Euro Roundup: Battered and Bruised Messi has the last laugh

At this time of the year, football comes thick and fast. No European competition? No problem: domestic cups and title races are reaching their dramatic conclusions – and with the next seven days seeing a German Cup semi-final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich to go along with a potentially decisive El Clasico, FA Cup semi-finals, pressurised title challenges in France, and the most un-Italian of Serie A weekends, there’s still a lot to look forward to…

Spain

The biggest game of football this weekend was undoubtedly in Spain, but rather than a meeting between two equals battling for supremacy, the final Clasico of the season had taken on a rather all-or-nothing feel.

Three points behind Real Madrid, Barcelona needed a win. If for no other reason than to keep Madrid honest over the final stretch of games.

Thanks to the success so far – a Champions League title, yet another semi-final appearance, and in the driving seat for only their second league title in eight years – it feels like Zinedine Zidane has been in charge of Real Madrid for quite some time. In reality, this was his very first Bernabeu Clasico in charge of the home side.

It was to become only the second home league defeat that Zidane has ever suffered as a manager. And it came with the very last kick of the ball.

After an even game, it looked like Real Madrid would come away with a point – a result good enough to allow them a hand on the trophy – after James Rodriguez equalised for 10-man Madrid with only five minutes to go, bailing out Sergio Ramos, who had stupidly lunged at an already battered and bloodied Lionel Messi with two feet, seeing red when his side were in desperate need of an equaliser.

In the end, though, it was Messi who had the last laugh. The very last kick fell to perhaps the world’s very best footballer in the sort of scene that even Hollywood would find overly soppy. Perfectly set for his left foot, Messi perfectly found the corner of the net. And celebrated perfectly for the digital age. Well, you can allow him the extravagance for his 500th Barcelona goal. In fact, it seems like he breaks a record every time he steps foot on a football pitch.

Real Madrid’s defeat might mean that the league now has a real title race, but it also means that they are no longer La Liga’s form team. That crown belongs to city rivals and fellow Champions League semi-finalists Atletico. Antoine Griezmann’s 100th La Liga goal saw them beat Espanyol on Saturday, and perhaps Real are in danger not only of losing their grip on the title, but also crashing out of the Champions League in the semis if they hit a run of poor form over the next few weeks.

With Sergio Ramos’ red card, they could be missing him as well as the injured pair of Pepe and Raphael Varane for the next few games. If ever there was a time to avoid a wobble, it’d be now.

France

If there’s still a whiff of a title race in Spain, there’s definitely a heated race in France.

It was a weekend where Paris Saint-Germain played on a Saturday evening before Monaco faced a crunch test away to Lyon. It was the quintessential end of season pressure weekend.

And after a routine 2-0 victory for the Champions over Montpellier, it was all down to Monaco on Sunday night. Could they live with the pressure.

Perhaps with all eyes on Madrid for El Classico, that may have helped dampen the media pressure in the build-up to the game, but when you looked at Monaco’s fixtures in the run-in, the game away to Lyon seemed like the toughest of the lot. And yet, just before half time, goals from Radamel Falcao and – yes, that man again – Kylian Mbappe looked to have sealed victory.

The youngster, in fact, is being trailed by Chelsea with a view to a summer move, according to French media outlet RMC Sport, and it’s easy to see why. Just when his team were under immense pressure to perform, he came up with the goods, and with one of the best goals to minutes ratio in Europe so far this season, it does look like he could be the sort of man to score at exactly the right time for the title-chasing side who don’t look like they can rely on Diego Costa and Michy Batshuayi at the moment.

Even if it may well be too soon for a move away from Monaco, perhaps the money from the Premier League may be too good to turn down. And given the performances match the hype even when the pressure is on, it’s not hard to see why he’s so coveted.

It wasn’t until the second half that another youngster, Lucas Tousart, halved Monaco’s lead that Lyon woke up. And headers from Mouctar Diakhaby and Tousart again really could – perhaps should – have levelled the game up. Leonardo Jardim’s young side rode their luck, but they stay top of Ligue 1 on goal difference, and still have a game in hand over PSG, whom they play in the French Cup semi-final this weekend.

With a Champions League semi-final against Juventus on the horizon, the game don’t get much easier for Monaco, but they seem to be handling the pressure and coming up with the goods.

Italy

Roma are away to bottom club Pescara on Monday night, where they will come up against their old coach Zdenek Zeman, and probably pick up three points.

You’d imagine, though, that even reducing the gap between themselves and Juventus won’t be enough to stop Max Allegri’s side from winning yet another title, despite their other commitments – not even the fixture pile-up seems to be able to stop the Old Lady these days. They could well have won an historic treble by the first week of June.

A 4-0 victory over Genoa this weekend was the perfect way to back up a triumphant return from the Camp Nou. And one goal in particular, from Leonardo Bonucci, was the icing on the cake.

Germany

After losing to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter final, it was back to the domestic grindstone for Bayern Munich, whose season really appears to boil down completely to Wednesday night’s German Cup semi-final with Borussia Dortmund.

Indeed, it was such a dull weekend for the champions – surely also champions-elect at this point – that the even managed to labour to a 2-2 draw over relegation-threatened Mainz. They remain eight points ahead of RB Leipzig, though, who couldn’t cut the gap to five points after only drawing with Schalke on Sunday, and you get the feeling they won’t get many more chances to catch Carlo Ancelotti’s side before the end of the season.

Elsewhere, Borussia Dortmund were also coming off the back of a disappointing Champions League exit, though perhaps the circumstances of their first-leg defeat to Monaco made their defeat made their efforts seem that little bit more gallant and less galling.

Dortmund will hope their 3-2 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach this weekend is a premonition for what’s to cup in the German Cup over the next few weeks: if Thomas Tuchel’s side beat Bayern Munich on Wednesday, they could well be facing Gladbach in the final in May.