European soccer winners and losers: Messi, Barca see things get worse; City win Liverpool-Man United draw

It was another busy weekend of European soccer action with plenty of movement at both ends of league tables across the continent at the end of a week where domestic cup action also played a starring role in Spain and France. Liverpool’s Premier League showdown with Manchester United might not have lived up to expectation, but the Black Country derby more than delivered while Athletic Club celebrated dramatic silverware and Inter Milan dealt Juventus a potentially fatal blow in Italy’s Serie A. 

Elsewhere, Bayern Munich are back in control of the Bundesliga title race while Paris Saint-Germain went top of the pile in Ligue 1 after some inexplicable results for their title rivals.

Let’s recap the European action with winners and losers from the weekend.

Winner: Manchester City

All eyes were on the big clash at the top of the Premier League on Sunday, but as was also the case in the Manchester derby earlier this season, this was another forgettable goalless draw. The result has ramifications on the title race with United remaining top and Liverpool slipping to fourth, but the big winners were Manchester City who are now second and just two points behind their neighbors with a game in hand after annihilating Crystal Palace 4-0.

Leicester City are still in the mix after their home win over Southampton and Everton have a game in hand that could lift them into the top four while Aston Villa have a growing backlog of three games that could see them enter the frame.

However, the pick of the weekend’s entertainment was the Black Country barnstormer between Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Bromwich Albion. Both sides fell behind and took the lead, but it was Sam Allardyce’s relegation-threatened Baggies who came out on top at Molineux. Matheus Pereira’s two penalties ultimately trumped a goal and assist double from defender Willy Boly to secure three huge points in the relegation battle with drop rivals Fulham, Sheffield United, Burnley, Brighton and Hove Albion and Newcastle United to come before the end of February.

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Loser: Lionel Messi

In Spain, Atheltic Club won their third Supercopa title with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Barcelona at La Cartuja in Seville with Lionel Messi sent off for the Blaugrana. Antoine Griezmann had twice put Barca ahead but Oscar De Marcos and Asier Villalibre twice equalized before Inaki Williams’ winner.

Messi saw straight red at the death for hitting to compound Ronald Koeman’s misery, but that should take nothing away from majestic Marcelino who saw Iker Munain lay on two goals and Williams score one and assist another to secure silverware after just 13 days in the job at San Mames. Like Mauricio Pochettino with PSG, it is immediate success for the Spanish tactician — albeit not the first of his career — and it will taste all the sweeter given that his Copa del Rey victory over Barca with Valencia CF back in 2019 was tainted by his acrimonious dismissal months later.

Staying in Spain and with the Copa, there was a Sunday shock as third-tier side Navalcarnero knocked top-flight Eibar out in the round of 32 with a 3-1 home win. The hosts had to come from behind but added the Basque outfit to Las Palmas and Badajoz on their list of scalps this edition.

Winners: Inter Milan, Lazio

In Italy, Inter dented Juve’s hopes of a successful Serie A title defense with a 2-0 win at Giuseppe Meazza on Sunday that opens up the possibility of a different Italian champion for the first time since AC Milan’s 2010-11 success. Arturo Vidal and Nicolo Barella did the damage and Alessandro Bastoni was also outstanding for Antonio Conte’s men as Andrea Pirlo’s side had no answer to their hosts’ superior game plan — even with Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch. Juve are now seven points behind second-place Inter and Milan can stretch that advantage to 10 if they win away at Cagliari on Monday. The Bianconeri only have one game in hand, meaning that there is a deficit of at least four points.

Elsewhere, there was a crushing in the capital as SS Lazio ran riot against bitter rivals AS Roma in the Derby della Capitale with Ciro Immobile opening the scoring and Luis Alberto adding two more as Manuel Lazzari helped himself to two assists in a 3-0 win at Stadio Olimpico. Lazio’s victory sets Roma back in their title hopes with Napoli, Juve and Atalanta all able to pull clear of the Giallorossi but such a success looks unlikely anyway with both Milan sides now firmly in the dirver’s seat.

Loser: Other Bundesliga title hopefuls

Over to Germany where Bayern lead the way by four points after RB Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund all failed to capitalize on last week’s unexpected loss away at Borussia Monchengladbach. 

Leipzig lumped out a draw away at VfL Wolfsburg and limp Leverkusen went down to Union Berlin while dull Dortmund drew at home to Mainz 05 and Bayern saw off Freiburg 2-1 to open up a four-point gap between Hansi Flick’s men and the chasing pack. Luka Jovic was also back with a bang for Eintracht Frankfurt, scoring twice on his second debut for the German outfit in a 3-1 win over struggling Schalke 04 that also saw American Matthew Hoppe add to last week’s incredible hat-trick with a consolation strike.

Winner: PSG

In France, PSG finished the week top of Ligue 1 and with absent (COVID-19) Pochettino’s first silverware in hand after adding a 1-0 win away at Angers SCO to their 2-1 midweek victory over Olympique de Marseille in Lens for the Trophee des Champions.

Layvin Kurzawa’s volleyed effort was enough to move Les Parisiens above Lille OSC because of the apathetic approach of title rivals Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique de Marseille with OL losing 1-0 at home to FC Metz and OM contriving to go down 2-1 at home to rock-bottom Nimes Olympique.

Performance of the weekend

While there were a number of very good performances of note in Europe this weekend, notably Inter, Lazio and City, special mention must go to Napoli for their 6-0 savaging of Fiorentina at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Sunday.

Lorenzo Insigne (two), Diego Demme, Hirving Lozano, Piotr Zielinksi and Matteo Politano all found the back of the net against Cesare Prandelli’s violated Viola, who won 3-0 away at Juve just a few weeks ago. Insigne added an assist while Andrea Petagna chipped in with two more as Gennaro Gattuso’s men scored three quick-fire goals toward the end of the first half to move up to third with a game in hand against hurting champions Juve.

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