Monday November 2nd, 2015

Another dramatic week across Europe saw pressure mount on Jose Mourinho while there is a new big-name boss in Germany. The title race in Italy remains as close as ever and all eyes this week will be on Angel di Maria, who returns to Real Madrid for the first time as a PSG player in the Champions League. Meanwhile in Spain, speculation mounts over where one of the world’s best players will be next season.

Here's our weekly trip Around Europe:

It’s not getting better for Mourinho

Chelsea lost again, this time 3-1 at home to Liverpool, and the big question is whether Jose Mourinho has one, two or more weeks to save his job. The collapse of the English champion is unprecedented and the increasingly victimized demeanor of Mourinho is doing little to help.

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He is seeing conspiracies everywhere: he thought Lucas Leivia should have been sent off in the second half (fair enough) but of course not that Diego Costa should have been, too (also possible). He speaks of dark forces at work as though Chelsea is the only team to sometimes face a tough spell. Observers from his time at Real Madrid spoke of a similar paranoia, one that ended with player fallouts and a trophy-less season that Mourinho called "the worst of his career."

This could well top it.

Monday also brought the news that Eva Carneiro is filing an individual legal claim against Mourinho for his part in her departure from the club. This is in addition to the constructive dismissal action she is taking against Chelsea. The personal claim will require Mourinho to attend an employment tribunal to state his case; something Chelsea may be keen to avoid at all costs. The likelihood is that this will all be settled out of court and we will never know the full unseemly story (then again, we thought the same would be true of the case between Roman Abramovich and his rival oligarch Boris Berezovsky, and that went to court).

It was 11 years ago that Mourinho ran down the Old Trafford touchline punching the air in joy after Porto had beaten Manchester United in the 2004 Champions League. At Stamford Bridge, it was Jurgen Klopp, another charismatic foreign coach, doing the same.

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​Klopp’s body of work is more substantial than Mourinho’s was at that stage, and it seems the two coaches are at two extremes: Klopp laughs at the absurdity of the media, claims title talk is crazy and offers Jordon Ibe his glasses when he misplaces a pass in training. Mourinho looks haunted and paranoid, answers, “I have nothing to say,” to perfectly reasonable questions from a TV broadcaster for whom he happens to be ambassador, and nothing he tries seems to work at the moment.

Abramovich cannot be patient forever, but there could be one reason keeping Mourinho in place for a little longer: the fact that Klopp is no longer available. It vindicates the timing of Liverpool’s new hire even more.

Effenberg provides Paderborn a spark

It was about this time last year that SC Paderborn started to drop like a stone in the Bundesliga. The newly-promoted side had a strong start in the top-flight under coach Andre Breitenreiter (it was atop the table in the first month), but between November and April, won only once in 18 games. That left the club in the drop zone, and sure enough, it went down in the summer. This season carried on in similar vein and after 10 games, Paderborn was down in 15th in 2. Bundesliga and fearing a second straight relegation, sacked coach Markus Gelhaus last month.

President Wilfried Finke then threw the dice. He appointed one of Germany’s most iconic players, Stefan Effenberg, a former three-time Bundesliga winner and Champions League winner, as coach. Effenberg earned his coaching diploma in 2012 and since then has worked as popular TV consultant for Sky Germany, unafraid to speak his mind.

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He made an immediate impact, with Paderborn beating Eintracht Braunschweig (2-0) and Union Berlin (2-0) to move into mid-table. He was nicknamed "The New One" at his opening press conference and is trying to build a team in his own image: aggressive, determined, and never playing safe. That’s why he was undaunted by last Wednesday’s Cup 7-1 thrashing at Borussia Dortmund. He wanted a response at the weekend and got one in a 1-1 draw with FSV Frankfurt.

“I’ve seen how tense he is,” said his wife Claudia, “but he said to me, 'The fire is there again, it’s burning in me like in the days when I was a player.'”

Being a great player is no guarantee of success, but Effenberg has taken his time to get a job and chosen a team with a track record of appointing good coaches (Breitenreiter is now at Schalke, while before him it was Roger Schmidt, now at Bayer Leverkusen). "Der Tiger," as he was called in his playing days, is ready to roar again.

Milan gets better of Rome

For the second week running, Serie A’s second-placed team leap-frogged the top side to end the week in first place. Last week it was Roma beating Fiorentina; this week Inter beat Roma 1-0 to move top of the table (temporarily, as Fiorentina’s 4-1 win over Frosinone put it back on top). The match-winning goal was scored by Gary Medel, who earlier in the week told Gazzetta dello Sport about the 2009 car crash at 140 kmph in which he flew through the windshield and, when he came to in hospital, could not feel his leg.

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​Medel’s strike was his first goal for Inter, whose key player was goalkeeper Samir Handanovic. The Slovenian made several key stops, reprising his sensational performance from a week earlier when a point-blank save from Mattia Destro sealed a win over Bologna.

Could Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny have done better with Medel’s effort? Yes, probably (even if he would not agree).

There was also joy on the other side of Milan, as AC Milan won 3-1 at Lazio, the other Roman team. Two former Roma players, Andrea Bertolacci and Philippe Mexes, scored for Milan; the latter 43 seconds after replacing Alex as a second-half sub and with his first touch of the ball. Milan has now won three out of three, for the first time in 18 months, which is a run that coincides with coach Sinisa Mihajlovic’s decision to start with Gianluigi Donnarumma, the 16-year-old goalkeeper.

Now sporting some stubble, as if to look older, Donnarumma had an eventful evening, dribbling smartly around one onrushing striker, saving an effort from close range in the second half, and in between appearing to knock out Alex with his hip while jumping for a high ball. Mihajlovic won’t mind: Milan moves up to sixth and with a decent run of fixtures upcoming, can aim higher.

Meanwhile it’s the Roman derby next week and missing for Roma will be Miralem Pjanic, sent off against Inter for a needless and late second yellow card. That will be a relief for Bosnia & Herzegovina, which faces Ireland the week after in a Euro 2016 qualifying playoff, but not for the Giallorossi.

Valencia wins, but Nuno boos continue

Wins for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Celta Vigo (coming from 2-1 down to beat David Moyes’s Real Sociedad 3-2) meant it was business as usual for La Liga’s top three. There should have been some respite for Valencia’s under-fire coach Nuno Espirito Santo but even though it beat local rival Levante 3-0, the fans still jeered him and chanted “Nuno out.” The fans’ frustration is down to the summer recruitment policy commandeered by Jorge Mendes and signed off by new owner Peter Lim. Nuno is the lightening rod.

While last week the big story was the suggestion that Lionel Messi was open to offers from Premier League clubs–and "willing to listen" is not quite the same as "ready to move"– this week the focus will be on his rival and another Mendes player, Cristiano Ronaldo, who Monday was asked by German magazine Kicker if he could imagine leaving the Spanish capital: “Why not?” he replied. “I’m a Real Madrid player at the moment, but you can never know. You’ve got to do what makes you happy. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. All I can say is that I will always give my best for my club and country.”

Ronaldo is more likely than Messi to playing outside of Spain next season, with PSG and Manchester United the current front-runners. This story could run longer than Nuno’s spell at Valencia.

Di Maria's anticipated return to Madrid

Paris Saint-Germain beat Rennes 1-0 for its sixth straight win to go 10 points clear atop of Ligue 1, and the debate in Paris ahead of its trip to Real Madrid has centered on winning goal scorer Angel di Maria. The Argentine put in his two best performances in the last two games–the other was against Saint-Etienne–playing in a central position. He was behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani against Saint-Etienne, and Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura against Rennes.

“He can play anywhere,” said Laurent Blanc after the game. “We need to bring his individual quality to the team and not the other way around; to put in place the best conditions for him to succeed.”

How different that is to Di Maria’s previous experience at Manchester United, where coach Louis van Gaal deems no player too big to be dropped, and ended up leaving out Di Maria because he did not fit into "the system?"

“People have to understand that I am not PSG’s savior and nor can I make the team win the Champions League on my own,” Di Maria told BeInSports after the game. “I’m here to help, to add my own grain of sand.”

When he was at Real Madrid, Di Maria played on the right of a midfield three where, under Carlo Ancelotti, he regularly had the most touches, successful passes and dribbles during the 2013-14 season. He was man of the match in the Champions League final win over Atletico Madrid but was quiet in the disappointing 0-0 draw at Parc des Princes two weeks ago. 

“I scored against Malmö in my first Champions League game with PSG and everyone was raving about it,” Di Maria added. “Against Madrid, things didn’t turn out so well and there were a million criticisms. Sometimes there is more criticism than is necessary but you have to adapt to it. A lot of things happened to me while I was at Madrid and I had to overcome them. I ended up winning major trophies and I hope the same thing happens here with PSG.”

The good news for PSG is that Blanc seems to have found a position that works for Di Maria and his team. That’s more than van Gaal managed.

Top three players of the week

Sergi Roberto (Barcelona)

No player has assisted on more goals for Barcelona than Sergi Roberto this season, and his two in the win over Getafe showed a confident player not afraid to try things. His first assist for Suarez was audacious, but his second for Neymar was also impressive, a perfectly weighted ball to the far post for the Brazilian to touch home. His former coach Alberto Benaiges compared his touch to Zinedine Zidane and his current run of match time–at right back and midfield–will only improve his game.

Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)

Just as fans were wondering when Coutinho might discover the form that made him so dangerous last season, the little Brazilian popped up with two moments of genius in the win at Chelsea. His first was the most decisive, finding a pocket of space on the edge of the area and equalizing on the stroke of halftime. His second goal put Liverpool ahead.  

Samir Handanovic (Inter)  

The Inter goalkeeper made nine saves against Roma and currently has the most clean sheets–seven out of 11 games–of any European goalkeeper so far this season. And to think that Inter considered selling him last summer.

Top three goals of the week

Luis Suarez (Barcelona vs. Getafe)

This goal was pure brilliance from Barcelona, from the cushioned no-look backheel assist by Sergi Roberto to the little wait from Suarez before slotting the ball into the corner of the net.

Jimmy Briand (Guingamp vs. Lorient)

It took Guingamp striker Jimmy Briand 19 seconds to score against Lorient in France’s game of the day. This type of acrobatic overhead-kick is known as a "Papinade," after Jean-Pierre Papin. The game ended 2-2 after Lorient’s Benjamin Moukandjo scored a late equalizer but will be remembered for Majeed Waris’s crazed reaction to his first-half red card.

Franco Brienza (Bologna vs. Atalanta)

Bologna is in trouble down at the bottom of Serie A but a 3-0 win over Atalanta eased some pressure. It sealed the win with this stunning third goal from midfielder Brienza. The 36-year-old was prolific for Cesena last season but this was his first for his new club this term. More of the same, please!

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