Five talking points in European football this weekend
Real Madrid maintained a three-point lead at the top in Spain, while Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig cancelled each other out in the big game in Germany. Meanwhile, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain showed signs of weakness ahead of the return of the Champions League.
AFP Sport looks back at the major talking points from the weekend across Europe:
Bale back to stay?
Gareth Bale returned to Real Madrid’s team on Sunday for only the third time this year but he may not have done enough to keep his place for crunch games to come.
In the next month, Madrid will face Manchester City in the Champions League and Barcelona in La Liga, and coach Zinedine Zidane will have to decide whether to trust Bale again on the biggest stage.
The Welshman had two decent chances to score in the 4-1 win over Osasuna and inadvertently provided the assist for Isco’s equaliser.
But with Eden Hazard close to returning, Bale may be squeezed out by Rodrygo or Vinicius Junior, or even Lucas Vazquez, who Zidane has favoured in the past.
Zidane declared himself happy with Bale’s performance in Pamplona. It remains to be seen now whether he backs up his words with selections in his starting line-up.
No change at top in Germany
Things remain tight at the top in Germany after RB Leipzig held Bayern Munich to a tense goalless draw at the Allianz Arena, leaving defending champions Bayern a point ahead of second-placed Leipzig.
Bayern was awarded a second-half penalty, which was reversed after VAR spotted Robert Lewandowski offside, while Leipzig’s Timo Werner missed one golden chance to beat Manuel Neuer.
Third-placed Borussia Dortmund are four points behind Bayern after a concerning 4-3 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen.
“We could be a top international team, but we are not if we leave the game open to the opponent during a match”, fumed Dortmund defender Mats Hummels.
Juve’s split personality
Juventus’s 2-1 defeat at Verona laid bare the split personality of the eight-time reigning champions this season — dominant at home and vulnerable away. Maurizio Sarri’s side have lost three games on the road.
Juventus are now behind Inter Milan on goal difference with Lazio a point adrift in a three-way title chase.
“It’s embarrassing for a team of this value to drop points on the road like this,” said goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored for a club-record 10th consecutive game but defending errors gifted Verona their goals. Problems in the backline which could in some way be resolved by Giorgio Chiellini’s impending return from injury.
‘Not life or death’ for PSG
Paris Saint-Germain continued the countdown to their Champions League last-16 tie against Dortmund by beating Lyon 4-2 to stay 12 points clear atop Ligue 1.
Another Ligue 1 title looks a certainty, but of course, it is the Champions League that really matters for a team that has not won a knockout tie in Europe since 2016.
Some of their defending on Sunday raised concerns, and yet another defeat in the last 16 would surely be disastrous for the Qatar-owned club, who will hope Neymar returns for the first leg on February 18 having missed two games with a rib injury.
However, sporting director Leonardo has tried to take some pressure off coach Thomas Tuchel and his players ahead of the Dortmund tie.
“This is not life or death, it’s a game of football. I think the team is ready and if we win, great. If not, we will carry on and continue to grow,” he told Canal Plus.
Title race alive in Portugal
Porto revived hope of reclaiming the Portuguese title from Benfica by beating the Lisbon giants 3-2 in a fantastic game at the Estadio do Dragao.
Sergio Oliveira, an Alex Telles penalty, and a Ruben Dias own goal gave Porto the victory, with Brazilian Carlos Vinicius scoring twice for Benfica, who could have effectively ended the title race with a win.
It was Benfica’s first domestic defeat since losing to the same opponents at home in August, and Porto move back to within four points of the league leaders.
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