A 21-year-old forward leaving Messi in his wake in La Liga, an abundance of goals and comebacks and a managerial debut for one of the Class of ’92: it was a varied and eventful week in football, and Seven Points has you covered.
Lucien Favre’s Borussia Dortmund have rightly been attracting a lot of plaudits this season – any side still leading Bayern in the table come February are certainly doing something right. However, it was a rare bad week at Signal Iduna Park. Things got off on the wrong foot in the DFB Pokal: Dortmund hosted Werder Bremen, and found themselves behind to a Rashica goal inside five minutes. A Reus equaliser steadied the ship, and when Christian Pulisic scored in added time to make it 2-1 it appeared that Dortmund had found a way to win once again. The evergreen Claudio Pizarro had other ideas, equalising just three minutes later, but Achraf Hakimi gave the hosts an extra time lead for the second time in the 113th minute and seemed sure to have decided the tie. A Martin Harnik strike in the 119th minute changed the picture yet again, and Bremen triumphed in the resulting shootout. This frustration was compounded in the league fixture against Hoffenheim: Lucien Favre must be thoroughly sick of seeing the 3-3 scoreline. His team led 3-0 with just fifteen minutes to play courtesy of goals from Sancho, Gotze and Guerreiro, but Belfodil goals either side of a Kaderabek strike meant that Dortmund were made to share the points. Bayern’s win against Schalke means that the lead at the top is down to five points.
Two more giants of European football met this week when the Copa del Rey semi-final served up a Clasico. Real Madrid travelled to Camp Nou for the first leg, and took the lead early on through Lucas Vasquez. The Spanish winger is the embodiment of Real’s recent upturn under Solari, to the point where Bale’s future is once again reportedly in jeopardy in part because of the manager’s preference for Vasquez. His strike was not enough to secure a crucial away win, however: Malcom equalised midway through the second half, leaving the tie perfectly poised for the return leg at the end of the month. In the meantime, Real took on city rivals Atletico in the league – they triumphed 3-1, and Bale was able to make his point by scoring from the bench. This allowed them to close the gap on Barcelona to just five points, albeit temporarily.
The other cup semi-final saw Real Betis host Valencia, and it did not disappoint. Betis struck through Loren just before half-time to make it 1-0, and ten minutes into the second period a piece of sheer invention and technique doubled this lead. Joaquin, who made his name playing for the formidable Valencia side of a decade ago, scored against his old club directly from a corner: he spotted that Domenech had left a gap at his near post, and whipped the ball ferociously beyond him. He was not to have the last laugh, however: Denis Cheryshev is the man tasked with running the wing at the Mestalla these days, and he joined his predecessor on the scoresheet to make it 2-1. Kevin Gameiro, introduced from the bench, then scored a very late equaliser to ensure that both semi-finals are level going into the second legs.
Things are clearly much better at Valencia these days than they were during the short reign of Gary Neville, but his ill-fated time in Spain has apparently not put off the rest of the Class of ’92 from trying their hand at management. The EFL this week gave the all-clear for Paul Scholes to take over at Oldham, despite his stake in Salford City – official confirmation of the appointment had not occurred at the time of writing, but is expected imminently. Oldham are currently stranded in mid-table obscurity in League Two; this represents a failure to meet expectations for the Latics, who plied their trade in the third tier of English football last season. The Boundary Park faithful will be hoping that Scholes can reinvigorate the team; he will have to do a little more than just ping balls at trees in training in order to make an impression in this job.
There has been something of a power shift in Manchester since Scholes retired, and Manchester City laid down a resounding marker in the title race when they entertained Chelsea at the Etihad. Sarri’s men had won the reverse fixture, triggering a difficult December for Guardiola’s men, but they have well and truly left this period behind them: this was reinforced emphatically by a 6-0 triumph over the champions of two seasons ago. City knew that a win would put them back above Liverpool, albeit having played a game more; a man formerly of the Anfield parish got them off to the perfect start, Raheem Sterling finding the net after just four minutes. It then became the Aguero show: he responded to missing a sitter by unerringly finding the top corner from well outside the box, and after Gundogan had made it 3-0 the Argentinian scored twice more, completing his hat-trick from the spot in the 56th minute. Sterling started what he had finished, making it six with ten minutes to play. This was Manchester City at their irresistible best – when the array of talent that Guardiola has assembled gel in this fashion it is nigh-on impossible to stop them, as a hapless Chelsea defence learned the hard way. This was a positively tame scoreline compared to the one that unfolded in Portugal, however: Benfica racked up double figures in their Primiera Liga match against Nacional, triumphing 10-0. This was the biggest win in the division for 55 years.
Sergio Aguero was not the only one going home with a match ball this weekend. So too was Youssef En-Nesyri: the Leganes striker is not quite such a household name, but he might be soon if he continues his excellent scoring form. The Moroccan’s three goals against Real Betis took his 2019 tally to seven, elevating him above Lionel Messi as the top scorer for the calendar year. The 21 year-old is justifying the decision to pick him up from relegated Malaga in the summer; Leganes will need him to maintain these levels, as they have struggled for goals all season.
Sheffield United looked set to secure a similarly comfortable 3-0 win when they took on Aston Villa – they had also established their three-goal cushion courtesy of a hat-trick, Billy Sharp netting three times for The Blades. This margin remained in place until the 82nd minute; Tyrone Mings scored what looked for all the world to be a consolation, but when Tammy Abraham made it 3-2 just four minutes later Villa Park started to get really interested. Sure enough, the most unlikely of comebacks was completed in the 94th minute by Andre Green. O’Connell horribly sliced his clearance, and Green was on hand to capitalise on the ensuing chaos and fire the ball home. This could be a vital point gained for Villa, who are chasing a playoff spot. Similarly, United may well rue the two points dropped in their bid to gain automatic promotion.