Every Monday, I’ll wrap up what happened over the weekend in 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 NOT WASHED UP
Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a brace in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win over Eibar on Saturday. The Portuguese star now has 33 goals in all competitions this season, one more than rival Lionel Messi.
Messi still leads La Liga in scoring with 24 goals this campaign, ahead of teammate Luis Suarez (21) and Ronaldo (18). But the Real Madrid star has been in blistering form as of late, with 14 goals in his last nine La Liga games.
A slow start to the season (by his high standards) raised many questions as to whether Ronaldo, who turned 33 last month, was slowing down or even, gasp, washed up. He’s getting on in years, but there’s no question he remains neck and neck with Messi for the unofficial title as best player on the planet.
Worth a read: Reuters’ Rik Sharma examines how Messi became such an expert free kick taker, and details what advice Diego Maradona once gave the FC Barcelona star.
“In an interview with Spanish television channel La Sexta, [former Argentina fitness coach Fernando] Signorini said Maradona saw Messi get frustrated after missing three free kicks in training and started walking away from the field.
Maradona hugged him and said, ‘You can’t tell me that you, on your way to becoming one of the best players in history, are going back to the dressing room because of this nonsense?’
Maradona told him ‘Listen to me, when you hit the ball don’t take your foot away so soon because if you do, she doesn’t know what you want. You have to teach her what you want and then she will understand,’” Signorini said. Nearly a decade on, Messi appears to have mastered the art completely.”
JUVE OVERTAKES NAPOLI
Juventus overtook Napoli for the Serie A lead by the end of the weekend. The bianconeri earned a 2-0 win over Udinese on Sunday on a pair of goals from Paulo Dybala, and Napoli was held to a 0-0 draw by Inter Milan at San Siro. Juve now leads Napoli by one point with a game in hand – the Turin club can extend its lead to four points when it hosts Atalanta on Wednesday.
Worth a read: ESPN’s Wright Thompson was at the funeral for former Fiorentina captain Davide Astori, who recently died at age 31 due to natural causes. Thousands of mourners crowded the piazza outside the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence to pay tribute to Astori, who endeared himself to the locals with his unassuming style.
“The civic grief in Florence didn’t make a lot of sense from the outside; he was a good but not great player who had only been with the team for about three years. But in Florence, where citizens care much more about their city than their country, he approached his captainship with a responsibility that resonated. He made himself visible and touchable and knowable. He didn’t grandstand or talk a lot. “A few words but direct,” says Paolo Caselli, a local journalist. “No blah, blah, blah.”
BAYERN ROLLS ON
Bayern clubbed Hamburger SV 6-0 at home on Saturday, a result that inched the Bavarian club a little bit closer to sealing the Bundesliga title. Bayern can wrap it up next weekend if certain results go their way. But even if they don’t, it’s only a matter of time before Bayern clinches a sixth consecutive Bundesliga crown, as they currently top the table with a 20-point lead. Polish international Robert Lewandowski scored a hat trick in Saturday’s win.
Worth a read: What would happen if Bundesliga clubs scrapped ’50+1′? Raphael Honigstein asked this question about the league’s unique ownership rules in his latest piece for ESPN.com. The ‘50+1’ clause stipulates that Bundesliga clubs must hold a majority of their own voting rights; it’s a rule designed to ensure that club members keep overall control, and protects teams from external investors.
“Opening up to foreign ownership would help competitiveness and the league’s international brand but the influx of money, foreign or otherwise, would then possibly lead to a Premier League-type arms race where big, traditional clubs are under huge pressure to auction their soul to the highest bidder. It’s a dystopian vision for German football traditionalists, made worse by the probable rise of more franchise-type clubs in the RB Leipzig mould.”
NICE’S ALASSANE PLEA SCORES 4 GOALS IN WIN
With star forward Mario Balotelli out inured, Alassane Plea stepped up by scoring four goals to lead Nice to a come-from-behind 5-2 win over Guingamp. The young French striker was clinical in his finishing, scoring on six of the shots he took in the game. The victory pulled Nice to within a point of fifth-place Nantes, and revived their Europa League hopes with nine matches remaining in the Ligue 1 campaign.
Worth a read: Will Sharp of These Football Times penned this thoughtful feature on French midfielder Reynald Pedros, who “underwent a tragic transformation from prodigy to pariah in the space of a single penalty miss” at Euro ’96.
“The sizeable blot that Pedros’ blunder would leave on his permanent record was not hard to foresee. Whatever he achieved in the many years that likely remained in the latter portion of his career, he would almost certainly never expunge from his conscience the memories of the occasion he failed his nation, when his penalty alone seemed to cost his country a place in the final of a European Championship.
What nobody could have predicted, however, was the immensity with which this single failure would define him in the eyes of his compatriots and how lethal their contempt would be to his swiftly burgeoning reputation, spelling an end to the thrilling tale that was to be the career of Reynald Pedros, the almost-superstar assassinated by the very country he longed to please.”
LIVERPOOL NO MATCH FOR MAN UNITED
Manchester United tightened its grip on second place in the Premier League table with a convincing 2-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday. Marcus Rashford scored both goals for the Red Devils, who enjoy a four-point lead over Tottenham, and a five-point gap on Liverpool. After taking a 2-0 lead in the 24th minute, United packed its defence and held off the visitors, who only managed to score via an own goal.
Worth a read: Writing in The Independent, Martin Hardy makes the case for Rafa Benitez being the man to lead Newcastle United out of the doldrums – ownership just has to remain patient with the Spaniard and his young team.
“There is something compelling about the level of care Benitez has to show to guide these young players. He admitted last week that he has not managed like this since he was at Extremadura. That was his first success, against all odds, and he smiles every time he mentions it.
That translates well to Newcastle United, a young team, a new team and one trying to emerge in corporate football as the proud, regional club you should hope it always will be.”
ALSO WORTH READING
The Ottawa Citizen’s Tim Baines talked to Ottawa Fury general manager Julian de Guzman about why he feels he has a responsibility to build a roster featuring so many Canadian players.
ESPN.com’s Jeff Carlise wrote about on how Targeted Allocation Money, and a host of other factors have helped MLS clubs close the gap a bit on Liga MX teams in CONCACAF Champions League.
More on Davide Astori: World Soccer’s Paddy Agnew offered this look at the former Fiorentina captain.
The Guardian’s Barney Ronay believes the recent, outstanding form of Mesut Ozil offers a ray of hope amidst the doom and gloom at Arsenal.
Football Espana’s Adam Selby asks where Girona can go from here after safety in their first season in Spain’s La Liga.