PARIS, France, Feb 18 – Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain all extended their respective league leads in Spain, Italy and France, while Bayern Munich warmed up for their Champions League clash at Liverpool with a narrow win.
As Kylian Mbappe continued his remarkable goalscoring form and Mauro Icardi watched Inter Milan from the stands, AFP Sport looks at some of the main talking points from the weekend in Europe:
Inter ‘reborn’ without Icardi
“I think something new has been born this evening,” said Inter coach Luciano Spalletti after his side got their first home win of 2019 with a 2-1 victory over his former club Sampdoria.
Icardi watched from the stands after being stripped of the captain’s armband and replaced by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic amid speculation about this future.
“It frustrating that we keep having to get tied up in all this talk around Inter,” said Spalletti as Icardi’s contract negotiations have been played out on social media by the player’s wife and agent Wanda Nara.
“I’ve had some situations in my career with a lot of attention, but never like this,” added former Roma and Zenit Saint Petersburg coach Spalletti.
Real resurgence halted
Real Madrid’s resurgence was dealt a reality check on Sunday as they were beaten at home by a Girona side that were winless in 13 games and without a league victory since November.
They ended that run at the Santiago Bernabeu by coming from a goal behind, with Madrid throwing away their lead and perhaps any realistic chance of catching Barcelona in La Liga.
The gap now stands at nine points between Spain’s most established pair, despite Madrid threatening a comeback in recent weeks with a home Clasico also to come at the end of the month.
That game looks far less significant now, with Atletico again Barca’s closest challengers, seven points back in second.
Mbappe steps up again
When PSG headed to Old Trafford to face Manchester United last week, there were fears the injuries suffered by Neymar and Edinson Cavani would prove costly.
But Mbappe scored in an impressive 2-0 win, and he backed it up with a magnificent volley to grab a hard-fought victory at Saint-Etienne on Sunday, leading Les Verts coach Jean-Louis Gasset to say the 20-year-old will be “the best player in the world soon”.
The French striker has now scored 19 goals in just 18 Ligue 1 appearances this term — only Lionel Messi has scored more times in one of Europe’s top five leagues with 22.
“He (Mbappe) shows his quality every day in training, he has this hunger to score, score, score,” said PSG coach Thomas Tuchel. “It’s his quality. He is a special player.”
Pizarro continues to defy years
Despite being four years older than his coach, Claudio Pizarro proved once again that age is no obstacle after becoming the Bundesliga’s oldest scorer on Saturday.
Aged 40 years and 136 days, the Peruvian smacked in his 195th Bundesliga goal, equalising with the last kick of the game to steal a point in Werder Bremen’s 1-1 draw at Hertha Berlin.
The ex-Chelsea and Bayern Munich striker drove his 96th-minute free-kick low under the Hertha wall and the ball was deflected twice on its way into the net.
Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt, 36, says it is a “privilege to be able to bring on someone like him” after introducing Pizarro with half an hour left.
Mourinho open to working in France
Jose Mourinho said he could see himself working in France after attending Lille’s 0-0 draw with Montpellier to watch in-form Ivorian forward Nicolas Pepe.
“I can imagine (coaching) in France one day,” Mourinho said. “I’m a man who’s worked in four different countries, who likes that, who likes to know other cultures.”
The Portuguese coach has been out of work since being sacked by Manchester United in December and replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.