Five talking points in European football this weekend
Lionel Messi’s delivered a La Liga record 35th hat-trick as Barcelona kept pace with Real Madrid, in-form Lazio inflicted a first defeat of the season on Juventus to muscle their way into the title picture, while Dutch league leaders Ajax slumped to a surprise home loss.
AFP Sport looks at five of the main talking points from around Europe over the weekend:
Barca, Madrid clicking into gear
Real Madrid and Barcelona have both left behind their rocky starts to the season as La Liga’s most prestigious pair look increasingly likely to dominate its title race again.
Lionel Messi scored a record-breaking 35th hat-trick in the competition as Barca destroyed Mallorca 5-2 on Saturday, shortly after Real had made light work of Espanyol in a comfortable 2-0 victory.
With Atletico Madrid and Sevilla each held to draws away at Villarreal and Osasuna respectively, Real and the Catalans have opened up a gap at the top.
They sit three points ahead of Sevilla in third, with a game in hand, which will be played out in the season’s first Clasico at Camp Nou on December 18. The winner will likely be top of the pile at Christmas.
‘No madman’: Inzaghi aiming high for Lazio
Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi has boosted the club’s ambitions of claiming a third Scudetto and first since 2000 after inflicting the first defeat this season on champions Juventus.
Inzaghi’s side are third, five points behind leaders Inter Milan and three adrift of Juve who they beat 3-1 for a first win over the Turin giants at the Stadio Olimpico in 16 years.
“I say that perhaps the madman was the one who at the beginning of the season would rule us out of the Champions League places,” said Inzaghi.
“Obviously we are ambitious and are aiming high.”
Against Juve, Inzaghi celebrated his 73rd victory in Serie A on the Lazio bench, to match World Cup winner Dino Zoff’s record as coach at the club.
Former Lazio striker Inzaghi, 43, was a player at the Stadio Olimpico the last time they won the title. Their ambitions will again be tested against fourth-placed Cagliari on December 16.
‘Sparkling’ Reus re-emerges at Dortmund
After a quiet start to the season, Borussia Dortmund’s talisman and leader Marco Reus returned to form in his side’s 5-0 defeat of Fortuna Duesseldorf.
Reus was not alone in his below-par performances -– with new arrivals Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt also far from their best for much of the season -– however if Dortmund are to break Bayern’s recent dominance, it will take something special from their captain.
Scoring two goals and assisting another, Reus said he had taken the past few months to heart.
“The criticism that came up against me was legitimate – and I know I didn’t show my best form,” Reus said after the game.
“I did not do my best in the last few weeks but I kept believing in myself and especially the team.”
Reus’ performance did not go unnoticed with sporting director Michael Zorc calling him “much improved, sparkling and dangerous”.
Marseille hanging with PSG in France
After Neymar and Kylian Mbappe combined to fire Paris Saint-Germain to a comeback win at Montpellier, Andre Villas-Boas masterminded a sixth successive Ligue 1 victory for Marseille who clawed back to within five points of their bitter rivals. The Portuguese coach described Sunday’s 3-1 win over Bordeaux as a “perfect match” and is targeting two more wins before the winter break to keep PSG on their toes.
Ajax lose as Alkmaar cut Eredivisie gap
Ajax succumbed to a 2-0 loss at home to fourth-placed Willem II as their lead at the summit was trimmed by AZ Alkmaar to three points. It was a first league defeat since March and one that saw the champions concede from a penalty at home for the time in the Eredivisie since 2010. Erik ten Hag’s side must quickly regroup ahead of Tuesday’s showdown with Valencia in the Champions League with qualification for the last 16 on the line.