European soccer news: Modric scores winner for Madrid, Americans abroad flourish

It’s not quite spring yet, but Europe’s top leagues have been heating up as the title races remain tight and the games are getting that much more intense.

Saturday saw Arsenal exact revenge on Newcastle after losing to them earlier in the season and Manchester United lost to Fulham, raising fresh questions about Erik ten Hag’s leadership. In other Premier League action, Manchester City beat Bournemouth with a defense-first approach, and U.S. men’s national team defender Chris Richards scored his first Premier League goal in Crystal Palace’s win over Burnley.

In the rest of Europe, Barcelona looked like their former selves in a thrashing of Getafe while Bayern Munich still didn’t look like their former selves in a win over RB Leipzig.

On Sunday, Liverpool were crowned Carabao Cup champions after defeating Chelsea with a last-minute winner from Virgil van Dijk, while LaLiga leaders Real Madrid snatched a winner against Sevilla and it was a historic day for USMNT players in the top five European leagues.

There’s plenty to get to talk about, so let’s get to it.

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The lead: Modric steals spotlight from Ramos in Madrid’s 1-0 win over Sevilla

All the talk ahead of Real Madrid’s game with Sevilla on Sunday was about Sergio Ramos, but in the end, it was another veteran, Luka Modric, who stole the show.

Ramos was back at the Santiago Bernabeu as Sevilla’s captain, the first time in 19 years that he had played at this stadium as a visitor. He had been cheered and whistled, involved in crunching challenges and heated disputes, by the time Modric’s curling shot hit the back of the net in the 81st minute to give Madrid a 1-0 win and extend their lead at the top of the LaLiga table to eight points.

Modric is 38, six months older than the 37-year-old Ramos. Two pillars of Madrid’s success in the last decade, the two players have taken different paths since. Ramos left Madrid in 2021, unable to agree a new contract. Modric has opted to stay, although he might not be here much longer. The Croatian has been unhappy with his limited game time this season, making just 11 league starts, and may look to move on this summer.

Even with seven Madrid players missing here through injury or suspension — Thibaut Courtois, Éder Militão, David Alaba, Jude Bellingham, Joselu, Dani Carvajal, and Eduardo Camavinga — Modric could only find a place on the bench, coach Carlo Ancelotti preferring Aurélien Tchouaméni, Toni Kroos and Federico Valverde in midfield.

With 15 minutes left, and Madrid looking for a breakthrough, Ancelotti took off a defender, Nacho, and introduced Modric, dropping Tchouaméni into the back four. Six minutes after that, Modric had his goal. There was a ferocity about the shot, letting rip after stepping inside Sevilla midfielder Boubakary Soumaré as well as the celebration, roaring at the Bernabeu crowd, that suggested a feeling of vindication, a reminder of just what a player Modric can be.

Even Ramos looked shaken by the goal. His first involvement after that was to pass the ball directly out of play, throwing his arms in the air in frustration. Ramos has played against Real Madrid four times, going back to 2004, in his first stint at Sevilla. This was his first loss.

At the final whistle, after hugs with Lucas Vázquez and Kroos, Ramos sought out Modric to swap shirts, two close friends who’ve fought many battles together, now on opposing sides. — Alex Kirkland

Sunday talking points around the leagues

Klopp keeps quadruple dream alive on farewell tour

Step one of Jurgen Klopp’s perfect exit from Liverpool is complete. The Reds edged past Chelsea in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final at Wembley as Virgil van Dijk‘s glancing header in the 118th minute gave Klopp a 1-0 win and his eighth major trophy in England.

It could be just the beginning of a glorious end. Liverpool are top of the Premier League, host Southampton at Anfield in Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash and face a UEFA Europa League round-of-16 clash with Slavia Prague next month.

Liverpool pursued another quadruple in 2021-22 only to come up short in the UEFA Champions League and Premier League. The fallout of that exhausting season prompted questions over whether Klopp could build another great side but “‘Liverpool 2.0” as he rebranded them, have come roaring back to challenge on four fronts once more.

And anyone worried about life after Klopp leaves Merseyside at the end of the season will be enthused by how Liverpool beat Chelsea in London, given they were missing 11 first-team players and relied on three teenagers — James McConnell, Bobby Clark, and Jayden Danns — to help see the game out, the highest number fielded in a League Cup Final since 2007.

Add in Harvey Elliott (20), Conor Bradley (20), and Jarell Quansah (21) — the latter coming off the bench — and Liverpool appear well set to thrive in a post-Klopp era. Before that, however, comes the finale of his nine years in charge. And it could yet be the most magnificent denouement imaginable. — James Olley

Atalanta frustrate Milan and Leão

It was the clash of the weekend in Serie A: AC Milan, third in the table welcoming fifth place Atalanta who are only seven points behind. Despite a quite underwhelming 1-1 draw, we got confirmation of two things in this game. The first one is that Rafael Leão is definitely world class when he wants to be. The second one is that Atalanta are for real this season, like in the good old days.

Let’s start with Leão. The Portuguese international scored one of the goals of the season after just three minutes. A double nutmeg on the left-hand side in between two defenders, coming inside and placing the ball in the opposite top corner in a crazy tight angle. Simply a thing of absolute beauty. Not many players are capable of doing things like this in games of this calibre. Leão is one of them. He also created four chances and two big chances.

Do we see his genius enough though? Probably not. Is he capable of more? For sure. Much more even. We pay to watch him play, expecting this kind of brilliance all the time. He is not there yet. There are good signs, at times, that he will be consistently decisive and hardworking for the team. And other times, he doesn’t seem too bothered and certainly only cares about himself. At 24, he is still young but nights like Sunday remind us of how special a player he is.

Milan are lucky to have him and Atalanta are lucky to have Teun Koopmeiners. The Dutch midfielder is only 25 but he is one of the players of the season. He has been carrying this side, scoring nine goals already and providing four assists so far this season. In his best season in Italy, he recorded 10 goals and four assists.

It’s only February and Koopmeiners has already pretty much surpassed that mark. His penalty was enough to get a point away at San Siro and to continue to dream about a return to the Champions League. For now, they can celebrate a big draw in Milan and they will also be thinking about their next Serie A game on Wednesday. And guess what, they will be back in Milan, this time to play Inter. — Julien Laurens

Americans abroad: McKennie the standout on a historic day for USMNT players

On a Sunday that saw many USMNT players flourish for their clubs across the continent, the main star was in Italy and specifically for Juventus as Weston McKennie‘s two assists helped his team defeat Frosinone 3-2 to continue their push for the Serie A title.

However, it wasn’t happy news for the American midfielder as he couldn’t finish the entire match and had to be subbed out in the 87th minute due to a dislocated shoulder, thus missing the last-minute winner from Daniele Rugani. His manager Massimiliano Allegri later confirmed the injury but couldn’t provide an update on how serious it was.

Overall, it was still a memorable and historic day for the Americans abroad in the top five leagues as for the first time since the 2006-07 season, five USMNT players contributed to a goal in the top five European leagues in a single day.

We had Folarin Balogun scoring the opening goal in Monaco’s 3-2 win over Lens, Johnny Cardoso scoring the third and final goal in Real Betis’ 3-1 win over Athletic Club, Luca de la Torre providing an assist for Iago Aspas‘ opening goal for Celta Vigo in their 2-2 draw against Cádiz and Timothy Chandler provide an assist to Omar Marmoush‘s last-minute equalizer to help Eintracht Frankfurt earn a point in a 2-2 draw against Wolfsburg.

An eventful day for the Americans abroad! — Roberto Rojas

News of the day

  • Paris Saint-Germain striker Goncalo Ramos came off the bench to replace Kylian Mbappé and score the last-minute equalizer to give his side a point in a 1-1 draw against Rennes. PSG continue to lead the way in Ligue 1, unbeaten now in their 18 league matches and hold an 11-point lead over second-placed Brest.

  • Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has said Chris Kavanagh didn’t “have the level” of the Carabao Cup final after criticizing the referee for failing to take any action against Moisés Caicedo for his tackle on Ryan Gravenberch in his side’s 1-0 win on Sunday. “There were two teams fighting very hard, and the referee didn’t have the level of the game,” Klopp said. “It [Caicedo’s challenge] was not even a foul? Then the fourth official explaining we cannot give a card… good idea.

And finally, on Sunday …

The goals keep on coming for Lautaro Martínez as league leaders Inter ran away with a 4-0 win over Lecce to continue top of the Serie A, nine points above second-placed Juventus. The Argentine scored twice on the day but it was a historic moment for the striker as he scored his 100th and 101st league goals respectively, while also becoming the fifth player in the last 65 years to score more than 20 goals in three consecutive Serie A seasons.

“El Toro” continues to lead the way in the Capocannoniere race as the league’s top goalscorer with 22 goals, seven more than Juventus’ Dušan Vlahović, who is in second place. While he was unlucky to not score in Inter’s 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their round-of-16 Champions League tie, Martinez will look to be back in full form before the return leg in Spain where he hopes he can avenge his loss last year at the hands of Manchester City where he can help Inter win a league and continental cup double. — Rojas


The Saturday lead: Defensive-first win helps Man City narrow gap with Liverpool

After only two clean sheets in 14 Premier League games, Manchester City have now gone two matches in a row without conceding a goal, and their 1-0 victory at Bournemouth on Saturday brought them back just a point behind Liverpool having played the same number of games now.

For Man City to win Premier League again for the fourth time in a row, amid a thrilling title race with Liverpool and Arsenal, it may come down to defence. Goals will always come for City, but defences are what win trophies. So for manager Pep Guardiola, getting defensive solidity out of his men may be the key.

To that end, the presence and fitness of John Stones has been important. This was only his ninth start of the season in league play, and he showed how indispensable he is for this team, playing as a centre back and a central midfielder, like he did in the second half of last season on the way to the treble.

On the other end, Phil Foden scored the only goal of the game and will rightly get most of the plaudits. The 23-year-old was outstanding again in a central position for City, in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne who was left on the bench by Guardiola. Whether KDB is not fully fit or Foden simply keeps him out of the team doesn’t matter so much — the fact is that Foden is clearly taking another dimension this season.

Saturday’s goal was Foden’s 16th of the season in all competitions (nine in the Premier League), already equalling his best scoring tally season from 2020-2021, and we are only in February. Unless something dramatic happens, he will smash his record. Foden also has 10 assists in all competitions so far in this campaign, just one short of his season best of 11 from 2021-2022.

When Stones is available and at his best, when Foden is in this kind of form — like we saw on Saturday — then the current champions are even harder to play against. And they hold the keys to their success, as much as anyone else, like Erling Haaland, Éderson or De Bruyne. — Julien Laurens



Why Man City have struggled recently

Steve Nicol and Craig Burley react to Manchester City’s narrow win over Bournemouth.

Saturday talking points around Europe’s leagues

Last-gasp Kane winner over Leipzig keeps Bayern title hopes alive

Four days after the announcement that manager Thomas Tuchel will depart Bayern Munich at the end of this season, the record German champions found themselves with their backs against the wall. Bayer Leverkusen edged past Mainz on Friday, meaning Bayern trailed the league leaders by 11 points on the table going into their clash with RB Leipzig.

Bayern Munich found the much-needed 2-1 win on Saturday over Leipzig, which closes the gap between them and first-placed Leverkusen to eight points.

Tuchel’s side took the lead after Leipzig midfielder Xaver Schlager failed to clear the ball against Jamal Musiala and instead the ball was directed towards Harry Kane, who opened the scoring. Leipzig, however, started to be more proactive and levelled in the 70th minute thanks to skipper Willi Orbán making an appearance in the final third and assisting Dani Olmo and Benjamin Šeško. The Slovenian striker’s shot would probably have not tested Manuel Neuer, but Leon Goretzka deflected the attempt past his goalkeeper.



Kane urges Bayern to ‘keep fighting’ after late win vs. Leipzig

Harry Kane speaks after scoring a brace in Bayern Munich’s 2-1 win over RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga.

Once again, following a fine assist by Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, it was the prolific Kane who fired into the back of the net in the first minute of added time.

Even though Bayern were facing the fifth-placed team, the game proved one-way traffic for long periods as Leipzig sat deep inside their own half, defending with admirable discipline. The visitors were apparently striving to take the air out of Munich’s Allianz Arena — and were quite successful in doing so.

After halftime, Tuchel took out a metal equipment box and placed it in front of his dugout to sit closer to the action. The 50-year-old coach had decided to employ Joshua Kimmich at right-back because of ongoing injury woes that have significantly weakened Bayern’s options. While Kimmich dislikes playing on the right side instead of central midfield, Tuchel is no longer afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings, as he indicated during his first press conference following the revelation of his departure.

Although they look far off the pace at the moment, Bayern do remain in contention for the title and they could manage a comeback similar to last season — it’s just that they rarely secure victories as convincingly as they used to. — Constantin Eckner

Barça finally look the part of LaLiga contenders — but is it too late?

Barcelona cruised past Getafe at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday, winning 4-0 to move within five points of LaLiga leaders Real Madrid and keep their faint title hopes alive. Raphinha opened the scoring before the break, with João Félix, Frenkie de Jong and Fermín López all on target in the second half as Barça delivered their best performance of 2024.

Barça were far too good for a stubborn Getafe side, who have caused them problems in recent years, including in the first week of the season when the meeting between the two teams ended goalless. Raphinha was sent off in that match, but he gained some revenge here, finishing brilliantly to open the scoring after latching on to Jules Koundé‘s long ball.

Xavi Hernández’s side continued to find joy with long passes, finding Raphinha time and again in behind Getafe’s high line. The Brazilian blazed one chance over the bar and undercooked a pass for Felix on another occasion. Those misses could have made for a nervy second half, but Barça were much more clinical after the break.

Felix struck the second from a fine cross from Andreas Christensen, once again playing in midfield, and De Jong added the third. Substitute López completed the scoring after Vitor Roque‘s shot was saved.

It was a display that could foster much needed confidence for the rest of the season. Barça are still alive in the Champions League after drawing 1-1 at Napoli in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie in midweek, while in LaLiga, having played a game more, they are now second, ahead of Girona and just five behind Madrid, who play Sevilla on Sunday.

“We still have time,” Xavi said when asked if this performance arrived too late to resuscitate Barça’s up-and-down campaign. “The Champions League is open. We are in the fight for LaLiga. We have time — not in the [Spanish] Supercopa or the Copa del Rey — but in the other competitions.

“I have said we won’t throw in the towel. That’s 13 points from 15 in LaLiga now, we are in good form. Until it’s mathematically impossible, we will keep trying to put pressure on Girona and Madrid. To do that, we have to do our job, which is to win like we have done today. We needed a big performance like this.” — Sam Marsden

Americans Abroad: Richards’ scores first Premier League goal; Reyna watch continues

An American scored has scored his first goal in the Premier League — sound the USMNT klaxon!

Chris Richards, the 23-year-old centerback from Alabama, nodded the ball into the back of the net for Crystal Palace, scoring what will technically go down as the game-winner against Burnley.

It was a 3-0 rout for Palace after Burnley suffered an early red card before the goals started. Burnley’s Josh Brownhill saw straight red in the 35th minute for a takedown on an obvious goal-scoring opportunity off a poor back-pass in front of goal, before Richards found a breakthrough in the 68th minute.

This goal comes at a pretty great time for Richards — it was the first match for new manager Oliver Glasner, and Richards’ goal undoubtedly made a strong first impression. Richards has yet to establish himself as a lock for the national team — he featured in just six of the USMNT’s 18 matches in 2023, but is widely seen as an important prospect for the future.

Richards wasn’t the only USMNT player who had a good Saturday:

Meanwhile, “Gio Reyna watch” continues — as in, let’s watch and see if he actually plays for new his club, Nottingham Forest. He did play on Saturday, but only as an 81st-minute substitute who didn’t impact the game at all.

Reyna will have another chance to make his first Forest start in the FA Cup on Wednesday when Forest host Manchester United (stream it live on ESPN+, U.S. only). — Caitlin Murray

News of the day

And finally …

Queens Park Rangers confirmed late on Saturday that club icon and former England international Stan Bowles has passed away, aged 75.

Known as “Stan the Man,” Bowles became a cult figure in the 1970s for his maverick tendencies both on and off the pitch. A Manchester City graduate, Bowles joined QPR in 1972 and went on to make 315 league appearances for the club, scoring 97 goals, and narrowly missing out on winning the old First Division in 1975-76, finishing runners-up to Liverpool.

Once implored by then QPR manager Tommy Docherty to “Trust me, Stan!” Bowles famously quipped: “I’d rather trust my chickens with Colonel Sanders.”

Always an individualist, Bowles once signed sponsorship deals with two different boot companies for the same match and proceeded to wear one of each.

Capped five times by England, Bowles’ health deteriorated in his later years after being diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. QPR have said they are planning a “fitting tribute” to “a darling of the Loftus Road terraces [and] undoubtedly one of the greatest players to have ever pulled on the famous blue and white hoops.” — Mike Wise

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