European club football was at its finest during the course of last weekend. The top two in the English Premier League showed why they are the best teams in the division as Manchester City and Liverpool played out a scintillating draw at the Etihad, Chelsea redeemed themselves with a statement victory away at Southampton even though Arsenal and Manchester United made a mockery of themselves.
In the Serie A, the title chase has taken a new dimension with AC Milan and Napoli dropping points while Inter Milan and Juventus took full advantage. FC Porto broke the record for the most games unbeaten in the Portuguese Primeira Liga (57 matches), while FC Barcelona left it very late but still came away with all three points to go 15 games unbeaten in La Liga.
In our usual style, Apex Football will take a look at some of the biggest happenings and talking points from the past weekend. Do well to leave your comments and your opinions afterwards.
MANCHESTER CITY AND LIVERPOOL STILL REMAIN THE BEST:
English football stood still as Manchester City and Liverpool took on each other at the Etihad Stadium in a Premier League title deciding clash.
Both teams cancelled each other out in a thrilling 2-2 draw that saw the Cityzens remain at the top of the pile, while the Reds are just a point adrift of Pep Guardiola’s men.
Goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Gabriel Jesus put the hosts ahead twice only for Diogo Jota and birthday boy Sadio Mane (who turned 30) to respond in kind for Jurgen Klopp’s side.
For those hoping to see more of Manchester City and Liverpool, they will once again be locked in another epic battle this weekend in the semi-finals of the English FA Cup at Wembley. The Cityzens are in the hunt for a treble while Liverpool are aiming to win a historic quadruple. Their paths could still cross in the last stages of the UEFA Champions League, if they go that far.
REDEMPTION FOR TUCHEL AND CHELSEA:
European champions Chelsea have been in the dumps of late, after losing twice in quick succession at Stamford Bridge.
First, they suffered an embarrassing 4-1 defeat at the hands of fellow London rivals Brentford and followed that up with a 3-1 loss at the hands of record all-time winners Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League last week but all that changed when they travelled to St. Mary’s to face Southampton.
An inspired display from Mason Mount helped the Blues to an emphatical 6-0 victory over Southampton as they bounced back from two defeats in five days. This was Chelsea’s seventh consecutive away win in all competitions, the joint-longest winning run in their history.
Braces from Mason Mount and Timo Werner couples with additional efforts from Kai Havertz and Marcos Alonso helped the Blues to a comprehensive win and allowed Chelsea to rest their key players ahead of their trip to Real Madrid in their UCL quarter-final return leg on Tuesday.
MANCHESTER UNITED ARE A MESS AND A TOTAL WRITE-OFF WHILE REALITY SETS IN FOR ARSENAL:
Manchester United’s topsy-turvy campaign continued as they surprisingly (or expectedly) dropped points against a determined Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday.
Before kickoff, the Toffees had been in a terrible run of form – with new manager Frank Lampard having lost 8 out of the 12 games he has handled with the Merseyside outfit and that poor run looked to continue with the visit of the Red Devils. But all those theories were thrown out the door as a first half strike from Anthony Gordon gave Everton a 1-0 win over a lacklustre United.
The win saw the Toffees move four points clear of the relegation zone while United’s top-four race is now probably run after one win in their last five PL matches – with Arsenal’s games in hand and their hit-and-miss form, it’s hard to see Ralf Rangnick’s side closing the gap, though the potential impending arrival of Ajax boss Erik ten Hag does at least provide some hope for next season.
In North London, Arsenal chase for the Top-Four has suffered a dent after losing 2-1 to visiting Brighton and Hove and Hove Albion at the Emirates Stadium.
Enock Mwepu scored one and set up another as Graham Potter’s Brighton & Hove Albion battled to an unlikely away victory over Arsenal. While the race for a top-four finish heats up, Mikel Arteta’s side will be bitterly disappointed by the result given that the ‘Seagulls’ had failed to win any of their past seven games.
Moreover, Arsenal’s fierce North London rivals Tottenham Hotspurs are now in the driving seat to pick up the last UCL spot after winning 4-0 away at Aston Villa. The Gunners are currently undergoing a barren spell in front of goal and if the attack does not deliver the goals, their dreams of reaching Europe’s elite club competition may be delayed yet again.
ITALY’S SERIE A IS WHERE THE DRAMA IS UNFOLDING:
The Italian top-flight duly delivered as the big teams all had contrasting results in their quest to win the 2021/2022 league crown.
Firstly, defending champions Inter Milan made sure of having the upper hand courtesy of a convincing 2-0 win over Hellas Verona at the San Siro. It was their second win across their last five home games and it leaves them just two points adrift of leaders and neighbours AC Milan with a game in hand – if they do win that game, they will be topping the table.
Lurking not far behind is the Old Lady of Juventus who earned a 2-1 away win at Cagliari to reduce the gap at the top of the standings to just six points. Max Allegri’s side were not at their very best but did enough to claim all three points to maintain their push of winning a 37th league crown from nowhere.
This victory extended the Turin club’s impressive recent record against ‘Gli Isolani’ to 11 wins in their last 12 league meetings and are now contenders for the title despite their terrible form at the start of the season.
As for AC Milan and Napoli, there were the fall guys over the course of the weekend as they both dropped valuable points in their chase for the domestic crown. The Rossoneri were condemned to a second successive stalemate as they were held to a goalless draw by Torino.
Despite the ‘Rossoneri’ extending their unbeaten streak to 12 matches on the trot and registering a sixth consecutive clean sheet, the result massively dents their hopes of a first Scudetto title since 2010/2011. Stefano Pioli’s men will beat themselves once again for a poor attacking display that could ultimately cost them the title as their fate is no longer in their hands.
As for Napoli, they were no better as they were stunned 3-2 at home to visiting Fiorentina. The Viola found the breakthrough in the 29th minute following a sublime team move, which concluded with Nicolás González rifling the ball into the roof of the net before Dries Mertens equalized for the hosts.
Jonathan Ikoné drilled an unstoppable low hit into the right hand corner, capping off another fine team move from the visitors, while Arthur Cabral’s solo drive and effort found its way past Ospina leaving the home side startled and with an enormous mountain to climb. Napoli did manage to bag a consolation goal in the 84th minute, with Nigerian international Victor Osimhen delightfully netting his 16th goal of the season.
Defeat for the Partenopei now means Luciano Spalletti’s side have only won two of their last seven competitive outings at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
BARCELONA NICKS IT AT THE DEATH:
FC Barcelona extended their unbeaten run to 15 matches, after defeating Levante 3-2 at an electric Estadio Ciudad de València on Sunday night.
Levante took the lead via a penalty seven minutes into the second half as Luis Montero duly converted after referee José Luis Munuera Montero had pointed to the spot, as a marauding Son had been body-checked by Danny Alves on his way to goal.
However, Morales’ decision to allow his strike-partner Roger Martí to take a second penalty in the space of four minutes, after Gavi had handled in the area, backfired when the German brilliantly saved the resulting spot-kick before winter signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang headed Ousmane Dembélé’s delightful cross to level the scores.
Second half substitutions from manager Xavi Hernandez who brought on Pedri and Gavi worked when the pair combined to give the Catalans the lead only for Levante to be awarded a third penalty, as Clément Lenglet was penalised for a clumsiy foul. Gonzalo Melero subsequently stepped up as Levante’s third different penalty taker of the evening, and netted confidently to bring the enthralling encounter level with seven minutes of regular time remaining.
But the drama was far from over though! Another substitute Luuk de Jong ensured that Barcelona ultimately had the last laugh, when he sent a glancing header past a distraught Cárdenas in the 92nd-minute, to seal all three points.