We kick off February with another weekend of Europe’s best football. While there has been some attention focused on the latter stages of the Africa Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup, this isn’t to take away from the drama we saw all across the continent. In Germany, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen got crucial wins as they continue to battle for the Bundesliga title. In Spain, Barcelona snatched a victory against Alavés while surprise package Girona failed to win for the first time in nearly a month as the LaLiga race heats up. In France, PSG triumphed against Strasbourg as they prepare for the return of the UEFA Champions League.
On Sunday, Chelsea reached yet another rock bottom as the Stamford Bridge faithful booed the Blues off the pitch following a 4-2 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers. In Spain, Real Madrid looked primed to take advantage of Girona’s dropped points by leading Atlético Madrid in second-half stoppage time, only for Los Blancos academy graduate Marcos Llorente to equalise for Los Rojiblancos in the 93rd minute and keep LaLiga’s title fight rumbling on.
Here’s what else you missed in European soccer this weekend.
– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga & more (U.S.)
The lead: Chelsea find a new nadir
Stamford Bridge hasn’t been home to many pleasant memories for the Chelsea faithful since Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital took over the club in May 2022. And yet, amid 20 months of turmoil, Sunday’s 4-2 defeat to Wolves might just be the nadir of this project — so far.
Cole Palmer, the lone bright spot of this campaign for the west London club, opened the scoring at 19 minutes. After that, it all went downhill for the hosts.
Matheus Cunha equalised just three minutes later, an Axel Disasi own goal put Wolves in front at half-time, and Cunha completed his hat trick — the first visitor to do so at Stamford Bridge since Sergio Aguero in April 2016 — from the spot in the 82nd minute. A Thiago Silva consolation goal did little to console the few fans who stuck around for the entire 90 minutes.
Chelsea players were vociferously booed at the full-time whistle. Earlier in the match, a foul-mouthed chant orchestrated by the Wolves supporters, telling the hosts just how poor they were, was adopted by the majority of the home fans, too.
“I think we are all not good enough,” manager Mauricio Pochettino said after the match, in addition to apologising to supporters for his side’s performance. “At the moment, this is the reality. Myself, also. What we are showing today is we are not good enough.
“At the moment, we are not matching the history of the club … that is true. We need to accept and be critical. We will not give up.”
Boehly and Clearlake were meant to oversee a forensic reimagining of Chelsea, a process that would restore the club to the summit of English football. Instead, they’ve spent more than £1 billion on transfer fees and sacked two full-time managers, with nothing to show for it.
Every dropped point takes them further away from the European football that the club so desperately needs to finance its lavish spending. With Chelsea now 11th in the Premier League table and Pochettino showing few signs that he can navigate a route back to the top, it’s becoming easier to imagine the club’s leadership adding a third full-time manager to the pile of collateral damage — even if it’s a fate Pochettino might not necessarily deserve. — Austin Lindberg
Sunday talking points around the leagues
Díaz shines but Atlético keep Madrid from running away with LaLiga
Brahim Díaz wasn’t supposed to start the Madrid Derby.
In fact, when Vinícius Júnior’s back pain forced him out of the Real Madrid starting XI during the warmup at the Santiago Bernabeu, Díaz wasn’t even the obvious alternative. Centre forward Joselu, who scored twice against Getafe in midweek, was first expected to come in as a last-minute replacement to face Atlético Madrid.
Instead, coach Carlo Ancelotti opted for Díaz. He was rewarded with a man-of-the-match performance, including the early goal that put Real Madrid up 1-0 and in the driver’s seat, a position they looked to be holding onto until Marcos Llorente’s added-time equaliser saw the game end 1-1. The decision to start him was proved right, although Ancelotti’s subsequent move to withdraw Díaz with 20 minutes left will come under scrutiny given how the game ended.
Díaz’s goal was the highlight of the first half. When the ball fell to him inside the Atlético box in the 20th minute, he kept his head, controlling before coolly finishing past Jan Oblak in the Atlético goal. From that moment, Real Madrid were on top, Atlético on the back foot. Still, there was time for drama at both ends. Atlético had a Stefan Savic headed goal disallowed for offside, Saúl Ñíguez interfering with goalkeeper Andriy Lunin’s view. Jude Bellingham had a penalty appeal turned down.
Garcia: Atletico lucky to grab point in Madrid derby
Luis Garcia explains why Atletico Madrid were lucky to get their last minute equaliser as the Madrid derby ended 1-1.
Rodrygo spurned a great chance to put Madrid up 2-0, shooting wide when he had teammates in more central positions waiting for a pass. After 70 minutes, Díaz fashioned another, glorious chance of his own, dancing past defenders Mario Hermoso and Axel Witsel before his shot drifted wide. He was substituted for Joselu moments later to an ovation from the Bernabeu crowd.
At that point, Real Madrid were on course to extend their lead over Girona at the top of the table. Llorente’s late header meant they eventually had to settle for maintaining a two-point advantage after Girona had also drawn 24 hours earlier.
Díaz has quickly become a fan favourite. He’s different, unpredictable, an old-fashioned dribbler who’s willing to take risks and take on defenders. After a quiet start to the season — when Ancelotti appeared not entirely convinced by the former Milan forward’s ability to contribute — he’s now one of Real Madrid’s most dynamic, incisive players, alongside Bellingham and Vinicius the most likely to change a game with a moment of quick thinking, creative ingenuity.
He has scored seven goals in all competitions, four of them in LaLiga, a respectable figure that becomes impressive when you consider that 10 of his 18 league appearances have come as a substitute. Competition from Vinicius, Rodrygo, Joselu and even Bellingham in the forward line means he might never be a guaranteed starter. But right now, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve a place in the team, especially after this display. Let’s see if he starts against Girona next weekend. — Alex Kirkland
Liverpool wobble in title slip at Arsenal
Liverpool suffered their first Premier League defeat since September as mistakes by two of their most important players — Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker — gifted Arsenal a 3-1 win to keep Mikel Arteta’s team in the title race.
Jurgen Klopp’s outfit had emerged as the biggest threat to champions Manchester City by building a 15-game unbeaten run in the league since losing at Tottenham Hotspur on Sept. 30 — a defeat that ended with Liverpool losing both Curtis Jones and Diogo Jota to red cards. While the Reds remain top of the table after losing at the Emirates, though, Arsenal’s win moved them to within two points of the leaders while City — five points off the pace in third — can now claim top spot if they win their two games in hand, starting with Monday’s trip to Brentford.
Liverpool only have themselves to blame for the loss, however, with all three Arsenal goals rooted in defensive mistakes.
Bukayo Saka opened the scoring for the Gunners at 14 minutes after Kai Havertz’s shot was pushed into his direction by Alisson, but Gabriel Martinelli’s goal at 67 minutes — which restored Arsenal’s lead after an own-goal equaliser by Gabriel — came from a defensive meltdown by Van Dijk and Alisson, who collided on the edge of the penalty area to leave Martinelli with an open goal from 18 yards. Liverpool had dominated the second half until that stage, but Martinelli’s goal gave Arsenal renewed belief, and they made it 3-1 in stoppage time when Leandro Trossard burst down the left before beating Alisson at the near post.
With Dominik Szoboszlai missing after aggravating a hamstring problem and Mohamed Salah still out with the injury suffered during Africa Cup of Nations duty with Egypt last month, Liverpool were without two of their most potent attacking players. Their defeat wasn’t down to attacking shortcomings, though — it was a result of uncharacteristic errors by Alisson and Van Dijk. — Mark Ogden
Inter in control of Serie A after Derby d’Italia win
Is the Serie A title race done and dusted? After Inter Milan beat Juventus 1-0 on Sunday in a top-of-the-table Derby d’Italia, it sure seems like it.
The 2020-21 Italian champions now have a four-point lead over the Turin club, the head-to-head advantage and a game in hand. Inter have been so good this season (only one loss and three draws from 22 games played), it’s hard to see how they could blow their lead. They showed their class against their biggest rivals for the title. Only Juve could realistically stop them going all the way, but the difference between the two teams at San Siro was obvious.
Even if the visitors had a couple of interesting moments, they could not break a very good Inter defence and were lucky to lose by only one goal as the leaders created many chances through Marcus Thuram, Nicolò Barella and Marko Arnautovic. Inter were too strong, too solid, and even if they were a bit lucky with the Federico Gatti own goal that gave them the win, they were worthy victors. Hakan Calhanoglu ran the game from midfield once more while Thuram, who forced the own goal, was decisive again.
Simone Inzaghi and his players, who have already won the Italian Supercoppa and are still in the Champions League, are in command of Serie A. And that was never really in doubt. — Julien Laurens
Arsenal’s title hopes dealt hammer blow
Unbeaten by West Ham United in 10 previous meetings and having kept clean sheets in five of those, Arsenal would have been looking for a routine win away in Dagenham on Sunday, but Rehanne Skinner’s Irons had other ideas. In their early meetings, during West Ham’s first days in the Women’s Super League, the newcomers made life far from comfortable for the Gunners. As the Hammers settled into their new surroundings, though, Arsenal wedged a gap between the two, keeping the Irons at arm’s length, yet the game on Sunday felt much more like those early clashes.
The defending from the hosts was tireless; Honoka Hayashi, Hawa Cissoko and winter signing Katrina Gorry ran themselves into the turf over the course of the game as West Ham frustrated the title chasers. Having struggled against tight defences all season, the Gunners grabbed a surprising goal late in the first half when Alessia Russo was left unmarked to nod a parried effort home, and there was a question about the floodgates opening after the break.
However, the hosts hit the ground running at the restart and soon had a penalty that Viviane Asseyi stroked home less than 10 minutes before Cissoko volleyed a sublime effort into the back of Manuela Zinsberger’s net. Then it was all about the strength of West Ham’s defence and their ability to repel Arsenal’s better efforts, the Gunners again causing their own problems with a lack of dynamic movement and an unwavering predictability about how they wanted to play.
The frustrations from Arsenal heightened by the referee waving play on after a sloppy challenge on Cloe Lacasse in the box, the second penalty shout for the Gunners of the game. The visitors will have a fair gripe with the officiating but the blame for their dropped points will land at their own doorstep.
The warning signs have been there all season for Arsenal, the team unconvincing in their wins over Aston Villa, Manchester City, Everton and even Bristol City. As it is, the Gunners lose pace on Chelsea and City at the top of the table as West Ham take a step away from the drop zone.— Sophie Lawson
Americans abroad: De la Torre powers Celta past Osasuna
Luca de la Torre scored his first goal in LaLiga on Sunday, as Celta Vigo beat Osasuna 3-0 at El Sadar. The 25-year-old midfielder also assisted on Celta’s opener, giving him his sixth and seventh goal contributions since moving to the Spanish top flight in the summer of 2022.
In England, Gio Reyna made his highly anticipated debut for Nottingham Forest. The 21-year-old playmaker on loan from Borussia Dortmund came off the bench in the 78th minute, replacing Anthony Elanga, as the Midlands club drew 1-1 at AFC Bournemouth.
There was a Concacaf clash in Serie A, as Canada international Tajon Buchanan’s Inter Milan extended their lead over Juventus atop the table with a 1-0 win. Weston McKennie went the full 90 minutes for the Bianconeri while Timothy Weah played the final 24 minutes.
In the Bundesliga, Kevin Paredes went 90 minutes for VfL Wolfsburg while John Brooks did the same for TSG Hoffenheim as those two drew 2-2. Brenden Aaronson appeared in the final 15 minutes of Union Berlin’s 2-0 defeat at RB Leipzig. — Lindberg
News of the day
Mikel Arteta has said he believes Arsenal are firmly in the Premier League title race and vowed to learn lessons from last season after beating leaders Liverpool 3-1 at Emirates Stadium. “We are there, that’s for sure,” Arteta said. “We want to continue to be there. We’ve been really consistent all season, if not you aren’t where we are today.”
And finally, on Sunday …
It was clear to Arteta: if Arsenal were going to beat Liverpool, they were going to need help. He wanted the backing of the Gunners faithful, he wanted to replicate the atmosphere of Anfield, a cauldron of noise and intimidation, and ship it down to north London.
It wasn’t something he just hoped for, though. He set about making it happen. Sources told ESPN’s James Olley that Arteta was integral in the production of a prematch hype video to get pulses racing on Holloway Road.
“That’s the best atmosphere I’ve seen all season,” Arteta said after the match. “We are connecting with our people. We tried to produce a video to tell them how much we need them. [The fans] got the best out of every player today.”
Perhaps Arteta can rest easy in the knowledge that, should he ever tire of this football lark, there’s a career waiting for him in film production.
The lead: Leverkusen, Bayern continue neck and neck for Bundesliga title
A sigh of relief swept through the Allianz Arena following Bayern Munich’s hard-fought 3-1 win over Borussia Monchengladbach. The visitors employed a similar approach to last Sunday when they secured a goalless draw with the Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen. This time, the team managed by Gerardo Seoane even managed a goal in the first half, thanks to Nico Elvedi intercepting a Manuel Neuer pass intended for Thomas Müller. Elvedi initiated a quick one-two with USMNT player Jordan Pefok before beating Neuer with a fine strike.
Bayern scored the equalizer on the stroke of half-time when Leroy Sané made a powerful run down the wing before finding Müller in the middle, where the 34-year-old veteran assisted youngster Aleksandar Pavlović. While Bayern looked more comfortable with the ball than Monchengladbach, manager Thomas Tuchel could not have been happy with how fruitless many spells of possession were throughout the second half. Bayern had to thank Monchengladbach goalkeeper Moritz Nicolas, who was not able to clear the ball against Müller in the 70th minute, thus allowing Harry Kane to score from close range while Nicolas was scrambling on the floor.
Interestingly, at times, Monchengladbach took more risks to create goal-scoring opportunities at the Allianz Arena than they did against Leverkusen last time out. As good as Bayern are, they are not necessarily instilling fear in their opponents at the moment. But despite all the criticism towards Tuchel and his players, Bayern remain only two points behind Leverkusen. The Bundesliga leaders comfortably won 2-0 in Darmstadt, with Nathan Tella recording his first brace as a Leverkusen player. The Arsenal academy graduate was signed from Southampton for €23 million last summer but had not lived up to expectations before the winter break.
Leverkusen manager Xabi Alonso can be pleased that backups such as Nathan Tella and Josip Stanisic are becoming real alternatives, especially with how busy the schedule is in February. Leverkusen host VfB Stuttgart on Tuesday in the DFB Pokal quarterfinals before fighting over Bundesliga top billing with perennial champions Bayern Munich next Saturday. — Constantin Eckner
Saturday talking points around the leagues
Barca defeat Alaves in match with more referee controversy
In just 13 minutes, Vitor Roque scored the goal that earned Barcelona a 3-1 win at Alavés and managed to pick up two yellow cards, the second earning him a red and leaving his manager, Xavi Hernández, absolutely seething, once again, about the refereeing in LaLiga.
Roque, Barça’s lone January signing, had made a fairly low-key start to his career in Spain. He failed to score in his first five appearances following his transfer from Athletico Paranaense, but he has been in the headlines this week. The 18-year-old Brazilian international scored the winner off the bench against Osasuna in midweek and made an instant impact in Vitoria on Saturday, too. Four minutes after coming on, he cooly slotted home to seal the points for Barça, but his evening soon took a downturn.
On a booking, an innocuous challenge on Rafa Marín led to a second yellow card and a disputed red, with Xavi moaning Barça are being made to pay for the Negreira case — an investigation into payments Barça made to the companies of the former vice-president of Spain’s refereeing body, José María Enríquez Negreira.
“It’s a refereeing error against us — it’s just an unfair dismissal, if we are being honest,” Xavi said. “I just ask the referees to let us compete in LaLiga. This is another case of clear mistake against Barça. Everyone can see the reality.”
Xavi’s complaints took the focus away from what was a fairly comfortable win by Barça’s recent standards. Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gündogan scored really good goals, Andreas Christensen did well in a new midfield role and youngsters Pau Cubarsí and Lamine Yamal continue to impress. That’s two wins in two since Xavi announced he will step down in the summer. Barça are hanging in there for now and will hope title rivals Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, and Girona will all drop points as they play each other over the next two weeks. — Samuel Marsden
PSG continue to lead the way in Ligue 1, even with an unconvincing win
How many times in the last few weeks have we seen the same scenario? PSG win in Ligue 1 but they don’t play well or they don’t create much, get pegged back, or struggle defensively?
They usually get the three points but simply don’t convince. Ten days before the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Real Sociedad at the Parc des Princes, the Parisians got another stuttering 2-1 victory away to Strasbourg on Friday night. They were 2-0 up at halftime thanks to Kylian Mbappé and Marco Asensio but conceded many chances with their opponents scoring and hitting the woodwork. Until the end, they were under pressure. It was the same against Brest at home last weekend (2-2), and at Lille before Christmas.
Against Lens, they sealed their 2-0 win in the dying minutes but before that, even with 10 men, Lens caused them trouble. Toulouse had 17 shots at the Parc des Princes against PSG last month in their 2-0 loss. For all the control that manager Luis Enrique is talking about and wants his team to have, overall, it is not good enough. Paris can score at any time because of their incredible attacking talents but when they don’t have the ball, they are too vulnerable.
It was far too easy for Strasbourg to create chances. In Ligue 1, PSG will be fine and they are currently nine points clear of second place Nice. But in the Champions League? The lack of balance and defensive structure and control will be issues. Luis Enrique said in December that his team would be much better in February. We are in February and Paris are not getting better. La Real will fancy their chances on Feb. 14 in Paris. — Julien Laurens
Girona drop points to Real Sociedad at home
Girona missed the chance to return to the top of LaLiga ahead of Sunday’s Madrid derby as they were held to a goalless draw by Real Sociedad at Montilivi on Saturday. In isolation, it’s not a bad point against a La Real side who will meet Paris Saint-Germain this month in the Champions League and are also into the semifinal of the Copa del Rey.
However, in a title race with a relentless Real Madrid team, it could mean Girona end the weekend four points behind the leaders if Carlo Ancelotti’s side beat Atlético at the Santiago Bernabeu. Girona then travel to Madrid next weekend, with Daley Blind and Yangel Herrera ruled out of that trip after picking up their fifth bookings of the season. Despite the lack of goals, this was a fascinating affair. La Real pressed the home side tirelessly and it took Girona a while to get going. They thought they had opened the scoring in the 24th minute but, after a long VAR review, an offside was given against Sávio, who had set up the goal for Herrera.
There were 36 seconds between the offside and the ball hitting the net. The balance of the game continued to shift, with the frenzied pace providing plenty of action, but neither team could steal the points. The frustration was all too much for Girona coach Míchel, who lost top scorer Artem Dovbyk to injury ahead of the match, and he was sent off late on for protesting.— Marsden
Americans abroad: Pulisic and Musah the high points on a lackluster day
The American duo of Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah has continued to impress in Italy as both USMNT players saw minutes in Milan’s 3-2 win over Frosinone as they look to continue to put their head in the Serie A race, with Juventus and Inter only ahead of them in the table. Despite having to sweat it out in the end thanks to a Luka Jovic winner, Pulisic was able to start the match and play 80 minutes for Stefano Pioli’s side. In comparison, Musah came off the bench to play the last four minutes but it was enough to secure all three points for the Rossoneri.
Meanwhile, back in the Bundesliga, Pefok was able to record an assist for Elvedi’s opening goal for Borussia Monchengladbach in their match against Bayern Munich. Finally, it was more disappointment for the USMNT contingent in the Premier League as Tim Ream’s Fulham were unable to beat Burnley and had to settle for a 2-2 draw while Auston Trusty’s Sheffield United were left bamboozled by Aston Villa as the Villans scored five past the promoted side, who look more unlikely to escape the abyss that is the last place spot of the table, with relegation to the Championship looking more likely than ever. — Roberto Rojas
News of the day
Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti says he “won’t sink to the level” of Barcelona coach Xavi Hernández and president Joan Laporta after both accused Madrid of “influencing the competition” with the criticism of LaLiga referees. “I’m a professional, and as a professional, I don’t want to sink to that level, out of respect to Spanish football,” Ancelotti said “Don’t ask me about that anymore. I don’t want to sink [to that]. It isn’t a level for professionals.”
And finally, on Saturday …
We saw an eight-goal thriller in the northeast of England as Newcastle United hosted Luton Town, with both teams coming off huge wins against Aston Villa and Brighton & Hove Albion, respectively. Sean Longstaff was able to give Eddie Howe’s a 2-1 lead after 23 minutes with his brace but by the time Elijah Adebayo scored his fourth goal in two matches, the Hatters were 4-2 up at St. James’ Park. Nevertheless, Newcastle didn’t give up with Kieran Trippier and the recently returned Harvey Barnes scoring as a quick response to Adebayo’s goal to give both teams a point in a 4-4 draw.
Newcastle and Luton treated us to an absolute thriller at St James’ Park 📊 pic.twitter.com/oiKTzw9Esy
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 3, 2024
It’s safe to say that was certainly the most entertaining game within Europe’s top five leagues but it also painted a bigger picture of how both teams can respond from this result. For Newcastle, it’s a case of them trying to build momentum after failing to do any business in the winter transfer window which also includes not trying to drop points at home as they aspire to qualify for a European competition next season after being eliminated from all of it this season. For Luton, it’s a case of them feeling that their chances of escaping relegation are in a good position but that the journey is still long with the race to not go down from the Premier League still getting tighter than ever.