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.
ATLETICO KEEPS PACE WITH BARCA
After Barcelona rolled to a road win over Eibar on Saturday, Atletico Madrid recorded a 2-0 home victory over Athletic Bilbao the very next day on the strength of second-half goals from Diego Costa and Kevin Gameiro. With the win Atletico remained in second place, seven points adrift of La Liga-leading Barca. Atletico has now won four straight in the Spanish league, setting the stage for their visit to the Camp Nou on March 4, a match that could have major title implications.
Worth a read: ESPN.com’s Side Lowe chats with FC Barcelona’s Marc-Andre Ter Stegen about how he became one of the top goalkeepers in the world.
“It is legitimate to ask whether [Ter Stegen] might be the best goalkeeper in the world. Just don’t expect an answer from him on it. And it is not false humility, exactly. It’s something simpler than that; it is that he has no one really to compare himself to. Thoughtful, analytical and determined, Ter Stegen talks about his trade but not its tradesmen.
In more than an hour with him, only Manuel Neuer, his international teammate, gets anything more than a passing mention when he dismisses the suggestion that German fans might be thinking there’s no need to rush their goalkeeper back for the World Cup now that Ter Stegen is around.”
HIGUAIN INJURED IN JUVE WIN
Juventus remained a point back of Serie A leaders Napoli with a 1-0 win over Torino in the Derby della Mole on Sunday. But it could prove to be a costly victory for Juve, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain had to be subbed out early in the first half. His replacement Federico Bernardeschi, who set up Alex Sandro’s winning goal, also had to exit the game due to injury. The potential loss of both players would be a big blow for Juve, who is not only trying to catch Napoli, but is also set to play Tottenham in the return leg of their Champions League round of 16 series on March 7 in London.
Worth a read: The Sportsman’s Chloe Beresford argues the Serie A title race between Napoli and Juventus is is the most exciting in all of European soccer.
“It is easy to say … the 2017-18 campaign will be a similar foregone conclusion, that efficiency of the Juventus machine will eventually exert their superiority in order to crush the beautiful but fatally flawed Napoli. However, [manager Maurizio] Sarri deserves enormous credit for not only further improving the Guardiola-esque style of play of his side, but increasing their resilience, even if they end up losing out once again in the end.”
REUS BURNS HIS FORMER CLUB
Marco Reus’ comeback campaign is picking up steam. Last week, the star forward made his first appearance of the season for Borussia Dortmund in a 2-0 win over Hamburg. (Reus had been out of action since sustaining a cruciate ligament injury in the pre-season German Cup final). This weekend, he went one better by scoring the lone goal in Dortmund’s 1-0 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach, his former club. Playing alongside German teammates Andre Schuerrle and Mario Goetze, Reus took a cross from Schuerrle and beat ‘Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer with an effort that went in off the underside of the crossbar. It was a stunning goal by Reus, who hadn’t scored since last May.
Worth a read: Could Bayern Munich goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, currently deputizing for the injured Manuel Neuer, earn a call up to the German national team for this summer’s World Cup? World Soccer’s Nick Bidwell thinks the Bayern backup is going to be in the mix.
“The role of the understudy is never a simple one. It takes patience, loyalty, effort and a disposable ego. Not everyone can do it. Time and time again these past few months, he has been Bayern’s saviour, the Man of the Match in Bundesliga wins in Stuttgart and Dortmund, the hero of the penalty shoot-out triumph over RB Leipzig in the German Cup and especially outstanding in the 3-1 Champions League victory at home to Paris Saint-Germain.”
REGULAR SERVICE RESTORED BY PSG
Paris Saint-Germain rebounded from a disappointing midweek loss to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League by reasserting its dominance on the domestic front. The capital club earned a comfortable 5-2 win over Strasbourg on Saturday, with Edinson Cavani, Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, and Neymar all scoring. The win allowed PSG to retain its 12-point lead atop the Ligue 1 standings over second-place AS Monaco.
Worth a read: Andrew Gibney of the Football Whispers website breaks down the game of Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndombele, one of Ligue 1’s budding young stars, and why English clubs might soon be lining up to sign him.
“When you look at the type of players who have found success in England – like [N’Golo] Kante at Leicester City and Chelsea – and the type of player Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool often seem to miss in the middle of the park, Ndombèlé ticks all the boxes. He’s powerful, taller than the Liverpool-bound Keïta, and he has both the defensive strengths and attacking instincts to make an instant impact.”
ROCHDALE FORCE FA CUP REPLAY WITH SPURS
The FA Cup resumed this weekend with the start of the fifth round, as Premier League heavyweights Chelsea and Manchester United both won to advance to the quarterfinals. Tottenham, though, will have to play a replay after being held to a 2-2 draw by Rochdale. Ian Henderson scored an injury-time equalizer for Rochdale, who compete in the third-tier League One and sit 64 places below Tottenham in the English soccer pyramid, to set up a replay on at Wembley Stadium at a later date.
Worth a read: Sky Sports’ Adam Bate takes a look at the evolution of Mohamed Salah and how he became Liverpool’s newest goal-scoring hero. Bate writes that Salah’s time at Basel in the Swiss league was integral to his development.
“Basel had been a supportive environment designed to get the best from him but life under Jose Mourinho was less forgiving. It is only in this second spell in the Premier League under Jurgen Klopp that Salah is showing what he can do.”
ALSO WORTH READING
The Guardian’s Bob Lewis penned this eye-opening story about Turkish World Cup hero Hakan Sukur and how he now lives in enforced exile in the United States.
Stuart Horsefield of These Football Times looks at the career and legacy of famous Italian referee, Pierluigi Collina.
Andy Caulton examines the the art of diving in soccer in his piece for the Over The Bar website.
Writing for the Pro Soccer USA website, Tutul Rahman takes this unique look at parity within Major League Soccer.
Check out this weird story from Spanish website AS about an incident from Spain’s fifth division where the referee threatened to send players off for speaking in the Basque language ahead of match between Idiazabal and CD Elgoibar.