Bundesliga Review: The title race is on

Bundesliga Review: The title race is on

The Bundesliga is now whistling like a kettle on the hob; we are at boiling point, but the international break now signals an 11-day pause in proceedings. Who have been the winners and losers over the last four weeks, and what joyous events are just over the horizon?

By Chris Williams, our Bundesliga expert

Four become two

It may have been a question of when not if, but the league’s two big clubs look set to fight it out over the remaining nine matchdays to see who holds the Meisterschale aloft come Saturday 27 May.

Season-long surprises Union Berlin and Freiburg have eventually dropped their phenomenal pace, something that should not be held against them but it was always going to be a massive ask for either to mount a sustained challenge to Bayern München and Borussia Dortmund. 

For the club from Germany’s capital, it has been a tough challenge to balance the rigours of Europen football with that of domestic necessity. Dropping out of the Europa League came amongst a run of five Bundesliga games that yielded only one victory. 

That set of results has left them off the pace of the top two but it keeps them in third, Champions League qualification for next season is very much in their hands. The only worry that brings is the step up in quality they would then face with automatic qualification to the group stages.

Step forward Dortmund

Since the league restarted in January, the Schwarzgelben have kicked into a different gear, ahead of any other club around them. Edin Terzić’s side were sixth post-World Cup and looked like a team nowhere near a title challenge. 

But, with an all-important fixture against Bayern due in 12 days, they now sit atop of the league edging out a one-point gap to the Bavarians in second. 

It’s a run of form that has seen them take 28 points from the last 30, whilst scoring 30 goals in the process. Having dispatched Freiburg and Hertha with ease already this season, Matchday 25 saw FC Köln make the short trip to the Westfalenstadion, it turned out to be an absolute mauling for the Billy Goats.

A 6-1 rout showed Dortmund flex their title-dreaming muscles. Smashing four goals inside 45 minutes they were simply too hot to handle and the night belonged to Marco Reus. Netting twice the captain sailed past one-time player and now Sporting Director, Michael Zorc, on the Black and Yellow scoring charts.

His second was the 161st goal for the club while also reaching the milestone of 150 Bundesliga goals, not bad for a player who frequently finds himself as a left winger. 

But, it’s not just Reus who Dortmund can thank for their recent set of results – Raphaël Guerreiro’s performance has been off the charts. His showing at Schalke and Köln typified his quality and his 9.0 and 9.2 ratings were no fluke. 

Scoring the opening goal in the Köln crushing he went on to put in a man-of-the-match performance while also creating the most chances over the 90 minutes. 

The only mark on Dortmund’s recent run of Bundesliga results has been a 2-2 draw with struggling Schalke, but the Revierderby is well known for ripping up the formbook. Whilst defeat to Chelsea saw their Champions League exploits come to an end at the Round of 16.

Yet none of that will matter now, the title lies in their own hands – you cannot ask for more than that with nine games to play. 

Step backwards Bayern

Championships aren’t won in January but many are lost, and Julian Nagglesmann will be thinking long and hard about a New Year period that has left Bayern looking upwards. 

The Rekordmeister’s recent results haven’t been too bad, but such is the run Dortmund are on, only taking four points from the 12 available at the turn of the year now sees them playing catch up.

Defeats to Borussia Mönchengladbach, and this weekend at Bayern Leverkusen, have left staff at the club fuming. Sporting director, Hasan Salihamidzic blasted them as “inferior in all areas” while Nagglesmann suggested post-Leverkusen that their 1 April fixture against Dortmund has become season-defining. 

“If we don’t win, or in the worst case we lose, then it will be difficult to win the title considering their current form,” the head coach prophesied.

Even with the temporary doom and gloom around Säbener Straße, Bayern still have quality in depth.

Jamal Musiala has 19 goals and assists combined (11 and 8 respectively) while Joshua Kimmich has an average rating of 7.86 from his 24 league matches and tops the charts as the Bundesliga’s highest-average rated player on FotMob. 

(Cover image from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 Bundesliga season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Serie A Review: Lazio win the Rome Derby while Juve triumph in the Derby d’Italia

Serie A Review: Lazio win the Rome Derby while Juve triumph in the Derby d’Italia

This weekend gave us not one but two of Italian football’s biggest games and we saw a Champions League draw that gives one of the remaining Serie A sides a huge opportunity to reach the Final.

By Matteo Bonetti, US Serie A expert

Rome’s fierce rivalry

Once again, the Rome Derby between Lazio and Roma did not disappoint. This is one of the most hate-fuelled matches anywhere in Europe, and to truly get a sense of the intensity of this rivalry, it’s one you must experience in person, should you ever get the chance to do so.

Lazio won the latest edition 1-0, courtesy of a fantastic goal from the highly talented left-winger Mattia Zaccagni, who curled in a finessed finish to the back post from a tight angle. Sadly, the referee had a big part to play as he influenced the game in the first half by handing out a second yellow to Roma centre-back Roger Ibañez in the 32nd minute. The call looked harsh, given the unwritten rule that a second yellow usually carries a slightly different severity than the first one. A warning or ‘talking to’ was expected rather than the second yellow that was brandished, fundamentally changing the course of the game. After that sending off, the remainder of the match was littered with skirmishes and verbal battles any time there was a foul. Ibañez’s red wasn’t the last either, as two more players were sent off just before the final whistle.

Following the red card, Roma’s first substitution didn’t come until after halftime, when José Mourinho’s assistant Salvatore Foti surprisingly put in centre-back Diego Llorente for Paulo Dybala. Dybala is unquestionably Roma’s best player and even though he had been quiet in the first half, it felt like more of a product of Roma’s play as a whole; they had less possession and were pinned back in their own half. Having a player like “La Joya” means you only need half a yard of space for him to create magic out of nothing. Taking out that creativity ensured that Roma were playing to keep the score at 0-0, which backfired significantly when they went down a goal and were suddenly chasing the comeback without their attacking force. 

As for the victors, Lazio’s win is massive for the top four race. While the Biancocelesti have been inconsistent of late, other contenders for the Champions League spots have also squandered precious points. The three taken here mean that Maurizio Sarri’s team now sit alone in second place, having leapfrogged Inter. The race will get even more interesting if Juventus get their 15 points back and knock off one of the current contenders.

Juventus show character while Inter stumble again

Ever since the 15 point deduction, Max Allegri’s side has rallied together and played some of their best football all season long. The Bianconeri have only lost once in their last 12, and picked up another fine result over the weekend by beating Derby d’Italia rivals, Inter 1-0 at the Giuseppe Meazza. It was also another game that was filled with controversy, as Filip Kostić’s goal was preceded by an apparent handball by Adrien Rabiot, which was not called by the referee or VAR. Even so, it never really looked like Inter were in the game. Simone Inzaghi’s side has seemed frail from a mental standpoint, which is evidenced by their wildly inconsistent performances throughout the season, often proving difficult to piece together with any semblance of analysis. 

Against Juve, they looked out of ideas against an organised low block that was led by the surging centre-back Federico Gatti, who had a performance reminiscent of the days of Giorgio Chiellini. Another Juventus youngster who stood out was the midfielder Nicolo Fagioli, who seems to be in his element against one of the best teams in the league. He showed a creativity with his touches far beyond his years, with impressive vision and composure when he was on the ball.

The big issue with Inter is that they seem to lack a creative dribbler (like Ivan Perišić), who can find space against a tight defence. The endless crosses into the box provided no danger whatsoever for a Juve backline that was impenetrable. That’s now five defeats in Inter’s last nine games, a troubling statistic that puts a ton of pressure on Simone Inzaghi and his team’s chances of finishing in a Champions League spot.

Another startling trend is the involution of Inter’s midfielder Marcelo Brozović. He’s unrecognisable from the player who was one of the finest midfielders in the league for the past few seasons. Against Juve, Brozović looked slow and clumsy, unable to pick apart the Juve defence or offer any sort of spark to invigorate his team. Up front, there was little connectivity between the two strikers, Lautaro and Lukaku, who had formed a solid bond under Antonio Conte in the Nerazzurri’s Scudetto winning season. Lautaro was voted the worst player in the match by the Italian media – citing poor movement and no link up play to speak of. 

If Inzaghi can’t turn it around and get Inter playing like the side we all expected to see before the season, they risk a Champions League quarter-final exit and a finish outside the top four in Serie A. 

Italy’s great chance in the Champions League

The Champions League quarter-final draw couldn’t have been set up any better for Serie A teams to show their talent on the world stage. All three Italian teams are on the same side of the bracket, meaning we’re guaranteed one of them in the semi-final and there’s a good chance Napoli can go on to make the final. 

It’s been 12 years since an Italian team won the Champions League – that was José Mourinho’s treble winning Inter side, that instantly made him a club legend for eternity. Since then, Juventus made the UCL final twice but lost both times against better teams, and there hasn’t really been much of a hope since then that a team from Italy had much of a chance in the modern era where we’ve seen the Premier League turn into a financial behemoth.

Napoli have shown the importance of intelligence and quality scouting in the transfer market, compared to blindly throwing hundreds of millions around in the hoping that one of the signings stick. It’s unheard of in this era for a team to reduce their wage bill and get rid of their best players only to improve dramatically with new, unproven and cheaper signings. Napoli are a heavy favorite to beat an inconsistent Milan side in the last eight, while Inter have a much tougher task against Portuguese side Benfica, who looked very strong in the group stage and has only lost one league game all season. 

Benfica drew both of their group stage matches against PSG, while beating Juventus twice – an ominous sign for an Inter team that has been struggling to maintain any sort of consistency in their performances. All of this would point to a potential semi-final between Napoli vs. Benfica, which could be a dream for the neutrals given both sides play open, expansive and aesthetically pleasing attacking football. 

Conversely, two upsets in the quarters could also give us a Derby Della Madonnina semi-final between Inter and Milan, which we haven’t seen since the 2002/03 season when the Rossoneri beat their city rivals on away goals and then defeated Juventus in the final on penalties. That was a different era though – the Premier League didn’t have a fraction of the monetary power it has now through their gargantuan TV rights deal, and state owned super teams scattered throughout Europe weren’t even an idea. 

While Italian football still has plenty of issues and cannot compete financially with the true might around Europe, this is a strong signal that the clubs have found other ways to remain competitive on the biggest stage, and it has to indicate an upwards trend in the overall quality of the league.

(Cover image from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 Serie A season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Premier League and FA Cup Review: City and United set for Wembley semi-finals while Arsenal concentrate on the title

Premier League and FA Cup Review: City and United set for Wembley semi-finals while Arsenal concentrate on the title

With the top action in England split between the Premier League and the FA Cup quarter-finals we thought a bumper review was in order.

By Sam McGuire, Premier League expert

First, the main talking points from the reduced run of Premier League fixtures.

Managerless Eagles have their wings clipped

Crystal Palace decided to part ways with Patrick Vieira on Friday in what was a shock dismissal. The Eagles didn’t necessarily react well to this and lost 4-1 to Arsenal at the Emirates. 

However, it wasn’t ever a 4-1 sort of match. Mikel Arteta’s side overperformed their Expected Goals total of 1.57 and the visitors actually had more big chances (two to one). It was a finishing clinic by the hosts. 

The star of the show was Bukayo Saka with the Arsenal No. 7 scoring twice and assisting once to take his tally to 22 Premier League goal contributions this season. 

Smash and grab at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea were looking to make it four wins on the bounce as they welcomed struggling Everton to Stamford Bridge. In truth, they probably deserved all three points on Saturday but Sean Dyche’s men found a way and picked up an important point in their fight for survival.

The hosts had 20 shots and almost 70% of the ball. They were in complete control and limited Everton to an xG of just 0.06 in the first half. The visitors remained in the game and scored a late equaliser with Ellis Simms netting his first goal for the Merseysiders after Kai Havertz had put Graham Potter’s side ahead via the penalty spot late on.

It has been the story of Chelsea under the former Brighton manager, with chances not being taken on a regular basis.

Carnage at Molineux

Somehow, Leeds United claimed a 4-2 win over Wolves on Saturday. 

The hosts had an xG of 2.78 and peppered the Leeds goal with 23 shots. By comparison, the away side managed just 1.62, had fewer shots and fewer big chances. 

Javi Gracia’s side took their opportunities though and his subs changed the game, with two of them finding the back of the net. They were also aided by some questionable calls by the referee. The three points help Leeds in their fight for survival while also dragging Wolves back into the relegation conversation.

Spurs implode

With just 16 minutes left to play, Spurs were 3-1 up and looked in complete control – Pedro Porro had scored before the break, Harry Kane added to his impressive haul for the season before Ivan Perišić appeared to put the game to bed.

And then they collapsed. In fairness, Southampton deserved their point. They had more shots, more big chances and a higher xG. In fact, they had over double the xG of Spurs in that second half.

James Ward-Prowse’s penalty in added time salvaged a well deserved point, though they are still in trouble in the Premier League.

Spurs are now needing Newcastle to drop points to maintain their grip on the final Champions League spot.

The Magpies take control of their own fate

Eddie Howe’s side came from behind to claim a deserved win away to Nottingham Forest. 

Alexander Isak netted a double and kept his cool to convert a last minute penalty. He also created a chance on his way to an 8.9 rating. Newcastle are now just two points off of a Champions League spot with two games in hand.

It is now back to back 2-1 wins for Newcastle as they appear to be heading out of their poor run of form.

We now know the FA Cup semi-final schedule after a memorable quarter-final round of fixtures.

Another Erling Haaland hat-trick

That was some week for Erling Haaland. The Manchester City forward scored five times against RB Leipzig in the Champions League and then netted a treble against Burnley.

The No. 9 scored three goals from five shots. In fact, he had more shots than he did completed passes (five to four). 

City put on a finishing clinic against the Championship leaders as Vincent Kompany’s return to the Etihad ended in a 6-0 defeat. The Premier League champions actually created seven big chances and had an xG of almost four in one of the most emphatic results of the season.

Sheffield United leave it late

Tommy Doyle struck a last minute winner to set up a semi-final tie with Manchester City, the team he’s on loan from. 

Despite being above Blackburn Rovers in the table, Sheffield United weren’t at their best and actually had a lower xG and created fewer big chances. However, two goals in the final 10 minutes booked a trip to Wembley, with Oli McBurnie levelling things up before Doyle’s wonder strike.

It capped off a fine performance from the 21-year-old midfielder as he claimed a FotMob rating of 9.1.

The Seagulls cruise in to the final four

In what was one of the most one-sided matches in FA Cup history, the Premier League outfit racked up an xG of 4.01. Grimsby put up a fight but the difference in quality was evident for all to see.

The star of the show was Evan Ferguson, he scored twice and created one opportunity for a teammate as he put in an eye-catching performance for Roberto De Zerbi’s side.

A minute of madness at Old Trafford

Fulham had Manchester United on the ropes. 

They had a 1-0 lead at Old Trafford and had opportunities to add a second, only to be thwarted by David De Gea. With just 18 minutes left to play, however, it all changed. 

Willan was sent off for a handball, Aleksandar Mitrović was sent off for his reaction, as was manager Marco Silva. Bruno Fernandes converted the penalty and minutes later United had the lead courtesy of a Marcel Sabitzer goal. 

Fernandes added a second in stoppage time to add gloss to the scoreline but that minute of complete madness lost Fulham the tie as Erik Ten Hag’s side booked yet another trip to Wembley. 

(Images from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 Premier League season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Last Weekend: Barcelona take a decisive step towards the title, Feyenoord’s statement win and more

Last Weekend: Barcelona take a decisive step towards the title, Feyenoord’s statement win and more

Club football went out with a bang ahead of the men’s international break, as there were huge derbies all over the world this weekend. We’ve picked out the best of the lot for our column, which also features a title decided in India.

By Neel Shelat

🇪🇸 Spain: Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid

The headline fixture of the weekend was undoubtedly El Clásico. Barcelona hosted Real Madrid with a nine-point lead at the top of LaLiga, so Los Blancos knew that they had to win to keep the title race alive.

The match got off to a great start for them, as they took the lead nine minutes in when Ronald Araújo inadvertently headed a cross into his own net from a very tight angle while attempting to make a block. They created next to nothing in terms of goal-scoring chances for the remainder of the first half, though, while Barcelona slowly began to turn up the pressure. It finally told on the stroke of half-time, when Sergi Roberto equalised by sweeping home a loose ball in the box.

The second half was a bit more even as both sides looked to trouble the opposition goalkeeper, but there were no goals as we entered the last 10 minutes of regulation time. Then, Real Madrid were celebrating a potential winner in the 81st minute as Marco Asensio turned a low cross home, but it was ruled out for offside after a lengthy VAR check. There was yet more late drama to come, as Barcelona won it in stoppage time when Franck Kessié guided Alejandro Balde’s delivery into a gaping goal.

That late twist in fortunes widened the gap at the top of LaLiga to 12 points. With as many rounds of fixtures left for the end of the season, it surely is just a matter of time now before Barcelona lift their first league trophy in four seasons.

🇳🇱 Netherlands: Ajax 2-3 Feyenoord

On any day, De Klassieker is regarded as the biggest rivalry in the Netherlands, but their match on Sunday was an even higher-stakes affair than usual. Beyond the two sides’ general animosity towards one another, this was a potentially pivotal fixture in the Eredivisie title race.

After a terrible start to 2023 that led to the sacking of Alfred Schreuder, Ajax seemed to be back to their dominant old selves under Johnny Heitinga. Although they did suffer elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Union Berlin, they had won each of their nine domestic fixtures in the 39-year-old head coach’s tenure before the big one.

Feyenoord capitalised on their rivals’ struggles by knocking them off their perch at the top of the table. They were unbeaten in all competitions since October and had dropped just eight points in the league since the turn of the year in spite of having faced Ajax in the reverse fixture, AZ, PSV and FC Twente. They had a three-point lead going into this match, but a loss would see them slip to second.

They would not have been worrying about that five minutes in, when Santiago Giménez silenced the Johan Cruyff Arena with an emphatic finish from close range. Ajax needed just over 10 minutes to respond from a set-piece thanks to Edson Álvarez, kicking off a story that had become all too familiar for Eredivisie fans in the last few years. Dušan Tadić’s goal in the 37th minute saw them lead at the half-time break, topping the live table as a result.

Feyenoord would not have been too down at the time, though. They have been comeback kings this season having picked up 21 points from losing positions in the league before this game – the highest such tally in Europe’s top 10 leagues. They took a huge step in adding to that tally just seven minutes into the second half by equalising through Sebastian Szymański, but there was more to come.

The period between the 84th and 86th minutes could well have been title-defining. First, Mohamed Kudus began to wheel away in celebration after striking a shot goalwards which looked to be going in for all the world, but Feyenoord’s second-choice keeper Timon Wellenreuther somehow got a fingertip to it. After successfully defending the subsequent corner, Feyenoord went up the other end and won one for themselves. Lutsharel Geertruida got on the end of it, and he scored yet another late winner for Feyenoord!

As AZ and PSV dropped points later on Sunday as well, Ajax kept hold of second place in what seems to be a two-horse title race now. Feyenoord have a six-point lead as well as a significantly easier fixture list on paper, so they have to be considered the favourites to win the Eredivisie for the first time since 2017.

🇩🇪 Germany: Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Bayern München

The Bundesliga title race is not half bad either this season, as Borussia Dortmund are keeping Bayern on their toes. Their draw in the Revierderby last weekend saw them slip a couple of points behind, but a lot can change in a weekend.

Dortmund spent Saturday night at the top of the table after thrashing Köln 6-1, applying a little bit of pressure on Bayern. The Rekordmeister had a tough fixture on Sunday against Bayer Leverkusen, who seemed a side transformed under Xabi Alonso after a historically poor start to the season. They still were ninth in the league but had just secured a spot in the Europa League quarter-finals in midweek.

There were few chances at either end in the first half, but a strike from Joshua Kimmich was good enough to give Bayern the lead and place them on course to return to the top of the standings. It was far from a convincing performance from them, but Germany is quite used to seeing Bayern edge out close games en route to titles over the last decade.

However, there was a big twist in the tale in store for us in the second half.

In the 53rd minute, Amine Adli went down in the box and attracted a booking for perceived simulation, but VAR showed the referee that he had actually been fouled. So, the decision was overturned and Leverkusen were given a penalty, which Exequiel Palacios dispatched. About fifteen minutes later, the exact same sequence of events was repeated as the hosts ultimately ended up taking the lead, and crucially held on to it.

This was an important victory for Die Werkself as they are within striking distance of the top six now, but of course, it also had major implications at the top of the table. Bayern have slipped behind Dortmund for the first time since September.

In other news, their first fixture after the international break sees the top two clash in Der Klassiker.

🇮🇹 Italy: Lazio 1-0 Roma

Not to be outdone, Serie A scheduled not one but two big derbies this weekend. The Derby d’Italia between Juventus and Inter rounded off the weekend’s action, so the first big battle was set in Rome.

Just two points separated Lazio and Roma in third and fifth respectively going into the fixture, so this was also going to be a key clash in the race to finish in the Champions League spots.

The eternal entertainer José Mourinho was not on the sidelines for this game as he served a four-match suspension, but he had done his part in adding fuel to the fire by taking a pop at Lazio’s Europa Conference League elimination in midweek while his side advanced to the Europa League quarter-finals. He’d still find a way to make the news after this game, but more on that later.

The match itself was more of a scrap than a game of football. The quality of chances being created was really poor, and of course, the players got involved in a fair few tussles. The pivotal moment came 32 minutes in when Roger Ibañez saw a second yellow card and was made to head down the tunnel, leaving his side a man short for the rest of the game.

Lazio were able to control proceedings thereafter, and they finally took the lead in the 65th minute thanks to Mattia Zaccagni’s pinpoint effort to the bottom corner. Roma thought that they had equalised from a set-piece within a couple of minutes, but the goal was ruled out for offside. And that was that for the noteworthy goalmouth action in this game, as Lazio came away with a 1-0 win.

That was not that for all the action surrounding this game, though. There was a bit of a brawl at full-time that saw a player sent off from either side, so their return to the dressing rooms was far from peaceful. Then, as the teams were leaving the stadium, there was reportedly a spat between some players wherein Mourinho and Lazio owner Claudio Lotito got involved, and it could well attract another investigation.

🇲🇽 Mexico: Tigres 0-1 Monterrey

We also had two big derbies in Liga MX this weekend, and they too were played back-to-back! El Súper Clásico between Chivas and Club América is considered the biggest rivalry in Mexico, so it was saved for the late kick-off slot. A couple of hours prior, Tigres and Monterrey kicked off the Clásico Regio.

The hosts had just returned from the United States of America where they knocked Orlando City out on away goals in the CONCACAF Champions League’s Round of 16. They had an even tougher test in store, though, because their great rivals were the league leaders and had a seven-point lead over them.

There was not a lot to separate the two sides and few clear-cut chances were being given up, so it appeared that a moment of magic would be needed to break the deadlock. Mexican international Luis Romo came up with just that in the 68th minute as he struck from a mile out and caught the goalkeeper by surprise with a rocket to the top corner.


As the cliché goes, that was a goal worthy of winning any game, so it proved enough for the visitors to come away with all three points here. With that, Monterrey made it an eight-point lead at the top of the table, but more importantly, they now are just a couple of wins away from confirming a top-four spot that will place them directly in the quarter-finals of the play-offs.

🇮🇳 India: ATK Mohun Bagan 2-2 Bengaluru (4-3 pens)

After a little over five months of football, the 2022/23 Indian Super League season drew to a close with the grand finale in Goa. Neither runaway ISL shield winners Mumbai City FC nor defending champions Hyderabad FC made it to this stage, as Bengaluru FC and ATK Mohun Bagan knocked them out in the semi-finals.

So, it was those two who faced off in what turned out to be a penalty-infused final. ATKMB top scorer Dimitri Petratos struck first in the 14th minute to give his side an early lead from the spot, but Sunil Chhetri erased that on the stroke of half-time after Roy Krishna, who conceded the first penalty, made amends in the opposition box.

Krishna went one better in the second half as he headed a corner home to give his side the lead in the 78th minute, but Petratos punched back from the spot again to take the game to extra time. There were no goals in this period, so we went on to penalties.

Bengaluru FC had recent experience of a shoot-out having overcome Mumbai City in this manner, but they faltered first when their third attempt was saved. ATKMB remained faultless, so Pablo Pérez’s sky-bound effort ended up deciding the ISL title

This was ATK Mohun Bagan’s first-ever ISL title, although their ISL predecessors ATK had won three titles in the past. In 2020, they merged in controversial fashion with Mohun Bagan AC – one of the oldest and biggest clubs in India. Technically, the new club was Mohun Bagan’s successor as their registration was used and the ATK entity was dissolved, but the ‘ATK’ prefix added to its name (since the ATK owners held an 80% stake) drew much ire from the Marines’ fans.

After seeing #RemoveATK trend on social media for almost three years, the owners finally budged and announced the club’s renaming in the immediate aftermath of the title win. They will now be known as Mohun Bagan SG, with the suffix standing for Super Giants – a reference to the Indian Premier League (cricket) team that is also owned by former ATK owner Sanjiv Goenka.

It should be said that this change has not gone down well with the supporters of ATK, although they are far fewer in number than Mohun Bagan fans. It appears you can’t keep everyone happy – even after winning a final.

Cover Image from IMAGO

Posted by Bill Biss
This Weekend: El Clásico, Derby d’Italia and the FA Cup quarter-finals

This Weekend: El Clásico, Derby d’Italia and the FA Cup quarter-finals

The best matches to follow this weekend

By Bill Biss


🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 There is a lot of quality football on offer this weekend but we start with the first quarter-final in the World’s oldest club competition, the English FA Cup. And that game sees Championship League leaders Burnley go to Manchester City. Or as it’s being billed mostly, the chance for the apprentice – Vincent Kompany – to pit his wits against the master, and his former coach – Pep Guardiola. That can’t be missed. Especially not with the prospect of a pent-up Erling Haaland who was withdrawn from Manchester City’s Champions League annihilation of Leipzig before the Norwegian had had the chance to complete his double hat-trick!

Back in the Premier League, Chelsea and Everton meet in a game that will test both sides’ recent improvement in form, and bottom side Southampton will be looking for points against Tottenham Hotspur, who, themselves need the win to maintain their top four challenge.

🇩🇪 It’s not been a good couple of weeks for Borussia Dortmund – first being knocked out of the Champions League from a winning position, then being pegged back by rivals, Schalke, to draw the Revierderby. They remain, however, just two points off Bundesliga leaders Bayern and can at least temporarily go above them should they pick up all three points from a home game against mid-table FC Köln.

🇪🇸 LaLiga’s main event comes on Sunday but there’s also a headline game on Saturday as Valencia travel to Atlético Madrid. Los Che are struggling to keep their heads above the relegation zone and are without so much as a goal in their last five away games but it’s a run they’ll be desperate to end at the Metropolitano. For their part, Atlético are unbeaten in nine and now look best placed to take third place behind Barcelona and Madrid.

🇮🇹 In Italy, the great footballing city of Milan will be celebrating the fact that both San Siro sides confirmed their places in the Champions League quarter-finals and that they were drawn on what looks like the ‘easier’ side of the draw made earlier today – more details on which you can find, here.

On Saturday though, Milan need to get back to business in Serie A as they concentrate on making sure they qualify for next season’s Champions League with a top four finish. They visit Udinese, who haven’t won any of their last 11 home games.

🇺🇸 The new MLS season continues at pace and our pick of the weekend games include LAFC’s trip to Seattle Sounders – the current MLS Cup Champions vs. the Concacaf Champions League holders. Speaking of which, LAFC survived a scare, at home, to Costa Rican side Alajuelense during the week before eventually pulling through to this year’s quarter-finals in that particular competition.

Elsewhere, St. Louis City could record the best winning start ever made by a new expansion side – if they can make it four wins from four against San Jose Earthquakes. And there’s an all-Texan Derby between Houston Dynamo and Austin FC.

🇲🇽 Not to be outdone by their counterparts in Europe (see Sunday’s listings) the powers that be, in Mexico, have ensured that two of Liga MX’s biggest rivalries are scheduled to take place on Saturday night. The Clásico Regiomontano sees leaders Monterrey go up against third placed city rivals Tigres and then it’s the big daddy of them all – the Superclásico between Chivas and América, who are currently sat fourth and fifth in the table.


🇪🇸 You might think the authorities running club football are trying to remind us of what we’ll be missing as the international break looms over the horizon. And you would be right because there’s a host of big games lined up for Sunday. Not least in LaLiga where Barcelona and Real Madrid, the top two, meet for what is already the third Clásico of 2023.

Barça have won the previous two – firstly, to lift the Supercopa back in January, and then to take a 1-0 lead from the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final back at the start of March. Should Real Madrid fail to win this game, and therefore make in-roads on Barcelona’s current nine point lead in the title race, they will have the chance to overturn that Copa game as soon as the first week of April.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 The remaining three FA Cup quarter-finals all take place on Sunday and despite the long history (150 years plus) of the competition we’ll still witness something rare when Grimsby Town take on Brighton. The Mariners are just the fifth side from the fourth tier to make it through to the last eight and the first ever to win five consecutive games against teams from a division above. The better omen for Brighton fans is perhaps the fact that none of the previous four teams from Grimsby’s division have gone on to win their quarter-final matches!

Fresh from the completion of their two-legged Europa League win over Real Betis, Manchester United will continue their hunt for a second domestic Cup win of the season when they take on Fulham. And there’s an all-Championship tie between Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers, the sides currently sat second and fifth in England’s second tier.

Just one Premier League game goes ahead as planned on Sunday with leaders Arsenal taking on Crystal Palace. The Gunners will need to move on swiftly from their own Europa League disappointment – the penalty shootout loss to Sporting – as they continue the march towards a first league title since 2004. They may want to watch out for that classic new manager bounce though, as the Eagles dispensed with the services of coach, Patrick Vieira on Friday morning.

🇮🇹 Similarly to the Clásico rivals in Spain, Italy’s two most successful clubs – Inter and Juventus – are about to get very well acquainted with each other. This weekend’s Derby d’Italia is the first of three meetings between the two that are taking place over the next month or so as they too, have been drawn together in the semi-finals of the biggest domestic cup competition.

Inter currently sit second in the table (a full 18 points down on leaders Napoli) but a win against their old rivals would help secure that position in the event that Juve are successful in their appeal to overturn their 15 point deduction. With 12 points currently the difference between the two, we’d then – hypothetically speaking – be getting in to goal difference and head-to-head differentials.

Elsewhere, city rivals Lazio and Roma will meet at the Stadio Olimpico. Never one to cool the temperature of an always heated Derby Day, José Mourinho will only have stoked the fire with his comments mocking Lazio after their surprise defeat in the Europa Conference League on Thursday night. That, of course, came after Roma had secured their own place in the Europa League quarter-finals.

Those two huge match-ups aside, Napoli, the actual Serie A champions-elect will be visiting Turin to play eighth placed Torino in a game played earlier in the day.

🇳🇱 Just six points separate the top four in the Eredivisie title race, meaning a clash between any two of those sides could prove crucial. And well, when they also happen to be Ajax and Feyenoord, the two main protagonists, and the nation’s biggest rivals, that is especially the case. Feyenoord smashed seven goals past Shakhtar to progress in the Europa League on Thursday so they come into De Klassieker on a high. And with the benefit of three more points than Ajax, the three-time defending champions.

🇫🇷 PSG have a significantly more comfortable 10 point lead at the top of Ligue 1 and they’ll be back in action on Sunday – albeit they come up against Rennes, a side they’ve only beaten twice in their last six meetings. And elsewhere, Marseille, PSG’s nearest challengers face Stade Reims, the side that Will Still has famously led on a record 18 games unbeaten run since taking over the role of head coach. Can the young, technically under-qualified, Belgian born, Englishman maintain that unbeaten run against one of the giants of French football?

🇧🇷 And last but not least for this weekend’s preview, we take you to Brazil, where the various State Championships are coming to a head before we move on to the full league season proper. In Rio, that means we get the second leg of the semi-final between arch-rivals Vasco da Gama and Flamengo.

Having got the better of Flamengo earlier in the competition, Vasco find themselves 3-2 down heading in to this one after an action-packed first leg played at the Maracanã last week.

If you want to follow any of the games mentioned above, click on the relevant link and tap the bell icon to receive all the key match updates.

Or join us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to discuss all the important football going on this weekend!

Cover Image from IMAGO

Posted by Bill Biss
Serie A Review: Napoli’s Georgian super star and the race for Europe

Serie A Review: Napoli’s Georgian super star and the race for Europe

This week we can officially confirm that Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is going places. And we pose two questions: 1) What happened to the great Italian no. 9s? And 2) Does anyone, besides Napoli, want to take up the Champions League qualification spots available in Serie A this season?

By Matteo Bonetti, US Serie A expert


I’ve seen enough; Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is world class. The recently turned 22-year-old has been one of the most exciting break out stars that the Serie A has had in decades.

His goals this season have been a continuous highlight reel, and the one he scored over the weekend in Napoli’s win over Atalanta was easily up there as one of the best. With three defenders right in front of him, Kvara once again opted to create space with his signature chop to either side. A series of fakes led to him finding that space in an almost comically easy way, where he was then able to unleash a bullet of a shot into the near post.

The goal was an encapsulation of everything the Georgian does so well and the great partnership he’s formed with striker Victor Osimhen, who played the pass that setup the goal. Kvara is virtually unplayable in a one-on-one situation. As a defender, how do you mark a player who is just as comfortable going to either foot? Add to his two-footedness a vision, technique and passing skill that can unlock the best of defences, and you suddenly have one of the most feared players in Europe.

Kvara-mania has swept not just the city of Naples, but his entire nation of Georgia. Every Napoli home game has seemingly hundreds of Georgian fans in the stands. Not only are fans flying from the capital, Tbilisi to Naples on a weekly basis, but he’s filling theatres in his native homeland every single time Napoli plays.

There’s a ton of exciting wingers with fancy dribbles in Europe, but what makes Kvaratskhelia so special is his unique style. He’s a bit of a maverick on the ball. Instead of using step-overs, elasticos or rabonas, he creates space with perfectly timed body feints and chops. It’s what he does when he does find a sliver of room that’s truly impressive though. He isn’t just a one-trick pony, he’s just as clever at setting up his teammates for goals as he is at scoring them himself. 11 goals and a league high 9 assists put his total goal contributions at 20, a remarkable rate for a player who is still supposed to be so inexperienced at the highest level.

The sky truly is the limit for Kvara, and we’re all fortunate to be witnessing his rise to superstardom.

Italy’s no. 9 problem

Taking a slight turn away from Serie A and onto the Italian national team, there’s an issue here that looks more dire than usual – the Azzurri have a huge problem at the centre-forward position. There just aren’t many young Italian strikers who are doing well or getting much competitive football. With Ciro Immobile injured (and let’s be honest, disspointing any time he wears the national team colours), the hope was that there would be a next wave of attacking talent to allow the older Italian strikers to sail off into the sunset.

By far the most talented U25 striker that Mancini should theoretically call upon is West Ham’s Gianluca Scamacca, but he’s hardly played this season under David Moyes, and Roberto Mancini only wants to use players that are in form. It’s perplexing why Scamacca, a tall, skilful striker who scored 16 league goals for Sassuolo last season, would be such a non-factor for his new club after making the €36m move last summer. So far, he’s only started 11 games for West Ham and scored three Premier League goals – not enough to convince Mancini at the moment. It’s unfortunate to see a player as talented as Scamacca being used as a rotational player for a lower half of the table team, when he could be very useful for plenty of Serie A clubs fighting for the Champions League (Milan comes to mind as the ideal team for Scamacca and his quality).

So what are the alternatives? Talented second striker/winger options like Federico Chiesa, Gianluca Raspadori and Wilfried Gnonto aren’t prototypical no. 9s, so Italy’s manager has had to look to foreign leagues in the hopes of finding new players to call up who have Italian blood from generations ago. In comes 23-year-old Italo-Argentine Mateo Retegui, who at the very least has been playing and scoring. Retegui has smashed in 28 goals in 47 league games for Argentine side Tigre in the last two seasons, with his tally at nearly a goal a game in the 2023 campaign. Aside from him, an even more surprising inclusion to the Italian preliminary call-up list was Andrea Compagno, a hulking striker who moved from Italy’s fourth division to Romanian football and has been finding plenty of success scoring goals for Bucharest based club FCSB. 

Italian strikers of years gone by, have usually been playing and scoring regularly in the Serie A so it remains to be seen whether these players can translate their respective domestic goal scoring exploits onto the national stage.

Does anyone want the Champions League spots?

None of the Serie A teams from second to sixth place were able to win their games over the weekend, continuing the narrative that Napoli are in a league of their own and then comes everyone else. Spots two to five are separated by only three points, and that’s without Juventus potentially getting back their 15 point deduction, which would further congest the race for the other three Champions League spots.

Inter somehow lost to struggling Spezia, Salernitana picked up their first ever point at San Siro against Milan, Roma succumbed to Sassuolo in a seven-goal thriller, while Lazio drew to Bologna. These results all scream of a league where pretty much every contender other than Napoli has been underwhelming. Are Napoli really 18 points better than second place in the table, or is it just one of those bizarre seasons where most of the results make little sense and are hard to analyse?

Just look at who the top teams are dropping points to. Only weeks ago, Roma lost to Cremonese, gifting the minnows their first win of the season. This isn’t an isolated case though, as these provincial minnows have somehow been able to steal crucial points from the top teams all season long. In the Premier League, this could make more sense as even lower half of the table sides are able to sign €50m players. In Serie A, the wage bills of some of the bottom half of the table sides mirror what you might find in the English third division. Point being, some of these games really shouldn’t be as competitive as they have been. It’s a minor miracle that these newly promoted sides (a lot of whom have not been able to buy top flight talent), can make games seem like even affairs against teams with 10x their wage bill. It’s a testament to the tactical preparation and discipline of even the smallest sides, and the overall coaching level in the league. 

With all these dropped points from every team not named Napoli, the biggest race to look forward to now in the final months of the season is the one to determine the rest of the Champions League places. 

(Napoli’s dominance is a reminder of all those seasons in the 2010s where Juventus’ dynasty meant there was hardly any competition for the actual Scudetto race.)

(Cover image from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 Serie A season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
LaLiga Review: It’s as we were as the top three all find a way to win

LaLiga Review: It’s as we were as the top three all find a way to win

Not a lot may have changed in the league table but it was a weekend of fine margins; Barça winning by a single goal, Madrid needing to come from behind, and Atlético leaving it late on Monday night. Read on for the full lowdown.

By Ben Hayward, LaLiga expert

Barça are the 1-0 specialists

Barcelona’s ninth 1-0 win in LaLiga this season saw the Catalans finish the weekend nine points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table, with El Clásico up next at Camp Nou.

The game at San Mames on Sunday was marked by two major incidents, both reversed by VAR: Raphinha’s goal for Barcelona at the end of the first half was initially ruled offside and then awarded after a check confirmed he was on when Sergio Busquets played the pass; and what Athletic Club thought was a late leveller scored by Iñaki Williams was chalked off after the video assistant referee spotted that the ball had come off Iker Muniain’s arm earlier in the move,

“It has happened to us again,” Xavi said. “We played for 75 minutes at a good level. At San Mames, you end up suffering: balls into the box, set pieces… at 1-0, they make you suffer. It’s a golden win. We keep the nine points [advantage]. We go into the Clásico with confidence.”

Athletic had hit the crossbar in the first half and Barça had goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen to thank for a vital same in added time. “Marc has been extraordinary,” Xavi said. And in 25 LaLiga matches this season, Barcelona have still only conceded eight goals.

On the decision which saw Athletic denied an equaliser, he said: “It’s a clear handball from Muniain.” But Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde was frustrated. “It’s something that is far from real football,” he said. “I’ve seen the image on television out of the corner of my eye… and I don’t know. In any case, it’s all the same. It’s not whether it hits him more or less on the shoulder or arm. It’s a question of what football is and what it isn’t. VAR is there to correct flagrant errors, if the ball goes in or there is a penalty, but [this time] the referee is called for a play that has occurred five previous passes [before the goal]… .it has happened to us and other times it will happen to others.”

Athletic’s fans did not like it either. Earlier, they had thrown fake money at Barcelona’s players as the row over the Catalan club’s payment of a former vice-president of Spain’s referee committee rumbles on.

At the weekend, Real Madrid released a statement saying they will appear at the trial when the case is opened up to affected parties. The announcement surprised Barcelona and will add further spice to next weekend’s Clásico clash at Camp Nou. But on the pitch, Barça go into that match safe in the knowledge of their nine point advantage.

100 up for Ancelotti

On Saturday, Real Madrid came from behind to beat Espanyol 3-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Vinícius Júnior, Éder Militão and Marco Asensio all on the scoresheet for Los Blancos.

With Karim Benzema rested to ease an ankle problem ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash at home to Liverpool, Los Blancos fell behind to a Joselu strike early in the game but came back to win comfortably in the end.

Vinícius levelled with a fine cutback and low drive from just inside the box after 22 minutes and Militão made it 2-1 at the break with a towering header later in the half. Asensio added a third against his former club in stoppage time.

“The beginning wasn’t spectacular, but we came back in the first half and we controlled the second,” coach Carlo Ancelotti said after his 100th LaLiga win for Real Madrid. “We had to win and we did. Onto the next game.”

The next game for Real Madrid in LaLiga is against Barcelona at Camp Nou on Sunday, but before that Los Blancos are at home to Liverpool in the second leg of the teams’ Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.

“A very important week is beginning, with the Champions League and the Clásico,” Ancelotti said. “We’re in good shape.” And on his 100 wins in LaLiga, he joked: “Let’s go for the next 100!”

Morata to the rescue

Atlético Madrid moved three points clear of Real Sociedad in third place as their impressive recent form continued with a last-gasp 1-0 victory at Girona on Monday night.

Substitute Álvaro Morata poked home at the far post from close range after Ángel Correa had diverted an Antoine Griezmann corner into his path in added time. There was a lengthy VAR check to see if the striker was onside, but the goal stood and Atlético came away with all three points.

“I hear from many strategists who like attractive football that 1-0 is also attractive,” Atlético coach Diego Simeone said after the game, in reference to Barcelona’s run of wins by that scoreline this season. “I give a lot of value to winning 1-0 because it speaks of your intensity.”

Atlético look favourites for third now as Real Sociedad were held 1-1 at Mallorca and appear to be fading in the latter part of the season, as they have in previous campaigns. Real Betis remain fifth after a 1-1 draw at home to sixth-place Villarreal.

At the bottom, Sevilla and Valencia both moved out of the relegation zone after big wins. Sevilla beat Almería 2-1 in a hard-fought Andalusian derby and climb to 13th, while Valencia won 1-0 at home to Osasuna and are up to 17th, although still level on points with Getafe below them. Almería are in 19th, with Elche way back on just 13 points in last place.

(Images from IMAGO)

You can follow every match from the 2022/23 LaLiga season live with FotMob — featuring deep stats coverage including shot maps, xG, and player ratings. Download the free app here.

Posted by Bill Biss
Last Weekend: No winners in the Revierderby, Spezia beat Inter, and more

Last Weekend: No winners in the Revierderby, Spezia beat Inter, and more

As we slowly inch closer to the end of the 2022/23 season, things are starting to heat up at both ends of tables in various leagues. This week’s column focuses on some tight relegation battles and dramatic title races from across Europe that are set to go right down to the wire.

By Neel Shelat

🇩🇪 Germany: Schalke 2-2 Borussia Dortmund

The Revierderby was the Topspiel in the Bundesliga this weekend, not just because it is arguably Germany’s biggest derby but also because it was set to have significant ramifications at either end of the table. Hosts Schalke started the weekend in the relegation zone level on points with both bottom-club Bochum and 15th-placed Stuttgart, while Dortmund were alongside Bayern at the top of the table.

This was the late kick-off on Saturday, so previous results heightened its importance even further. Bochum’s win on Friday sent Schalke to the bottom, while fellow relegation battlers Stuttgart and Hertha Berlin also picked up points earlier in the day. Simultaneously, Bayern beat Augsburg 5-3, leaving Dortmund needing to chase them again.

Dortmund’s first half performance was quite poor by recent standards as they were quite sloppy at the back and let in a few needless chances. Nonetheless, they were ahead at half-time thanks to a long-range strike from Nico Schlotterbeck.

Having posed next to no threat of their own from open play, Schalke equalised five minutes into the second period as Marius Bülter turned in Michael Frey’s ball across the box. Dortmund retook the lead through Raphaël Guerreiro within ten minutes, but there was another twist in the tale late on as Kenan Karaman’s header pulled Schalke back level.

A goal for either side in the last ten minutes might have had the potential to be season-defining, but the match ended 2-2. That result did neither side much good as Schalke remained in the relegation zone and Dortmund slipped two points behind Bayern, but it was the hosts who were much happier at the end.

🇮🇹 Italy: Spezia 2-1 Inter

We have to go back to Friday to get our Serie A match for the weekend. Second-placed Inter visited Spezia, who were just one spot above the relegation zone.

Simone Inzaghi’s side were totally dominant in the first half. They attempted 16 shots, including a 14th-minute penalty from Lautaro Martínez, but they failed to score. Spezia went in level at the break largely thanks to Bartłomiej Drągowski, who made four saves besides the spot-kick.

The hosts drew first blood in the 55th minute thanks to Milan loanee Daniel Maldini (son of Paolo), who scored his first goal in four months after some great hold-up play by M’Bala Nzola. Inter’s pressure finally told in the 83rd minute, when they won another penalty. Romelu Lukaku stepped up this time, and he converted.

It seemed Spezia were on course to extend their winless run to eight matches, but there was more penalty drama in store. A couple of minutes after Inter’s equaliser, Denzel Dumfries committed a silly foul in his own box to give Nzola the chance to win the game for his side, which he gladly accepted.

Having converted two of their four shots, Spezia recorded their first-ever win over Inter to open up a five-point gap to the drop zone. At the top of the table, Napoli restored their 18-point advantage over closest challengers (if we can even call them that) Inter after beating Atalanta 2-0.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England: Everton 1-0 Brentford

Going into their match against relegation-battlers Everton, Brentford were on an absolute roll in the Premier League. They had not tasted defeat in their last 12 matches, which was the longest ongoing unbeaten run in the league. This form had brought them to the cusp of the race for Europe.

Everton would have been quite keen to end that record. After coming away with six points from the first three games under Sean Dyche, they only added one in the next three, which meant that they were back down in the relegation zone. They really needed a good result in this game, especially because their subsequent three matches see them face Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United.

The Toffees got off to the perfect start as Goodison Park was celebrating 35 seconds after kick-off when Dwight McNeil picked out the top corner from the edge of the box. They thought they added a second close to half-time through Demarai Gray after a free-kick reached the box, but it went in off his hand so VAR got involved.

It was all Brentford in the second half, but a resolute defensive showing from Everton, especially inside their penalty area, ensured that the three points stayed in Merseyside. They propelled Everton up to 15th in what looks set to be one of the closest Premier League relegation battles of our time, as just five points separate bottom-club Southampton from 12th-placed Crystal Palace.

🇫🇷 France: Marseille 2-2 Strasbourg

After narrowly missing out on European qualification under Julien Stéphan last season, Strasbourg’s fortunes have turned quite dramatically this time around. They are still involved in a close battle, just at the wrong end of the table.

Stéphan was sacked in early January after Strasbourg’s elimination from the Coupe de France, at a time when they were second from bottom in the league. His assistant Mathieu Le Scornet took interim charge for the next month and added seven points in six matches, after which Frédéric Antonetti was appointed as head coach on more of a long-term basis.

After a win, a draw and a loss in his first three league matches, the ex-Rennes man took his side to Marseille to face the side closest to PSG at the top of the table. It seemed they would be in for a good day at the Orange Vélodrome when Leonardo Balerdi saw a straight red card at the half-hour mark, but they failed to score before the half-time whistle despite creating a couple of presentable chances.

In the second period, things seemed to come crumbling down. Chancel Mbemba opened the scoring for Marseille by turning in the rebound after a free-kick in the 49th minute. With 15 minutes left on the clock, Alexis Sánchez won and converted a penalty for the hosts to make it 2-0. It seemed Strasbourg were well on course to slip back into the drop zone.

But, there was some late drama to come. In the 88th minute, Jean Aholou headed home from a corner to give his side some hope, and just 85 seconds later, he fired a thunderous effort to the top corner from a fair way out to salvage a point.

This point keeps Strasbourg out of the relegation zone, but only on goal difference. Since four teams are getting relegated this season as Ligue 1 gets trimmed to an 18-team competition, Strasbourg are under real threat even in 15th place.

🇧🇬 Bulgaria: CSKA 1948 0-1 PFA CSKA-Sofia

There is a big story brewing over in Bulgaria, where the longest ongoing title-winning streak in Europe’s top-flight risk is at risk of ending. Ludogorets Razgrad have won the First Professional League in each of the last 11 seasons, but they find themselves four points behind CSKA-Sofia at the moment.

CSKA are the most successful club in the country historically, but a lot has gone on with them in the last decade. They went bankrupt in 2016, but as is often the case when such big sides go bust, successors emerged quickly.

Bulgarian businessman Grisha Ganchev had bought the club in 2015, but after they failed to acquire a professional license for the subsequent season, he came up with a complicated solution. He also owned lower-tier side Litex Lovech (named after his automobile company), so he essentially decided to rename them to PFC-CSKA Sofia and use their professional license to establish them as the successors to CSKA Sofia in the top-flight.

The Bulgarian Football Union recognised them as such, and eventually, UEFA would do so too. However, a group of CSKA Sofia fans were not happy with this, so they went and formed a club of their own called CSKA 1948 (which was the year the original CSKA Sofia was founded).

CSKA 1948 had to work their way up the Bulgarian pyramid, which they did in four seasons. From 2020/21 onwards, there have been two CSKAs coexisting in the Bulgarian top-flight, although CSKA-Sofia won the rights to the original club’s badge and forced CSKA 1948 to change theirs. Still, the latter claim to be the successors to the original CSKA Sofia.

Either way, the two find themselves first and third this season in one of the closest title races in the country in recent memory. CSKA 1948 were nine points behind their rivals going into this weekend’s crunch derby, and that gap has been extended to 12 points after a narrow win for the visitors.

We still have seven matchdays of the regular season left before the Championship play-off begins, but it appears that we are in for a two-horse title race.

🇨🇿 Czechia: Slavia Prague 2-1 Viktoria Plzeň

We definitely have a three-horse title race in Czechia, though, where two of the contenders met this weekend. Defending champions Viktoria Plzeň started the weekend in second and visited leaders Slavia Prague with a one-point gap to them as well as third-placed Sparta Prague.

Sparta beat Banik Ostrava in the early kick-off on Saturday to momentarily jump up to the top of the standings, although there was no chance of them staying there regardless of the result in the big match later on. Nevertheless, they will have been watching on very closely of course.

16 minutes in, Viktoria Plzeň took the lead through Tomáš Chorý. As things stood, they would climb up to first place with Sparta second and Slavia third, while the gap between the top three would remain just two points. However, that was not to be as the home side staged a second half turnaround.

Departing forward Peter Olayinka (who will join Crvena Zvezda in the summer) equalised five minutes after the break by turning in a corner. The decisive moment came 76 minutes in, when substitute Ondřej Lingr got on the end of a dangerous ball across the box and fired it home, scoring the winner. 

A four-point gap between the top three still means that we should be in for a very close title race, especially since they will all face each other in the Championship play-offs.

Cover Image from IMAGO

Posted by Bill Biss
Premier League Review: Arsenal march on and City find a way as the Cherries shock Liverpool

Premier League Review: Arsenal march on and City find a way as the Cherries shock Liverpool

It wasn’t quite as goal filled as last weekend but there were some significant results in the Premier League. 

With that in mind, here’s a deep dive into the biggest talking points from across the English top flight.

By Sam McGuire, Premier League expert

The Cherries come out on top

Heading into this game, everything pointed towards a Liverpool win. Bournemouth were bottom of the table and had given up a 2-0 lead against Arsenal in their last outing, losing with the last kick of the game. 

Yet the hosts claimed an unlikely 1-0 win to lift themselves out of the relegation zone. Philip Billing scored what turned out to be the winner in the first half with Mohamed Salah missing from the spot after the break. 

The Reds spurned all four big chances and now find themselves further behind in the race for the top four. 

A sting in the tail for the Bees

Following Bournemouth’s win over Liverpool, Everton needed something at home to Brentford. 

The Toffees were in the relegation zone and hadn’t won in three but found themselves ahead after just 35 seconds, courtesy of a Dwight McNeil effort. 

Luck was on their side too with Brentford creating chances with an Expected Goals value of 2.1 but the away team failed to convert. In fact, the second half was all Brentford, with 1.72 of their xG haul coming after the break. 

The rise of Richarlison

Earlier in the week, Richarlison fairly publicly demanded more game time. Antonio Conte responded to this by starting him against Nottingham Forest and he had the ball in the back of the net after three minutes. 

However, it was ruled out for offside. That shouldn’t detract from his performance though. Yes, Harry Kane netted a double and yes, Heung-Min Son got in on the act but the Brazilian was still quite impressive, even without a goal. 

He won the penalty that the Spurs No. 10 tucked away and he finished with an assist. 

In fact, only Kane (9.0) could better Richarlison’s FotMob rating (8.5).

City find a way to win

It wasn’t the prettiest Manchester City win but they picked up maximum points to keep the pressure on Arsenal. 

Erling Haaland scored the winner from the penalty spot but the star of the show was undoubtedly Rodri. The midfielder was given an 8.7 FotMob rating for his performance having won eight of his 12 ground duels, three of his five aerial duels all while recovering the ball an astonishing 16 times. 

It might not be highlight reel worthy but that showing was as integral to the win as Haaland’s penalty. 

The Gunners march on

An away trip to Craven Cottage has the potential to be a banana skin trip for top teams. Especially when just a couple of days earlier you’d played out a 2-2 draw in Portugal against Sporting. 

City would’ve no doubt been looking at this and thinking there’s a chance that Arsenal drop points here and yet the game was over by the break. 

Arsenal blitzed Fulham in those opening 45 minutes and fully deserved the 3-0 halftime lead. 

There was a bit of a scare early on when Antonee Robinson had a goal ruled out by VAR but aside from that, Arsenal never looked in any danger of falling to a defeat. 

He may not have got onto the scoresheet but Leandro Trossard was the difference maker for the Gunners, chipping in with three assists. The January signing is really playing his part in this title charge.

The Saints halt the Red Devils

Manchester United had to win to maintain their lead over Spurs but could only manage a draw against Southampton at Old Trafford. 

In truth, it was a bad day at the office for Erik Ten Hag’s side as they lost Casemiro to a red card in the first half. The hosts then took control and had more of the ball, more shots and a higher Expected Goals total. 

The Saints are still bottom of the table but are now only five points off of Crystal Palace in 12th.

(Images from IMAGO)

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Posted by Bill Biss
This Weekend: European title races and Schalke vs. Dortmund in the Revierderby

This Weekend: European title races and Schalke vs. Dortmund in the Revierderby

The best matches to follow this weekend

By Bill Biss


🇩🇪 The heated Bundesliga title race will go up another notch this weekend as both Bayern and Dortmund – who, remember, are locked together on 49 points – play local rivals. The more heated of the two rivalries is, of course, the Revierderby which pitches Schalke vs. Dortmund. As one of Germany’s most famous games, this will naturally get a lot of attention but it is even more important than usual for both sides.

Schalke have struggled since their return to Germany’s top flight and are currently one of four sides who are all sat together on 19 points at the bottom of the table. However, they come in to the game having won back-to-back games (against Stuttgart and Bochum) for the first time this season and a third win on the bounce would be seismic for their survival chances.

Dortmund suffered their first competitive defeat of the year – at Chelsea in the Champions League – but will be aiming to break their current all-time record of eight consecutive wins in the league, adding extra motivation to an already heavily motivated squad.

For their part, Bayern will be hosting their smaller Bavarian neighbours from Augsburg. Usually speaking, this is a home banker for Bayern but they have lost the last two league meetings when travelling to Augsburg, albeit, they may have shaken off that hoodoo with a 5-2 win in the Pokal, at Augsburg, back in October.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 In England, we get six Saturday fixtures starting with Liverpool’s trip to Bournemouth. The Cherries sit bottom of the Premier League and having lost 9-0 at Anfield earlier in the season won’t have enjoyed watching Jürgen Klopp’s side put seven past Manchester United in that amazing game last weekend.

For Klopp though, it will be all about continuing the momentum, especially with that possible lost cause that they need to chase at Real Madrid this coming Wednesday.

With Arsenal playing on Sunday, Manchester City have the chance to close the gap to the league leaders to one point, should they win at Crystal Palace. The Eagles are winless in 10 games now but City do have their own Champions League knock-out tie – on Tuesday, against RB Leipzig, to think about so we may see some rotation from Pep Guardiola.

Elsewhere, Graham Potter will be hoping to take some of the current pressure off of his shoulders and heap it on to that of Brendon Rogers, with a positive result for Chelsea at Leicester City. And fresh from their Champions League exit at the hands of Milan, Tottenham Hotspur host Nottingham Forest in a week where Forest coach, Steve Cooper has had to play down rumours naming him as a potential future manager of Spurs. That could be quite the job interview.

🇮🇹 Napoli saw their mammoth lead in Serie A cut down to a mere 15 points as they suffered their first home defeat of the season, at the hands of Lazio last Friday, so they will be keen to get back to winning ways when they face sixth placed Atalanta. And the aforementioned Lazio could jump back in to second should they continue their domestic form at Bologna. On the European stage, they will be seeking to turnaround a surprise 2-1 defeat to AZ Alkmaar when they travel to the Netherlands for the second leg of their Conference League tie next week.

🇪🇸 In La Liga, Real Madrid will prepare for that clash with Liverpool with a home game against Espanyol. Carlo Ancelotti’s side needed some late magic from Karim Benzema to win at Barcelona’s other team back in Round 3 but you’d expect them to win this one more comfortably at the Bernabéu. And if they do, they’ll cut Barça’s lead at the top of the table to five points.

🇫🇷 For PSG, after yet another failure in the Champions League (the Parisians limped out of the first knockout stage with defeat at Bayern), means for some serious fallout that will no doubt continue in to the weekend. And that will only worsen if there’s no spark on show in their Ligue 1 fixture at Brest. After all, there’s still a league title to fight for and their current eight point cushion isn’t yet safe with the form Marseille are proving capable of this season.

🇺🇸 Round 3 of the new season in Major League Soccer features a number of interesting looking fixtures. St. Louis City have started life with back-to-back wins as the newest addition to the league but surely they’ll be tested by the trip to Portland Timbers – a team with a longer history than most in North America. In the opposing Conference, NYCFC (D1, L1) face Inter Miami, with Phil Neville’s Floridians one of only two Eastern sides who’ve won both of their opening fixtures. And in a cross-conference game, current Concacaf Champions League holders Seattle Sounders, who’ve yet to concede a goal, have a long trip to Cincinnati (W1, D1).


🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 As we’re in the middle of an important couple of weeks in UEFA’s club competitions, we’ll see a bumper selection of games in the Premier League on Sunday. They include Arsenal’s cross-town visit to Fulham, who sit seventh. The league leaders were held to a 2-2 draw at Sporting in the Europa League on Thursday night and they’ll come up against a side unbeaten in their last four games – albeit, the Gunners do boast the best away record in the division and haven’t lost to the Cottagers in their last nine meetings!

Manchester United‘s return to form against Real Betis, also in the Europa League, suggests that last weekend’s thrashing at the hands of their biggest foes, Liverpool, was something of an anomaly. With Southampton the visitors to Old Trafford on Sunday, we’ll see whether they can get back to winning ways in the league.

Further down the table, Newcastle United will be looking to end a run of three successive 2-0 defeats when they take on Wolves and there’s an important game for West Ham as they play Aston Villa, who sit in the relative safety of 11th. From Villa downwards it’s a different story with five points separating Palace, in 12th, to Everton who are 18th and occupying the final relegation spot.

🇪🇸 There will also be a more customary four games in LaLiga, all of which will have some impact on both ends of the table. Leaders Barcelona travel to the Basque Country to face ninth placed Athletic Club, a fixture where they’ll be reunited with former coach Ernesto Valverde. With goals somewhat at a premium in recent weeks for Barça it will be interesting to see how well they can break down a stubborn defensive side.

Elsewhere, Real Sociedad could move third with a win in Mallorca, fifth play sixth as Betis and Villarreal clash at the Estadio de la Cerámica, and there’s a six pointer at Sevilla, who face Almería. The two sides are level on points either side of the relegation zone with Sevilla holding a slender advantage due to their superior goal difference. But even then, that could only be temporary – a draw would mean the sides are still level on points but Almería would move above Sevilla by virtue of their win in the earlier meeting between the two. Once all games are played, this head-to-head record takes precedence over goal difference in LaLiga.

🇩🇪 With the main Bundesliga action coming on Saturday, and at the top of this column, the main game to look out for on Sunday is Union Berlin’s trip to eighth placed Wolfsburg. Presuming at least one of Bayern and/or Dortmund win their respective derby games, Union will need a win in order to stay within five points of the league leaders. And perhaps now, more importantly, at least two points ahead of the sides below them in the battle for a Champions League place next season.

🇺🇸 Only six of the 29 sides in MLS still maintain a 100% record as we move into just the third weekend of the season and two of those – LAFC and New England Revolution meet each other in Sunday night’s closing fixture. LAFC continued their good start with a convincing 3-0 away win at Costa Rican side Alajuelense in a midweek Concacaf Champions League game and the MLS Cup holders will be confident on home soil. The Revs, though, have conceded none and scored four in their wins over Charlotte and Houston as they look to improve on last season’s 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference, having won the Supporters Shield just a year earlier.

🇧🇪 We’ll leave you this week with a game between the two best sides – on current form – in the Belgian Pro League. Genk are running away with it but as we know, there’s no guarantee they’ll maintain that position once the league is split and the Championship group fixtures take place. And their weekend opponents, Union St. Gilloise are the side best placed to overhaul them as this interesting league format unfolds. Union featured in a breathless 3-3 draw at Union Berlin in the Europa League on Thursday, and with the return leg coming up next week, may therefore be at a disadvantage heading in to this battle between the top two.

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Cover Image from IMAGO

Posted by Bill Biss