The Premier League in England remains a one-horse race as Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table continues to grow. Pep Guardiola’s men have now won 20 consecutive games in all competitions, while the chasing pack struggle to maintain any consistent form.
Manchester United’s 0-0 draw at Chelsea and Leicester’s 3-1 home defeat to Arsenal on Sunday, mean City now enjoy a 12-point advantage after seeing off West Ham 2-1 on Saturday.
The Hammers remain in fourth thanks to Chelsea’s stalemate, but Liverpool, Tottenham, Aston Villa and Arsenal all won to tighten the race for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Elsewhere in Europe, Atletico Madrid stopped the rot, while Lionel Messi again enjoyed himself playing against Sevilla. But it has been another turbulent few days at Schalke and in Marseille, two of Europe’s crisis clubs.
City in league of their own
Even on a day when Guardiola admitted City “were not going to paint anything beautiful” they still found a way to win against a well-organised West Ham, who had lost only once previously in the league in 2021.
The Premier League leaders were the only side in the top five to win this weekend as United’s dismal record against the traditional heavyweights of Liverpool, City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal continued.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have not won in seven league meetings against those sides this season and have scored only once, from the penalty spot in a 6-1 thrashing by Spurs early in the season.
Solskjaer was furious at the denial of a spot-kick at Stamford Bridge, but also has to reflect on whether his conservative nature against stronger opposition cost United the chance to challenge City for the title.
Bale finally back
Under fire after five defeats in six league game, Jose Mourinho brought Gareth Bale in from the cold to save his season and the Welshman delivered with a double in a much-needed 4-0 win against Burnley on Sunday.
Bale’s return to Tottenham on loan from Real Madrid had been written off as a flop after he suffered with fitness issues and poor form for the first half of the campaign.
The 31-year-old was criticised by Mourinho after a spat over his fitness when he withdrew from the squad for an FA Cup defeat at Everton.
But Bale showed signs of a revival with a goal in each leg of Tottenham’s Europa League last 32 rout of Wolfsberger, earning just his third league start of the season against the Clarets.
The four-time Champions League winner seized his chance with two predatory finishes and an assist for Harry Kane to ease the pressure on Mourinho.
“There is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition,” said Mourinho.
“Now he is better than ever. He played very well and his condition is very good. He helped the team to win and that’s the most important thing.”
Atletico dig themselves out of rut
The wheels threatened to come off for Atletico Madrid in February, with a run of one win in four in La Liga being followed by a hugely disappointing display in losing 1-0 to Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Bucharest.
But in true Diego Simeone fashion, Atletico bounced back in adversity, winning 2-0 at Villarreal on Sunday with an Alvaro Pedraza own goal and then a strike by Joao Felix, who had been dropped to the bench at kick-off following the Chelsea debacle.
“I like a rebellious player, one who shows pride and wants to turn things around,” said Simeone of Joao Felix.
The win ended a run of eight consecutive games without a clean sheet and allowed Atletico to move five points clear at the top from Barcelona with a game in hand, although reigning champions Real Madrid will close to within three points if they beat Real Sociedad on Monday.
Next up it’s the Madrid derby.
Messi just loves Sevilla
It remains unlikely, but Barcelona cannot yet be ruled out in the Spanish title race after their impressive 2-0 win at Sevilla, in which Lionel Messi set up Ousmane Dembele for the opener and then scored the second after a one-two with the Frenchman.
Messi is now La Liga’s top scorer with 19 goals having netted 12 times in nine outings in 2021.
He simply loves playing against Sevilla too. According to renowned Spanish sports statistician Mister Chip, the Argentine has now scored 38 times and provided 17 assists in 42 games against Sevilla.
Barcelona’s next game is the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against...Sevilla on Wednesday, when Ronald Koeman’s team must overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit.
Schalke sack 04th coach
Bundesliga crisis club Schalke 04 have sacked yet another coach, with Christian Gross, the 66-year-old Swiss, relieved of his duties in the wake of the 5-1 loss at VfB Stuttgart which left the Gelsenkirchen side still eight points adrift at the bottom and nine points from safety.
He won just one of 10 Bundesliga games in charge, losing five matches by a margin of at least three goals.
Gross is the fourth coach to leave Schalke this season, following David Wagner, Huub Stevens and Manuel Baum. His departure came in a major clear-out as sporting director Jochen Schneider, team coordinator Sascha Riether, assistant coach Rainer Widmayer and fitness coach Werner Leuthard were also fired.
The Royal Blues must now start preparing for life in the second division.
Sampaoli to be Marseille’s saviour?
Meanwhile France’s crisis club, Marseille, appointed a new coach as Argentine Jorge Sampaoli was named as the permanent successor to Andre Villas-Boas, agreeing a deal until 2023 at the former Champions League winners.
Marseille also appointed Pablo Longoria, a 34-year-old Spaniard, as their new president in a move by American owner Frank McCourt seen as an attempt to placate supporters who were angry at the running of the club by former incumbent Jacques-Henri Eyraud.
On the field, Marseille came from behind to draw 1-1 with Ligue 1 title chasers Lyon, meaning they have lost just once in seven games since Villas-Boas was removed. However they remain outside the European places in seventh.
Sporting still on course
Sporting Lisbon remain on course for a first Portuguese league title since 2002 after a goalless draw at rivals Porto in Saturday’s “Classico”.
In a disappointing game, Sporting’s young team – featuring five starters aged 22 or under – were held by defending champions Porto for the second time this season.
They remain unbeaten, with 17 wins and four draws in 21 league outings, and are nine points clear of Braga as well as 10 clear of Porto.
(Reports by AFP)