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.FotMob - 2 months ago
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