Five talking points in European football this weekend
Real Madrid won the Clasico to regain the initiative in the Spanish title race, while Thomas Mueller continued his renaissance and Ajax saw their recent slump go on.
AFP Sport looks at some of the main talking points from the weekend across Europe:
Worrying times for Barcelona
Gerard Pique said it was one of the worst Real Madrid sides he had faced at the Santiago Bernabeu but, even more, worrying for him than that, Barcelona were beaten 2-0 in the Clasico on Sunday.
Madrid’s win puts them a point ahead of Barca at the top of La Liga and more important than the effect on the standings could be the psychological lift it gives Zinedine Zidane’s team, who were on the brink of crisis after defeat by Manchester City in the Champions League.
Focus will shift back to Barcelona and how they respond to another setback in their topsy-turvy season. They have the slightly easier run-in of the two but Pique said this was an “opportunity missed”. It may prove difficult to recover.
Mueller’s second coming continues
Amid the concern surrounding the news that Robert Lewandowski would be out for a month with a knee injury, Thomas Mueller appears to be relishing the extra responsibility at Bayern Munich.
Picking up two assists in Bayern’s 6-0 defeat of Hoffenheim, Mueller equalled his personal best of 16 assists for the year with 10 games left.
He has the equal-most assists of anyone in Europe’s top five leagues along with Kevin De Bruyne and is on track to eclipse the best ever Bundesliga mark of 22 set by RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg in 2016/17.
A year after Mueller was sacked from the German national team, he has emerged as a crucial man in Bayern’s title defence and Champions League campaign. They are still undefeated in 2020.
“You can see the quality of the football we are playing, but we do not need a pat on the shoulder because if we lose next week the sparrows will sing from the rooftops,” he said.
Only four matches were played in Serie A as Italian authorities try to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Lazio went top of the table, while Atalanta’s fine form continued.
The modest club from Bergamo ran riot in Lecce, winning 7-2 with Duvan Zapata notching a hat-trick. They are now fourth, three points above Roma with a game in hand, meaning they are on course to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
They are also primed to make the quarter-finals of this season’s competition after beating Valencia 4-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie, and the goals just keep on coming.
Atalanta have scored five or more goals in five Serie A games now, and with 70 goals in total in 25 matches, only Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain have scored more in Europe’s top five leagues.
Lyon roar again
Fresh from their 1-0 win over Juventus in their Champions League last 16, first leg, Lyon got the better of bitter rivals Saint-Etienne, winning Sunday’s derby 2-0.
Both goals were scored by Moussa Dembele, who has 16 in Ligue 1 this season but has still not found the net in the Champions League.
It has been a mediocre campaign for Lyon, but they are now back up to fifth in the table and the form of January signing Bruno Guimaraes is especially encouraging.
The 20 million-euro ($22 million) recruit from Athletico Paranaense was outstanding on his Champions League debut and again stood out in midfield on Sunday.
Ajax slump goes on
Three days after being dumped out of the Europa League by Getafe, Ajax saw their hopes of retaining the Dutch title suffer a blow as they were beaten 2-0 at home by AZ Alkmaar.
Teenager Myron Boadu and Oussama Idrissi scored for AZ, who are now level on points with Ajax atop the Eredivisie.
It was a second straight league defeat for Ajax, who lost 1-0 at Heracles last weekend and have lost three of their last five league games to let AZ — who last won the title in 2009 under Louis van Gaal — back in.