By Israel Igiri
It was an action-packed weekend which witnessed exciting and decisive matches across various centres in Europe. Here are the talking points from the weekend actions.
Barcelona Equals Liga record
FC Barcelona recorded a valuable 3-1 win against Leganes in La Liga thanks to another stellar performance from Lionel Messi who recorded a hat-trick at Camp Nou in Ernesto Valverde’s 50th game in charge of the side.
The brilliant Argentine first goal saw him equal a record as he became the first player to score six direct free-kick goals in a single La Liga season since Ronaldinho Gaucho in 2006/2007 season (6). That is amazing.
The win also meant that the Catalans equaled Real Sociedad’s record from 1979-80 of 38 consecutive games without defeat in the league. Ernesto Valverde’s men have not lost in their 31 games in the league this season, carrying on from their unbeaten run of seven games in the previous campaign under Luis Enrique.
To find Barca’s last defeat you have to go back 8 April 2017 at La Rosaleda when Malaga came out on top against them. Can they break the record when Valencia come visiting in five days’ time? Time will tell.
Heynckes Still Bayern’s Master Architect
He was brought back to salvage Bayern’s season. And since his return in December 2017 as manager, Jupp Heynckes has turned Bayern Munchen’s fortunes around using a trusted formula to win their sixth consecutive Bundesliga title and a record 28th time overall after their 4-1 victory over at the Augsburg on Saturday.
After an indifferent start to this campaign under Carlo Ancelotti, crushed by Paris Saint Germain in Europe and trailing Borussia Dortmund by five points in the league, Bayern have prospered after a return to the customary-cool manner in which they dispatch teams, even when pegged back. Everyone in the team comes to the party when called upon because a legend is on board.
With his tactical brilliance, he has been able to win 19 of 22 league games this season and has achieved what only two teams (The early 2000s Olympique Lyon squad who won seven straight Ligue 1 championships, and the current Juventus squad who is on their way to their seventh straight Serie A championship) have been able to do in Europe’s top five leagues in over three decades, thus, showing that he remains the father of success at Bavaria.
His return has restored confidence in the team, making them a force to be reckoned with in Europe once again as we saw in their 6-0 demolition of Dortmund. For the Die Rotens and the 72-year-old who is expected to call it quits- again- in the summer, the hopes of replicating the 2013’s incredible treble remains on course. “Jupp, Jupp, Jupp,” as fans chant, is a shepherd who knows how to control his sheep and remains the team’s master architect whose framework drives Bayern’s success.
United Delay City’s Party
Manchester City’s champagne football got the party started. Etihad stadium stood to applaud their Premier League champions-elect. The countdown to the coronation stood at 45 minutes.
Pep Guardiola’s side only needed the sweetest of victories over Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United to secure the title, and went into this derby with a 16-point lead. The fans wanted it over the weekend, a show of power and glory they could parade in front of their neighbours.
It seemed nothing would deny the Citizens their wish as they led 2-0 at half time with goals from Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan. At this point, Mourinho was speechless and paralytic while chants of victory from the home fans overshadowed the atmosphere.
Just as it seems there would be no fight back, Paul Pogba who had struggled all day, scored after 53 minutes to give the away side the hope of a comeback. And two minutes later, the French midfielder scored his second and the equalizer, creating an air of panic.
And with less than 30 minutes to go, Chris Smalling silenced the Etihad crowd, sending wild celebrations among the Old Trafford supporters. This was an unbelievable comeback. Guardiola was stunned as he could not believe what had happened to his team. It was certainly a nightmare.
While City tried to get the equalizer, they were unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty after referee Martin Atkinson ignored a foul on Sergio Aguero by Ashley Young in the area. Also, David de Gea demonstrated his world-class ability with a brilliant save from the Argentine attacker late on.
For the inevitability of City’s eventual confirmation of their third Premier League title, there was disappointment from their supporters that it was not achieved with United in opposition. The reaction of some of their fans at the end illustrated it was a damaging day, allowing United to restore some pride and remind their neighbours that they are still in town.
Guardiola and City will be champions in few weeks’ time, however, Mourinho and his boys ensured the champions-elect were not having that moment at their expense.
Madrid Derby Draw Gifts Barcelona La Liga Title
There was no loser in Sunday’s derby at the Santiago Bernabeu, but there was one clear winner as Real Madrid and Atletico played a 1-1 draw- Barcelona, leaving Barcelona a step closer to the title.
The Los Blancos failed to defeat their city rivals at home for the fifth straight season running in La Liga, with this draw coming exactly one year after the two teams tied 1-1 in last season’s corresponding fixture. Prior to that, the Roji Blancos had won the previous three.
With 11 points behind Barcelona and with just seven rounds of Primera Division remaining, the hopes of lifting the La Liga title for the first time in four years appears impossible now for Diego Simeone’s side. And for Real, the draw leaves them four points behind their neighbours and are now fourth on the log following Valencia’s 1-0 defeat of Espanyol on Sunday night.
Barcelona are closer to the ultimate prize that rewards the season’s most consistent performer. And following Sunday’s derby stalemate, La Liga is now all but won for the Catalans.