European soccer news: Felix the difference-maker for Barcelona

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European soccer news: Felix the difference-maker for Barcelona

On Sunday, Barcelona went three points ahead of Atletico Madrid in third place after winning 1-0, Fulham suffered a dramatic 4-3 loss to Liverpool, and Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen played out a 1-1 draw. 

There's plenty to get to, so how about we stop dilly-dallying and get to it then?

SUNDAY REVIEW

The Sunday lead: Félix makes the difference for Barça against parent club

Anything but a win would have seen Barça lose ground on joint leaders Real Madrid and Girona, who both won on Saturday. Instead, it was Atlético who fell seven points behind the top two, although they could move level with Barça, four points back, if they win their game in hand.

The buildup to Sunday's game had been dominated by Félix. The week had been packed with mudslinging between him and his ex-teammates following his summer move to Barça. He says they would be lying if they didn't admit they would rather play more attacking football. They say he never found any consistency in Madrid. It remains to be seen what happens at the end of the season, when in theory he's due back at Atlético.

All that matters for now, though, is the present. He scored the only goal of the game in the 28th minute, dinking brilliantly over old sparring partner Jan Oblak in the visitor's goal after being fed by Raphinha. There was never any doubt about him celebrating against his parent club. In Atlético colours, he failed to score in 17 games against Barça or Madrid; it took just one to net against the Rojiblancos.

Félix's goal was just reward for a brilliant first half from Barça. Chances came and went for Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Félix before the opener. There was a penalty shout for a foul on Félix as well, one of those perhaps given elsewhere on the pitch but not here because he had got his shot away, Oblak making the save.

Frenkie de Jong and Ilkay Gündoğan ran game from base of midfield, Pedri showed glimpses of his best form ahead of them and Jules Koundé looked good at right-back. But with the second goal eluding them, Atlético remained in the game. Raphinha hit the post after the break before a late push from the Diego Simeone's side.

Memphis Depay, returning to his former club, saw his free kick superbly tipped on to the bar by Iñaki Peña, once again replacing the injured Marc-André ter Stegen. Ángel Correa then shot straight at Peña at the death. In between, Lewandowski missed a chance to clinch the points after a brilliant solo run.

A week ago, Xavi Hernández was under pressure. A win against FC Porto, booking Barça's place in the Champions League knockout stages, and this victory over Atlético will keep the critics at bay. Only for a week, mind, as leaders Girona visit next week and as Xavi says: "Each win only buys me some peace until the next match." -- Sam Marsden


Sunday talking points around the leagues

Alexander-Arnold rescues Liverpool in style

Not many people would have predicted a difficult and laborious afternoon for Liverpool at home against Fulham on Sunday. The Reds had won their six Premier League games at Anfield so far this season, scoring 17 goals and conceding only two.

Surely, the west London side would not be different from any other visitors this campaign. Yet, this proved to be Liverpool's toughest opponent at home and it's only through the sheer brilliance of Trent Alexander-Arnold that Jurgen Klopp's men managed to make it a perfect seven with another win. The England right-back scored the winning goal in the 4-3 win in the 88th minute with a lovely half-volley in a midfielder role he occupied for the last 25 minutes of the game.

In his usual right-back position before that, he was a key part in everything good and bad his team did: he was very creative and decisive with the ball and sloppy and poor defensively without the ball like the rest of the team. Liverpool could and should have scored more but, more importantly, they will have to cut these defensive mistakes if they want to challenge for the title this season. They were far too open again and lacked control, especially in midfield.


Borussia Dortmund end Bayer Leverkusen's winning streak as Bundesliga clash ends in draw

With Bayern Munich's game against Union Berlin being postponed due to the dramatic weather conditions in southern Germany, all eyes were on Sunday's clash between Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund. The gap between the two was 10 points going into matchday 13 of the Bundesliga, as Leverkusen had only dropped points once this season, when they drew with Bayern in mid-September. Since then, the Xabi Alonso-led side had won eight league games in a row.

Dortmund, despite some underwhelming performances this year, proved to be a tough test for Leverkusen. The roles became quite clear from the opening whistle. Dortmund were trying to hit Leverkusen with transition attacks while the hosts were determined to have control over the ball and suffocate BVB that way. Dortmund struck with their first attacking play, as Niclas Füllkrug defended the ball very well against Edmond Tapsoba before playing it to Julian Ryerson who broke through coming from the left wing. While Füllkrug has not scored many goals since his move from Werder Bremen in August, he often finds himself in the Olivier Giroud role, in that he is a valuable contributor to Dortmund's attack through his ability to secure the ball and assist the fast-paced players around him.

Following Dortmund's goal in the fifth minute, the game at BayArena became an almost one-sided affair, as Leverkusen made attempt after attempt to progress with the ball downfield and find gaps in Dortmund's defence. While Alonso's players once again showed a great understanding of positional play and how to use ball possession effectively, they had a hard time playing that perfect final pass. Dortmund's back line led by Mats Hummels, who has been in stellar form recently, is becoming more stable by the week. Still, at some point Leverkusen had to get through the bulwark and get their chance to score.

The equaliser came seconds after Alonso had brought on Patrik Schick in the 79th minute, as Schick received the ball from Odilon Kossounou and then used the free space he had to find Victor Boniface with a beautiful pass in the 6-yard box. Schick was kind of forgotten about because of several injuries sidelining him for almost a year, while Boniface arrived during the summer and took the Czech's spot. But Alonso may remember his days at Liverpool when Rafa Benítez used forward pairings like Harry Kewell and Milan Baroš successfully, and the current Leverkusen boss could consider employing both Schick, a technical striker, and Boniface, a dynamic centre-forward, together.


Americans Abroad: Tough loss for Robinson, Ream while Reyna left out again

Despite a solid performance from defenders Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson (the latter notched an assist), Fulham suffered a dramatic 4-3 loss to Liverpool. Robinson was excellent, making 14 interceptions and winning eight duels as well as providing the cross for his side's first goal. That's now goal contributions in five straight games for club and country for the left-back. Meanwhile, Ream captained his side and had a goal disallowed for offside. Fulham now sit 14th in the table. 

Elsewhere, Chris Richards got his first start since September for Crystal Palace in a 1-1 draw vs. West Ham United. The 23-year-old is a defender by trade, but was deployed in midfield for the Eagles, where he impressed and held his own after winning 11 of his 13 duels. Richards will hope his performance earns him more minutes and a starting spot as Palace gear up for a jam-packed December schedule. 

In the Bundesliga, Gio Reyna was left on the bench in Dortmund's 1-1 draw against Bayer Leverkusen. We can guess at the reasons, but it's clear that the 21-year-old could use a move elsewhere this January transfer window as the U.S. men's national team prepares for the 2024 Copa America. 

Finally, in Ligue 1, Folarin Balogun was taken off in the 74th minute for Monaco after registering only one shot on target. The 22-year-old has registered one goal in the past eight games and four in total in the league this campaign. In this run of form, he's a far shout from his excellent numbers last season when he netted 21 goals. 


Sunday's news

  • Man City's Erling Haaland could be charged by the English Football Association after criticising a controversial late decision by referee Simon Hooper during Manchester City's 3-3 draw with Tottenham with a post on X saying, "Wtf." City were denied a match-winning chance five minutes into stoppage time when Hooper stopped play when Jack Grealish raced onto a through ball by Haaland. Asked about Haaland's reaction, City manager Pep Guardiola said, "It's normal. His reaction was the same for 10 players. The rules are you cannot talk with the referees or fourth officials, so we should have had 10 players sent off today. He's a little bit disappointed."
  • Cordoba defender Dragisa Gudelj was in good condition after collapsing in the first half of a Spanish third-division game against Melilla on Sunday, eight months after suffering a cardiac arrest during another match. Cordoba said the 26-year-old Gudelj was doing well and undergoing tests in a hospital in Melilla. In March, the game between Cordoba and Racing Ferrol was abandoned early in the first half after Gudelj collapsed and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.
  • Inter Milan thrashed defending Serie A champions Napoli 3-0 to go top of the table, with Juventus two points behind. Napoli now sit in fifth place after an underwhelming start to their title defense. 

And finally ...

Fans were treated to a heartwarming image of Bayer Leverkusen striker Boniface's grandmother and Granit Xhaka meeting after the draw against Dortmund. Boniface scored in the 79th minute to equalize and extended his team's 20-game unbeaten streak in all competitions. Grandma Boniface was also seen celebrating with the fans after her grandson's goal. 

Boniface has eight goals and five assists in 13 league matches this season, and we'll hope for many more if it means wholesome moments like these. 

SATURDAY REVIEW

The Saturday lead: Arsenal start fast finally, but still allow nerves in win over Wolves

Manager Mikel Arteta has explained a lack of fluency in some of the Gunners' play this season by a failure to score early and to change the state of a match in their favour, creating tension they could otherwise avoid. After thrashing Lens 6-0 in midweek, it appeared Arsenal were making further headway in improving on their fast starts on Saturday by racing into a 2-0 lead over Wolves after just 13 minutes.

Yet, despite Wolves offering little threat, Arsenal managed to inject some jeopardy into a game that was long there for the taking. Zinchenko lost the ball cheaply in his own box, allowing Matheus Cunha to fire in four minutes from time to set up a needlessly nervy finale. Substitute Eddie Nketiah wasted a glorious chance to finish Wolves off two minutes later, hitting the post when clean through.


Saturday talking points around the leagues

Kroos turns back the clock, leads injury-ridden Real Madrid to another win

At the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, Kroos provided the moment of outstanding quality in Madrid's 2-0 LaLiga win over Granada with a contribution that showcased his ability to execute quicker, and more accurately, than just about anybody else. In the 26th minute, Kroos met Brahim Díaz's pass infield with a cushioned, first-time through ball which split the Granada defence and put Diaz one-on-one with substitute goalkeeper André Ferreira.

It wasn't just the assist. Kroos had more touches (148) and completed more passes (124 of 132 attempted) than any other player on the Bernabeu pitch.


Manchester United's loss to Newcastle raises a question: Where's Varane?

Of all the issues at Manchester United at the moment (and there are plenty) Raphaël Varane's disappearance from manager Erik ten Hag's plans is a significant one.

Against Newcastle on Saturday, Varane was again left on the bench as Ten Hag picked Harry Maguire and left-back Luke Shaw as his centre-back pairing. In midweek against Galatasaray, Victor Lindelöf was selected ahead of him and, since the 3-2 defeat to the Turkish champions at Old Trafford on Oct. 3, Varane has started just one of United's last 11 games.


Girona's thrilling comeback the latest clue the joint LaLiga leaders are in for a special season

Michel's side play on the front foot and after going a goal down to Valencia they did not abandon their principles. They pressed and harried until the end and got their reward in the final 10 minutes, substitute Yan Couto setting up Cristhian Stuani for both of the goals.

"They move you around and they play with you," said Valencia scorer Hugo Duro at full time. "They are a magnificent side. There's a reason they are up the top."

The winning goal sent Michel racing down the touchline to celebrate with his players in front of a 13,343 sell-out crowd. As Girona sit level on points with Real Madrid on the LaLiga table, the belief that they can achieve something historic this season is growing. With 38 points from a possible 45, it's not hard to see why.


Americans Abroad: Koleosho scores first Premier League goal; Pulisic reaches Serie A goals record for USMNT 

U.S. men's national team fans may not have heard of Luca Koleosho, but after this weekend that could change. The American-born winger scored his first Premier League goal on Saturday for Burnley's win over Sheffield United. It was the fourth goal in a five-goal rout, but still a big milestone for Koleosho. 

The 19-year-old was born in Connecticut, but moved to Spain at a young age to pursue his soccer career, where he ended up in Espanyol's youth system and joined the senior team last year. He joined Burnley in the most recent summer transfer window on a four-year deal.

Koleosho is eligible to represent the U.S., Canada, Nigeria and Italy. He made a few appearances for the USMNT at the youth level, but since then has been representing Italy, debuting for the Under-21 team last month.

Meanwhile, Christian Pulisic scored his fifth league goal for AC Milan since joining the club this summer, scoring the game-winner in Milan's 3-1 over Frosinone 3-1 on Saturday in Serie A.


News of the day

  • The draw for the 2024 edition of the European Championship took place Saturday, and Spain and France have both been placed into tough groups. All the Euro groups, plus analysis, are here.

  • The format of UEFA Women's Champions League will undergo a major overhaul for the group stage from the 2025-26 season while a second-tier competition will be launched, UEFA announced on Saturday. The new UWCL format will consist "of an 18-team league phase with three home and three away matches followed by knock-out rounds," UEFA said, with further details about the new competition forthcoming.

  • A frustrated Luis Enrique said on Saturday that his Paris Saint-Germain team does not simply rely on striker Kylian Mbappé for goals. The manager was asked about the large gap in goal production on the team, but dismissed that he had any concerns: "There are a lot of players who have scored. We don't just depend on Kylian," he said, in part.


And finally ...

Bayern Munich's match against Union Berlin, scheduled for Saturday at Allianz Arena, had to be postponed due to heavy snowfall, which also caused hundreds of flights to be canceled in Germany. 

Look at the photos and it's easy to see why, even though a could've been fun. 

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