Five talking points in European football this weekend

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Erling Braut Haaland and Romelu Lukaku were again among the goals, while Kylian Mbappe and Neymar left their coach irritated and it was another fascinating weekend in Spain.

AFP Sport looks back at some of the main talking points from around Europe:

– All to play for in La Liga –
Real Madrid and Barcelona may have pulled away as La Liga’s title contenders this season but the division’s key battlegrounds remain remarkably close.

Three points separate first and second after Madrid and Barca beat Atletico Madrid and Levante respectively. Getafe and Sevilla are levels on points in third and fourth.

Valencia, the next closest challenger for the last Champions League spot, are only two points back while Atletico are one further point behind in sixth.

At the bottom, Leganes’ victory over Real Sociedad lifts them two places to 18th, in the relegation zone below Mallorca, but only on goal difference.

As a topsy-turvy season nears it’s final straight, everything is still to play for.

– Goals keep coming for Haaland, Dortmund –
While RB Leipzig’s draw at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach allowed Bayern Munich to go top of the Bundesliga, Borussia Dortmund are only three points adrift of the summit as they continued their whirlwind start to 2020.

Erling Braut Haaland scored twice on his first start for Dortmund as his side thumped Union Berlin 5-0. The teenage Norwegian sensation now has seven goals in three appearances, finding the net once every 19 minutes since moving from RB Salzburg.

Dortmund have scored five goals in each of their three outings since the winter break, with another teenage sensation, Jadon Sancho, taking his tally to 12 for the season.

Lucien Favre’s team are motoring with a Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain coming into view.

“We know we’re going to come up against sides with even more quality in the weeks to come, but that’s good for us because they like to attack and we’ll find even more room than we have in these games,” said Marco Reus.

– Conte expects even more from Lukaku –
Romelu Lukaku’s two second-half goals at Udinese means the Inter Milan ace has 12 goals in 11 appearances away from home this season.

He scored 12 times altogether for Manchester United in the Premier League last season but is on 16 in Serie A, and 20 in all competitions for Inter. Coach Antonio Conte believes the 26-year-old can do better.

“Lukaku has really important qualities and is a decisive player for us, but aside from his brace, today wasn’t his best match,” Conte said after the 2-0 win.

Second-placed Inter is unbeaten away this season with nine wins and two draws, and Lukaku warned: “I’m also going strong at the San Siro.” They face Milan there in the derby next.

– Will ‘distractions’ cost PSG? –
Paris Saint-Germain moved 12 points clear atop Ligue 1 after trouncing Montpellier 5-0, a result which left them unbeaten in 19 games.

Neymar, with his hair dyed pink, inevitably stood out, while Kylian Mbappe was among the scorers, and on the surface, everything certainly looks rosy for PSG ahead of that upcoming Dortmund tie.

However, coach Thomas Tuchel was later forced to handle questions about his superstar duo, with Mbappe reacting angrily to being substituted and Neymar taking headlines for staging a birthday bash at a Parisian nightclub, 48 hours before his team play again.

“These are distractions, and they give the impression we are not serious, not professional,” Tuchel said when asked if he would attend Neymar’s party.

Of his touchline spat with Mbappe, he admitted: “It doesn’t look good.”

– Ajax keep AZ at arm’s length –
Ajax beat traditional rivals PSV Eindhoven 1-0 with a Quincy Promes goal to stay three points clear atop the Eredivisie, but the real challenge to the reigning champions is coming from elsewhere this season.

AZ Alkmaar hammered RKC Waalwijk 4-0 to keep up their chase of Erik ten Hag’s team. Teenage top scorer Myron Boadu was again on target for AZ as they made it a ninth win in 11 outings, a run that included beating Ajax in December. The sides meet again in Amsterdam on March 1.

(AFP)

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