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International Soccer

EUROPEAN FOOTBALL WRAP: Man United dent Liverpool’s title hopes, Leverkusen’s treble hopes alive and more!

Liverpool’s title hopes were dented after an enthralling draw at Manchester United, while in Germany Bayer Leverkusen’s treble aims remain alive.

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gestures during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Liverpool's title hopes were dented after an enthralling draw at Manchester United, while in Germany Bayer Leverkusen's treble aims remain alive.

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Liverpool surrender Premier League to old enemy

It feels strangely poetic that Manchester United could end up being the side that denies Jurgen Klopp his fairytale ending. The Red Devils have been an absolute disaster this season. Yet they have somehow managed to bundle Liverpool out of the Cup and put a significant dent in their title prospects. But let’s be real for a moment: Liverpool only have themselves to blame. That was never a 2-2 game. That first half descended into a shooting gallery, with United’s midfield run ragged by an energetic Liverpool unit. Salah, Szoboszlai and the enigmatic Darwin Nunez just squandered chance after chance.

United scored two worldies that pretty much came out of nothing (Quansah will be having sleepless dreams after that dreadful pass at 1-0 up). Liverpool ultimately had 28 total shots in the match but could only muster seven on target. That pretty much sums up the game. United were as chaotic and incoherent as usual (conceding 25+ shots each game has become a regular occurrence for United). I actually think the oft-maligned Onana deserves a bit more credit than he is getting. Sure, he does throw in the odd howler. But there is no other keeper in European football who is suffering this type of sustained pressure.

That insane result means that Mikell Arteta’s Arsenal have suddenly found themselves top of the Premier League standings. They gave a thoroughly professional account of themselves this weekend, barely breaking a sweat in what could have been a tricky trip to Brighton. They won 3-0, with Kai Havertz scoring and assisting in arguably his most dynamic performance to date in an Arsenal shirt. They absolutely feel like the form team in English football right now. But their biggest test still remains. They are set to face Bayern Munich in Europe this week and Arteta is still relatively untested when it comes to juggling twin domestic and European responsibilities. Reigning treble champions Manchester City were up to their old tricks this weekend, scoring at will but looking susceptible on the counterattack in a pretty swashbuckling 4-2 win.

All I’m saying is this: if Mateta can break your offside line like that- what could Vini Jr and Rodrygo do? They fortunately have the likes of KDB and Erling Haaland in there to mitigate their rather glaring defensive frailties. I also think the return of Grealish from injury could prove vital for the Citizens. He isn’t really one for the statisticians. But his ability to hold up play gives Guardiola an element of control that they have lacked down that left-hand side.

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes celebrates after scoring the 1-1 goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Liverpool.

Leverkusen on course for treble while Bayern torment continues

Xabi Alonso’s all-conquering Bayer Leverkusen look well and truly ready to put that ugly ‘Neverkusen’ moniker to bed. They ground out a gritty 1-0 win at home to Union Berlin this weekend, equalling a league record unbeaten run of 28 matches. They are now 41 games unbeaten in all competitions this season and they probably represent the best chance of a treble in European football this year. They are all but assured of the Bundesliga title and they next meet West Ham in the Europa League quarter-finals. They have already booked their place in the DF-Pokal Cup final and they could end up being the true success story of this entire European campaign. And what can we say about the side whose 11-year-reign they are bringing to an end this season? Bayern Munich were once again pretty diabolical this week, somehow surrendering a two-goal lead to Heidenheim.

Harry Kane scored his 32nd goal of the season but Die Roten were embarrassingly pegged back in that 2nd half. Thomas Tuchel’s midfield looks as devoid of cohesion as Erik Ten Hag’s United. Liamer and Goretzka looked lost while Joshua Kimmich turned in a rare stinker. Were they simply conserving their energy for this week’s crunch Champions League trip to the Emirates? We shall see.

AC Milan impressive while Juventus grind on another limp win

When was the last time Serie A felt remotely competitive? Napoli romped to victory last year with time to spare and Inter Milan currently hold an 11-point lead with a game in hand. Italian football was particularly damaged by the financial implications of Covid and I still think they haven’t quite got out of that rut. This has afforded intelligent managers such as Spalletti and Inzaghi the opportunity to dominate a significantly weakened league. Just look at Juventus’ situation. They are basically marooned with Allegri because of the financial ramifications of losing the pragmatic coach. And they desperately need a change. Sure, they managed to pick up a battling 1-0 win at home to Fiorentina.

But it was another turgid display that lacked vitality or urgency. AC Milan were much more expansive this weekend, taking down a ten-man Lecce side 3-0. Oliver Giroud scored a typical poacher’s goal while Rafael Leao netted a brilliant strike. Christian Pulisic actually opened the scoring in a really encouraging turn in the number ten role.

Player of the Week- Kevin De Bruyne

The Belgian midfield maestro has been open about his frustrations with injury this season. But he has generally looked incredible when available and he was once again tremendous this weekend, helping propel City to a 4-2 win at Palace. He scored two thunderous goals and provided an assist to keep City firmly within this season’s title race.

Furthermore, the brace helped propel the Belgian to 100 goals in a City shirt (to go with 166 assists). It will be interesting to see how Guardiola shuffles his midfield deck with so many crucial games on the horizon.

Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne celebrates scoring their fourth goal of the game during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park.
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