“The King,” declares the headline of Monday’s Marca in Spain complete with a fortuitously juxtaposed photo of a beaming Zinedine Zidane in front of the crown of Real (Royal) Madrid’s.
’32 games, 83 points’, continued the cover as it describes the Frenchman’s reign so far. “Zidane has two points more than Pep Guardiola had at this stage from the bench and five more than Luis Enrique.” Matters are going very well for Madrid, who beat neighbours Atletico 3-0 away on Saturday night, with a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick. Sunday’s Marca had a glorious picture of Ronaldo after he scored, with his hands on his hips staring into a stand of furious Atletico fans. With Barça drawing 0-0 at home to Malaga, it was a perfect weekend for Madrid who are now four points clear of the Catalans at the top. There will soon be a chance to close it, as the clasico is Barça’s next home match. Atletico, who were top of the league six weeks ago, are now nine points behind Madrid in 6th.
The Catalans need some cheer. Monday’s Sport carries an interview with former Argentina coach Cesar Menotti, who says: “Messi is happy in Barcelona, but not with Argentina.” A Barça without Messi would be a worry, as fans saw on Saturday when he withdrew from the match half an hour before the game after vomiting. “Objective Clasico,” is the headline on Monday’s Mundo Deportivo. “Barça evaluate the state of Messi before (Wednesday’s) decisive game against Celtic. “The desired return of the crack would see Barça’s great reference [need a different phrase? reference point?] back.”
The Bundesliga has a brand-new leader. “Top of the league!” screamed the Leipziger Volkszeitung after RB Leipzig twice came from behind to win 3-2 away at Bayer Leverkusen, making them the first team based in the former East Germany to top the league since Hansa Rostock in 1992.
“The future has begun,” said Monday morning’s Kicker magazine. “What was once a vision is suddenly reality. After just seven years, RB Leipzig are top of the Bundesliga.”
“The only reason they play football at RasenBallsport is to promote an energy drink,” Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watze had said during the week, whilst the Süddeutsche Zeitung had previewed the game as “Bayer vs Red Bull.”
But despite of the criticism of the club, which was created by Red Bull in 2009, there is admiration for the football being played by Ralph Hasenhüttl’s young team. “Leipzig play football like well-organised assault troops,” said the SZ, referring to RB’s high-intensity pressing game. Spiegel praised the team’s attitude, calling them “a happy mentality monster punishing Leverkusen’s errors with ice-cold efficiency.”
Even the foreign press has started taking note. “Leipzig are serious!” said Spain’s Marca, “the club is building on its reputation as Europe’s surprise team.” “The Leipzig dream continues,” added France’s Le Figaro, “where will it lead?”
Bayern Munich could have gone level on points with a win over Borussia Dortmund in Saturday evening’s Klassiker but lost 1-0 thanks to an early Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal and a tactical master class from Thomas Tuchel.
“Tuchel calls Bayern’s bluff” observed the Süddeutsche Zeitung after the Dortmund manager surprised everyone by starting Adrian Ramos as a second striker alongside Aubameyang and by deploying three centre-backs in a back five, conceding the midfield to Bayern, but defending more solidly. “This was a triumph of the will,” continued the SZ, “and the day on which Tuchel left his spiritual father Pep Guardiola behind.”
“Tuchel makes the league exciting!” said the local Dortmund RevierSport, “BVB have Champions League qualification in their own hands - and perhaps even more.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung praised the new physicality in Dortmund’s game, saying “This Atlético style suits Dortmund!” SZ said that Dortmund and Leipzig both demonstrated that they have ideas which Bayern seem to lack. “Bayern have no match plan” agreed SportBILD. “Tuchel’s Dortmund set the rhythm,” added Spiegel, “but what rhythm is Carlo Ancelotti following?”
The win left Dortmund in third, level on points with Cologne, Hoffenheim, Hertha Berlin and Eintracht Frankfurt in one of the closest Bundesliga seasons in years. “The title race is wide open,” said the Rheinische Post. “The Bundesliga is exciting again!” exclaimed the WAZ.
In France, Nice recovered from their defeat to Caen with a hard-fought 1-0 win away at St Étienne to remain three points clear at the top of Ligue 1. “Nice cling on to their top spot!” said France Football. “Nice bounce back in the cauldron,” added L’Équipe.
Monaco remained second with a 3-0 win away at Lorient, a result which increased their already impressive goal difference to +24. “Monaco have turned into a goal-scoring machine,” Europe1 pointed out, underlining that the Monégasques have averaged three goals a game this season – the highest of any team in Europe. “Lorient could only hold out for one half,” lamented Ouest-France, before Radamel Falcao came off the bench to open the scoring, Le Figaro praising the Colombian’s “thunderous entry” into the game.
PSG recorded a not entirely convincing 2-0 victory over Nantes. With Arsenal waiting in midweek, Le Parisien reported that over 60% of its readers don’t believe the club can win the Champions League in the next three years.
In Italy, Sunday’s Milan derby makes the headlines. “Cardio Derby,” is the headline on Monday’s Gazzetta Dello Sport after Ivan Perisic’s equaliser for Internazionale ruined Suso’s brace for Milan. The backdrop to the headline is a heartbeat monitor going off the scale. “At San Siro a thrilling encounter ends 2-2 with a photo-finish.” In the Turin based Tutto Sport, the headlines is “Perisic ruins the Suso show. Spaniard’s brace not enough for Milan: Inter equalise in stoppage time”.
But it’s not the main headline. Torino’s continued good form saw them move up to seventh, only four points off second placed Roma. “Implacable Toro: Belotti sinks Crotone,” writes Tutto Sport, who also report that Joe Hart’s coach is not satisfied with the win and has ordered his players into extra training.”
Atalanta won a fifth successive league game. “Atalanta wow! Gasp!” enthuses La Gazzetta. The Bergamo side are up to fifth after beating second place Roma 2-1. “Roma blackout: -7 from Juve,” writes the pink one of the gap between them and the leaders. Roma’s fans didn’t take it well. “Clashes between fans and police. Incidents with the Giallorossi ultras: three officers hurt” will not help their situation.