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This weekend’s action saw a four-goal outing by Villarreal’s rising star, more Manchester United woe and a Bundesliga side bouncing back after early season struggles. It also saw the question raised of whether any Serie A side actually wants to win the Scudetto.
Oh, and then there was that epic Carabao Cup final at Wembley.
Here are Rob Dawson, Sam Marsden, Bill Connelly, Ryan O’Hanlon, Mike Wise and James Tyler with what you need to know from around Europe.
Go to: Talking points | Top goals | Troubled teams | Weekend MVP
Four talking points
Rangnick rues United’s rare chances
“Our job as coaches and head coaches is to help the team create enough chances,” said Manchester United interim coach Ralf Rangnick after the 0-0 draw with Watford on Saturday. “If we only had two or three opportunities in the game, we could ask ourselves what can we do to create more, but the number of clear chances we had today have to be enough to win a game like this.”
It felt like a pointed comment and it is hard to argue with his logic. Goals have been a problem since the German took over in December — United have scored two or more in just five of his 17 games in charge — but after being frustrated by Watford, he was very clearly passing the blame onto his players. In four games against Watford, Southampton, Burnley and Middlesbrough, United have had a combined 86 shots but scored just three goals, leading to six dropped points in the Premier League and an early exit from the FA Cup.
Rangnick’s post-match interview on Saturday suggested he feels there is nothing wrong with the game plan and that the lack of goals is down to his forwards passing up too many opportunities. It is a significant problem ahead of games against Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool when chances are likely to be at a premium. — Rob Dawson
Pino nets first four-goal game since Messi
Villarreal’s teenage winger Yeremi Pino became the first player to score four goals in a LaLiga game since Lionel Messi two years ago. The Spain international completed a perfect hat-trick in the first half — left foot, right foot, header — and added his fourth after the break in a 5-1 win over Espanyol. He didn’t look too impressed when coach Unai Emery killed his chances of scoring a fifth by taking him off in the 75th minute.
Pino’s haul was just one of a number of storylines generated by the race for the top four this weekend. Just five points now separate Real Betis in third and Real Sociedad in seventh, with Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal squeezed in between them — in that order.
Betis and Barca currently occupy the final two Champions League spots and Xavi Hernandez’s side look big favourites to stay there after thumping Athletic Bilbao 4-0 at Camp Nou. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s fifth goal in three games, a strike from Ousmane Dembele, once again whistled by his own fans due to his contract situation, and late Luuk de Jong and Memphis Depay efforts sealed the points. Pedri was incredible.
Atletico are showing signs of improving, too. Two goals from Renan Lodi kept them on Betis and Barca’s heels, while Real Sociedad were also winners against Osasuna, making it a bad weekend for Betis, who lost to Sevilla. — Sam Marsden
Will the real Tottenham please stand up?
Tottenham Hotspur under Antonio Conte were pretty damn good — unbeaten in his first nine games at the club — until a run of three straight defeats took a lot of the shine off proceedings in north London. Yet this week has seem Spurs do the remarkable: beat Man City in Manchester to complete the league double over them, before losing 1-0 at Burnley in midweek and then uncorking a 4-0 drubbing of Leeds early on Saturday morning.
This team just can’t decide if it’s going to be amazing or woeful, which explains why they’re in seventh place with only a couple of months left in the season. That said, they have games in hand on just about everyone above them and Saturday’s display showed why a solid run of results would vault them back into the top four.
Spurs were uncompromising and effervescent against Leeds, taking the abundant space and slow transition play of Marcelo Bielsa’s side that was being offered and racing to a three-goal lead in the opening half-hour. Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Dejan Kulusevski are a potent front three, the wing-back play of Ryan Sessegnon and Matt Doherty (who scored his first Premier League goal since March 2020, which was for Wolves against Spurs) proved that Conte’s system is finally clicking and the defense was robust enough to allow only a handful of clear chances once the game was won.
The only question is: which Spurs side will show up in the FA Cup this week (vs. Middlesbrough) and at home to Everton next weekend? — James Tyler
Leipzig back among Bundesliga’s best
After a huge Thursday win over Real Sociedad in the Europa League, RB Leipzig manager Domenico Tedesco tried to get some key attackers some rest; he began Sunday’s match at Bochum with Christopher Nkunku, Dani Olmo and Andre Silva on the bench. But after a meek first 60 minutes, in which RBL managed only one shot to Bochum’s six, all three subbed in, and in his only shot of the match, Nkunku took a pass from Benjamin Henrichs and slotted it into the left corner to give his team a 1-0 win and a huge three points.
This was an unmemorable slog against a mid-table squad. More importantly, however, it was also RBL’s ninth win in 13 matches in all competitions under Tedesco, who was hired in December to replace Jesse Marsch. And for now, it moved them back into a Champions League spot. They stand fourth in the Bundesliga, four points behind third-place Bayer Leverkusen and ahead of Freiburg and Hoffenheim on goal differential.
They were in 11th when Tedesco took over, and only Bayern Munich has managed more league points since. Nkunku’s goal was vital because, as hot and talented as the team may be, RBL still cannot afford to drop needless points with five teams remaining within six points of fourth. This was big, and next Saturday’s visit from Freiburg is even bigger. — Bill Connelly
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Paulista nets beauty for Valencia
The long-range goal, the howitzer, the belter, the screamer, the oh-my-word-what-did-he-just-do was supposed to be dead. Expected goals killed it. Everyone’s shooting from inside the penalty area now; the average attempt across the Big Five leagues is creeping closer and closer to the end line with each passing season.
Yes, sure, fine, whatever, but can your algorithm account for Gabriel Paulista’s right foot?
There’s something just so satisfying about this — no real wind up, a kind of awkward-looking swing, and then the ball just falls out of the sky like a brick, almost hitting both the post and the crossbar at the same time. You used to see goals like these every weekend; now, each one is a minor miracle, a near-impossible confluence of physics and geometry. Oh, and the context: Gabriel had been out for four months, hadn’t played a match since before Halloween. Then, four minutes into his first game back, he tries that. — Ryan O’Hanlon
Benzema, Vinicius weave some magic
Karim Benzema was Real Madrid’s saviour once again on Saturday as he linked brilliantly with Vinicius Junior to score an 83rd minute winner against local rivals Rayo Vallecano. Picking the ball up on the edge of the box, Benzema played an intricate pass to Vinicius, who returned the ball brilliantly to allow the French forward to roll home the only goal of the game from six yards.
Benzema now has 19 goals in LaLiga, six more than anyone else, and he’s a huge reason why Madrid sit six points clear at the top of the table. Sevilla, who won their local derby against Real Betis on Sunday, remain their closest challenger. — Marsden
Arsenal’s late, late winner against Wolves
It might not be a Puskas contender for goal of the year, but there was something special about Arsenal’s 95th-minute winner against Wolves on Friday. It wasn’t the frantic inter-play between Pepe, Martin Odegaard and Alexandre Lacazette that set up the chance, nor was it the fact that Wolves keeper Jose Sa probably turned the ball into his own net … no. It was that split second of silence that descended on the Emirates, with thousands of fans simultaneously holding their breath before the ball hit the back of the net. Magic. — Mike Wise
This angle of the goal is too sickkk pic.twitter.com/OOMblixPQN
— Raf 🇧🇩 (@rfprods1) February 25, 2022
Two teams that should be worried
Leeds have a long way to go
Marcelo Bielsa paid the price for Leeds United’s desperate form on Sunday when the Argentinian coach was relieved of his duties at Elland Road and the club can only hope a change of manager inspires a change of fortune. Leeds are just two points above the relegation places in the Premier League table and the two teams directly below them — Everton and Burnley — both have two games in hand. They have lost their last four in a row while conceding 17 goals including 10 in their last two outings against Liverpool and Tottenham.
They have the worst defensive record in the league and whoever comes in to replace Biesla — American coach Jesse Marsch is favourite — will have to find a way to start keeping clean sheets quickly. Games against Norwich, Watford and Brentford, all in the bottom six, will be key in the run-in if they want to give themselves a chance of survival because they’ve also got to play Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. Norwich and Watford are starting to look doomed but Burnley are putting a good run together and Everton should have enough quality in their squad for Frank Lampard to lead them to safety. Leeds have got a very anxious three months ahead. — Dawson
Mark Ogden reacts to Marcelo Bielsa’s sacking by Leeds United and says the new manager will need to bring a more defensive outlook.
Inter slipping as Serie A race tightens
Internazionale are wobbling just at the wrong time. Friday’s goalless draw at Genoa left them winless in four Serie A games and they’re now third behind both Napoli and AC Milan, who both have two points more than them. You have to go back to Jan. 22, and a 2-1 home win over Venezia, to find the last time Inter recorded three points in a league game.
The good news is time is on their side. They have a game in hand over their title rivals and still have 12 league games left to re-find their form. The games are coming thick and fast, though, for Simone Inzaghi’s faltering team. They have the first leg of their Coppa Italia semifinal against Milan this week and then, on March 8, they face the unenviable task of turning around a 2-0 deficit in the Champions League against Liverpool at Anfield. — Marsden
GK Caoimhin Kelleher
I don’t know how this is possible, but it is. Take a look at Caoimhin Kelleher’s profile pic at FBref. Somehow, he’s won more penalty shootouts for the club that’s won more major trophies than anyone else in England. That surreal statistic seems a fitting capper to one of the most surreal matches in recent memory in Sunday’s epic Carabao Cup final. Best nil-nil you’ve ever seen? How could anything be better? Neither team could defend and neither team could score. Chances galore, and the best players in the world tripping over their shoelaces at the decisive moment inside the box — or getting stumped by two elite goalkeeping performances.
Given the start over Alisson, the 23-year-old made four saves worth nearly a full xG according to Stats Perform’s model. Then, you know, he didn’t save a single penalty but he smacked his past Kepa before his opposite number sent his to the moon. Amidst the hysteria after the game, Kelleher said, “I forgot I scored the winning one.” Luckily, no one else will. — O’Hanlon