European Football Saturday Round-Up

Sport360 staff 16/04/2017

PREMIER LEAGUE

Harry Kane scored on his return to the starting lineup after his injury lay-off as Tottenham thrashed Bournemouth 4-0 to move within four points of Premier League leaders Chelsea. Mousa Dembele opened the scoring for Spurs, the midfielder finding the back of the net in the league after 48 games. Heung-min Son kept up his fine run of recent form, scoring Spurs' second, before Kane marked his return with his 20th league goal of the season.

To round off Spurs' perfect day Vincent Janssen scored from open play in the Premier League for the first time. With Spurs in this form, Chelsea will feel the pressure going into their Sunday game against Manchester United.

With Kane scoring, Romelu Lukaku made sure he got a goal of his own to keep his four-goal lead at the top of the Premier League scoring charts. Lukaku scored Everton's third in a 3-1 win over Burnley which saw the Toffees move up to fifth, above Manchester United on goal difference, albeit having played three games more than the Red Devils.

Crystal Palace were seemingly suffering a hangover from their stunning 3-0 win against Arsenal, as they were floundering against Leicester City at home on Saturday. The defending champions went up 2-0 in the second half, but Sam Allardyce's men rallied to grab a point, Christian Benteke getting Palace's equaliser.

It was a significant result in the relegation battle, as fellow strugglers Swansea and Hull lost to Watford and Stoke City respectively. Bottom of the table Sunderland rescued a point against West Ham, but they remain nine points adrift of safety.

In the day's late game, Manchester City saw off Southampton with a clinical performance. The 3-0 scoreline perhaps flattered the visitors as Southampton were in this contest for a long while, but after grabbing the goal City could afford to sit back and pick Southampton apart on the counter.

LA LIGA

Isco's last-gasp goal gave Real Madrid a hard-fought 3-2 win away to Sporting Gijon as Los Blancos kept their La Liga title destiny in their own hands.

Gijon had twice taken the lead, but Isco's first goal cancelled out the hosts' opener before Alvaro Morata equalised for 2-2 after Gijon restored their lead. Isco's winner briefly took Madrid six points clear at the top of the table, before Barcelona's game later in the day.

Atletico Madrid kept pace with their local rivals with a 3-0 win over Osasuna, despite resting several of their key players. Yannick Carrasco scored a brace and Filipe Luis added Atletico's third. The game ended in comical fashion, as Atletico missed two penalties in the final few minutes, although the game was settled by then.

In the late game, an inspired Lionel Messi performance led Barcelona to a 3-2 win over Real Sociedad to cut Real Madrid's lead back down to three points. Messi scored twice, the second a long-range stunner, in an entertaining game at the Camp Nou which saw four goals in the last eight minutes of the first half.

Messi scores his second goal. Messi scores his second goal.

SERIE A

In Serie A, Cristian Zapata scored with the last kick of the game as AC Milan battled from 2-0 down to grab a point in the Milan derby. Inter players claimed Zapata's effort hadn't crossed the line, but goalline technology came to Milan's rescue, confirming the goal. Antonio Candreva and Mauro Icardi had put Inter in front, only for Alessio Romagnoli to peg the hosts back before Zapata's intervention.

Both Milan sides are still in the hunt for the European places, and the teams directly above them all drew to keep that race full of intrigue. 4th-placed Lazio drew 2-2 away to Sampdoria, while 5th-placed Atalanta held Roma to a draw in Rome.

The Roma draw meant Juventus stretched their lead at the top to eight points thanks to Gonzalo Higuain's first-half brace at Pescara, whose relegation is all but confirmed at this point as the result leaves them twelve points from safety.

LIGUE 1

Monaco restored their lead over PSG at the top of Ligue 1 with a hard-fought home win over Dijon, who had taken a shock lead at the Stade Louis. Radamel Falcao came off the bench and hit two stunning free kicks, one which came off the crossbar for Nabil Dirar to slot home for the equaliser and the second which settled into the net to seal the comeback.

Nice kept pace with the top two, coming from behind to beat Nancy 3-1. The result guarantees a top-three finish and thus Champions League football next year for Nice, marking a return to Europe's premier competition after 57 years.

BUNDESLIGA

Bayern Munich's title procession was put on hold as Bayer Leverkusen held the league leaders to a 0-0 draw, despite finishing the game with 10 men. Phillip Lahm missed a golden opportunity in the dying minutes for Bayern, whose lead at the top of the league was cut to 8 points.

RB Leipzig, Hoffenheim, and Borussia Dortmund all won on Saturday, with the Bayern result meaning Leipzig can still harbour faint hopes of a shock league title after cruising to a 4-0 win over Freiburg, a result that confirmed a Champions League spot for next year. Hoffenheim emerged on top after an entertaining game against Borussia Monchengladbach, winning 5-3, while Dortmund ran out 3-1 winners over Eintracht.

In more good news for Dortmund, defender Marc Bartra was released from the hospital today following his wrist surgery earlier in the week for the injury he suffered when an explosion rocked Dortmund's team bus on Tuesday before their Champions League game against Monaco.

MOST DOMINATING WIN - SPURS ROUT BOURNEMOUTH TO KEEP TITLE PRESSURE UP

At this point, all Spurs can do is keep winning and hope Chelsea slip up. On Saturday, they kept up their end of the bargain in style, routing Bournemouth at home to make sure Chelsea's tough Sunday assignment against Manchester United is even more pressure-packed.

BEST CONTEST - INTER MILAN 2-2 AC MILAN

Both of this year's Milan derbies have been settled with the last kick of the game. Ivan Perisic had snatched a 2-2 draw for Inter in November, and Cristian Zapata returned the favour in a pulsating contest between the two heated rivals on Saturday.

BEST GOAL - ISCO

There were a few good contenders. Messi's rocket from range, Shaqiri's curler that found the top corner and Radamel Falcao's free-kick as well.

But Isco weaving run inside the penalty box and emphatic finish with his left foot was the pick of the bunch.


PLAYER OF THE DAY - LIONEL MESSI

The Argentine scored his 44th and 45th goals of the season against Real Sociedad and also produced an assist to seal three points for Barcelona in a 3-2 win. His first goal in particular was a class apart.


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COMMENT: Barca’s bad attitude leaves them on brink of UCL elimination

Andy West 12/04/2017
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Since Barcelona’s latest Champions League disaster unfolded on Tuesday night, there has been a lot of talk about what exactly went wrong this time for the Spanish giants.

Much of the blame for the comprehensive 3-0 defeat at Juventus has been laid at the feet of manager Luis Enrique, and specifically his tactics which asked the team to alternate between a back three and a back four, with the result that they did neither well.

Certain individual players have also been singled out for criticism, notably defender Jeremy Mathieu, who was dragged off at half-time for the second consecutive game, and his ineffective second half replacement Andre Gomes.

Javier Mascherano, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Andres Iniesta and Neymar also distinctly failed to cover themselves in glory on the night, and the prevailing wisdom appears to be that Barca suffered in Turin due to their tactics and their personnel – that they need to find a better way of playing and to find several new players to do so.

There is a fair degree of truth in those observations, because it was a confused performance from a tactical perspective, and the squad depth does not compare favourably to, for example, Real Madrid, who can call upon two world-class players in almost every position.

But the biggest explanation for Barca’s capitulation in Italy is neither tactical nor individual – it is a question of attitude.

To be blunt, their start to the game was astonishingly lazy. It doesn’t matter how talented (or not) you are, or how you have been asked to play, if you travel to face a team like Juventus and can’t be bothered to put in a wholehearted effort, you’ve got no chance. And in Turin, especially during the opening 30 minutes, it often looked as though Barca simply couldn’t be bothered.

If that sounds harsh, consider the play that led to Juve’s opener.

First, left-back Alex Sandro strode forward, carrying the ball deep into Barca’s half. Nobody challenged him. He played a short pass to Higuain. Nobody challenged him. Higuain’s crossfield pass picked out Juan Cuadrado, who was in acres of space and – a theme is emerging – nobody challenged him.

Cuadrado ambled into the box, and played an easy pass to Paulo Dybala. And guess what? Nobody challenged Dybala, allowing him to swivel and curl a shot on the turn into the far corner.

Over the 10 seconds or so leading up to the goal, Mascherano, Ivan Rakitic, Sergi Roberto, Samuel Umtiti, Mathieu, Neymar, Iniesta and Gerard Pique were all within five yards of the man with the ball, but none of them even came close to making what could be even loosely described as a tackle or, at the very least restricting the space the man in black and white had to work in.

Although Juventus deserve praise for a well-constructed move, and Dybala’s finish was beautiful, that goal was one of the most disgraceful pieces of collective defending you could ever see at the top level and it was not down to tactical problems or a lack of talent – it was pure laziness on the part of eight different players who could have made a lot more effort to prevent it.

What does this mean? Have Barca’s superstars suddenly become satisfied with their achievements and lost their appetite for more?

Not likely. With the comeback against Paris Saint-Germain, and a few other occasions this season such as the recent league win at Atletico Madrid, we have seen that Barca’s players are still capable of rousing themselves to deliver a fully switched-on performance when they are in the mood.

But too often this season, they have not been in the mood. Ultimately, that has to come back to Luis Enrique, because the manager is responsible for consistently sending out his players in the right frame of mind to perform.

Enrique is already going, but the biggest thing that needs to change at Barcelona this summer is not their tactics or their squad. It’s their attitude.

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Dybala stars as Juventus outclass Barcelona

Sport360 staff 12/04/2017

Paulo Dybala struck two brilliant goals in a stunning first half and Giorgio Chiellini added a rare third after the break as the hosts claimed a commanding advantage ahead of next week's second leg.

Dismal Barcelona's only hope is to repeat their feat of the previous round, when they recovered from a 4-0 first-leg loss to Paris St Germain by beating the French side 6-1 at home. But on the evidence of Tuesday night a second comeback looks highly unlikely.

The home side hared out from the first whistle and had their first chance after less than three minutes when Gonzalo Higuain wasted a good chance in front of Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Luis Enrique's men, smarting from a domestic defeat to Malaga at the weekend, were overwhelmed by the early onslaught and they fell behind with just seven minutes on the clock.

The superb Juan Cuadrado found Dybala on the right side of the box and the striker curled an excellent left-foot shot past the helpless keeper. Barcelona responded well and could have grabbed an equaliser after 20 minutes when Lionel Messi threaded the ball to Andres Iniesta whose low shot was well saved by Gianluigi Buffon. Moments later, Juventus surged down the left flank and Mario Mandzukic crossed for the unmarked Dybala, who fired his second of the game past ter Stegen to put the Italians 2-0 up. Barcelona started the second half in much better fashion with Messi rolling an effort inches wide of the upright and Buffon just beating Luis Suarez to an Ivan Rakitic through-ball. Higuain rolled a weak effort at ter Stegen before Chiellini made it 3-0 after 55 minutes, out-jumping Javier Mascherano to head home only the second Champions League goal of his career. Knowing a precious away goal could still help turn the tie in their favour, Barcelona began to press with Suarez trickling a fine chance wide then Neymar seeing an effort blocked by the busy Chiellini in the box. Marshalled by a towering performance by Brazilian Alex Santos, the Juventus defence held out and Messi's last chance to reduce the deficit came to an end when he spun a free-kick into the Italians' wall. MOMENT OF THE MATCH Paulo Dybala's opening goal was the result of a brilliant finish, and made sure Juventus did not waste their early advantage. Coupled with his second goal, which was equally brilliant, Dybala's performance had observers wondering if Argentina's "Crown Prince" was dethroning Lionel Messi, the king of Argentinian football for so long. BEST GOAL See above. Dybala's first goal of the night is worth watching over and over again. That finish, from that angle...the 23-year-old showed just why he's thought of as the next big thing in Argentina. BEST TWEET BEST STAT MAN OF THE MATCH Dybala. Gigi Buffon pulled off a couple of outstanding saves, but Juventus' Argentinian wizard deserves all the plaudits - not least because he did it while outshining Barcelona's own Argentinian wizard. Lionel Messi was definitely the second-best player from his country in this game, and by a wide margin.

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