Ahead of their midweek Champions League showdown, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain endured mixed fortunes. Elsewhere, Jesse Marsch made his Premier League managerial debut, Thomas Muller scored an “unforgettable” own goal and Manchester United had a derby day they will want to forget.
Here are Alex Kirkland, Ryan O’Hanlon, Andrew Cesare Richardson and James Tyler with what you need to know from around Europe.
Four talking points
Madrid prepare for PSG in style …
Real Madrid warmed up for their biggest game of the season — Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 second leg against Paris Saint-Germain, where they look to turn around a 1-0 deficit — with their best performance of the campaign. A 4-1 win over Real Sociedad had the Bernabeu crowd singing “Sí, se puede! (Yes we can!)” long after the final whistle, bringing the players back out to thank them.
La Real were no pushovers. They had won their previous two games and victory there would have put them third in the LaLiga table. When they went ahead through a 10th-minute Mikel Oyarzabal penalty, it looked like being a difficult evening for Madrid — but Madrid responded in style.
Emphatic long-range strikes from Eduardo Camavinga and Luka Modric were contenders for goal of the weekend and put the hosts in front. Then Karim Benzema scored from the penalty spot and substitute Marco Asensio netted with his first touch to claim his third goal in a month.
Carlo Ancelotti called the performance “almost perfect,” adding that it “gives us a lot of hope” ahead of facing PSG. That will be a challenge of a different magnitude, with the added complication of Casemiro and Ferland Mendy being suspended; Camavinga showed that he may have a role to play, but the returns from injury of Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde would be more encouraging still. — Kirkland
… while PSG slip again
Remember when PSG beat Real Madrid in the Champions League a couple weeks ago? It looked like they were playing against a Ligue 2 team? They took 21 shots? Gianluigi Donnarumma didn’t have to make a single save? Neymar didn’t even start? You know, that one?
Well, since thoroughly dominating the best team in Spain, the best team in France has lost two of three back home. Most recently: A 1-0 defeat to second-place Nice. Sure, defeats happen and it’s hard to kick a round ball with a not-round foot, but Nice outplayed Mauricio Pochettino’s team, outshooting them 11-8 and registering more touches in the penalty area (23-17).
Granted, Pochettino rotated against Nice — most notably by leaving out Kylian Mbappe and Achraf Hakimi — but shouldn’t a team featuring Lionel Messi, Neymar, Marco Verratti, and Angel Di Maria generate more than eight shots, with just two on target?
Does any of this matter? Not in Ligue 1; even after this loss, PSG have it locked up with a 13-point lead. As always, though, the Champions League is all that counts. If they do blow their lead against Madrid this week, don’t say we didn’t warn you. — O’Hanlon
Marsch gets everything but the result in Leeds debut
The Jesse Marsch era at Leeds United began much in the same way that Marcelo Bielsa’s reign ended, but there was a lot for the American to build upon from a painful defeat at Leicester. Leeds comfortably take the game to their hosts, creating more chances and giving little away.
That they lost to a moment of brilliance — Harvey Barnes exchanged tidy passes with Kelechi Iheanacho before curling a shot beyond Illan Meslier — from a Leicester team also struggling for form showed that all is not lost, but Leeds failed to show similar ruthlessness in front of goal, with Raphinha, Junior Firpo, Joe Gelhardt and Jack Harrison wasting opportunities.
It meant Leeds had nothing to show for a expected goals tally of 1.99, but at least Marsch’s men showed robustness in defence and limited Leicester to 0.37 xG. With a generous schedule to come — their next five opponents are Aston Villa, Norwich, Wolves, Southampton and Watford — they will feel buoyed in the fight against relegation.
Marsch’s decision to gather his team on the pitch at full-time for a pep talk was a savvy move; his intuitive, player-focused approach could galvanize a team that has been crying out for cohesion and structure in a disjointed season. — Tyler
Janusz Michallik speaks about the impact that Jesse Marsch had on Leeds in their 1-0 loss to Leicester.
Juve, Milan tighten Serie A race
We officially have a four-way race for the Scudetto, with three points separating the top three of Milan, Inter and Napoli, and with Juventus — the form team — lurking four points further back after Sunday saw a pair of narrow wins for contenders.
First, Juventus unconvincingly beat Spezia 1-0 at the Allianz Stadium to extend their unbeaten Serie A run to 14 matches. And further nerves were evident as Milan edged Napoli 1-0, courtesy of Olivier Giroud‘s goal early in the second half, in their top-of-the-table clash at the Stadio Diego Maradona.
Doing just enough to win was the hallmark of Massimiliano Allegri’s first spell in charge at Juventus, when he won five straight titles, and the 54-year-old is the only manager in the race to have won the title previously, having also tasted success with Milan in 2010-11.
Juve suffered a setback with the news that Weston McKennie will be out for the rest of the campaign with a broken foot, but the arrival of Dusan Vlahovic in January was a boost, as was Alvaro Morata’s goal against Spezia, his first in the league since December. — Richardson
Three must-see goals
Memphis completes comeback with perfect penalty
There are few more satisfying sights than a penalty fired at high speed into the top corner and Memphis Depay‘s spot kick, which clinched a 2-1 win for Barcelona at Elche and took him into double figures for LaLiga goals this season, was a classic of the genre.
With 84 minutes on the clock, time was running out for Barca to maintain momentum in the race for a top-four finish, but Memphis did not look remotely fazed and took a one-step run-up before blasting the ball past Edgar Badia. The goalkeeper dived the wrong way; for his sake, it was just as well! — Kirkland
Memphis Depay calm and collected 🥶 pic.twitter.com/eVUG8GZMuY
— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) March 6, 2022
Muller scores amazing goal … at the wrong end
Bayern Munich‘s 1-1 draw with Bayer Leverkusen prevented them from opening up a double-digit lead over the rest of the Bundesliga, but it was also notable for one of the weirder own goals you’ll see. Why? Because you’d marvel, had it been scored in the “correct” goal.
It was innocuous to begin with. Kerem Demirbay whipped in a free kick from the right flank, but Bayern keeper Sven Ulreich had the ball comfortably covered, only for Muller to ghost in and toe-poke into an empty net at full stretch. On review, it showed the veteran forward instinctively knowing where the goal was, but with one obvious flaw. — Tyler
Gotze class leads to vital PSV goal
That the finish was a simple tap-in for Cody Gakpo owed almost everything to the composure of Mario Gotze, who showed his class by fooling the retreating Heracles defence when through on goal, then squaring for his teammate to give PSV Eindhoven a 3-1 lead and ease their nerves in the Eredivisie title race.
Recent seasons have been difficult for the man whose goal won Germany the 2014 World Cup, but Gotze has made 40 appearances in all competitions this season for the first time since 2014-15 and is vying for championship success with a third different club. — Richardson
Cody Gakpo is helemaal terug! 🔙
— ESPN NL (@ESPNnl) March 6, 2022
Two teams that should be worried
Man United failings exposed yet again
When Manchester United finally cut ties with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November, the club was tied for eighth in the Premier League, with the 11th-best expected-goal differential. Since Ralf Rangnick took over, they have won the third-most points per game and produced the sixth-best xG differential. It’s better, but as we saw in the 4-1 loss to Manchester City, it’s just nowhere close to good enough:
— The Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) March 6, 2022
The scary part: United still have to play Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Because of the daunting schedule and the OK-not-good-definitely-not-great performances under Rangnick, FiveThirtyEight’s predictive model gives United just a 12% chance of finishing in the top four.
Plus, any reason to expect improvement over the rest of the season (Better without Cristiano Ronaldo? More suited to play against better teams?) seems less believable all of a sudden. Right now, FiveThirtyEight’s average simulated season metric has them projected to finish with 62 points, which is two fewer than in David Moyes’s ill-fated 2013-14 season as manager. –– O’Hanlon
Alexis Nunes and Janusz Michallik discuss Manchester United’s devastating loss to Manchester City.
Granada move on from Moreno
It was at 12:37 a.m. Spanish time, following a Saturday that had brought a 3-1 defeat at Valencia that made it nine games without a win in 2022, when the announcement finally came that Granada had fired manager Robert Moreno.
The appointment was a gamble from the start and is another that has done little for Moreno’s coaching CV. After inheriting the Spain job in difficult circumstances when Luis Enrique was forced to step aside for family reasons in 2019, Moreno’s subsequent spell at Monaco was a disappointment and this season at Granada has been dreadful.
A brief rally in December — highlighted by a win over Atletico Madrid — was the only bright spot and his relationship with fans and local media has been fractious. The 44-year-old departs with Granada 17th in LaLiga; reserve team coach Ruben Torrecilla has been charged with halting the slide. — Kirkland
Martinez inspires Inter’s return to form
Inter had failed to score in four consecutive matches ahead of their meeting with Salernitana, with such stuttering form denting their hopes of success in Serie A, the Champions League and the Coppa Italia.
Meanwhile, the goalless run of Lautaro Martinez had reached 10 games, so there was relief all-round when the Argentine striker hit a hat trick — and took 10 of his team’s 23 total shots — and the Nerazzurri rolled to a 5-0 win over their bottom-of-the-table opponents.
The 24-year-old opened the scoring on 22 minutes and doubled the lead five minutes before half-time, but saved his best for last with an emphatic finish early in the second period. Moreover, his partnership with Edin Dzeko appeared to be improved; the duo’s form could decide how Inter fare for the rest of the season. — Richardson