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  • Chelsea added to its lead atop the EPL, while Real Madrid received another late rescue from Sergio Ramos and racism reared its ugly head in Rome around Europe this weekend.
By Ben Lyttleton
December 05, 2016

Another impactful weekend around Europe's major leagues saw the spoils shared between Barcelona and Real Madrid in El Clasico, while former Barcelona manger Pep Guardiola is facing a fresh challenge at Manchester City after Chelsea came from behind to win 3-1 at the Etihad.

The Rome derby ended in controversy after unacceptable comments from a Lazio player, while another storm of controversy in Germany surrounds surprise leader RB Leipzig. Meanwhile, in France, the pressure remains on manager Unai Emery ahead of a big week for reigning French champion PSG.

Here is what caught our eye over the weekend around Europe:

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Lazio’s winless run against its city rival was extended to seven games as Roma earned a 2-0 win in the Roman derby after two defensive errors led to the goals. The match will be remembered not so much for the scuffles that happened after the first goal, when Kevin Strootman tackled Wallace in his own area to break the deadlock. Part of Strootman’s celebration involved squirting water at Lazio substitute Danilo Cataldi, for which he was booked. Cataldi’s furious response, grabbing his opponent around the neck, earned him a red card.

It was the post-match interview with Lazio’s Bosnian winger Senad Lulic that dominated the aftermath; the player told Mediaset that Roma defender Antonio Rudiger had been provoking the opponent before the game.

“Two years ago he was selling socks and belts in Stuttgart, now he acts like he’s a phenomenon,” Lulic was quoted as saying, a comment with clear racial undertones. “It’s not his fault really, but the fault of those who are around him. They haven’t taught him good manners.”

Lulic was asked to apologize for his comments in another interview, but he refused, saying that it was not intended to be racist.

“White people sell socks too,” he said.

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Lazio’s official spokesman was more diplomatic and apologized immediately.

“The club is pained by these comments and the way they were interpreted,” said Arturo Diaconale. “I apologize on behalf of the club, these are statements made in the heat of the moment by a player who just lost the derby. It crossed the line. The controversy started with previous comments from the Roma player, but we all need common sense and to not blow this up.”

It’s a bit late for that. Lulic can expect a ban for his comments.

The result, meanwhile, tees things up very nicely for next week’s game between second-placed teams Roma and AC Milan, who beat Crotone 2-1. Both are four points behind Juventus, who ended its wobble with an impressive 3-1 win over high-flying Atalanta. 

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It doesn't happen if Lionel Messi scores after Andres Iniesta puts him through on goal midway through the second half. It doesn't happen if Arda Turan doesn't concede a free kick with one minute left to play. And it doesn't happen if Luka Modric’s set piece is anything less than perfectly delivered. But it did, and once again Real Madrid, and in particular Sergio Ramos, scored a very late goal with an enormous impact, this time forcing a 1-1 draw with rival Barcelona at Camp Nou.

The same happened in the 2014 Champions League final, when Real Madrid was 1-0 down to Atletico Madrid with 94 minutes played. Ramos equalized and Madrid went on to win the trophy, la decima, after a 4-1 triumph in extra time. It also happened last August, with Madrid losing to Sevilla in the UEFA Super Cup before Ramos headed home in the 90th minute. So it should be no surprise that it was Ramos again, scoring his 47th goal in La Liga (now more than Roberto Carlos but some way off top-scoring defender Ronald Koeman, who had 67), to maintain Madrid’s six-point cushion at the top of the league. This is his habit, as AS columnist Alfredo Relano put it: “Dramatic goals in major matches, which means we remember him [Ramos] more for those than for his long, efficient defensive career.”

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Ramos's youth coach at Sevilla, where he started his career, said he always had an eye for goal.

“His play was more about attacking intent than defensive solidity,” Manolo Jimenez told So Foot. “Then we taught him to defend. We worked on his placement, his defensive attitudes. He accepted without flinching, he forced himself to improve and accepted criticism.”

The Madrid spin on the result–which extended its unbeaten run to 33 games–that it was deserved seems a bit generous given the chances that Neymar and Messi missed after Luis Suarez had broken the deadlock, also from a set piece. Even though Madrid created little, with Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo rarely threatening, snatching a point shows plenty about its character.

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Late goals have been a habit of the team this season: from Alvaro Morata’s winner against Sporting in the Champions League (90th minute), to Benzema’s in the return game (87th minute), as well as Mateo Kovacic at Legia Warsaw (85th), Morata against Athletic Bilbao (82nd) and Toni Kroos against Celta Vigo (82nd).

Picking up a draw at Camp Nou, in this manner and without the injured Gareth Bale, must have felt like a win for manager Zinedine Zidane. 

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For the second week running, Chelsea fell behind to a top-five rival and looked second best for much of the first half, only to seize three massive points in the Premier League.

Last week it overcame Spurs to win 2-1; this time it took down an even larger foe in beating Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad. Antonio Conte’s side is now three points clear of the pack–with a favorable schedule in the offing–and is showing a resilience that was in short supply last season. Its goals Saturday were pure Conte; a clinical counterattack and three long balls that evaded City’s porous back line and left Claudio Bravo exposed. Defense was never going to be an easy problem for Pep Guardiola to solve and so it has proved; Nicolas Otamendi and Aleksandar Kolarov had a wretched afternoon against Diego Costa and Eden Hazard, whose power and pace contributed to the first and third goals.

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City is now four points behind Chelsea and in fourth place, but there is no need for panic just yet–even though Sergio Aguero is banned for the next four matches after a deserved red card for a dangerous foul on David Luiz that incited a full-on fracas. Fernandinho was also shown a red card as the match became ill-tempered at the end. Guardiola declared himself happy with how his team played, and pointed to a gilt-edged chance that Kevin De Bruyne hit over the bar from four yards out when City was a goal up. That would have made it 2-0.

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And to a certain extent, he is right. Like Guardiola's former side, Barcelona, in its rivalry bout vs. Real Madrid, had City been more clinical up front, then it might have been a different result. What is not different is that opponents are not afraid of City’s defense, which has kept one clean sheet in its last 15 games, and only once kept a clean sheet at home in the league. It seems like a long time since City won its first 10 games under Guardiola. But with a transfer window on the horizon and more time for Guardiola to tinker with his combinations, don’t write City out of this title race just yet. 

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Last summer, Timo Werner was recommended to one Premier League club that has been struggling for goals this season. The 20-year-old German had not fulfilled his obvious potential at hometown club Stuttgart, and it was clear he had the talent to succeed elsewhere. So it has been proven: as that English side faces a battle against the drop, Werner’s current side sits atop the Bundesliga, still three points clear of Bayern Munich, whom it faces on December 21.

Werner scored again Friday, this time in the 2-1 win over Schalke. He has now scored eight league goals this season, more than any other Under-21 player in the top five leagues. But his performance was overshadowed by a first-minute dive to win a penalty, when goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann avoided contact with the striker but was booked anyway. Werner scored the penalty and in so doing, made his team even more hated among rival fans threatened by its lofty position.

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Werner has been unfairly compared to Miroslav Klose, who famously rejected a penalty awarded to him when playing for Lazio, and pundits have claimed that “a fair gesture… would have brought Leipzig much more than the three points.”

This may be true, but have some sympathy for Werner here. He’s young, and he will learn from this experience. The German FA announced Monday morning that it would take no action against the striker.

“The player would only be punished if Timo Werner had lied to the referee after the incident; he didn't do that,” said a DFB statement. 

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The poll question in Le Parisien said it all: Is Unai Emery the man to win Ligue 1 with PSG?

That the question is even being asked at all shows that all is not going well for the club's new coach, whose side lost 3-0 at Montpellier Sunday and slipped four points behind Nice at the top of the table.

Emery could still go into the winter break feeling comfortable. A win over Ludogorets in the Champions League Tuesday will ensure PSG’s top spot ahead of Arsenal in Group A, while next week is the big one against leader Nice. But with PSG already seven points behind on where it was after 16 games last season (35 points as opposed to 42), there are already murmurs of discontent behind the scenes.

Last Wednesday, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, watched PSG beat Angers 2-0. But he was not happy: the crowd of 23,000 was the lowest since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club back in 2011. Was this the Zlatan Ibrahimovic effect in action? PSG did not replace the forward that provided the club with stardust, while early results put the brakes on Emery’s preferred offensive style of play.

PSG’s summer signings have not yet clicked, with the coach demanding that Hatem Ben Arfa, who has barely made any impact, “can do a lot better.” Next week against his former club Nice would be a decent place to start. Weekend reports in England suggested that PSG would bid for Dmitri Payet, but what it needs is a striker. The problem for PSG is that needs someone with an image as well as talent. And as sports director Patrick Kluivert is finding out, that might not be so easy. 

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Top three goals of the week

Kamil Grosicki (Rennes): A wonderful first-time volley from the Polish winger which curled into the far corner. Expected to be a January transfer target for Premier League clubs, this could increase his value.

Inaki Williams (Athletic Bilbao): A run from the halfway line and smart finish conjured up memories of Gareth Bale in the Copa del Rey final as Williams helped Athletic to another home win.

[youtube:https://youtu.be/NWMgzEkuFFU]

Dominik Furman (Wilsa Plock): A run and powerful shot into the top corner from the Polish midfielder helped his side to a draw against former club Legia Warsaw. 

Top three players of the week

Greg Fleming (Ayr United): The goalkeeper saved two penalties in as many minutes, confirming his status as one of the best 12-yard stoppers in the business. 

Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth): The Scottish substitute, described as a player of potential by coach Eddie Howe, came off the bench with his side trailing 2-0 to Liverpool. Within minutes, the 22-year-old had won a penalty, and then he scored, as his side earned a dramatic 4-3 win. Fraser is one to watch.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Dortmund): Two more goals for the striker, who is top of the scoring charts in Germany, three clear of Anthony Modeste and six ahead of Robert Lewandowski. He now has eight in his last five games. That's some response to being disciplined by manager Thomas Tuchel.

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