Nkunku
I just wanted to take this moment to shine a light on this young Frenchman. It’s easy to overlook the achievements of players who are not embroiled in title challenges. But where would RB Leipzig be without Christopher Nkunku this season?
His brace against Augsburg could prove pivotal in RB Leipzig’s quest to play Champions League football next season. He has now scored 34 goals and made 20 assists in 49 games across all competitions.
The club owners seem determined to keep the striker as the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool test the transfer waters. I just can’t see him in an RB Leipzig shirt next season.