European soccer news: Controversy reigns in Vini’s Valencia return


Another weekend of European football action is underway, and there was no shortage of drama — particularly in Spain. There was more referee drama with Real Madrid, there were protests in Valencia, and there was vindication for Vinícius Júnior.

Elsewhere on the continent, 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 all the action.

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SATURDAY REVIEW

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.

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Dier focused on football after Bayern Munich deal made permanent

Eric Dier says he can focus on his football and the team now that his six-month loan deal from Tottenham has been made permanent.

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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