European Teams of the Week: Real Madrid conquerors Girona are top, AC Milan sit second

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Girona celebrate as a dejected Gareth Bale stands in the foreground

The only thing in football more contentious than a dubious refereeing decision is a rankings system.

There are plenty of them out there – though many are deliberately divisive – but given the tribal nature of football they do drum up some interesting debates among supporters.

We’re going to add our twist to the list. Each week we pick out the 10 best teams from Europe’s top-five leagues (minus cup competitions).

It’s not cumulative, the rankings is based on a team’s performance in that particular game week.

So, who makes the top-10 this week? Check out below.

1. Girona (beat Real Madrid 2-1)

We’re not entirely sure if it was early kick off time or not, but Girona woke up after half-time and duly put Real Madrid’s feint title hopes to sleep. Indeed, they were predictably second best in the first 45 minutes and their negative approach was punished when Casemiro headed Real in front. But Eusebio Sacristan tweaked things at the break. Recognising the hosts were rather lethargic, his side pushed 10 yards higher up the pitch and then ravaged the space in behind Real’s full-backs. They prospered through Cristhian Stuani and Portu, and considering this relegation-threatened side had lost four straight matches, including to basement side Huesca, this was a remarkable result which snapped Madrid’s streak of five straight La Liga wins.

2. AC Milan (beat Atalanta 3-1)

This fixture had huge ramifications for the shape of Serie A’s top-four race and it did not disappoint. The home side actually led when Remo Freuler squeezed home an early opener, but then they were lit up by the Rossoneri’s red-hot Krzysztof Piatek. His first, their equaliser, was a masterpiece, a strike worthy of a place in any Milan art gallery. Hakan Calhanoglu then put the visitors in front, albeit against the run of play, with an absolute missile. Piatek scored his second and 17th of the season, showing he has substance as well as style to bravely head home from a corner. Gennaro Gattoso’s side remain in fourth and are hunting Inter.

3. Villarreal (beat Sevilla 3-0)

Celta Vigo proved earlier this month that if you’re a team encased in relegation concern, Sevilla are just the top side to help eliminate that. Villarreal secured a mighty fine 3-0 win at El Madrigal to aid their survival effort. Alvaro Gonzalez, Karl Toko Ekambi and Alfonso Pedraza all scored with Santi Carzola pulling the strings in midfield. Remarkably, it was Villarreal’s first league win since November 25 when Javier Calleja was still in charge. In the intervening months, the club hired and then fired Luis Garcia, brought back Calleja and are now desperately fighting off relegation. They remain in the bottom three and this performance must be built on for it to be of any use.

4. Nurnberg (drew 0-0 with Borussia Dortmund)

The plug was pulled on Dortmund’s electric attacking unit as the league leaders laboured to a 0-0 draw with the Bundesliga’s basement side Nurnberg. Boris Schommers has taken over on an interim basis and inspired a fine defensive showing in the 40-year-old’s first game in charge. Considering the home side only owned 28 percent of the possession, it was all thanks to their outstanding organisation, led by defiant goalkeeper Christian Mathenia, that they were able to frustrate Dortmund. They sat in with two deep blocks and smothered any space, a tactic you can hardly blame them for considering Dortmund smashed seven past them in the reverse earlier this season.

5. Bayer Leverkusen (beat Fortuna Dusseldorf 2-0)

Kai Havertz scores for Leverkusen

Kai Havertz scores for Leverkusen

Welcome to ‘Bosz Ball’. The statistics from this fixture are absolutely absurd because Bayer had 84 percent possession against Fortuna Dusseldorf, attempted 1072 passes, completed 980 of them with their towering centre-back Jonathan Tah touching the ball 206 times and attempting 202 passes of his own. Domination doesn’t really seem to cut it. Leverkusen restricted the visitors to three shots, all of which harmless, and then at the other end scored twice through two of their brightest young things, Kai Havertz and Leon Bailey. Dusseldorf aren’t exactly lightweights to be pushed over easily as well. While their form has dropped off a little in 2019, from November onward only Bayern Munich had accrued more points in that time. A remarkable win then for Peter Bosz and they are now a serious shout for the top four.

6. Empoli (beat Sassuolo 3-0)

Regular watches of Italian football will note that Empoli and Sassuolo are two of the most entertaining teams to watch. Unfortunately, for both, that’s because they have been on the wrong side of poor results. Empoli were right back in relegation trouble having only taken two points from their last eight games and mid-table Sassuolo were similarly struggling. But no one expected the hosts to hand out a beating hallmarked by three incredibly slick goals. Rade Krunic produced a Messi-esque slalom from his own half before chipping the keeper. Afriyie Acquah started then finished a fine counter-attack and after the break Diego Farias showed neat footwork in the box before adding a third.

7. Juventus (beat Frosinone 3-0)

Yes, Frosinone are another side struggling down at the bottom of Serie A, but context is important here. They had won their last two away fixtures 1-0, beating Lazio and Sampdoria with the confidence gained from those results giving them hope when travelling to the Juventus juggernaut. All aspirations were ended when Paolo Dybala exploded with a super strike and then Leonardo Bonucci added a second inside 16 minutes. Cristiano Ronaldo added a third in the second half and Juve are closing in on yet another league title.

8. Monaco (beat Nantes 1-0)

Gelson Martins

Gelson Martins

Monaco are out of the relegation zone for the first time since September after winning at the Stade Louis II for just the second time this season. Gelson Martins, who joined the club on loan from Atletico Madrid in January, slid in at the back post to finish off Rony Lopes’ decked cross on 13 minutes. Leonardo Jardim’s return in January has been pivotal as Monaco are now unbeaten in their last three league games. With the quality in their ranks, they should remain out of the drop zone from now until May.

9. Real Sociedad (beat Leganes 3-0)

For the trio of backheels in the lead up to Mikel Oyarzabal’s second alone, Sociedad warrant their place on this week’s list. The 21-year-old is one of the most gifted young wingers in La Liga and he gave credence to that claim with a fine display to help Sociedad continue their Europa League qualification hunt. The Spaniard now has eight goals for the season, four away from his best tally last season. It’s a shame his more classic wing style isn’t exactly suited for the national team because Oyarzabal is a quality player.

10. Fiorentina (beat SPAL 4-1)

This fixture will forever be remembered for the VAR decision which changed the course of it. SPAL thought they had gone 2-1 ahead when Mattia Valoti scored from a quick counter. However, the referee viewed a previous incident on VAR and opted to reward La Viola a penalty for Dias Felipe’s trip on Federico Chiesa almost a minute earlier. Jordan Veretout made no mistake from the spot, Giovanni Simeone then ended a personal goal drought and Gerson grabbed the fourth to launch Fiorentina back into European contention.

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