Monday November 28th, 2016

Another exciting week across Europe saw the build-up to next week’s Clasico get interesting as Barcelona dropped points–again–at bogeyman side Real Sociedad. German champion Bayern Munich is still behind RB Leipzig but it has a new, old, president leading the chase on its "new enemy." 

One coach is under pressure in the Premier League after a nine-goal thriller in Wales, while in Italy, another defeat for Juventus–thanks in part to Diego Simeone's son–opens up the title race. Meanwhile, France's Ligue 1 is the unlikely home of Europe’s most prolific attacking team at the moment, and it’s time Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim took the credit he deserves.

Here is what caught our eye from Around Europe this week: 

Monday November 28th, 2016

One week before El Clasico, Real Madrid needed two Cristiano Ronaldo goals and for Sporting Gijon to miss a late penalty to secure a nervy 2-1 win. Barcelona played 24 hours later, and Sunday night faced a tricky trip to bogey side Real Sociedad at the Anoeta, where it has not won for nine years. In showing his respect to the opponent, which has been excellent this campaign, coach Luis Enrique picked an unchanged side for the first time this season.

What followed was a thrilling encounter: Real Sociedad dominated the goalless first half, in which Barcelona keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made more passes than anyone and Barcelona’s first shot came with 40 minutes on the clock. La Real took the lead in the second half, but after Lionel Messi equalized, the host was undeterred. Carlos Vela twice hit the woodwork and Juanmi had a goal disallowed for offside–when it looked like he was on. The two settled for a 1-1 draw, and Real Sociedad's performance begged the question about its manager's long-term future.

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La Real coach Eusebio Sacristan used to play for Barcelona; he is a self-confessed Barcelona fan who replaced Luis Enrique as coach of Barcelona B. Since replacing David Moyes in San Sebastian, he has turned the club around and gotten the best out of players with points to prove, players like Vela, Esteban Granero, Sergio Canales and Asier Illarramendi.

His side pressed with intensity and attacked with intent. Real Sociedad is now up to sixth in La Liga, and for its coach, the prospect of replacing Luis Enrique in the dugout for a second time, at some point down the line, is a real one.

Meanwhile, the current Barcelona boss called his team’s performance "disastrous" and claimed it was "a miracle" that Barcelona escaped with a point. Gerard Pique went even further, accusing teammates of a “worrying attitude” and adding that “it will be hard to win La Liga playing like that.”

It’s likely that Andres Iniesta will return for Barcelona next week, but this is a rare recent Clasico in which Madrid, even without the injured Gareth Bale, might be the slight favorite, even with the game being at Camp Nou.

Monday November 28th, 2016

It was a bad weekend for Serie A leader Juventus, which lost 3-1 at Genoa and suffered more injuries with Dani Alves (fractured fibula) and Leo Bonucci (thigh strain) facing lengthy layoffs. With Paulo Dybala, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli already injured, coach Max Allegri will be without his B-B-C back three for next week’s encounter against high-flying Atalanta, which has now won six in a row. 

Bonucci was at fault for Genoa’s first goal, which was scored by Diego Simeone’s son Giovanni. Diego himself scored a winner against Juventus for Lazio back in 2000; Giovanni, nicknamed Cholito, scored two as Genoa blitzed the visitor with three goals inside the first half hour.

“We knew Genoa were tough and we’d have to play on their level physically, but the first half was very bad. The second was better and it was too late by then,” a furious Allegri told Sky Sport Italia. “There were 25 Genoa fouls and eight from us. When those are the stats, it is impossible to win a football match.”

Juventus seemed to assume its now-regular place as champion-elect just a few weeks ago, but the injury crisis and this patchy form makes the December fixtures crucial: after Atalanta is a derby against Torino and a top-of-the-table clash against Roma–three tough games for Allegri to navigate.  

As for Cholito, his dad had apparently told him he was going to score that day.

“I heard from my father, who told me he had scored against Juventus and therefore it was in our blood, so I had to do the same,” he said. 

Monday November 28th, 2016

Buckingham is not the only Palace in London in need of renovation.

Crystal Palace is in free fall in the Premier League, and its latest defeat, the sixth in a row, was as astonishing as it was welcome for Swansea’s American coach Bob Bradley. Swansea was 3-1 up and seemingly coasting before Palace came back, going 4-3 ahead with six minutes left to play. In the final three minutes, substitute forward Fernando Llorente scored twice to secure a 5-4 win and leave Palace stunned.

Palace coach Alan Pardew was furious last week after Manchester City somehow scored a winning goal from a set piece that found Yaya Toure unmarked inside the six-yard box. He vowed that his team must improve its defense, and especially from set pieces. The result? Four of the goals Palace conceded to Swansea were from set pieces. Thirteen of its 26 goals conceded in the league have come from such plays. The club's last clean sheet came 18 games ago.

It all makes grim reading for Pardew, whose next four opponents are Southampton, Hull, Manchester United and Chelsea.

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No team in England’s four leagues has won fewer points in 2016 than Palace. Based on talent alone, this is among the best squads in Palace history: it was less than 12 months ago that co-owner Steve Parish claimed he would not stand in Pardew’s way if Real Madrid wanted him. Earlier this season, Pardew gave interviews talking himself up for the England job. It’s ironic, then, that the two names linked with replacing him have been England’s last two coaches, Roy Hodgson and Sam Allardyce (both of whom have experience when it comes to fighting relegation).

There has been a notable pattern in Pardew’s managerial career. The first 18 months go very well, and then comes a dramatic dip that he cannot (or does not get the chance to) turn around. The question for Parish, and his American co-owners, is whether that moment has come already. 

Monday November 28th, 2016

Philipp Lahm has been outspoken about Bayern Munich’s form, or lack of it, at times this season. He has said he respects coach Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to substitute him off while his expression tells another story. The Bayern captain made history in Saturday’s lackluster 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen, equaling the total of Franz Beckenbauer’s 235 Bundesliga games for Bayern. And it may be that Lahm, who has 18 months left on his contract, quits a year ahead of time and becomes the club’s sporting director, a position vacant since Matthias Sammer left this summer for health reasons.

It would be a typical Bayern move to keep a club legend in the management structure; and one that was reinforced when, on Friday, Uli Hoeness was re-elected club president after an 18-month spell in prison for tax evasion. Hoeness wasted no time in speaking his mind: declaring RB Leipzig, still top of the Bundesliga (and Bayern's opponent in two weeks), “a new enemy” and advising Bastian Schweinsteiger to see out his contract at Manchester United and then move to MLS.

Last week Bayern extended the contract of Franck Ribery and hopes to do the same with other players whose deals expire at the end of this season, like Holger Badstuber, Arjen Robben and Xabi Alonso. The latter, in particular, has the makings of a great coach in him, and it will be interesting to see if Bayern offers him opportunities away from the pitch as part of his next deal. 

Monday November 28th, 2016

What a week for Leonardo Jardim, the coach whose Monaco side knocked Tottenham out of the Champions League after a 2-1 midweek win, and followed that up with a 4-0 win over Marseille.

Perhaps it was no surprise, given that, unlike most teams, it has followed up every European group stage game with a stunning result next up: beating Rennes 3-0, Metz 7-0, Montpellier 6-2, Nancy 6-0, and now Marseille. Monaco is the most prolific-scoring team across Europe’s top five leagues with 43 goals in 14 games–more than any other side at an average of over three goals per game.

Two years ago, Jardim was seen as a pawn complicit in the club’s develop-then-sell-high strategy as embodied by the likes of Anthony Martial, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Layvin Kurzawa. Now the policy is the envy of Europe, and the next generation of talent–Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar (just called into the France squad) and fullback Djibril Sidibe, on Arsenal’s wish list last summer–is pushing it towards a genuine title challenge. Behind these players is perhaps the best of the lot: Kylian Mbappe, 17 and compared to Thierry Henry with some reason.

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Jardim has been able to impose some of his own player targets this season–Kamil Glik and Jemerson have stiffened the defense, while Benjamin Mendy is a thrilling left back opposite Sidibe–but for some reason, despite knocking out Arsenal and Spurs from Europe in successive years, he remains out of the conversation when it comes to top coaches.

If that’s because other leagues are stronger than Ligue 1, then it’s worth noting that Monaco is three points ahead of Unai Emery’s Paris Saint-Germain, whose spending power dwarves the Principality team. At the moment, Monaco is playing the best football in Europe; that does not mean it will repeat the achievement of Didier Deschamps, who took the side to the 2004 Champions League final. But it should mean that Jardim is in contention the next time the top jobs become available. 

Monday November 28th, 2016

Top three goals of the week

Cengiz Ünder (Başakşehir): The highly rated teenager at surprise Turkish league leader Başakşehir ended a wonderful counterattack in the 1-1 draw against Besiktas.

Naby Keita (RB Leipzig): One of the stars of the Bundesliga season, Keita’s long-range strike in the second minute set the tone for a 4-1 at Freiburg–no easy place to go and win.

Edin Dzeko (Roma): Mazy dribble in the area? Check. Cut-back into space? Check. Curling shot into the far corner? Check. Dzeko is in top form for Roma this season and here was more proof.  

Top three players of the week

Moussa Sow (Fenerbahce): The Fenerbahce forward netted a first-half hat trick, as his side won 5-1 at Rizespor.

Carlos Vela (Real Sociedad): He didn't score, but the Mexican hit the woodwork twice against Barcelona and reminded us of his intrinsic talent. Now, if only he could play like that every week.

Edinson Cavani (PSG): The Uruguayan scored two goals in a 2-1 win over Lyon and had brilliant third sadly ruled out for offside. Cavani has his critics for missing chances but he can still put them away too.

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