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.FotMob - 7 months ago
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