European Football Round Up – 28th Feb 2012

It’s not even March yet and already the coach of The Greatest Team Ever™ has admitted that his side won’t win the title this season. There may be 14 rounds of matches still to be played in La Liga, but Pep Guardiola has said that he can’t see his Barcelona side overhauling Real Madrid’s 10 point lead at the top. Barcelona went to Madrid’s city rivals Atletico and took on a side that have been revitalised under new coach and ex-Atletico player, Diego Simeone. A clever free-kick from Leo Messi sealed the points for Barca and consigned Simeone to his first defeat as coach of his new team. Dani Alves had opened the scoring only for £35m striker Radamel Falcao to equalise for Atletico. Into the 81st minute and it was time for Messi to step up. Atletico keeper, Thibaut Courtouis – on loan from Chelsea – was still lining up his wall when Messi curled the ball over the Belgian’s head for his 28th league goal of the season.

As many as Messi scores, he’s still trailing the goal machine that is Cristiano Ronaldo. He may be the second best player in the world, but Ronaldo just cannot stop scoring. He bagged his 29th of the season with a beautiful back heel to sink Rayo Vallecano and help Jose Mourinho’s side equal a club record ninth straight away win.

Valencia lost at home to Sevilla but still remain 5 points clear of fourth place. Fourth is the place that no one seems to want in Spain this season. Early season pace setters Levante won for the first time in 10 weeks to reclaim the final Champions League berth whilst remaining only 11 points clear of the relegation zone! The one side seemingly stranded away from the ‘might finish in a European spot/might go down’ group is Real Zaragoza. They sit rock bottom on only 15 points and suffered a 5-1 beating away to Malaga. Coach Manolo Jimenez could only tell journalists that he was ‘ashamed’ before leaving the press conference. With the club over 100 million Euro’s in debt, the seemingly destined relegation could well signal the end of the club. Yet another victim of greedy uncaring owners, leaving only the fans to truly feel the loss. Even UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations won’t do enough to stop this kind of shameful behaviour.

Meanwhile in Italy, the top two met in a clash that left a bad taste in the mouth of everyone involved with Milan. Juventus visited the San Siro and came away with a lucky 1-1 draw, leaving them still trailing the home side by a point in Serie A. Antonio Nocerino gave Milan a lead within quarter of an hour and Sulley Ali Muntari looked to have doubled the lead with the ball clearly crossing the line by several feet before being clawed back by Gigi Buffon. At first it appeared the referee had given a goal but he was overruled by his assistant who told him ‘it didn’t go in…I’m certain.’ The decision enraged Milan supporters who took to chanting ‘’Sapate solo rubare’’ (‘’you only know how to steal’’) at the opposition. Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani then had a series of bust ups, first with Marcello Nicchi, head of the Referee’s association and then with Juventus president Andrea Agnelli. Galliani wasn’t done yet, he stormed from the directors box and waited for Juve coach Antonio Conte in the tunnel and proceeded to have words with the former Italian international. Milan’s torment was complete when Juve sub Alessandro Matri slammed home a volley in the 83rd minute to clinch a point for his Turin club.

Elsewhere on the peninsula, Napoli fresh from their win over Chelsea heaped further pressure on former Blues boss Claudio Ranieri. Ezequiel Lavezzi grabbed the only goal of the game to clinch a home win for his side. Inter have now failed to score for five consecutive games, 7 out of the last 8 in all competitions and are lying seventh, 9 points away from a Champions League slot. Udinese are still clinging to that place after a 3-1 win at Bologna. Antonio Di Natale scored one of their goals from the penalty spot, his 18th of the season. Di Natale leads the scoring charts and is on course for his third consecutive Capoconnoniere title, a feat last achieved by Michel Platini between 1983-85.

Over in Platini’s homeland the game of the weekend was seen at Stade Gerland as Olympique Lyonnais and PSG served up a goal feast of a draw. Qatari enriched PSG were 4-2 down with just over quarter of an hour to go. They managed to salvage a draw with goals from players who were already at the club before the new money era begun. Brazilian full-back Ceara pulled one back and it was a last minute goal from Gullerme Hourau that rescued the point for Carlo Ancelotti’s men.

That result allowed this season’s surprise outfit, Montpellier, to go top of Ligue 1. The outfit from the south of France were one of the founding members of the French League but have never won the title. Hosting Bordeaux this weekend they capitalised on PSG’s slip up, John Utaka’s solitary goal was enough to seal the points.

Reigning Bundesliga champions, Borussia Dortmund continue to impress and maintained a four point lead over Bayern Munich with a 3-1 win over Hannover 96. Two goals from Polish striker Robert Lewandowski putting them out in front before Didier Ya Konan pulled one back. Croatian midfielder Ivan Perisic sealing the win in the final minute. Bayern put their Champions League disappointment against Basle behind them as two Franck Ribery goals buried Schalke. The Munich outfit will be frustrated however at the relentlessness of Jurgen Klopp’s young Dortmund side and their inability to close the gap.

After their excellent performance at Old Trafford, Ajax returned to domestic duty, visiting bottom club Excelsior and winning 4-1 with a fine performance. They remain in 5th place but after AZ’s 3-3 home draw Heerenven are only 3 points behind second. PSV meanwhile moved clear of AZ with a late goal from Zakaria Labyad clinching a 3-2 win over rivals Feyenoord.

Whilst Spain’s title race looks all but over, there is still plenty of life left in Europe’s other top leagues and there is surely time for many more twists and turns before May.

Il Capocannoniere