European soccer news: Barca suffer De Jong, Pedri injury crisis, while Man City beat Man United

Another weekend of European football action is underway, and there was no shortage of drama everywhere you look. In Spain, Barcelona couldn’t take advantage of Real Madrid dropping points, drawing 0-0 with Athletic Club and now facing a nervous wait for news regarding the injuries to Frenkie De Jong and Pedri, both of whom left Sunday’s game in the first half.

In England, Man City eventually cracked derby rivals Man United with three second-half goals in a 3-1 win, Arsenal Women racked up an impressive win over Tottenham in the WSL, and PSV inched closer to the Eredivisie title with a 2-2 draw vs. Feyenoord.

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On Saturday, there was more referee drama in Spain, with Real Madrid, there were protests in Valencia, and there was vindication for Vinícius Júnior. Elsewhere, Luis Enrique stirred the pot quite considerably in Kylian Mbappé’s Paris Saint-Germain swan song, while Bayern Munich took another step toward coronating Bayer Leverkusen as Bundesliga champions.

Let’s get into the action.


The lead: Barça lament missed opportunity and injuries to De Jong and Pedri

Barcelona missed the chance to make up ground on LaLiga leaders Real Madrid as they were held to a goalless draw by Athletic Club at San Mamés on a night when they also lost Frenkie de Jong and Pedri to injuries.

Madrid’s draw at Valencia on Saturday had opened the door for Barça to move within six points of Los Blancos with 11 games to play. A win would also have taken them second in the table ahead of Girona, who lost at Mallorca earlier on Sunday. However, perhaps more significant than the dropped points was the loss of two key midfielders in the first half. De Jong was taken off on a stretcher after 26 minutes, having landed awkwardly on his ankle, while a muscle injury then forced Pedri off as well, just before the break.

Most worrying for Barça was the reaction of both players — Pedri was pictured in tears on the bench — and their injury histories this season. De Jong was sidelined for two months with an ankle sprain between September and November, while Pedri’s last three campaigns have seen repeated hamstring and thigh issues.

With Napoli due at the Olympic Stadium in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 on March 12 — the first leg ended 1-1 in midfield — Barça are facing an injury crisis in midfield that could completely derail their season in Europe and domestically. Gavi has already been ruled out for the season with an ACL tear picked up while playing for Spain in November.

Without De Jong and Pedri, Barça struggled to get going against Athletic in a match of few real chances. Despite showing plenty of intensity, the hosts were also not at their best just three days after beating Atlético Madrid 3-0 to book their place in the Copa del Rey final.

“It’s a missed opportunity in all senses,” Barça coach Xavi Hernández said. “In terms of the performances, sensations, cutting the gap at the top… We did not play well, we didn’t attack well and there is some sadness there because we were not at our best. The team was affected by the injuries.” — Marsden

Saturday talking points around the leagues



Can Man United take any positives from derby defeat vs. Man City?

Steve Nicol analyses Man United’s performance in their 3-1 loss against Man City.

Foden eclipses Rashford to seal Man City win

MANCHESTER, England — Phil Foden inspired Manchester City to a winning fightback against Manchester United as the Premier League champions responded to Liverpool’s late win at Nottingham Forest on Saturday to tee up a potential title decider at Anfield next week.

Marcus Rashford‘s stunning opening goal — a 25-yard, right-footed rocket after hard work by Bruno Fernandes — gave United the lead at the Etihad and threatened to de-rail City’s hopes of becoming the first team in English football history to win four successive league titles. But two second-half strikes from Foden turned the game in City’s favour before Erling Haaland wrapped up a 3-1 victory with a goal from close range in stoppage time.

The win moves City to within a point of leaders Liverpool ahead of next Sunday’s meeting between the two sides. And although Arsenal can climb to within two points of Jurgen Klopp’s team by winning at Sheffield United on Monday, the Liverpool-City encounter is set to be the most significant game of the season so far, regardless of whether Arsenal claim top spot by beating Brentford at the Emirates on Saturday.

Foden’s contribution against United was decisive. The England international, a product of City youth system, scored a hat-trick in this fixture last season and he haunted United again. His equalising goal, a curling effort from the edge of the penalty area, would normally have claimed the headlines for style but for Rashford’s remarkable shot.

Although United frustrated City for long periods, City’s registered 27 shots compared to three by United. Their dominance was clear and the win was fully deserved. — Ogden

Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham: North London left red after Russo’s rocket in marquee WSL game

LONDON — In their third meeting of the season, the actual football played between Arsenal and Spurs ended up as a footnote, with their flat encounter not quite living up to the billing as the Gunners claimed their first win in 90 minutes, 1-0, over their North London neighbours.

There was history made before anyone took to the pitch with the all female ground staff who took care of the playing surface. Then there was the news of ticket sales: the match was the second successive Arsenal Women fixture at the Emirates that had been classed as a sellout, as well as the first North London Derby to sell out N7.

The game itself was not a classic, however; rather, it represented another step in Spurs’ evolution under Robert Vilahamn as his team sat and blocked for swathes of the game around attempts to build out from the back and counter against the hosts. The visitors showed more attacking ideas, but their execution was lacking and this one was decided early in the second half as the away defence sagged and Alessia Russo powered the ball home unmarked.

As the game opened up, the heavy tackles and fouls began to mount and the match devolved into a chippy affair with Russo’s goal the difference. For Arsenal, the nature of the win was less important than their ability to finally claim a win over Spurs this season and keep pace with the top two (Manchester City and Chelsea) in the WSL title race. — Lawson

PSV getting closer to the title

EINDHOVEN, Netherlands — It wasn’t quite the coronation PSV had in mind, but Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Feyenoord in Eindhoven means the hosts can start planning their title celebrations with a little more urgency. With 10 matches left, PSV remain undefeated in the Eredivisie this season and hold a 10-point lead over Feyenoord in second. From here, this should be a procession to their 25th Dutch title.

U.S. men’s international Malik Tillman was named player of the match after an impressive, all-action showing that included scoring PSV’s opener. It was a brilliantly worked solo goal, too — one involving a nutmeg of David Hancko — to give the hosts the lead after just three minutes. Feyenoord went into the break at 1-1 thanks to Yakuba Minteh seizing on dismal defending by Olivier Boscagli and then took the lead in the second half, with Santiago Giménez tapping home from close range in the 59th minute after a brilliant ball across the box from Lutsharel Geertruida. But PSV maintained their unbeaten league record with substitute Guus Til side-footing home a neat volley in the 69th minute, after some impressive hold-up play from Luuk de Jong to tee him up.

From a U.S. perspective, Tillman’s showing will be the headline act as he was a constant threat in the attacking third. He switched between pressing as a “forward two” with De Jong and playing in the No.10 attacking midfield spot. He could have added a second in the first half, too, but for a good save from Timon Wellenreuther to push a placed shot onto the post. Elsewhere, Sergiño Dest‘s crosses caused all sorts of difficulties in the Feyenoord box while on this occasion, Ricardo Pepi remained on the bench.

But this was about PSV maintaining their invincible season and nullifying any potential late chase from Feyenoord. PSV looked comfortable and with 10 matches left in the season, they are edging ever closer to being named in the same breath as the 1919 and 1995 Ajax teams, who also went a whole season undefeated. — Tom Hamilton

Americans abroad: Tillman scores for PSV, Johnny shows up for Betis

Sunday was another mixed bag of a day for U.S. talent in Europe, but a couple of players did show their best. (Another, Catarina Macario, also made a splash … but more on her later.)

Let’s begin with Malik Tillman. As noted above by Tom Hamilton, PSV are ticking closer to a first Eredivisie title since 2017-18 and in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Feyenoord, it was Tillman opening the scoring with a fine strike, seen above.

Elsewhere, Real Betis midfielder Johnny Cardoso was given an assist for laying off the ball to William Carvalho, who thundered the ball in from distance, though it ended up being a consolation as Atletico Madrid hung on for a 2-1 win. In Italy, Tim Weah was a second-half sub for Juventus as they lost on the road at Napoli, while Weston McKennie remained on the sideline with a minor injury. — Tyler

News of the day

And finally, on Sunday …

Making her return to the pitch 641 days after rupturing her ACL, US international Catarina Macario crowned both her comeback and Chelsea debut with a goal just six minutes after entering the fray.

The goal, Chelsea’s fourth in a dominant display at Leicester City, capped a comprehensive win for the WSL leaders and came fully eight months after the U.S. forward made the switch to the Blues from French side Lyon. She made a clever off-the-ball run that opened up space to receive Agnes Beever-Jones’ sharp through-ball, after the England midfielder’s surging run to the edge of the box. After a cushioned first touch, Macario was able to wrap her foot around the ball and curl it between Julie Thibaud’s legs and beyond goalkeeper Lize Kop, leading to joyous team celebrations given the significance of her goal.

It was just the start Macario could have hoped for as she works her way back to full fitness and, we expect, a full return to the U.S. national team. — Lawson


The lead: Vini’s chaotic return to Mestalla

Real Madrid’s 2-2 draw at Valencia on Saturday should have been all about Vinicius, scoring twice at the stadium where he was racially abused last season. Instead, a chaotic finale saw Madrid’s players furious at referee Jesus Gil Manzano, who blew the full-time whistle just as Jude Bellingham was heading the ball into the net for what would have been the winning goal at Mestalla. Bellingham was even sent off for dissent in the aftermath. Coach Carlo Ancelotti called it “unprecedented.”

Real Madrid’s season-long unhappiness with referees might have just hit a new low.

Before that, the star was Vinicius. These weren’t the prettiest two goals he’s ever scored, far from it, but they might have been among the most significant to him. Madrid had trailed early, 2-0 down after half an hour thanks to two defensive mistakes — one of them from Vinicius himself — but with so much time left on the clock, the prospect of a comeback was never far away.

That comeback started with Vinicius, with 49 minutes and 50 seconds played, and 10 seconds left before halftime was due. The Brazil international had been whistled every time he touched the ball, but when Dani Carvajal‘s cross was deflected into the six-yard box, Rodrygo got the faintest touch, and Vinicius was there to deflect it in with his shin. He picked the ball up, ran back towards the centre circle, turned and raised a single clenched fist to the crowd in a gesture of defiance.

It was a relatively restrained celebration, given the circumstances. What followed the second goal was a different story. It was another close-range finish, Vinicius’ header in the 76th minute making it 2-2. This time he cupped his ears, enjoying the crowd’s whistles, and pointed to his name on the back of his shirt.

There was time for Valencia to be awarded a 90th-minute penalty, overturned after a lengthy VAR review, before the moment of controversy. Real Madrid, pushing for a winner, had a corner. When the ball was cleared, referee Gil Manzano moved to blow his whistle, but he hesitated. Then, when he finally blew up, it was too late. Brahim Díaz was already crossing for Bellingham to score.

As Gil Manzano signalled that the game was over, rather than that a goal had been scored, he was surrounded by Real Madrid’s players, stunned. They had drawn a game they could have lost, but in the end, should have won. Their only consolation: a seven-point lead at the top of the LaLiga table, with rivals Girona and Barcelona playing on Sunday.

“We’ll look at the table, and we’ll sleep well,” Ancelotti insisted. — Alex Kirkland

Saturday talking points around the leagues

Mbappé sub overshadows showdown between PSG, Monaco

Don’t be fooled by Friday’s scoreline. The clash between AS Monaco, third in the table, and leaders Paris Saint-Germain finished goalless, but it was one of the best 0-0 draws we have seen this season in Europe. It was intense, chances were created, the tactical battle between Luis Enrique and Adi Hütter was fascinating and in the end, as the Spanish manager said, the draw is probably fair, even if Gianluigi Donnarumma was the busier of the two keepers.

However, the biggest talking point — and all everyone is talking about — is the substitution of Mbappé after just 45 minutes. In seven years in Paris, it had never happened before. Some wondered if perhaps the 2018 World Cup winner was injured, but no, it was a decision from the coach, which he explained quite clearly after the game.

“Sooner rather than later, we will play without Mbappé, so I’m looking for the best option for the team,” Luis Enrique said. “Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. We need to get used to [playing without Mbappé]. I will do what is best for my team. I don’t want to create controversy, it’s my decision.”

Even if Mbappé was not playing well against his former club, he is still PSG’s best and most decisive player by far, so taking him off was a huge call. The sort of call the inevitably creates controversy.

Mbappé’s decision not to sit on the bench after his substitution, and instead sit next to his mum in the stands, sparked even more controversy. It was not the right attitude to adopt for the captain on the night, even if his disappointment was understandable.

On Saturday morning, the two men had a long chat at the training ground. They cleared the air and Luis Enrique told his No. 7 that there was nothing personal and that it was not a punishment after Mbappé decided to leave the club.

Mbappé doesn’t have to believe him. Neither do we. — Julien Laurens

Bayern clear Leverkusen’s path to title

While Bayer Leverkusen are several weeks away from being able to mathematically clinch the German championship, Xabi Alonso’s side could make a major step towards the Bundesliga title thanks to Bayern Munich drawing with SC Freiburg on Friday.

The latest setback for Thomas Tuchel and his players was reminiscent of previous instances of dropped points, as Bayern looked incapable of converting their long spells of possession into goal-scoring opportunities. Instead, hosts Freiburg exposed some of the Bavarians’ defensive weaknesses, most notably their tendency to be stretched across the field. Freiburg used quick lateral passes to open the half-spaces and then explosively play through the gaps to set up chances for Lucas Höler and his teammates.

After conceding just 12 minutes in, Bayern could not immediately turn the tide but instead needed a corner kick to score the equaliser that came courtesy of Mathys Tel. The young French forward and Jamal Musiala were the only bright lights in an otherwise underwhelming Bayern side. It was also Musiala who netted to give the visitors a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute, a goal that offered the record champions hope of leaving Freiburg’s Europa-Park Stadion with three points despite their poor performance.

Not this time. Höler put a stamp on his strong showing by scoring the decisive 2-2 equaliser three minutes before stoppage time, as Bayern defended a throw-in quite poorly.

Tuchel came under fire after the game for this decision to take Musiala and Thomas Müller off the pitch shortly after his team had taken the lead. His decision backfired and leaves Bayern ten points behind Leverkusen who will travel to FC Cologne on Sunday. — Constantin Eckner

Americans abroad: Not the best Saturday

Let’s start with the best news: Josh Sargent scored the lone goal in Norwich City’s 1-0 win over Sunderland in the English Championship. After missing 22 games through an ankle injury this season, the 24-year-old now has 11 goals in 15 league appearances, scoring at a rate of a goal per 88.9 minutes.

The good news: Antonee Robinson went the full 90 minutes in Fulham’s 3-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion. It’s the first clean sheet the Cottagers have kept since a Jan. 30 scoreless draw with Everton.

The not-so-good news: Chris Richards played the entirety of Crystal Palace’s 3-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur. Kevin Paredes started at left wing and featured for 81 minutes of VfL Wolfsburg’s 3-2 loss to VfB Stuttgart. Brenden Aaronson came off the bench for a 21-minute cameo as Union Berlin fell 2-0 at home to Borussia Dortmund.

The not-great news: Joe Scally didn’t get off the bench as Borussia Monchengladbach drew 1-1 at Mainz, but that’s less concerning concerning that it first appears. This is the first time all season he hasn’t featured for the Foals.

And the worst news comes from Nottingham Forest, who lost to Liverpool in stoppage time. For the fifth straight match, Matt Turner was an unused substitute, while Giovanni Reyna — who has played just 39 minutes since making a January loan switch from Dortmund — wasn’t in Forest’s matchday squad while he recovers from a reported minor knock. — Austin Lindberg

News of the day

  • A large section of Chelsea’s fans vented their anger at the club’s American owners and coach Mauricio Pochettino on Saturday as the stuttering Blues struggled to a 2-2 draw at an injury-depleted Brentford. First came the shouts of “Roman Abramovich, Roman Abramovich” as fans sought to contrast their successes under the club’s former Russian owner with their mid-table position now. Then came a vitriolic chant about Todd Boehly, the most prominent face of Chelsea’s new ownership, another celebrating former manager Jose Mourinho, who won three league titles at Stamford Bridge, and finally a crude one about Pochettino, the former Tottenham Hotspur manager who was appointed as head coach of the west London club in May.

  • Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappé met with manager Luis Enrique at the club’s training centre on Saturday to address tension stemming from the Spanish coach substituting his star player in recent games, sources told ESPN. Mbappé was taken off after the first half of Friday’s 0-0 draw with Monaco having been subbed off after 65 minutes of PSG’s draw with Rennes the week prior. Sources told ESPN that Mbappé, 25, was unhappy to be subbed off and asked to speak with Luis Enrique to address the matter, and the coach told him that it was nothing personal and not retribution for the striker’s reported decision to leave PSG.

  • Juventus manager Max Allegri has said he is sorry on a human and footballing level for Paul Pogba after the France midfielder received a four-year ban for doping on Thursday from Italian authorities. “I wrote him a message two days ago,” Allegri said. “On a human level I’m very sorry, but also from a footballing point of view. This sport is losing an extraordinary and difficult to find player who I had the pleasure of coaching. On top of that, Paul is also a very good person.”

And finally, on Saturday …

Just look at what it means … We’ve all heard the phrase, but it’s become so cliched that often the meaning is diluted. Not here.

For fans of the Cleveland Browns or the Charlotte Hornets or the Minnesota North Stars, you’ll know what it means when the Baltimore Ravens or the New Orleans Pelicans or the Dallas Stars come to town. That’s how AFC Wimbledon supporters feel when they take on MK Dons.

That’s because Wimbledon FC, founded in 1889, left southwest London for Milton Keynes, 45 miles to the northwest of the English capital, in 2004 to become MK Dons. AFC Wimbledon was founded in the aftermath of that decision, reaching the Football League in 2011.

So you can understand why Ronan Curtis‘s 94th-minute winner, which saw the Dons’ hopes for promotion to League One take a hit, was celebrated so wildly by the Wimbledon fans at Plough Lane. — Lindberg

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