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Confidence crisis for AC Milan, Marco Rose’s big week and how Unai Emery could open title race for Real Madrid

Karl Matchett
·5-min read
Real Madrid celebrate a Toni Kroos goal (AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid celebrate a Toni Kroos goal (AFP via Getty Images)

It was again a good week for Premier League clubs around European competitions, with Manchester City and Chelsea beating continental opposition in the Champions League and each of Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham doing the same in the Europa League.

By extension, it wasn’t such a happy occasion for the likes of Atletico Madrid and Benfica - but other top European sides did either progress or take a first-leg lead, including Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Villarreal.

All those sides refocus on domestic matters this weekend, with several of them involved in crucial upcoming clashes which bear watching over the next few days.

READ MORE: Champions League knock-out fixtures by date and time

Indeed, those latter two - who progressed to the last 16 of the Europa League - feature in our latest collection of storylines around Europe’s top five leagues.

Here’s everything you need to know about among the biggest and most intriguing sides outside of England’s top flight.

The improbable key to Madrid title fight

Unai Emery is back in Spain this year, back to doing what he does best: trying to convince everybody he’s doing a better job than he really is.

It’s a fine trick he has managed to pull on several occasions and this year is looking much the same - his Villarreal side are sixth in the league and have lost only three league matches all season long.

Which sounds tremendous, until a closer look is taken; last season the Yellow Submarine finished fifth, and won 18 of their 38 games - just under half. This term, they are draw specialists incapable of regularly finishing teams off, so they are one position back and have been victorious in just eight of 24 so far - or one third of their matches.

Sure, Emery isn’t losing too many, but five draws and no wins in the last six still isn’t cause for too much celebration.

Unless you support Real Madrid, that is.

READ MORE: Faded Isco accentuates decline in listless Real Madrid performance

Zinedine Zidane’s side have closed the gap at the top by five points over the last two gameweeks as Atletico Madrid stumble under injuries and coronavirus-related absences, with their safety net now just three points - plus a game in hand.

But this time out the leaders are away to Villarreal, who they drew 0-0 with earlier in the season. It would surprise nobody if a similar outcome occurred on Sunday night.

Real, then, could really pile on the pressure if they were to emerge victorious on Monday night, at home to Real Sociedad, who themselves are fifth and on a three-match win-streak.

Those triumphs were against the sides in 14th, 15th and 16th, however, and Zidane’s team seem to have an ability to grind out wins even without key forwards right now.

Come Monday night, the gap at the top of LaLiga might just be a little smaller - the only significant part Emery will play in the title race this year.

A Rose at any other club is still a Rose

By now you’ll know: Borussia Monchengladbach boss Marco Rose is off at the end of the campaign, having opted to take over at Borussia Dortmund.

Getty Images
Getty Images

He has acknowledged that the reaction of ‘Gladbach fans since the announcement has hurt him somewhat, but left him undeterred. All well and good, but his team’s form has fallen off a cliff recently with three defeats in four and just one cup win in the last six in all competitions.

Rose, and BMG as a whole for their European aspirations for next season, need a bounceback performance and result - but it won’t be easy against second-place RB Leipzig, who are just two points off leaders Bayern Munich and looking to push the title fight all the way.

‘Gladbach are down to eighth and well outside even the Europa League spots now, while in midweek they were comprehensively beaten by the most in-form side around, Man City.

Following this game against Leipzig, Rose leads his current team against his future club, Dortmund, with a Tuesday night DFB-Pokal quarter-final.

Time to make a more positive impression...on one set of fans, or the other.

Best of the rest

Over in Italy, AC Milan’s bid to win the Serie A title is in danger of imploding entirely.

While a derby defeat to Inter Milan can happen, the manner of their defeat was chastening indeed to Stefano Pioli’s side and it came on the back of an unexpected loss to Spezia. Their once-impressive lead has diminished, disintegrated and disappeared entirely, with Inter now four points clear.

READ MORE: Why have LaLiga clubs fallen flat in Europe this season?

No chance to bemoan their fate, though; they are away to AS Roma this weekend, who themselves are still in fourth and fighting for the final Champions League spot - with any of the top seven still realistically capable of taking those places.

Elsewhere, Ligue 1 offers a big clash from yesteryear - Marseille vs Lyon - but in truth, the away team are far and away the more impressive club of the pair, and current form suggests an away victory, too.

Leaders Lille, champions PSG and resurgent Monaco all face bottom-half opposition this week.

Outside the top five leagues the intrigue continues, with PSV facing Ajax in a top-two clash in the Eredivisie, Porto hosting Sporting CP in another second-versus-first occasion in the Liga NOS and the Russian Premier League restarting with the first round of fixtures after a two-month winter break.

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