Weekend Review: Real Madrid’s comeback, Rashford’s redemption, Alisson MVP for Liverpool

Football

The European weekend didn’t disappoint with late goals the dominant theme: Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid completed dramatic comebacks in LaLiga, while Manchester United needed a 93rd minute goal to get victory. Elsewhere, Liverpool‘s goalkeeper was the hero in a 3-1 win at Crystal Palace that could have gone a lot differently.

Here are Rob Dawson, Alex Kirkland and James Tyler with what you need to know from around Europe.

Go to: Talking points | Top goals | Troubled teams | Weekend MVP


Four talking points

Real Madrid win in 2-2 draw

Real Madrid’s 2-2 draw with Elche on Sunday felt like both a missed opportunity — second-place Sevilla‘s dropped points a day earlier had handed them the chance to extend their lead at the top — and yet another reminder that this team never knows when it’s beaten.

Pretty much everything had gone against the game kicked off. Karim Benzema skied a penalty, his first-ever miss for Madrid after 16 successful spot-kicks, opposing keeper Edgar Badia made a series of acrobatic saves, and defensive lapses allowed Elche to score with their only two shots on target. Madrid kept going, though: Vinicius Junior ran tirelessly at the Elche defence, and when another penalty — put away this time by Luka Modric — made it 1-2 with 82 minutes gone, an equaliser felt almost inevitable. Eder Militao, now the team’s most dangerous aerial threat, played the Sergio Ramos role with a towering header in added time.

It’s still difficult to say quite how good this Real Madrid team are. Draws with Cadiz and now Elche in the past month, coupled with a defeat at Getafe, have highlighted their issues in beating so-called “lesser teams” that look to sit back and keep it tight. Madrid’s lead at the top is just four points, and Sevilla would be level with them now if they hadn’t drawn their last two games.

But even if Madrid are fallible, the teams behind them — Sevilla, Real Betis, Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad, Barcelona — are more so. Madrid will drop points, and so will everyone else. And it’s hard to foresee a second half to the season that doesn’t end with them as champions. –Alex Kirkland

Redemption for Rashford and Rangnick

​​Marcus Rashford was being jeered at Old Trafford not so long ago but has bounced back with two goals in his last two games and the latest — a stoppage-time winner against West Ham on Saturday — could prove vital when the Champions League places are handed out.

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The general consensus from people around Rashford is that he has suffered a crisis of confidence over the last few months, so a goal in the 94th minute against David Moyes’ side was welcome in more ways than one. Indeed, Rashford’s strike gave validation to Ralf Rangnick for his substitutions, with Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani also playing a part in the goal.

Rangnick made the right changes in midweek at Brentford — even if it meant dealing with the fallout for replacing Cristiano Ronaldo) — and the last two matches will win over some of the supporters who questioned his game management in United’s draw at Aston Villa last week. — Dawson

AC Milan stutter vs. Juventus

Serie A’s title race is arguably the most competitive in Europe’s top leagues this season, with three teams divided by four points with roughly 14 rounds to play. And yet Milan might look back on Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Juventus as a missed opportunity.

The Bianconeri arrived with little intention of pushing beyond half-way, sneaking a handful of off-target shots while doggedly preventing their hosts from getting coherent in the attacking third. Chances from Juan Cuadrado (opening five minutes) and Weston McKennie (final five minutes) bookended a blunt Milan performance, with Olivier Giroud, Rafael Leao, Davide Calabria and Theo Hernandez all trying and failing to elude Wojciech Szczesny.

A draw was a fair result, but such results don’t a champion make. In the end, Stefano Pioli’s have two weeks to reflect and get fit — Zlatan Ibrahimovic was forced off after half an hour with injury — because their next opponent is none other than Inter Milan. — Tyler

Atletico Madrid’s miraculous turnaround

Atletico Madrid’s first-half performance against Valencia on Saturday was dreadful, even when viewed in the context of a deeply disappointing season. Goals from Yunus Musah and Hugo Duro had Atleti 0-2 down and looking further than ever from mounting a credible defence of their LaLiga title. “In the first half, my heart hurt,” coach Diego Simeone confessed afterwards, and who could blame him.

The manager and his players deserve huge credit for what happened next. A raucous 3-2 comeback — with two of the goals coming in added time — that felt at once like a reconnection between players and fans, a rediscovery of the team’s identity, and a vindication for Simeone’s methods.

It started with a counter-intuitive substitution: forward Joao Felix was replaced by error-prone defender Felipe, leading to a restructuring of the team’s shape that allowed them to go for broke. Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco were electric out wide while another sub, Matheus Cunha, got the comeback started before Correa and Mario Hermoso completed the job at the very, very end.

“We saw Atletico Madrid in that second half,” Simeone said. “We were ourselves. Whenever it feels like it might be slipping away, I want to hold on even tighter.” There was an admirably honest assessment from Jose Maria Gimenez on what’s gone wrong this year, too: an admission that Atletico’s stronger squad has made them worse, not better.

“I’ve seen a bit of relaxation,” the defender said. “We’ve started games like we know we have great players who can win you a game at any time… but a great team is built on results.” — Kirkland


Three must-see goals

Dortmund win, and win pretty

There’s a lot of calamity around Borussia Dortmund these days, particularly in how they defend, but one area that’s humming at a high rate of productivity is their attack. When you boast the likes of Erling Haaland, Marco Reus and Jude Bellingham, you can’t really go wrong, and that’s reflected in their recent Bundesliga form, with 16 goals scored in their past five league fixtures.

Saturday’s 3-2 hang-on-for-victory performance at TSG Hoffenheim had two such beauties: Haaland’s sixth-minute effort was a wonderful, sweeping team effort with a ton of slick interchanges and movement culminated in the easiest tap-in ever for the big Norwegian. Reus’s effort 15 minutes into the second half was also the result of exception decision-making and flow. Long may it continue. — Tyler

A goal worthy of taking points from Man City

Southampton‘s build-up play — the passing triangles and sweeping cross-field ball — was slick, but the end result was even better. The touch and finish with the outside of the boot was perfect, and all while racing into the penalty area. All in all, a lovely goal that deservedly earned Southampton a point. — Dawson

Serrano’s scorcher in Spain

Nico Serrano is the latest exciting youngster off the Athletic Bilbao production line, and the 18-year-old’s goal on Sunday — in his first LaLiga start, no less — brought an end to Rayo Vallecano‘s proud unbeaten home record this season. A poor defensive header fell to Serrano inside the box, he controlled the bouncing ball with a touch and casually thrashed a left-footed shot past Luca Zidane in the Rayo goal.

A front three of Inaki Williams, Nico Williams and Serrano? Sign me up. — Kirkland


Two teams that should be worried

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Janusz Michallik gives his take on the troubles at Everton and questions how long stars like Dominic Calvert-Lewin will stay for.

Everton woes are getting deeper

The smart money is on three of Burnley, Watford, Newcastle and Norwich being relegated from the Premier League, but Everton have reason to be anxious after a weekend on which they were beaten at home by Aston Villa, while Newcastle and Norwich picked up wins.

It means Everton are just four points clear of the relegation places and their post-international break trip to Newcastle, who beat Leeds on Saturday, is vital for both sides. By then, Everton caretaker manager Duncan Ferguson will have had more time to work with his players and he will hope for a better performance than he saw against Villa.

With only one league win since the end of September, the Goodison Park side look awkward and disjointed going forward and that will have to change to find goals to get them out of trouble. Rafael Benitez has gone but that was certainly not the end of Everton’s problems. — Dawson

Mallorca continue to spiral

Real Mallorca coach Luis Garcia Plaza pulled no punches after his team’s 3-0 defeat at Villarreal on Saturday. “We can’t be so naïve,” he said. “Maybe we’ll have to rely more on the players who know what this is all about.” It’s very well having gifted kids like Take Kubo, Lee Kang In, Fer Nino and Jordi Mboula in the squad, he seemed to suggest, but is that really what you need in a relegation dogfight?

Mallorca’s problem isn’t just that they’re struggling to get results, with four losses in a row and just one win in their last 13 league games. It’s that the teams around them are showing signs of turning things around. Quique Sanchez Flores is working miracles at Getafe, a team unrecognisable from when they started the season with a record seven-game losing streak. Cadiz have replaced Alvaro Cervera with Sergio Gonzalez as manager and got a win this weekend too, 2-0 at Levante. Elche impressed as they drew at Real Madrid.

Garcia Plaza is a likeable, experienced manager, but he’s got his work cut out to keep Mallorca in LaLiga — and a distracting cup run, with a Copa del Rey quarter-final against Rayo Vallecano coming up, may not be helpful either. — Kirkland


Weekend MVP

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Janusz Michallik assesses Liverpool’s title chances after winning three valuable points vs. Crystal Palace.

If we have a title race again, it’s down to Alisson

Crystal Palace had Liverpool gasping for air for much of their Sunday afternoon clash at Selhurst Park to the point that it was hard to tell which of the two sides was in the title race and which was wedged between Southampton and Brentford in mid-table. Though goals from Virgil van Dijk, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho (via a contentious late penalty) gave the Reds a 3-1 win on paper, they have their remarkable goalkeeper to thank for the three points. Given the manner in which Palace attacked and pressured the sub-par Reds all afternoon, his contributions were arguably the most valuable of all.

Liverpool’s 2-0 half-time lead never looked safe thanks to Palace’s pacy, direct running, and Odsonne Edouard’s chill finish 10 minutes after the break quickly swung the momentum back in the hosts’ favor; if another goal seemed imminent, it was only ever going to come from Patrick Vieira’s purposeful side. Conor Gallagher & Co. controlled the midfield, Michael Olise led an aggressive press and the Reds simply couldn’t slow things down.

Enter Alisson, then, to restore order. He denied Olise three times — the final one a superb bit of backpedaling to paw a lob beyond the post after being caught off his line — smothered an Edouard back-heel and withstood immense pressure once Christian Benteke and Andre Ayew came on to lay siege. Though the goals tend to keep Liverpool in the title race these days, Alisson is every bit as important to keeping the pressure on Manchester City at the top. After City’s draw with Southampton, anything less than victory on Sunday would have meant another opportunity lost. Lucky for Liverpool, then. — Tyler

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