Every Monday, I’ll pick out the best weekend highlights from the top leagues across Europe, and I’ll share what I think are some of the most insightful soccer reads on the web from the past week.
RONALDO IS ON A TEAR
Remember all of that talk from some fans and media pundits earlier this season about Cristiano Ronaldo slowing down, and that his past days are behind him?
The Portuguese star reminded everybody he still has plenty of gas left in the tank, scoring four goals in Real Madrid’s 6-3 home win over Girona on Sunday.
How good has Ronaldo been lately? Consider this:
Cristiano Ronaldo's last 11 games…
One four-goal haul.
TWENTY-ONE goals overall. pic.twitter.com/IwbfOots8N
— Sky Bet (@SkyBet) March 18, 2018
Ronaldo has also scored at least one goal in his last eight matches, and now has 22 goals in La Liga this season, one more than Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, and three behind league top scorer Lionel Messi.
MAURI ICARDI’S BACKHEEL
Not to be outdone by Ronaldo, Mauro Icardi also scored four goals, as he played a starring role in Inter Milan’s 5-0 destruction job of Sampdoria on Sunday. Icardi, 25, became the sixth-youngest player in Serie A history to score 100 goals. It was also the sixth career hat trick for the Argentine.
The pick of the bunch against Sampdoria was the Argentine’s second goal, when his wonderful back-heeled shot handcuffed goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano and defender Gian Marco Ferrari and trickled over the goal-line.
Icardi vs Sampdoria
4 shots on target 4 goals. In his first game back from injury Icardi turned on the style. Scary to think what he can do at a creative attacking team.
— (@Tacticomotion_) March 18, 2018
The four-goal effort couldn’t have come at a better time for Inter, who are involved in a dog fight with Lazio for fourth place in the Serie A table. Also, Icardi hadn’t scored in the league since January, and he was left off of manager Jorge Sampaoli’s national team squad this week ahead of Argentina’s friendlies with Italy and Spain later this month. His outburst against Sampdoria will have no doubt caught Sampaoli’s attention and gave him something to think about for next time.
IS MAN UNITED CRACKING AT THE FOUNDATION?
That was the question debated by Sportsnet’s James Sharman and Craig Forrest after Manchester United beat Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup on Saturday. Even though the Red Devils are through to the semifinals, and currently sit second in the Premier League table, Jose Mourinho’s incredible rant has led to serious questions about whether the Portuguese manager is still the right fir for the club.
BATSHUAYI LOVING LIFE AT DORTMUND
Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi scored a spectacular first-half goal to lead Borussia Dortmund to a 1-0 victory over visitors Hannover on Sunday in the Bundesliga. Since arriving in Germany back in Janaury, Batshuayi, 24, has scored six goals in seven games for Dortmund.
Sunday’s strike was his best of the six, though, as he scored on a spectacular, back-heeled volley in the 24th minute from a corner kick. The goal came after the Belgian should have opened the scoring early on in the game when his shot from in close hit the woodwork.
ALVES HEADS HOME WINNER FOR PSG
Dani Alves brought Paris Saint-Germain one step closer to clinching the Ligue 1 title by scoring his first league goal of the season with a late header in PSG’s 2-1 at Nice on Sunday.
The 34-year-old Brazilian managed to slip through Nice’s defence and found himself unmarked in the box where he nodded home Adrien Rabiot’s curling cross into the bottom right corner in the 82nd minute. PSG is now 17 points up of defending champion Monaco with seven matches left in the campaign.
What is Dani Alves doing in there?!
PSG won't care – his header vs Nice sent them 17 points clear in Ligue 1! pic.twitter.com/gwaffoRZkK
— Goal (@goal) March 18, 2018
TOP READ ON THE WEB OF THE PAST WEEK
Time is slowly running out for Arsenal’s Per Mertesakcer.
Prior to the start of the 2017-18 Premier League campaign, the German defender confirmed he would retire at the end of the season. Mertesacker has played a lot of soccer during his 15-year career. His body is broken, his energy running dangerously low. The end is near, and it’s a good thing it is, because he doesn’t have much more to give.
Antje Windmann of Der Spiegel, a German weekly news magazine published in Hamburg, sat down with the Arsenal man, who is determined not to hoodwink fans and media, but rather be bluntly honest about the human cost of the sport. It’s a sobering story of the trials that many footballers face on a day-to-day basis as they entertain us and earn a living, while at the same time trying to live normal lives.
“The nausea comes four to five seconds before kickoff. Every time. Once he takes his position on the pitch, surrounded by roaring fans, and he knows that, once again, he has to give it his all for 90 minutes.
The tension, he says, becomes almost unbearable. ‘My stomach starts churning and I feel like I’m going to throw up. Then I have to choke so hard that I tear up.’ He always turns his head to the side with his chin facing his shoulder so that no one can see what is happening — no TV cameras, no coaches, no teammates. So that no one will ever ask what’s wrong with him before each match, what’s wrong with Per Mertesacker, the quiet, confident defender. …
Mertesacker doesn’t want to go out with a whimper. He says he wants to leave something behind for ‘the following generations.’
He wants to provide a glimpse into the brutality of the football business. He wants to clear up false assumptions and show what it really means to live the job that many see as a dream: the need to stand up to ruinous pressure, being trapped in an unending cycle of training and games yet constantly being reduced to your performance.
You’re always just the player and never the person behind the jersey.”
ALSO WORTH READING
Gary Thacker of These Football Times wrote this thoughtful profile of Jorge Burruchaga, Argentina’s other hero at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
The Guardian’s Paul Doyle catches up with Ndaye Mulamba, the Zaire player who was infamously sent off at the 1974 World Cup after being mistakenly punished for kicking at the referee.
Writing in The Independent, Miguel Delaney wonders what’s next for Chelsea after their humiliating exit from the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona?
Also from the Independent, Jack Pitt-Brooke sat down for a one-on-one interview with Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen to get a sense of how the great Dane is able to make split decisions on the pitch.