Connor Moore looks at all the action around Europe this weekend.
Leipzig Are Here To Stay
Bayern Munich’s dominance of German football is well documented. There have always been pretenders to the crown, most notably Borussia Dortmund, but they always fall away. The other pretender has been RB Leipzig but due to their short existence and lack of trophies, they have never really been taken seriously. That changed on Saturday as they played Bayern off their own pitch. It was the most uncomfortable a team has made Bayern look at the Allianz Arena under Hansi Flick and at times they were in danger of being blown away.
But they have a level of quality and experience that is unmatched in the Bundesliga and kept themselves in it. Spearheaded by Mr. Bayern Munich, Thomas Müller, who managed to grab a double. The game ended 3-3 in what was a thrilling spectacle.
Under coach Julian Nagelsmann, Leipzig look to be building something. Despite losing their star man Timo Werner, they seem to have improved and they seem to have more of a tight-knit group. This has allowed former squad players such as Amadou Haidara to come in and play key roles such as his wonderful assist on Saturday for their second. They haven’t really got a world-class player, (their center-back duo is well on their way) with the exception of maybe Peter Gulasci in goal, but they’ve got a togetherness that is hard to come by. This year might not be their year to dethrone the record champions, but they are coming, and Bayern might not be able to stop them.
AC Milan look the real deal
AC Milan have been a laughing stock over the past decade, both on and off the pitch. Their ownership struggles since Silvio Berlusconi walked away, with their Chinese ownership group being forced out due to unpaid debts. On the pitch they had a huge falloff but had a slight revival under Gennaro Gattuso getting Europa League football but were banned from competing due to financial fair play issues, they had the same issue last season.
Flash forward to now and they are under the stewardship of Stefano Pioli who has galvanised the squad. After the Covid-19 break, they went 10 games unbeaten, beating Juventus, Roma, and Lazio as part of this run. They have continued that great form this campaign sitting top of the league with a comfortable cushion.
Spearheaded by a 39-Year-Old Zlatan Ibrahimović, AC looks like the favorites for their first Scudetto in ten years. Their defence has always been solid with Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal and Alessio Romagnoli just in front of him, but it’s going forward when things have shifted. Big signings who just never got going at San Siro have started to show their quality. Hakan Calhanoglu is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, Samu Castillejo is producing the numbers that made Milan take a punt on him. Youngsters like Jens Peter Hague and Ismael Bennacer have come into the side and are thriving.
The gap stands at five points, but they’ve already shown they can beat those around them disposing of Juventus, Napoli, Inter, and Fiorentina already this term. At the moment the gap looks more likely to grow than shrink.
Where do Barca go from here?
There is only one word to describe FC Barcelona at the moment. Shambolic. Off the pitch, they have a manager who knows he is a temporary fix and has already started expressing concerns higher up. Their president resigned after near damnation from the club’s greatest ever player. Leo Messi himself is an issue, he wanted out, was forced to stay against his will, and lost some of his closest friends and teammates including Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez with the club seeing little windfall for either. Those who did come in either aren’t at the level expected at Barcelona (Trincao, Dest, Pjanic) leaving the squad void of quality.
The match against Cadiz was already the Catalans’ fourth defeat in ten games, it means they only sit three points above the relegation zone. Injuries have been a factor in this, Marc Andre Ter-Stegen missed games. Pique and Sergi Roberto are out for a sustained period of time, wonder boy Ansu Fati is out till at least March. The burden is heavily on Messi and with his heart not really there, players like Coutinho and Antione Griezmann are being forced to step up and just can’t fill that huge void. Messi hasn’t scored from open play all season, Griezmann’s best performances have been in the Champions League and former Middlesbrough flop Martin Braithwaite leads their line.
PSG are back in Business
It’s been a huge week for PSG and Thomas Tuchel. Firstly, they put in a professional performance at Old Trafford on Wednesday with Neymar finally showing his quality against good opposition for PSG. They then followed this up with a highly impressive victory at Montpellier on Saturday.
It was a real test of their resolve and it was passed with flying colours. Kylian Mbappe scored his 100th goal for the club with Moise Kean getting the other two goals. The result cements Paris at the top of the league, two points ahead of the chasing pack: Lille and Lyon. They need to continue their revival this week. Victory against Istanbul Basaksehir will guarantee passage through to the last sixteen. They then welcome Lyon to the Parc Des Princes in a 1st vs 2nd battle which could go along way to boost their title bid.
Thomas Tuchel will still be under pressure, it’s part of the PSG job description but this could be the week that turned his PSG reign around or it could just be a port in the storm, but something tells me Wednesday especially could be make or break for the German.
Written by Connor Moore (@ConnorMMedia)