Atletico Madrid, Lionel Messi and Schalke's Slide: Talking Points from European Football

News18
·3-min read

Atletico Madrid stopped the rot, while Lionel Messi again enjoyed himself playing against Sevilla and it has been another turbulent few days at Schalke and in Marseille, two of Europe’s crisis clubs. AFP Sport rounds up some of the main talking points from across the continent:

ATLETICO DIG THEMSELVES OUT OF RUT

The wheels threatened to come off for Atletico Madrid in February, with a run of one win in four in La Liga being followed by a hugely disappointing display in losing 1-0 to Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Bucharest.

But in true Diego Simeone fashion, Atletico bounced back in adversity, winning 2-0 at Villarreal on Sunday with an Alvaro Pedraza own goal and then a strike by Joao Felix, who had been dropped to the bench at kick-off following the Chelsea debacle.

“I like a rebellious player, one who shows pride and wants to turn things around,” said Simeone of Joao Felix.

The win ended a run of eight consecutive games without a clean sheet and allowed Atletico to move five points clear at the top from Barcelona with a game in hand, although reigning champions Real Madrid will close to within three points if they beat Real Sociedad on Monday.

Next up it’s the Madrid derby.

MESSI JUST LOVES SEVILLA

It remains unlikely, but Barcelona cannot yet be ruled out in the Spanish title race after their impressive 2-0 win at Sevilla, in which Lionel Messi set up Ousmane Dembele for the opener and then scored the second after a one-two with the Frenchman.

Messi is now La Liga’s top scorer with 19 goals having netted 12 times in nine outings in 2021.

He simply loves playing against Sevilla too. According to renowned Spanish sports statistician Mister Chip, the Argentine has now scored 38 times and provided 17 assists in 42 games against Sevilla.

Barcelona’s next game is the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg against…Sevilla on Wednesday, when Ronald Koeman’s team must overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit.

SCHALKE SACK FOURTH COACH

Bundesliga crisis club Schalke 04 have sacked yet another coach, with Christian Gross, the 66-year-old Swiss, relieved of his duties in the wake of the 5-1 loss at VfB Stuttgart which left the Gelsenkirchen side still eight points adrift at the bottom and nine points from safety.

He won just one of 10 Bundesliga games in charge, losing five matches by a margin of at least three goals.

Gross is the fourth coach to leave Schalke this season, following David Wagner, Huub Stevens and Manuel Baum. His departure came in a major clear-out as sporting director Jochen Schneider, team coordinator Sascha Riether, assistant coach Rainer Widmayer and fitness coach Werner Leuthard were also fired.

The Royal Blues must now start preparing for life in the second division.

SAMPAOLI TO BE MARSEILLE’S SAVIOUR?

Meanwhile France’s crisis club, Marseille, appointed a new coach as Argentine Jorge Sampaoli was named as the permanent successor to Andre Villas-Boas, agreeing a deal until 2023 at the former Champions League winners.

Marseille also appointed Pablo Longoria, a 34-year-old Spaniard, as their new president in a move by American owner Frank McCourt seen as an attempt to placate supporters who were angry at the running of the club by former incumbent Jacques-Henri Eyraud.

On the field, Marseille came from behind to draw 1-1 with Ligue 1 title chasers Lyon, meaning they have lost just once in seven games since Villas-Boas was removed. However they remain outside the European places in seventh.

SPORTING STILL ON COURSE

Sporting Lisbon remain on course for a first Portuguese league title since 2002 after a goalless draw at rivals Porto in Saturday’s “Classico”.

In a disappointing game, Sporting’s young team — featuring five starters aged 22 or under — were held by defending champions Porto for the second time this season.

They remain unbeaten, with 17 wins and four draws in 21 league outings, and are nine points clear of Braga as well as 10 clear of Porto.