In this latest round of action across Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues, a special group of players rose above the rest and made their mark on the matches.
It featured emotional scenes at Fiorentina, a veteran winger at Bayern Munich turning back the clock and an incredible way to mark your birthday at Nice. Between them, the footballers scored match-winning goals and produced decisive performances.
Here is our selection:
TEAM OF THE WEEK (4-2-3-1)
Petr Cech (Arsenal)
After some miserable displays, the Czech Republic great became the first goalkeeper in Premier League history to reach 200 clean sheets.
Even better, this 3-0 victory against Watford featured his first penalty save in 16 attempts for the Gunners and it came against Troy Deeney – the striker who struck from 12 yards in October and then questioned the club’s “cojones”.
The experienced right-back gave his struggling side a La Liga lifeline when he earned their first win in 16 games.
The ex-Sevilla and Schalke defender nodded in from a corner with 11 minutes to go to settle a drab and uninspired 1-0 victory against mid-table Getafe. Coke’s defensive acumen was then tested after goalkeeper Koke Vegas was dimissed.
Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain)
The decision to drop the 33-year-old Brazil international for the first leg against Real Madrid becomes more confusing by the game.
Silva was at his commanding best during 5-0 Ligue 1 thrashing of Metz, getting on the score sheet in the final 10 minutes, completing 94.4 per cent of his passes and winning four headers. Remains one of the best centre-backs around.
Vitor Hugo (Fiorentina)
The Viola’s game against Benevento was an afternoon-long tribute to deceased captain Davide Astori.
As such, it was fitting that his replacement managed to earn a 1-0 win in Serie A against Benevento with an incredible header. The Brazilian also pulled off 10 clearances and made four interceptions to earn an emotional three points.
He’ll need to keep this up in the trying weeks to come.
David Alaba (Bayern Munich)
Even within a 6-0 humbling of sorry Hamburg in the Bundesliga, Bayern’s left-back emerged as one of the match’s best players.
In a continuation of his return to form under septuagenarian head coach Jupp Heynckes, the Austria star linked up wonderfully with Franck Ribery. Used his trickery to tee up Poland striker Robert Lewandowski and also pulled off a last-man tackle.
Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle United)
At the moment of the Magpies’ greatest need, the occasional England international delivered.
Shelvey was a colossus in the relegation six-pointer against Southampton, teeing up two goals in the 3-0 thrashing. Made three key passes and three tackles to dominate the midfield.
Commanding displays like this will give Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate food for thought.
Radja Nainggolan (Roma)
It’s been a complicated season for the Belgium star off the field, but his quality on it stays undimmed.
Nainggolan’s stamina and ability was on show as he produced two assists in Roma’s 3-0 win against Torino. Headed across for partner Daniele De Rossi to make it 2-0 and then made sure a lightning counter-attack in injury time ended up with Lorenzo Pellegrini scoring.
Son Heung-min (Tottenham Hotspur)
There are few players in better form across Europe right now.
The South Korea forward was at the forefront of a second-half fightback when Spurs beat Bournemouth 4-1. His double made it seven goals in his last four run-outs, helping erase memories of their Champions League elimination by Juventus.
With such lethality, Spurs will worry less than before about centre forward Harry Kane’s injury.
Paulo Dybala (Juventus)
An incredible player is delivering incredible things.
The Argentina forward made it three match-winning performances in a row, scoring both goals in Juve’s 2-0 win against Udinese that helped send them back to the top of Serie A for the first time since September.
This followed his superb last-gasp goal at Lazio and composed finish in midweek to seal memorable Champions League progression at Spurs.
Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich)
This was a vintage display by the ex-France winger.
The 34-year-old utterly tormented Hamburg right wing-back Dennis Diekmeier, his two goals just the highlights of a glorious performance. From his 91 touches, Ribery lodged four dribbles, two key passes and two completed crosses.
With Arjen Robben providing the same stellar service on the other flank, there seems to still be life yet in Bayern’s golden oldies.
Alassane Plea (Nice)
The birthday celebrations in the Plea household would have been something to behold after this.
On his 25th birthday and in the absence of Italy’s Mario Balotelli, the striker struck four times in a 5-2 come-from-behind win at Guingamp in Ligue 1.
His quartet came from just seven shots. They also moved him to within one of last term’s 11-goal tally in the French top flight.
Jamie Carragher has said he will “apologise again properly” over a spitting incident which has left him facing talks with his Sky Sports bosses.
The former Liverpool defender, and Sky pundit, arrived in London on Monday morning to meet with his bosses after he appeared to spit at a 14-year-old girl over the weekend.
In a video of the incident, the teenager’s father repeatedly mentioned the scoreline in Manchester United’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool, and Carragher is heard to say, “Alright”, before appearing to spit at the car alongside his.
Carragher apologised to the teenage girl after the video emerged on Sunday evening.
And he said today as he arrived at Euston station in London from Liverpool: “I’ll speak to the family again. I’m sorry. I’ll apologise again today properly.”
Asked if he had seen the girl in the car, he replied: “I didn’t, to be honest, she was leant back. I wish she wasn’t involved. I hate that she was involved more than anything.”
In a tweet on Sunday night, Carragher wrote: “Totally out of order & Ive apologised personally to all the family this evening. I was goaded 3/4 times along the motorway while being filmed & lost my rag. No excuse apologies.”
A Sky Sports spokesman said: “It’s unacceptable behaviour and we will be addressing it with Jamie.”
The incident, recorded by the girl’s father, ends with the girl saying to her father that Carragher’s spit had hit her in the face.
In the earlier game, Madrid will be riding high on confidence after seeing off Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
United and Liverpool are battling out for second spot in the Premier League. But the hosts will have to do this without injured France centre midfielder Paul Pogba.
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