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European soccer news: Bayern remain in Bundesliga race, Girona drop points


We kick off February with another weekend of Europe’s best football. While there has been some attention focused on the latter stages of the Africa Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup, this isn’t to take away from the drama we saw all across the continent. In Germany, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen got crucial wins as they continue to battle for the Bundesliga title. In Spain, Barcelona snatched a victory against Alavés while surprise package Girona failed to win for the first time in nearly a month as the LaLiga race heats up. In France, PSG triumphed against Strasbourg as they prepare for the return of the UEFA Champions League.

Here is your look at all the fun from this weekend so far.

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SATURDAY REVIEW

The lead: Leverkusen, Bayern continue neck and neck for Bundesliga title

A sigh of relief swept through the Allianz Arena following Bayern Munich’s hard-fought 3-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach. The visitors employed a similar approach to last Sunday when they secured a goalless draw with the Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen. This time, the team managed by Gerardo Seoane even managed a goal in the first half, thanks to Nico Elvedi intercepting a Manuel Neuer pass intended for Thomas Müller. Elvedi initiated a quick one-two with USMNT player Jordan Pefok before beating Neuer with a fine strike.

Bayern scored the equalizer on the stroke of half-time when Leroy Sané made a powerful run down the wing before finding Müller in the middle, where the 34-year-old veteran assisted youngster Aleksandar Pavlović. While Bayern looked more comfortable with the ball than Monchengladbach, manager Thomas Tuchel could not have been happy with how fruitless many spells of possession were throughout the second half. Bayern had to thank Monchengladbach goalkeeper Moritz Nicolas, who was not able to clear the ball against Müller in the 70th minute, thus allowing Harry Kane to score from close range while Nicolas was scrambling on the floor.

Interestingly, at times, Monchengladbach took more risks to create goal-scoring opportunities at the Allianz Arena than they did against Leverkusen last time out. As good as Bayern are, they are not necessarily instilling fear in their opponents at the moment. But despite all the criticism towards Tuchel and his players, Bayern remain only two points behind Leverkusen. The Bundesliga leaders comfortably won 2-0 in Darmstadt, with Nathan Tella recording his first brace as a Leverkusen player. The Arsenal academy graduate was signed from Southampton for €23 million last summer but had not lived up to expectations before the winter break.

Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso can be pleased that backups such as Nathan Tella and Josip Stanisic are becoming real alternatives, especially with how busy the schedule is in February. Leverkusen host VfB Stuttgart on Tuesday in the DFB Pokal quarterfinals before fighting over Bundesliga top billing with perennial champions Bayern Munich next Saturday. — Constantin Eckner


Saturday talking points around the leagues

Barca defeat Alaves in match with more referee controversy

In just 13 minutes, Vitor Roque scored the goal that earned Barcelona a 3-1 win at Alavés and managed to pick up two yellow cards, the second earning him a red and leaving his manager, Xavi Hernández, absolutely seething, once again, about the refereeing in LaLiga.

Roque, Barça’s lone January signing, had made a fairly low-key start to his career in Spain. He failed to score in his first five appearances following his transfer from Athletico Paranaense, but he has been in the headlines this week. The 18-year-old Brazilian international scored the winner off the bench against Osasuna in midweek and made an instant impact in Vitoria on Saturday, too. Four minutes after coming on, he cooly slotted home to seal the points for Barça, but his evening soon took a downturn.

On a booking, an innocuous challenge on Rafa Marín led to a second yellow card and a disputed red, with Xavi moaning Barça are being made to pay for the Negreira case — an investigation into payments Barça made to the companies of the former vice-president of Spain’s refereeing body, José María Enríquez Negreira.

“It’s a refereeing error against us — it’s just an unfair dismissal, if we are being honest,” Xavi said. “I just ask the referees to let us compete in LaLiga. This is another case of clear mistake against Barça. Everyone can see the reality.”

Xavi’s complaints took the focus away from what was a fairly comfortable win by Barça’s recent standards. Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gündogan scored really good goals, Andreas Christensen did well in a new midfield role and youngsters Pau Cubarsí and Lamine Yamal continue to impress. That’s two wins in two since Xavi announced he will step down in the summer. Barça are hanging in there for now and will hope title rivals Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, and Girona will all drop points as they play each other over the next two weeks. — Samuel Marsden

PSG continue to lead the way in Ligue 1, even with an unconvincing win

How many times in the last few weeks have we seen the same scenario? PSG win in Ligue 1 but they don’t play well or they don’t create much, get pegged back, or struggle defensively?

They usually get the three points but simply don’t convince. Ten days before the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Real Sociedad at the Parc des Princes, the Parisians got another stuttering 2-1 victory away to Strasbourg on Friday night. They were 2-0 up at halftime thanks to Kylian Mbappé and Marco Asensio but conceded many chances with their opponents scoring and hitting the woodwork. Until the end, they were under pressure. It was the same against Brest at home last weekend (2-2), and at Lille before Christmas.

Against Lens, they sealed their 2-0 win in the dying minutes but before that, even with 10 men, Lens caused them trouble. Toulouse had 17 shots at the Parc des Princes against PSG last month in their 2-0 loss. For all the control that manager Luis Enrique is talking about and wants his team to have, overall, it is not good enough. Paris can score at any time because of their incredible attacking talents but when they don’t have the ball, they are too vulnerable.

It was far too easy for Strasbourg to create chances. In Ligue 1, PSG will be fine and they are currently nine points clear of second place Nice. But in the Champions League? The lack of balance and defensive structure and control will be issues. Luis Enrique said in December that his team would be much better in February. We are in February and Paris are not getting better. La Real will fancy their chances on Feb. 14 in Paris. — Julien Laurens

Girona drop points to Real Sociedad at home

Girona missed the chance to return to the top of LaLiga ahead of Sunday’s Madrid derby as they were held to a goalless draw by Real Sociedad at Montilivi on Saturday. In isolation, it’s not a bad point against a La Real side who will meet Paris Saint-Germain this month in the Champions League and are also into the semifinal of the Copa del Rey.

However, in a title race with a relentless Real Madrid team, it could mean Girona end the weekend four points behind the leaders if Carlo Ancelotti’s side beat Atlético at the Santiago Bernabeu. Girona then travel to Madrid next weekend, with Daley Blind and Yangel Herrera ruled out of that trip after picking up their fifth bookings of the season. Despite the lack of goals, this was a fascinating affair. La Real pressed the home side tirelessly and it took Girona a while to get going. They thought they had opened the scoring in the 24th minute but, after a long VAR review, an offside was given against Sávio, who had set up the goal for Herrera.

There were 36 seconds between the offside and the ball hitting the net. The balance of the game continued to shift, with the frenzied pace providing plenty of action, but neither team could steal the points. The frustration was all too much for Girona coach Míchel, who lost top scorer Artem Dovbyk to injury ahead of the match, and he was sent off late on for protesting.— Marsden


Americans abroad: Pulisic and Musah the high points on a lackluster day

The American duo of Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah has continued to impress in Italy as both USMNT players saw minutes in Milan’s 3-2 win over Frosinone as they look to continue to put their head in the Serie A race, with Juventus and Inter only ahead of them in the table. Despite having to sweat it out in the end thanks to a Luka Jovic winner, Pulisic was able to start the match and play 80 minutes for Stefano Pioli’s side. In comparison, Musah came off the bench to play the last four minutes but it was enough to secure all three points for the Rossoneri.

Meanwhile, back in the Bundesliga, Pefok was able to record an assist for Elvedi’s opening goal for Borussia Monchengladbach in their match against Bayern Munich. Finally, it was more disappointment for the USMNT contingent in the Premier League as Tim Ream‘s Fulham were unable to beat Burnley and had to settle for a 2-2 draw while Auston Trusty‘s Sheffield United were left bamboozled by Aston Villa as the Villans scored five past the promoted side, who look more unlikely to escape the abyss that is the last place spot of the table, with relegation to the Championship looking more likely than ever. — Roberto Rojas


News of the day

  • Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti says he “won’t sink to the level” of Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández and president Joan Laporta after both accused Madrid of “influencing the competition” with the criticism of LaLiga referees. “I’m a professional, and as a professional, I don’t want to sink to that level, out of respect to Spanish football,” Ancelotti said “Don’t ask me about that anymore. I don’t want to sink [to that]. It isn’t a level for professionals.”


And finally, on Saturday …

We saw an eight-goal thriller in the northeast of England as Newcastle United hosted Luton Town, with both teams coming off huge wins against Aston Villa and Brighton & Hove Albion, respectively. Sean Longstaff was able to give Eddie Howe’s a 2-1 lead after 23 minutes with his brace but by the time Elijah Adebayo scored his fourth goal in two matches, the Hatters were 4-2 up at St. James’ Park. Nevertheless, Newcastle didn’t give up with Kieran Trippier and the recently returned Harvey Barnes scoring as a quick response to Adebayo’s goal to give both teams a point in a 4-4 draw.

It’s safe to say that was certainly the most entertaining game within Europe’s top five leagues but it also painted a bigger picture of how both teams can respond from this result. For Newcastle, it’s a case of them trying to build momentum after failing to do any business in the winter transfer window which also includes not trying to drop points at home as they aspire to qualify for a European competition next season after being eliminated from all of it this season. For Luton, it’s a case of them feeling that their chances of escaping relegation are in a good position but that the journey is still long with the race to not go down from the Premier League still getting tighter than ever.



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