Last Weekend: Union bounce back again, Sporting slip up and more
It’s Monday, and therefore a fine time to wrap up all the major action from this weekend. We have picked out six of the biggest in our column, including some top-of-the-table clashes in Germany and Portugal, a loss leading to a sacking in England and some records being broken in India.FotMob - 8 months ago
By Neel Shelat
🇩🇪 Germany: RB Leipzig 1-2 Union Berlin
Among the top five men’s leagues in Europe, the gap between the top four is the smallest in the Bundesliga – by some margin.
Union Berlin’s visit to RB Leipzig had symbolic ramifications on much more than a potential title race or at least top four race. Yes, Union were a point off Bayern going into the weekend but Leipzig seemed their closest contenders having picked up the most points in the league and remained unbeaten at home since Marco Rose took charge.
It is no secret that everyone is a bit tired of Bayern Munich’s domination in the Bundesliga, yet almost all fans of the league would rather see them win the next 10 league titles than witness RB Leipzig lift even one. The reason behind that is very well-documented – Leipzig are exempt from the 50+1 rule which promotes fan ownership in Germany, and it is this exception that has allowed Red Bull to pump money into the club to go from not existing in 2007 to becoming Champions League regulars now.
The only common trait Union Berlin share with RB Leipzig is that they are both based in regions that formerly made up East Germany. They are polar opposites in almost every other regard, though, as they are fully fan-owned, have a rich history and operate on a tight budget. They represent a community, while RB Leipzig represent a brand.
On the pitch, the hosts struck first through Benjamin Henrichs, taking a deserved lead into the break. But everyone knew that the match was far from done because Union roared back in the second half as they always seem to do. Janik Haberer equalised with a thunderous strike in the 61st minute, before Robin Knoche scored from the spot 10 minutes later to win a match which produced one of the most unique shotmaps out there.
That was Leipzig’s first loss in 19 matches in all competitions and first at home under Rose, and it has caused them to drop out of the top four. Union remain hot on the heels of Bayern Munich with six wins from six since the World Cup break, four of which have involved winning from a losing position.
🇵🇹 Portugal: Sporting 1-2 FC Porto
Just a couple of weeks after the two sides met for the League Cup final, Sporting and Porto went at it again in the league.
Porto emerged victorious in that match to lift their first-ever Taça da Liga trophy, but Sporting must have felt quite hard done by the result as their performance was pretty good. On that basis, they would have hoped to come away with a little more in the league fixture.
But, Sérgio Conceição had a trick up his sleeve. In that League Cup final, Sporting found a fair bit of joy overloading Porto’s back-four with a front five created by the wing-backs pushing high up. They would have planned to do the same in this game and would have been pleased to see the visitors line up in their usual 4-4-2 formation, but it became more of a back-five out of possession as left midfielder Wenderson Galeno was asked to track Héctor Bellerín.
In this way, Porto were able to neutralise their opponents’ attack so Rúben Amorim realised he had to respond. He made a bold decision in the 35th minute by hooking summer signing Francisco Trincão and sending on an extra striker in Paulinho, switching to a 3-5-2 in the process.
The way Sporting usually operate in possession is that one of the two central midfielders in the 3-4-3 formation moves central and frees up the other to drift around or get forward, so they have a 3-1 base structure. This did not change with the mid-game switch to the 3-5-2, but the dynamics of their attack did. This proved to be to their detriment at the end of the day, because they did not really seem to click in the final third.
Porto took the lead at the hour-mark through Mateus Uribe and went on to double it in stoppage-time thanks to Pepê. The match was all wrapped up by then, so Youssef Chermiti’s last-minute goal was mere consolation. Regardless, Sporting slumped 10 points behind their rivals.
They are eight points behind third-placed Braga too, so Champions League qualification is looking like a tough ask for them. The title is already well out of question because they are closer to the bottom half of the table than leaders and city rivals Benfica.
🇫🇷 France: Monaco 3-1 PSG
Paris Saint-Germain’s build-up to their big Champions League reunion with Bayern Munich has been far from ideal. They will go into that match on Tuesday with just two wins from five, including back-to-back losses. First, they suffered elimination from the Coupe de France at the hands of rivals Marseille before losing to Monaco in the league on Saturday.
Moreover, they have a number of major injury concerns too. Renato Sanches and Nordi Mukiele are definitely going to be sitting that game out, but more importantly, the availability of Marco Verratti, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé is unclear. That trio was not even with the squad in the principality, where other key players such as Achraf Hakimi, Presnel Kimpembe, Sergio Ramos and Nuno Mendes were given some rest on the bench.
That rather backfired, as Monaco outplayed their visitors and came away with a dominant victory. Aleksandr Golovin took just four minutes to open the scoring, and it was 2-0 18 minutes in after Wissam Ben Yedder profited from a mistake by teenage centre-back El Chadaille Bitshiabu. 16-year-old Warren Zaïre-Emery pulled one back close to half-time, but Ben Yedder restored Monaco’s two-goal cushion just before the referee blew the whistle.
PSG sent on a couple of their big guns for the second half, but it was too little too late by then. Monaco comfortably saw out the win, which was thoroughly deserved on every count.
There are major questions to be raised about the squad depth at PSG, but we should also give credit where it is due, to Monaco. After a bit of an underwhelming start to the season, they have more than recovered since the World Cup break with six wins and two draws from eight games. That has lifted them up to third place, just a couple of points behind Marseille.
🏴 England: Southampton 1-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Southampton fans might not have liked Nathan Jones, but social media administrators must have loved him because he guaranteed at least one bizarre quote per press conference guaranteed to go viral.
Sadly, we won’t be getting many more of them in the foreseeable future as he was sacked after Southampton’s loss to Wolves, a result which has left them three points adrift at the bottom of the table.
The Saints have been performing very poorly of late but a cursory glance at the match stats shows that they were edged out in a close game.
The trouble, however, is that one team had a player sent off in the 27th minute. Moreover, they were leading at the time too, so they would have been expected to see out the win comfortably. Based on those statistics, one might sensibly guess that Southampton were the team with a numerical disadvantage for more than an hour, which would explain their lower possession.
To be fair, the player who saw that second yellow card did play for Southampton, but that was a few years ago. Mario Lemina has since been at Galatasaray, Fulham and Nice before joining Wolves in January – so it was the visitors who looked down and out at the half-hour mark having conceded to Carlos Alcaraz a few minutes prior.
According to Jones, though, this was the turning point. In his post-match interview, he was quoted saying, “The 10 men was to our detriment because it made it a free hit for them.” Wolves certainly made the most of that by equalising through an own goal in the 72nd minute before winning it late on thanks to debutante João Gomes’ strike.
Jones’ departure seemed imminent even before the match due to previous results and tensions with the supporters, but this disastrous defeat expedited the process. The Saints will now be searching for a saviour to avoid ending their decade-long stint in England’s top flight.
🇧🇪 Belgium: Genk 0-1 Royal Antwerp
While the regular group stage in the second division drew to a close in Belgium, this also was a big weekend in the Pro League as there were two matches between the top four.
On Friday night, second-placed Union Saint-Gilloise came away with a point against defending champions Club Brugge, giving Genk an opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the table. In order to do so, though, they had to get past early pace-setters Royal Antwerp, who had now dropped to third.
These two sides recently faced off in the cup around this time last month, when Antwerp put three past Genk and knocked them out. Since then, the leaders had won all but one of their league matches, but cracks were seemingly appearing. After the deadline day departure of Paul Onuachu to Southampton, Wouter Vrancken’s side could only manage a 1-1 draw at Eupen and just about edged out Gent in a five-goal thriller.
Yira Sor and Toluwalase Arokodare both scored in that match as both aim to take over the starting striker spot, but it was Antwerp loanee Mbwana Samatta who got the nod in this match. He could not get on the end of much in this match, but the one attempt he had was a pretty good chance early on that went well wide. His side definitely looked better in the first half, and would have been disappointed to go into the break on level terms.
They would be made to rue their missed chances even more in the second half as Gyano Kerk gave Antwerp the lead before the hour-mark. That proved to be enough to separate the two sides at the full-time whistle, so the visitors closed the gap between the sides down to 12 points.
The gap at the top may seem sizeable right now, but it is important to remember that the Pro League title is decided after the Championship play-offs, where the top four play each other home and away after their points are halved. So, we should be in for an exciting title race come May.
🇮🇳 India: FC Goa 3-5 Mumbai City
Over in India, the ISL season is drawing to a close. The main title is decided at the end of the play-offs, but the League Winners Shield was decided this weekend. In the process, a number of records were broken too.
The culprits are Mumbai City FC, part of the City Football Group umbrella that most notably includes Manchester City. Their domination in the league this season has been quite reminiscent of what their Mancunian counterparts did to the Premier League in their famous ‘Centurions’ season, as you might imagine given the number of records they have broken.
Their rather entertaining win at FC Goa made them the first team to lift the shield without tasting defeat, and they just need to see out two more games to complete an invincible season. They have already broken the record for most points (46) and could go on to become half-centurions. They have also scored a record number of goals at 53, and also have the longest winning streak in the league’s history.
Defending champions Hyderabad FC will be among the sides that could stop them from lifting the title in the play-offs, but it will take quite something to derail Mumbai City’s title-winning train.
Cover Image from IMAGO