The Euro Roundup is very excited when it gets to this time of year, because after Christmas, when the Champions League starts to hot up, European football takes centre stage.
Not only are there title races going on all over the continent, but there are some huge midweek games over the next few weeks, too. This week, we’ll see if Barcelona can pull off a miracle, and the same can be said for Arsenal. Though in reality, it’ll probably be next week, when Manchester City travel to Monaco and Leicester host Sevilla, what we see sparks really fly.
There’s still league action to sink our teeth into, though. And here’s what happened this week.
This weekend in Spain acted like many other weeks in Spain, at the top of the table at least. And yet this season is far from the most predictable of Spanish seasons.
Barcelona and Real Madrid both managed big wins (an aggregate score of 9-1 to the Clasico teams when both their matches is taken together), to stay side by side in the table, although Barcelona have played a game extra.
37 – Lionel Messi has scored 37 goals in his 37 games for Barcelona this season in all competitions. Star. pic.twitter.com/BncpwhfIbk
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 4, 2017
The Catalan side are one point clear, and although Madrid have that game in hand, the last few weeks have meant that the lead at the top for Zinedine Zidane’s side isn’t as clear cut as it once was. It looked like Barcelona were in meltdown in the league and would struggle greatly to put any real pressure on Madrid, but that’s no longer the case. And if they do go out of the Champions League, they’ll only be playing league games from here on in: their Copa del Rey final against Alaves is a week after the end of the league season. Two goals and two assists from Lionel Messi and a goal from Neymar saw them win 5-0 this weekend, though. Do that again and the miracle will be achieved.
50% – Lionel Messi has scored 13 goals with his last 26 shots on target in La Liga. Amazing. pic.twitter.com/77vvQpVeuy
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 4, 2017
Both Madrid sides, meanwhile, will definitely have European competition to contend with. Real might have to put up with the extra fixtures if Barcelona go out, but so will Atletico if they go through themselves. In their battle for the final Champions League spot, they still have to fight off Real Sociedad and Villarreal, neither of whom have any other commitments outside of La Liga. And even Athletic Bilbao could be a threat given their current form. They are managed by potential Luis Enrique successor at Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde.
13 – Athletic Club are unbeaten in their last 13 La Liga home games (W10 D3), their best run since 1992 (14 games unbeaten). Valverde. pic.twitter.com/AHBfO8pogv
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 5, 2017
RB Leipzig’s 2-2 draw with Augsburg on Friday night was a dagger through the heart of anyone hoping for a Bundesliga title race, most of all Leipzig themselves. That draw, coupled with Bayern’s functional 3-0 win away to Koln puts the Bavarian behemoth seven points clear and surely out of sight.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) March 6, 2017
In fact, it was a doubly bad weekend for Leipzig as Borussia Dortmund below them scored a 6-2 victory over Bayer Leverkusen – a victory which cost Leverkusen coach Roger Schmidt his job. That leaves Dortmund six points behind Leipzig, but poised to pounce if they can put their inconsistencies behind them and finish the season strongly.
Bayern, though, with no more challenge from below, can concentrate on blazing a trail in the league to give them form for the Champions League. Over the years, they have been unchallenged domestically, and unprepared in Europe. This season, they’ve been pushed up until recently, and that might see them through in the Champions League when it matters most.
It’s a similar story in Italy in terms of the Champions League places, but the big story of the weekend certainly didn’t involve Juventus dropping points.
It looked last week like Roma were the only challengers to Juve dominance, but Napoli’s victory over Luciano Spalletti’s side this week has changed the vibe. In part, their victory was down to Pepe Reina’s age-defying save right at the death.
— BT Sport Football (@btsportfootball) March 5, 2017
No longer are Roma looking assured of that second spot in defeat, but now bitter rivals Lazio will be hoping a good run will not only end with a Champions League place, but also dumping Roma into the Europa League places.
This week, though, Roma face Lyon in the Europa League last 16. Victory would see a big rival for that competition out of the way and leave them as favourites for the title along with Manchester United. Let’s hope they don’t meet in a quarter final.
Elsewhere, Juventus drew with Udinese, but with defeat for Roma, they actually extended their lead. There’s surely no way anyone else wins the title now.
There very much is a title race in France, though.
As PSG look to finish the job against Barcelona this week, Monaco have an extra week off before they try to overturn a two goal deficit at home to Manchester City. In the meantime, though, they are matching each other’s results, if not scorelines: Monaco’s 4-0 victory over Nantes brought their goal tally to 82, whilst PSG’s 1-0 win over Nancy just keeps that points tally ticking over. Manchester City know all about Monaco’s attacking prowess, but if they didn’t already, another four goals should persuade them that their Champions League tie isn’t yet over. They know all about Kylian Mbappé already.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) March 5, 2017
PSG are the big beast, of course, so it makes sense that much of the focus is on them, and as Monaco are in such impressive form, it makes sense that they are the two teams most talked about in the title race. But that makes it easy to forget that Nice are still keeping the pace, their 1-0 victory over Dijon keeping them level on points with PSG, and only three behind Monaco.
Elsewhere, Marseille bounced back from their humiliation at home to PSG last weekend to beat Lorient 4-1, including a sensational performance from Florian Thauvin, and this beauty from Dimitri Payet:
Payet's goal for OM – fantastic! ???? ⚪️???? pic.twitter.com/j1J0g7LKds
— Mohammed Ali (@mohammedali_93) March 5, 2017