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Five things we learned in European football this weekend

Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid have clawed their way back into Spanish title contention © AFP/File / GABRIEL BOUYS

PARIS, France, Feb 11Sergio Ramos helped Real Madrid pull to within six points of La Liga leaders Barcelona, while Paris Saint-Germain suffered another injury blow with the loss of Edinson Cavani ahead of their Champions League showdown with Manchester United.

As Borussia Dortmund served up both good and bad in the Bundesliga, and Benfica hit rare heights in Portugal, AFP Sport looks at some of the main talking points from the weekend in Europe:

Madrid not out of La Liga race

Real Madrid overtook Atletico to become Barcelona’s closest challengers in La Liga, with the gap down to six points between Spain’s two grandee clubs.

Real continued their resurgence with their most impressive victory yet under Santiago Solari, inflicting Atletico’s first home defeat of the season in a 3-1 win.

A good weekend for the European champions got even better on Sunday as an injury-affected Barcelona were held to a goalless draw away to Athletic Bilbao.

Lionel Messi played but was not fully fit while the likes of Jordi Alba, Arthur Melo and Ousmane Dembele were also missing from the starting line-up. Barca will be grateful now for five days off, with their Champions League tie against Lyon to come next week.

Injury curse rocks PSG again

Edinson Cavani has scored 22 goals in 26 games for PSG this season © AFP/File / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT

Paris Saint-Germain appeared clear-cut favourites in December when they were paired with Manchester United in the Champions League last 16, but injuries to Neymar, and now Cavani, threaten to derail their European ambitions once more.

The French giants lost Neymar ahead of last year’s return clash with Real Madrid at the same stage of the competition, and will be without both the Brazilian and Cavani for Tuesday’s trip to Old Trafford.

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Uruguayan Cavani sustained damage to a tendon in his hip after blasting home a first-half penalty in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Bordeaux in Ligue 1.

Reports in France suggest the 31-year-old could also miss the return leg, leaving PSG to rely heavily on Kylian Mbappe against a rejuvenated United side that have won 10 of 11 games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Fickle Dortmund give Pochettino much to ponder

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino would have watched Borussia Dortmund’s 3-3 draw at home to Hoffenheim with mixed feelings ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League first leg at Wembley against the Bundesliga leaders.

Even without injured top-scorer and playmaker Marco Reus, Dortmund shredded the Hoffenheim defence for 70 minutes, going 3-0 up, with Jadon Sancho giving one of his best performances in the yellow shirt.

The England winger was everywhere at Signal Iduna Park, opening the scoring with some superb finishing, setting up goals for Mario Goetze and Raphael Guerreiro, while also hitting the post — which would have made it 4-0 with 20 minutes left.

However, Hoffenheim suddenly found huge spaces to exploit in the closing stages as Dortmund’s back four crumbled with Ishak Belfodil netting goals, after taking advantage of loose marking, either side of a Pavel Kaderabek header.

Sirigu spot on

Torino goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu continued his fine run of saving spot-kicks, stopping a fifth out of seven Serie A penalties in a 1-0 win over Udinese on Sunday.

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The 32-year-old former Paris Saint-Germain ‘keeper denied Rodrigo De Paul what would have been an equaliser in Turin, which earned him an ovation at the end of the match as he threw his gloves to the fans.

“Today I had instinct and luck,” said the Italy international. “I saw that he was not looking at me anymore so I decided to push left with all the strength I had and it went well. Sometimes you feel it, it’s instinct.”

Benfica in rare territory

Double digits: Jonas rounds out the scoring as Benfica humiliate Nacional © AFP / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

Benfica have roared back to within a point of reigning champions Porto after a run of six straight victories — the latest a 10-0 mauling of Madeira-based Nacional on Sunday.

The Lisbon club sacked Rui Vitoria, who led the team to back-to-back league titles in 2016 and 2017, at the start of the year but have swiftly regrouped under his successor Bruno Lage.

Haris Seferovic and Jonas both struck twice while Alex Grimaldo, Joao Felix, Pizzi, Francisco Ferreira, Ruben Dias and Rafa Silva also found the net as Benfica recorded the biggest win in the Portuguese league since 1965.

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