Around Europe: PSG's title, Lukaku's revenge, Barcelona's PKs
Paris Saint-Germain wrapped up the Ligue 1 title in record time and in devastating fashion, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic made sure to make headlines off and on the field to highlight a busy weekend Around Europe.
There were some shock results and tremendous goals in the FA Cup in England–although one red card in particular was not that surprising–while Barcelona won 6-0 but might have a weakness after all. Borussia Dortmund’s win over Mainz was overshadowed by tragedy in Germany. Meanwhile, in Italy, the wait for someone to score past Gigi Buffon continues and is approaching unprecedented territory.
Here is what caught our eye Around Europe this week:
PSG wins title; what next for Zlatan and Cavani?
Before PSG beat Troyes 9-0 to clinch a fourth successive title in record time–with eight matches still to play–Troyes president Daniel Basoni had a sign put up congratulating PSG for beating Chelsea in the Champions League last week. That win was a big deal in France, especially as no Ligue 1 clubs made the Europa League last 16. Basoni also reportedly left gifts for the visiting players in the dressing room.
Unfortunately for him, his team did so on the field.
PSG scored more goals in 90 minutes at Troyes than Troyes has managed at home all season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four goals and Edinson Cavani two, and the future of both was a subplot in the post-match celebration. PSG might want Ibrahimovic to stay for another year, but the Swede, a free agent in the summer, admitted he is leaving, though he couldn't resist milking it: “If they can replace the Eiffel Tower with a statue of me, then I promise to stay at PSG,” he joked.
There has been reported interest from clubs in England too, with Manchester United (possible) and Arsenal (unlikely, but what it needs) mentioned.
There is one other possibility that has been mentioned by Swedish reporters and is not as far-fetched as it sounds: Leicester City. The Premier League leader is almost certainly in Champions League next season, and could do with some added experience–not to mention star-power–if it cannot hold onto this season’s best performers. For now, Ibra only needs to concentrate on the Champions League; PSG is in next Friday’s quarterfinal draw and a team that most will want to avoid.
As for Cavani, he felt his goal in the first leg against Chelsea would earn him a starting spot in the second; instead he was on the bench with Lucas Moura preferred.
“He’s not treated like others,” one of his relatives told L’Equipe last week, and it’s clear that even if Ibrahimovic does leave, the Uruguayan wants to do the same.
Two other notes from the day; PSG’s premature success shows just how much Ligue 1 could do with a competitor to the capital club. By most standards, a French club is not that expensive to buy and if run well, can be a Champions League regular in time. The sooner more investment comes into the league, the better. And then there is Troyes; down at the bottom with 14 points so far and with the chance of eclipsing Lens’ 1988-89 total of 17 points for the season as the worst Ligue 1 return in league history.
Lukaku shows Chelsea what could have been
It was a tale of two strikers as Everton beat Chelsea 2-0 in Saturday’s FA Cup quarterfinal and so ending the London club’s hopes of salvaging anything from a season to forget. The game was notable for ex-Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku’s all-around brilliant performance, with both goals including one solo moment of genius that broke the deadlock.
Chelsea sold him because it felt that Diego Costa, five years older, was a better bet, and it paid off last season. One year on, and Lukaku is among Europe’s hottest forwards while Costa is dogged by injury, and issues over his temperament. The fact that he was sent off for two yellows–and it could have been worse had opponent Gareth Barry not made more of what looked like a bite on the neck–was not as surprising as the news that, despite serving two three-match bans for retrospective punishment, this was Costa’s first red card in a Chelsea shirt. He plays on the edge, but he crossed it at Goodison Park.
These are interesting times at Everton; when it plays like this, you wonder why on earth it is down in 12th in the Premier League.
With talents like John Stones, Ross Barkley, Gerard Delofeu and Lukaku, how can it be nine points worse off than Manchester United? The reason, in part, is down to coach Roberto Martinez’s relentlessly attacking approach: Everton has lost more points from winning positions than any other team in the Premier League, and that includes being 2-0 up against Stoke and West Ham and losing both games.
Martinez does not like to shut down a game, which is admirable and frustrating in equal measure. The fan base is split on whether Martinez is the solution or the problem: with a new majority investor in place, there are big decisions to be made in the summer. It just so happens that investor Farhad Moshiri until recently owned a stake in Arsenal, where he surely heard similar conversations before.
Barcelona’s penalty problem
Another typical weekend in Spain: Barcelona won 6-0 against Getafe, Real Madrid won with a last-minute goal away from home at Las Palmas, and Atletico Madrid kept its serene progress in second place with a 3-0 victory against Deportivo de La Coruña. Elsewhere, Valencia coach Gary Neville laid into his players after a 1-0 derby defeat at Levante and Sevilla continued a bizarre trend with a 4-2 win over Villarreal; the club is now unbeaten in 17 games at home but has not won away in the league since May 23, 2015–last season's finale.
There was another "seen this before" moment in La Liga as well, when Lionel Messi missed a penalty early on in the game. It turned out to be not so bad, given he went on to score one and set up another three, but Barcelona’s penalty statistics are startling this season: in all competitions, it has scored 10 out of 20, with Messi missing four out of eight (although the two-touch pass between Messi and Luis Suarez against Celta Vigo counts as a miss).
Given that Barcelona is eight points clear at the top of La Liga, in control of its Champions League tie against Arsenal and in the Copa del Rey final–and so on course for a second straight treble– the slight issue from 12 yards does not seem to be a major problem. As Gerard Pique put it after the game, “In important games, when things are on the line, and we have to score them, we will score them.”
That suggests that Barcelona is not taking them seriously at the moment; but converting penalties is a habit and so is missing them. Studies have shown that in shootouts, a team that has a bad record from the spot is more likely to miss a penalty than a team that has a good record. It may not be an issue at Camp Nou at the moment, but if the Champions League final goes to a penalty shootout, then it might turn out to be.
Dortmund shows respect for fan tragedy
Is there a club more in tune with its fan base than Borussia Dortmund? What should have been a happy reunion for coach Thomas Tuchel against his former club Mainz became a tragedy when it emerged that a 79-year-old fan in the stands had died of a heart attack. A second man, who was 55, had to be resuscitated on the way to hospital but was stable.
The South Stand, normally a yellow wall of noise, was uncharacteristically silent out of respect, and there was hardly a cheer to greet Shinji Kagawa’s second-half goal which sealed a 2-0 win. With a few minutes left, the whole stadium gave a spine-tingling rendition of "You’ll Never Walk Alone" which was reprised after the final whistle with the Dortmund players linking arms in front of the South Stand.
Buffon closes in on shutout record
There is another BBC in European football and even if this trio is not as expensive as the Bale-Benzema-Cristiano partnership in Madrid, it is perhaps more effective this season. Juventus defenders Bonucci-Barzagli-Chiellini have combined to help Gigi Buffon keep 10 Serie A clean sheets in a row, a run that began in early January, some 926 minutes ago.
He has already beaten the Juventus record set by Dino Zoff of 903, and is now three minutes of Sebastiano Rossi’s record set at AC Milan in 1993-94.
Buffon kept his cool in the 1-0 win over Sassuolo, the last team to beat Juventus 19 matches (18 wins and one draw) ago.
As Italian expert James Horncastle put it: “Of all the records Buffon could break, there perhaps isn’t one more appropriate than this. Because in essence it’s about longevity and at 38 and even among great contemporaries like Manuel Neuer and David de Gea, he still more than holds his own.”
Buffon will face Neuer later this week in the Champions League Round of 16 second leg. Bayern is a favorite after a 2-2 draw in Turin, but with Buffon in form, you can never be sure.
Top three goals of the week
Adlene Guedioura (Watford vs. Arsenal)
The goal that knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup was stunning in its execution, set up superbly by Troy Deeney, you were left wondering where goalkeeper David Ospina might have ended up had he got closer to it.
Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla vs. Villarreal)
The Ukraine winger found space 30 yards from goal and tried his luck with sensational results. A shame that he went off injured soon after. Sevilla will want him back for the season's home stretch.
Alessandro Florenzi (Roma vs. Udinese)
Florenzi scored with a lovely touch and finish in what proved to be the winner at Udinese ahead of Saturday's key clash vs. Inter Milan.
Top three players of the week
Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
Talk about proving a point: the Belgian forward was unplayable against his former side as his list of suitors–and value–continues to skyrocket.
Steve Mandanda (Marseille)
This has been a wretched campaign for Marseille and next season could be tricky too given that captain Mandanda–and defender Nicolas Nkoulou–are both leaving on free transfers. Mandanda was fantastic in the draw at Lorient.
Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich)
Amid all the discussion about whether Robert Lewandowski and David Alaba might follow Pep Guardiola out of the club next season, surely the biggest concern would be losing Thiago. When fit, the Spanish midfielder is in a league of his own; he scored twice in Bayern’s 5-0 win over Bremen and the sooner Bayern can lock down his future, the better.