Weekend review: Chelsea in crisis, Napoli unstoppable and PSG break Lille hearts
It was another weekend of headlines, golazos and unpredictable finishes across Europe’s biggest leagues. From Paris Saint-Germain‘s dramatic 4-3 win over Lille, to two veterans in Seamus Coleman and James Ward-Prowse coming up big for their clubs, to Chelsea slumping to yet another loss, there was no shortage of drama.
ESPN correspondents Julien Laurens, Mark Ogden, Rob Dawson, Sam Marsden and James Tyler break down the most interesting and important stuff you need to know about the weekend.
Is Rashford Man United’s most important player?
It’s taking nothing away from Casemiro because he’s been fantastic for Manchester United this season, but Marcus Rashford is in such phenomenal form that he might have overtaken the Brazilian as Erik ten Hag’s most important player.
Man United beat Leeds United and Leicester City without conceding a goal despite Casemiro’s suspension. Meanwhile, Rashford has scored 16 goals in his last 17 games since the World Cup and in each of United’s last five games. Crucially, he’s also scored United’s first goal in their last four games. It is a big week for United with the return leg against Barcelona at Old Trafford on Thursday and then the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle at Wembley on Sunday.
Ten Hag will be glad that Casemiro is available for both games after missing the 3-0 win over Leicester through suspension but he cannot do without Rashford. It was telling that as soon as the game against Leicester was over as a contest, Ten Hag immediately substituted his No. 10, even though it denied him the chance of a hat trick. Casemiro, along with Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane, are crucial for United but, at the moment, no one can top Rashford’s importance. — Dawson
Dawson: Red-hot Rashford makes Man Utd title contenders
Rob Dawson says there’s no reason to discount Manchester United from the Premier League title race while Marcus Rashford continues to score.
Another eventful day for the “MNM”
After three defeats in a row in all competitions for only the third time in the Qatari era, Paris Saint-Germain bounced back with a dramatic 4-3 home win against Lille. It is a huge victory, of course, given that it ended this remarkable crisis in which PSG lost five of their last 11 matches in all competitions. It was not perfect, however, as Lille were winning 3-2 until the 87th minute and were the better side to that point.
More importantly, it was another eventful day for the PSG front three. Once again, each of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi started, with the Brazilian serving as a No. 10 behind the front two. Once again, their performances were unequal. For a wonderful Mbappe, we also got Neymar scoring first before an injury made him leave the pitch in tears. His ankle sprain means he will miss the clash with Marseille next weekend, and maybe the second leg in Munich as well.
Then there is Messi. Quite anonymous for much of the game, he scored the winning goal on a direct free kick in the 95th minute to redeem himself and deliver this miraculous, but very important, win. At least PSG bought themselves a bit of calm before their trip to Marseille. — Laurens
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 19, 2023
Pope pays price for inexplicable cup rules
Newcastle United goalkeeper Nick Pope will miss the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United next Sunday because of a red card received in the Premier League. Despite being two completely different competitions, Pope will be suspended regardless because his ban will start with Newcastle’s next competitive game. Those are the rules, but the disciplinary regulations in the Carabao Cup are confusing to say the least.
– ESPN : Watch the Carabao Cup final LIVE on Feb. 26 (U.S. only)
– Ogden: Newcastle misery will be forced to carry into Carabao Cup
Manchester United captain Harry Maguire missed the first leg of his team’s Carabao Cup semifinal against Nottingham Forest last month because of two bookings received in the earlier rounds of the competition. But those bookings only counted in the Carabao Cup, leaving Maguire was free to play in Premier League games. Newcastle midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, meanwhile, served a three-match Premier League ban because of a red card received in the Carabao Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton.
On one hand, Newcastle have benefited from the rules as they stand because Guimaraes has now served his ban and will be eligible to play in the cup final next Sunday. But the flipside is that they will be without their number one goalkeeper because of a red card in a totally different competition.
The situations with Maguire, Guimaraes and Pope highlight the inconsistencies in the rules, but surely it would be a fairer scenario if suspensions earned in one competition only apply to that competition? That would mean Newcastle being without their best midfielder at Wembley, but able to call on their best goalkeeper.
It’s not ideal for Newcastle whichever way it shakes down, but it seems a more straightforward and fair way of dealing with suspensions. — Ogden
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 18, 2023
Barca’s defensive record: incredible or an anomaly?
Barcelona‘s defensive record is both brilliant and perplexing. They beat Cadiz 2-0 on Sunday to restore their eight-point lead over Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga. It was the 17th clean sheet they have kept in the league in 22 matches this season. They have conceded just seven goals in that time, the fewest of any team at this stage in the history of the competition.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen has been brilliant, Andreas Christensen and Ronald Araujo are forming a steady partnership and coach Xavi Hernandez has settled on Jules Kounde and Alejandro Balde as his first choice full-backs. It is easy, therefore, to see why they are so improved at the back. However, scratch a little deeper, as Manchester United did last Thursday, scoring twice at Camp Nou, and it’s hard to know whether Barca’s defensive numbers are the result of getting better under Xavi, the quality in LaLiga or a bit of luck. Perhaps all three.
Bayern Munich, Internazionale and Man United have all had more joy against them in Europe, suggesting the quality in LaLiga could be a reason. Their xG conceded in LaLiga, meanwhile, is 18.2, which suggests there has been some fortune involved, considering they have only actually conceded seven — and only one at Camp Nou, which was a penalty against Espanyol.
It perhaps seems trivial to analyse those numbers as they continue to march towards a first league title since 2019, especially on a weekend when Ferran Torres dazzled against Cadiz and Robert Lewandowski scored his first goal in three games. But these are the questions Xavi will be occupying himself with ahead of Thursday’s return leg at Old Trafford against United. — Marsden
Barcelona have only allowed 7 goals this season.
It’s the fewest goals allowed through 22 games in LaLiga history 😳 pic.twitter.com/7D2cvSWNJ8
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 19, 2023
Sosa comes to Stuttgart’s rescue
VfB Stuttgart have had a miserable start to 2023, with two draws and three defeats in the Bundesliga as well as an early exit from the DFB-Pokal at the hands of second-division Paderborn. All of which served to make Saturday’s 3-0 win over Koln so damn satisfying, lifting them a little clear of the relegation mire and restoring good vibes to a team in dire need.
All three goals were well-taken by the hosts but Borna Sosa‘s sweetly struck set piece, Stuttgart’s second, was the pick of the litter. With a free kick to the right of Koln’s goal, Sosa swung his left foot around the ball and slotted it succinctly in the top corner, leaving keeper Marvin Schwabe with no chance. Success! — Tyler
Borna Sosa bends in wonderful free kick to extend Stuttgart’s lead
Borna Sosa scores his first goal of 2023 with a beautiful free kick to put Stuttgart 2-0 up against Cologne.
With the “Kvaramen,” it’s down to you to choose!
This weekend, were you more of a Victor Osimhen or Khvicha Kvaratskhelia fan? Were you more solo goal, dribbling past opponents with ease before a clever finish from the edge of the box a la the Georgia international? Or were you more a powerful shot in an impossible angle like the Nigeria star?
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) February 18, 2023
The “Kvaramen” hit again on Friday night and led Napoli to victory away at Sassuolo. The damage was done early and Kvaratskhelia was the first one to show his incredible form and talent. Almost as if he was jealous, Osimhen soon followed with his contender for goal of the weekend.
One thing is for sure: they are both on another planet at the moment. They are the best players in Italy without a doubt and among the Top 10 in Europe right now. They are unstoppable, and their goals were unstoppable too. You can pick the one you liked most, but don’t forget to acknowledge and celebrate the other one, too. — Laurens
— Official SSC Napoli (@en_sscnapoli) February 18, 2023
Griezmann leading Atletico’s Champions League charge
Antoine Griezmann is Atletico Madrid‘s talisman again. The Frenchman is rediscovering some of his best form for the club and, at times, all most single handedly driving them towards a top four finish in LaLiga.
That was the case on Sunday when he was the standout player in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Athletic Club. Griezmann scored the only goal of the game in the 73rd minute, dinking a little pass into Memphis Depay by the halfway line before racing onto the return ball and driving into the box. Once there, he sent a low finish into the bottom corner to secure three vital points for Diego Simeone’s side.
Atletico sit fourth, four points clear of Real Betis, who also won this week. And while we’re talking about Betis, Sergio Canales‘ incredible pass to set up Juanmi‘s opener against Real Valladolid on Saturday may well have been the best pass of the weekend across Europe’s top five leagues. — Marsden
Who else but Antoine Griezmann to open to scoring for Atletico? 🔥 pic.twitter.com/d4Y9qQbjR1
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 19, 2023
Teams in trouble
Chelsea going nowhere under Graham Potter
Chelsea have lost nine of their last 16 games in all competitions and their latest defeat was a 1-0 home loss against Southampton, who started the game as the Premier League’s bottom-placed team.
During their last five games, Chelsea have scored just one goal, despite adding Joao Felix and Mykhailo Mudryk to their squad in January. So whichever way you look at things at Stamford Bridge, it is clear that Graham Potter is not working out as the club’s manager.
The decision to fire Thomas Tuchel earlier this season seemed hasty at the time, but as the months have passed, it now looks like one of the biggest mistakes made by any club in recent seasons. Results and performances under Potter have been dire and the Chelsea supporters have now started to turn on the former Brighton boss.
Potter is simply out of depth, promoted to a club like Chelsea far too soon and he hasn’t helped himself by transplanting his Brighton coaching staff at Stamford Bridge because they are also ill-equipped for the job. Chelsea are going nowhere with him in charge, and it now seems only a matter of time until the club’s owners recognise their mistake in hiring him in the first place. — Ogden
Do Bayern Munich want a title race?
Could Dortmund have a chance at the Bundesliga title?
Jan Åge Fjørtoft discusses Dortmund’s chances in the Bundesliga title race.
It’s obviously glib to consider the Bundesliga’s most consistent and dominant team of the past decade as being a “team in trouble,” but their haphazard approach to a tricky trip to Borussia Monchengladbach has served to give their rivals a massive emotional and psychological boost. For a start, Dayot Upamecano‘s deserved red card for a last-man foul on Alassane Plea in the seventh minute set the tone for a nervous display, and while the game was 1-1 at half-time, they couldn’t possibly keep pace due to Gladbach’s man advantage.
– Stream on ESPN : LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)
In the end, 3-2 was somewhat flattering thanks to Mathys Tel‘s injury time finish with the game long since lost, but Bayern and manager Julian Nagelsmann have some vibe adjustments to make. Yes, they won 1-0 at PSG in the Champions League last-16 first leg, but the Bavarians will be kicking themselves for broadly dominating the game and yet leaving Lionel Messi & Co. a single-goal deficit for their trip to the Allianz Arena. Sunday saw Union Berlin miss their chance to go top after drawing 0-0 with last-placed Schalke, but the Bundesliga has a title race whether Bayern want it or not.
The gap between first and sixth is just five points, and with 13 games to play Bayern will need to find their best down the stretch. Up next in the next month: a home date with Union, a home leg with PSG and a trip to Leverkusen ahead of an April 1 date with Borussia Dortmund, who have won every league game since the winter break.
Buckle up, Nagelsmann. — Tyler
Coleman, Ward-Prowse step up for their struggling teams
Which Premier League squad is most likely to be relegated?
The ESPN FC crew discusses which Premier League team is most likely to be relegated between Bournemouth, West Ham, Wolves, Leeds and Southampton. (edited)
It has to be shared this week after the goal-scoring heroics of two dedicated club servants trying to save their respective teams from relegation.
Everton‘s Seamus Coleman and Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse — with 794 appearances between them — both scored winners on Saturday in the battle for Premier League survival. Everton beat fellow relegation candidates Leeds United 1-0 at Goodison Park while Southampton shocked Chelsea by the same scoreline at Stamford Bridge thanks to a trademark Ward-Prowse free kick. Only David Beckham has scored with more direct free kicks in the Premier League.
Ward-Prowse won’t care much for getting closer to Beckham’s record in comparison to helping Southampton stay up in the same way Coleman won’t be too bothered about his first goal for more than a year, only that it earned Everton a vital win. The only prize that matters this season is Premier League survival and both Coleman and Ward-Prowse did their bit this weekend — Dawson
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.