European football talking points: Liverpool showcase title credentials, Lionel 'GOAT' Messi inspires Barcelona and more

Nevin Thomas
Liverpool ensured Jose Mourinho's Manchester United didn't curtail their stay at the top the of Premier League while Barcelona and Lionel Messi were at their brilliant best.

It was business as usual for the top teams of the major European leagues as all secured victories albeit in contrasting ways. Barcelona and Lionel Messi were at their brilliant best as they overcame Levante while Juventus continued their march towards the title with a clinical 1-0 victory over city rivals Torino.

Liverpool ensured Jose Mourinho's Manchester United didn't curtail their stay at the top the of Premier League with a dominant 3-1 victory while Manchester City kept pace by beating Everton 3-1. It was a return to Sarriball for Chelsea after switching tactics against City last weekend, but the Blues struggled against a determined Brighton and had to rely on two moments of brilliance from Eden Hazard to secure all three points.

Liverpool head and shoulders above Manchester United

The match had been perfectly set-up for a Mourinho "master-class" and the Portuguese tactician didn't disappoint, opting for a 3-4-3 formation to reduce the impact Liverpool full-backs had on the field. While on paper the strategy was perfect, the likes of Ashley Young and Diogo Dalot struggled to implement it on the pitch.

The biggest surprise of the match though was Fabinho, who impressed in the holding midfielder role and showed how important he is for the Reds. The former Monaco midfielder, was part of a double-pivot midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation for Liverpool, with Nabi Keita and Sadio Mane attacking the wings, while Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah occupied central roles.

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The Brazilian was key to unlocking the defence for the first goal €" his lofted pass finding Mane inside the penalty box €" and his dominance in the role will come as a huge positive for manager Jurgen Klopp. The option of playing two defensive-minded central midfielders (Gini Wijnaldum partnered Fabinho in the match) will allow Klopp to play a 4-2-3-1 when his preferred 4-3-3 formation isn't ideal. Oddly enough, the 4-2-3-1 formation, which changes into a 4-2-4 in attack, is the same system that is reaping huge benefits for Klopp's former club Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga.

Manchester United's problems were compounded by substitute Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored two, after finding acres of space in the opposition half. Liverpool were smarter, faster and more incisive than their opponents in the match that was billed as the Reds' biggest test in a battle against Manchester City for the title.

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The Red Devils desperately need some help though. Striker Romelu Lukaku was woeful once again up-front for United, while the rest of the team looked equally hapless, confused about their roles on the field.

What's happening to the Bundesliga?

Borussia Dortmund were at their usual clinical best as they eased their way past a Werder Bremen side in the weekend. Their title rivals Borussia Monchengladbach had a disappointing day at the office though after managing only a goalless draw against Hoffenheim. Meanwhile, Bayern Munich ended their 2018 on a high with a thumping victory 4-0 victory over Hannover 96. But the larger worry for the Bundesliga is the alarmingly poor standards of football being played.

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Dortmund go into the winter break with a whopping nine-point lead on top of the table. While the men-in-yellow have impressed under Lucien Favre this season, playing an attacking brand of football, their opponents have all had terrible starts to the season. Much like the German team that turned up the at the 2018 World Cup, the Bundesliga teams have struggled for an identity and have looked directionless in many departments. Take Marco Reus' goal against Bremen for example €" Jadon Sancho literally ran past the defenders as if he was in PlayStation game, and knocked the ball onto Reus' path, who had an eternity to wait for the ball and hit it to the bottom corner. The defending for most teams have been dreadful. Bayern have conceded 18 goals in 15 matches while RB Leipzig, who have the best defensive record, have conceded 14 in the same number of games. Liverpool and Manchester City have just conceded 7 and 10 goals respectively in 17 matches while in La Liga, Atletico Madrid and Getafe have conceded just 12 in 16 games. There seems to be an overall lack of discipline in the Bundesliga and therefore, it is best advised to take Dortmund's attacking run with a pinch of salt.

G.O.A.T-level Messi

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick and provided two assists as Barcelona breezed past Levante in the La Liga. Yeah, five vital contributions by the world's fifth best player (I have a feeling I'll keep repeating this bit till the next Ballon d'Or winner is announced). In the process, the Argentina forward also became the first player to reach the 50-goal mark for the calendar year. He also has 14 league goals (highest in Europe's top leagues) and 10 assists (again the highest) in La Liga and looks set to be the leader once against in Barcelona's title push.

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Unfortunately for them, rivals Sevilla and Atletico Madrid are keeping pace, with both teams securing comfortable victories in the weekend. Atletico had to sweat a little bit after a Saul Niguez own-goal gave Valladolid an unlikely equalizer but Antoine Griezmann scored an 80th-minute winner to see the Madrid side home.

Also See: European football talking points: Old Chelsea spirit haunts Manchester City; Lionel Messi shows sublime skills to silence Pele

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