There are only a couple of weeks until we ring in the new year but, before that, there is some football action to be decided all across Europe to finish off 2023 on a high. As always, this weekend saw some shocking results, drama and excitement that is ever so present in the continent.
On Sunday, Real Madrid thrashed Villarreal 4-1 to take top spot in LaLiga from high-flying surprise outfit Girona, who don’t play until Monday. In the Premier League, Liverpool racked up over 30 shots but scored no goals as they settled for a 0-0 draw with rivals Manchester United, while Arsenal made surprisingly light work of Brighton to go top of the table. In Germany, Bayern Munich kept pace behind Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen with a 3-0 rout of Stuttgart, and there was joy for U.S. international Sergiño Dest as he scored in PSV Eindhoven’s huge win vs. AZ Alkmaar.
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With Saturday’s wrap at the bottom of this file, here is your comprehensive look-back at all the fun from the weekend.
The Sunday lead: Real Madrid thrash Villarreal to go top again in Spain
Real Madrid’s 4-1 win over Villarreal on Sunday was more evidence that they’ll have no problems scoring enough goals to go all the way in LaLiga this season, even without an established centre-forward, as they reclaimed top spot over Girona.
The front three of Jude Bellingham, Rodrygo Goes and Brahim Díaz all got on the scoresheet — joined by Luka Modric — to make it a team total of 38 goals scored in 17 games, as many as any team in LaLiga. First-half injuries to David Alaba and Ferland Mendy, with Alaba’s looking serious, were the only sour notes on what was a comfortable win under the Santiago Bernabeu’s new closed roof, with next summer’s arrival, Endrick, watching on in the stands.
Bellingham started the show in the 25th minute, heading Modric’s ball past Villarreal goalkeeper Filip Jörgensen — that’s now an absurd 13 goals in 15 league games for the England star. In the 21st century, only Barcelona’s Robert Lewandowski — one of the deadliest finishers of the modern era — reached that figure faster. Rodrygo made it 2-0 before half-time. Another player in form, his early-season goal shortage is now long forgotten, with eight scored in his past eight Real Madrid games.
Endrick meets Ancelotti and his future Real Madrid teammates
Endrick gets to meet his future Real Madrid teammates ahead of his move to the LaLiga giants next summer.
Diaz’s goal to make it 3-0 — after José Luis Morales had pulled a goal back for Villarreal — was the moment of the night, skipping through the visitors’ defence with delicate footwork before a cool finish. Opportunities were limited for the former AC Milan playmaker earlier in the season, but he now has two goals and an assist in his past three league games, and increasingly looks like he has the quality to be a useful player in this squad.
Modric’s reaction to scoring the fourth goal was joyous, perhaps a release of the frustration he has felt at having such an unusually limited role this season. It was his first club goal since February. With a 4-1 scoreline and victory all but assured, coach Carlo Ancelotti was able to substitute Bellingham, who’d been fired up by a refereeing decision going against him minutes earlier, and should be protected at all costs.
Ahead of surprise contenders Girona’s game with Alaves on Monday, Madrid are a point clear at the top of LaLiga. Even all those injuries to key players — with Alaba and Mendy joining Thibaut Courtois, Éder Militão, Dani Carvajal, Eduardo Camavinga, Arda Güler and Vinícius Júnior on the sidelines — haven’t been able to derail their season so far. — Alex Kirkland
Sunday talking points around the leagues
Liverpool blow their chance to go top
Why Ogden still gives Liverpool the edge in the title race
Mark Ogden explains why Liverpool remain his narrow favourites for Premier League glory despite a bore draw with Man United.
Liverpool created 34 chances against Manchester United, but failed to score any of them as Jurgen Klopp’s team blew the chance to claim top spot ahead of next Saturday’s title clash against Arsenal.
Having put 11 goals past United on their last meetings at Anfield, Liverpool were just as dominant as recent clashes, with manager Klopp saying his team had even more control of this game than last season’s 7-0 win. But despite being without so many key players because of injury and suspension, United fought a rearguard action and could have snatched a win had Rasmus Hojlund converted the best chance of the game in the second half to score his first Premier League goal for United.
Liverpool’s failure to win mean that they end the weekend one point behind Arsenal in second place, so they are well placed to move top and have the distinction of being league leaders at Christmas. But if Liverpool are to beat Mikel Arteta’s side and establish themselves as leaders and title favourites, they have to be more ruthless in front of goal than they were against United. — Mark Ogden
Bayern Munich swat aside Stuttgart in tricky Sunday clash
Thomas Tuchel & Co. just need to keep moving forward. It’s that simple.
With Bayer Leverkusen — led by the dazzling, flavour-of-the-month manager, Xabi Alonso — continuing to collect points at the top of the table, Bayern’s Bundesliga challenge might be a lot like last year’s in that they just need to match results and wait for an opening. Sunday’s game — the visit of fourth-place Stuttgart, who’d gone seven games without defeat — promised to be a challenge and yet, Bayern just kept moving.
Harry Kane scored after just two minutes, Bayern had two goals disallowed by VAR before half-time, Kane bagged a second early in the second half and Kim Min-Jae headed in his first goal for the club as the Bavarians ran out comfortable 3-0 winners. Despite allowing their opponents nearly 70% of the ball, Bayern took their chances and played brilliantly on the counter, racking up 17 shots (on 2.81 xG) to leave little doubt as to whether they deserved their victory.
With Leverkusen also winning 3-0 (over Frankfurt) this weekend, Bayern didn’t make up any ground at the top, but that’s not the point. Just keep moving. — James Tyler
Arsenal beat Brighton to wrap up a good weekend in the title race
Has Arteta worked out how to get the best from Havertz?
Steve Nicol explains the strengths and weaknesses of Kai Havertz in this Arsenal side.
Arsenal’s inability to maintain last season’s league lead over Manchester City only increases the test of self-belief this time around and in that context, this was something close to a perfect weekend for the Gunners. Man City drew at home to Crystal Palace, Liverpool failed to beat Manchester United and, in between, Arsenal finally found a way to beat Roberto de Zerbi’s Brighton side at home. They end this weekend five points clear of City and top of the table heading into a hectic run of games over the Christmas period.
Things can change quickly, of course, but such a commanding display against a team that has caused them so many problems in the past — having lost this fixture in the previous two years — will engender confidence for the challenges that lie ahead. As it happened, Sunday’s 2-0 win ended a run of 32 consecutive league matches in which Brighton have scored, and Arsenal were full value for their dominance. Mikel Arteta’s side restricted Brighton to one shot on target — their first of any description in the 64th-minute — as Gabriel Jesus and Kai Havertz struck to get the Gunners back on track after last weekend’s defeat at Aston Villa.
There were signs that Arsenal still should pursue a forward in January — on another day, their profligacy could have been punished — but Arsenal are seeking validation as perennial title challengers after blowing an eight-point lead last season and this matchweek strengthen their conviction in that regard. — James Olley
Asensio’s moment of madness cost PSG
It was the 94rd minute on Sunday evening at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in the north of France. Paris Saint-Germain, already assured of being “winter champions” after Nice’s 3-1 defeat on Saturday at Le Havre, were seeing out the game at Lille with a 1-0 lead courtesy of a Kylian Mbappé penalty.
Everything was going fine for the Parisians. They were dealing well with some late pressure from the hosts. It was far from a vintage performance from the current champions, but four days after the draw in Dortmund in the Champions League that secured their spot in the last-16, they would have been very happy with a win even by the smallest of margins.
And that’s when Marco Asensio, who had just come on to replace Ousmane Dembélé in the 81st minute, decided to do something silly. After recovering the ball near his corner flag, the former Real Madrid forward played a senseless ball toward Warren Zaïre-Emery. It was intercepted and five seconds later, Lille were level thanks to an easy finish by Jonathan David!
There was no need, no logic and no reason for Asensio to play that ball at that time, yet his choice cost his team a win and two more points. At the end of the day, it is not too disastrous — PSG are five points clear of Nice with a much better goal difference (plus-26 compared with plus-8) — but it really frustrated his manager, Luis Enrique, and his teammates. — Julien Laurens
Americans Abroad: Sergiño Dest, Lynden Gooch score stunners
First up, let’s look at what USMNT full-back Sergiño Dest is doing in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven. On Sunday, he combined with U.S. up-and-comer Malik Tillman before coolly converting into the bottom corner, his goal helping PSV on their way to a comfortable 4-0 road win over AZ Alkmaar.
Shifting to England: the goal highlight is available with a quick search, but the U.S. winger was on the scoresheet early Sunday as struggling Stoke City drew 1-1 at West Bromwich Albion in the English Championship. Gooch, 27, might have intended it to be a cross, but his swirling, booming delivery deep on the right wing ended up befuddling everyone — including Baggies goalkeeper Alex Palmer — on its way into the back of the net.
It’s the kind of goal you’ll insist was intentional, no matter what!
Lynden Gooch says the Potters’ point against West Bromwich Albion was a good one to take ahead of the busy upcoming festive period. pic.twitter.com/4bmDFgwlBa
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) December 17, 2023
News of the day
FIFA’s revamped Club World Cup planned for 2025 and set to feature 32 teams will be played from June 15 to July 13, while a new Intercontinental Cup will be played annually starting next year, Gianni Infantino, the head of world football’s governing body, said on Sunday.
Manchester United’s team bus was hit by a glass bottle as it arrived at Anfield ahead of their 0-0 draw against Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday. Video on social media shows a bottle being thrown from the street and hitting the front of the bus as it made its way toward the stadium.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta hailed an “incredible performance” from his squad as they dismantled Brighton & Hove Albion 2-0 at home on Sunday to return to the summit of the Premier League table, retaining their place as Liverpool drew 0-0 with Manchester United.
And finally, on Sunday…
Nicol not ready to call Aston Villa title contenders just yet
Steve Nicol reacts to Aston Villa’s comeback win at Brentford in the Premier League to continue their superb form.
We keep overlooking Aston Villa when it comes to discussions of the title race, but after Sunday’s come-from-behind brawl of a 2-1 at Brentford, I think we finally need to acknowledge that, well, they’re in the mix.
Brentford lumbered their way into a first-half lead when Keane Lewis-Potter converted from close range after Villa failed to clear a corner, but a red card for defender Ben Mee midway through the second half turned the tide. From there, Villa regrouped, equalizing seven minutes later when Álex Moreno headed Leon Bailey’s cross beyond Mark Flekken before former Brentford star Ollie Watkins nodded in the winner.
An enthralling mess of a final 15 minutes ensued (including 10 minutes of injury time) before Villa celebrated another impressive win. Villa have beaten Spurs, Man City and Arsenal since Nov. 26, but scrappy wins at midtable sides such as Brentford are the performances that prove they belong in the mix at the top. With Sheffield United, Man United and Burnley on the fixture list before the new year, Unai Emery’s side have a clear run heading into 2024. — Tyler
On Saturday, Tottenham achieved a historic 1-0 win over their north London rivals Arsenal in the Women’s Super League, Barcelona were unable to snatch all three points in a 1-1 draw against Valencia, Borussia Dortmund continued to lose ground in the Bundesliga race following a 1-1 draw to Augsburg, and Lyon earned an important 1-0 win over Monaco that helps them in the fight to escape the relegation zone in Ligue 1.
The Saturday lead: Tottenham earn historic north London win
Spurs ‘defended for their lives’ in shock WSL win over Arsenal
Sophie Lawson reacts to Tottenham’s win over North London rivals Arsenal in the WSL.
The North London Derby has a special place in the English football calendar, although on the women’s side, it’s been a rather one-sided affair with Spurs playing catch up having only been promoted to the top tier in 2019. Aside from a draw, grabbed in stoppage time back in 2021, Arsenal had reigned supreme in the derby, outscoring Spurs by 24 goals to three, notching five wins along the way.
Having played each other in a midweek cup game that ended 3-3, Spurs made just one change for the tie as Arsenal recalled nine players back into the starting XI, showing their strength in depth. Indeed, the team that just bested Chelsea 4-1 to inject some spice into the title race, had the lion’s share of the ball and chances against a Spurs team struggling with injuries.
With the visitors having missed countless chances, the hosts streaked forward just before the hour, with Celin Bizet’s work to beat the defence and feed the ball through vital for Martha Thomas to send home and break the deadlock.
From there, Spurs only got deeper. Manager Robert Vilahamn’s substitutes were used to reinforce the overworked defence who hadn’t tasted a win in the league since October. Defending for their lives was not quite the new philosophy Vilahamn has endeavoured to preach since taking charge over the summer.
Yet, the impact of the coach has been felt from top to bottom as his team has taken sizable steps in the league, their ability to hold on through more than 12 minutes of stoppage time testament to their evolution.
Although there will be questions around why Arsenal couldn’t do more with their 31 shots, all that mattered for the fans chanting “Glory, glory Tottenham Hotspur” at full-time was the first win Spurs had managed over Arsenal in the WSL. — Sophie Lawson
Saturday talking points around the leagues
Barcelona continue lackluster winless run
Barcelona’s lack of a clinical edge once again cost them as they extended their winless run to three games with a 1-1 draw at Valencia in LaLiga on Saturday. João Félix gave Barça a 55th-minute lead at Mestalla, but Hugo Guillamón’s brilliant strike earned them a point and further dented the visitors’ title hopes. Barça began the weekend seven points adrift of leaders Girona and five behind second-placed Real Madrid. Those gaps will grow further if Madrid and Girona win their respective games against Villarreal and Alaves over the next two days.
Xavi left ‘frustrated’ after Valencia draw
Barcelona manager Xavi was left frustrated and upset as his side drew 1-1 with Valencia, falling further behind Girona in LaLiga.
After back-to-back defeats against Girona and Antwerp, Barça coach Xavi Hernández had called the trip to Valencia a “final” with the pressure increasing on both him and his team following a run of four defeats in nine games. An even first half ended goalless, with both teams squandering chances, but Barça improved after the break. João Félix tapped in the opener after a brilliant pass from Frenkie de Jong played in Raphinha, but some passive defending, taking nothing away from Guillamón’s fine finish from the edge of the box, let Valencia back into the game.
Still, Barça created enough in the final 20 minutes to win the game. Substitute Ferran Torres wasted a great chance from another supreme De Jong pass. Raphinha was denied by goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili when freed by Robert Lewandowski and then saw the rebound blocked by Yarek Gasiorowski. Barça ended the game with 16 shots and an xG of 3.06 to Valencia’s 0.48. Raphinha (xG 0.81) and Lewandowski (xG 0.63) were the most wasteful. Xavi has blamed his side’s failure to take their chances for recent results and, despite a better performance here, that will again be his excuse for more dropped points.
Next up for Barça before the brief Christmas break in the league is Almeria at the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday. There will be no excuses if they cannot return to winning ways against the league’s only winless side. — Samuel Marsden
Dortmund continue to slide away from Bundesliga title race
Only the most optimistic fan would say that Borussia Dortmund are still a credible contender, but Saturday’s 1-1 draw put paid to any such notion. Despite taking 13 points from a possible 15 in their last five meetings with Augsburg, this weekend saw them enjoy 64% possession, 24 shots, and a 2.78 xG on their way to a frustrating result that means they’re 10 points behind league-leading Bayer Leverkusen, who host Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.
Winless in their last five games (all competitions) and currently fifth in the Bundesliga, a tough second half of the season looms if they remain unable to convert scoring chances. The summer exit of Jude Bellingham clearly subtracted plenty of thrust and class in the attacking third, but there’s a lot more to Dortmund’s issues than that. Marco Reus was uninspired in attacking midfield and Niclas Füllkrug was wasteful with four strong looks at goal inside the box.
After a gentle opening period, Augsburg opened the scoring after Ermedin Demirovic comfortably shrugged off Nico Schlotterbeck’s defensive effort to convert beyond Gregor Kobel. BVB would soon level with Donyell Malen, whose interplay with Fullkrug was capped by his precision finish, sneaking it inside Finn Dahmen’s far post.
The second half saw Fullkrug squander two gilt-edge opportunities in the final 10 minutes, firing agonizingly wide for the first and then eliciting a stunning save from Dahmen, who tipped a volley onto the post after a superb cross by Thomas Meunier with time running down.
The result might suit Augsburg just fine given their modest ambitions for this season, but Dortmund and their fans always expect more. Their aim is always higher than their talent levels, and a run of one win in seven Bundesliga games could mean a grim winterpause for Edin Terzic & Co. — James Tyler
Finn Dahmen comes up huge for Augsburg in final 10 minutes
Finn Dahmen makes a trio of saves in the final 10 minutes to keep FC Augsburg level with Borussia Dortmund at one.
Lyon earn long-awaited win in Ligue 1
Let’s be honest, John Textor hasn’t had many great days since becoming the owner of Lyon. It has been a long nightmare for him and the club. However, Friday evening would bring the American businessman a rare moment of joy. Away at Monaco, l’OL was looking for back-to-back league wins for the first time in this disappointing season. It was not going to be easy considering how good their hosts have been this season and the game turned out to be tough indeed.
Monaco were the better team from start to finish. Lyon interim coach Pierre Sage, who is on a professional team touchline for the first time in his career, could only watch his side being battered and his goalkeeper Anthony Lopes keeping his teammates in the game with save after save. Folarin Balogun could have had a hat trick, Krépin Diatta a brace, and Monaco were putting more and more pressure in the second half.
And just when it looked like the only outcome would be another defeat for Lyon, who had only won twice in 15 games before their trip to the principality, Sage made three changes that would change everything. In the 83rd minute, Brazilian winger Jeffinho came on and, on his first touch two minutes later, scored the only goal of the game off a cross from Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who came on in the 72nd minute, following a one-two with Tino Kadewere, who entered the game at the same time than Jeffinho.
It was a real smash-and-grab for Lyon. They had five shots, two on target, and that was enough. Monaco had almost twice more xG and 19 shots but it was just not their day. It was one to celebrate for Textor though. — Julien Laurens
Americans Abroad: Sabbi stands out for Le Havre
Emmanuel Sabbi stole all the headlines for the Americans Abroad on Saturday as he was instrumental in helping Le Havre upset title-challenging Nice thanks to his two goals in a 3-1 win. The result moves the recently promoted Ligue 1 side up to ninth place for the time being, with Sabbi racking up his first two goals for the club since joining from OB from Denmark in the summer.
In England, Chris Richards played the entire match for Crystal Palace as they were able to snatch a point in a 2-2 comeback draw against Manchester City thanks to Michael Olise’s stoppage-time penalty.
In Germany, a couple of Americans were able to snatch unbeaten results in the Bundesliga as Gio Reyna played 32 minutes in Borussia Dortmund’s 1-1 draw against Augsburg and Kevin Paredes played the last three minutes in Wolfsburg’s 1-0 win over Darmstadt. It wasn’t a positive result for BVB however as they continue to slip in the title race currently fifth in the table, whereas Wolfsburg goes to ninth place.
And finally in Spain, Celta Vigo got a crucial 1-0 win over Granada that saw Luca de la Torre play 18 minutes and help his side escape the LaLiga relegation zone to get only their second win of the season, their first since September when they beat Almeria 3-2. — Roberto Rojas
News of the day
Luton Town defender and club captain Tom Lockyer is in a “stable” condition in a hospital after going into cardiac arrest on the pitch during his team’s Premier League match against Bournemouth. The match was abandoned Saturday after Lockyer collapsed on the pitch after 59 minutes. “Our medical staff have confirmed that the Hatters captain suffered cardiac arrest on the pitch, but was responsive by the time he was taken off on the stretcher,” the club said in a statement. “He received further treatment inside the stadium, for which we once again thank the medical teams from both sides. Tom was transferred to hospital, where we can reassure supporters that he is stable and currently undergoing further tests with his family at his bedside.”
Sevilla officially sacked manager Diego Alonso after his team’s winless streak in LaLiga continued with a 3-0 home loss to Getafe on Saturday. “We would like to communicate that Diego Alonso has been relieved of his duties as first-team head coach. We thank him for his efforts and wish him the best for the future,” the club said in a statement.
And finally, on Saturday …
Our surprise of the day takes us to Manchester as Crystal Palace snatched a point in a 2-2 comeback draw thanks to Michael Olise’s stoppage-time penalty against Manchester City.
Despite being without Erling Haaland in the starting lineup due to injury, Pep Guardiola’s side was able to start on the right foot, with a 24th-minute goal from Jack Grealish and nine minutes into the second half, Rico Lewis doubling their lead that allowed the defending English and European champions cruising to a win, or so they thought.
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) December 16, 2023
That all changed in the second half as Jean-Philippe Mateta snatched one back 14 minutes from time. Then, late in stoppage time, Palace got a penalty following Phil Foden’s foul in the box on Mateta, which allowed Olise to step up and score from the spot and allowed Roy Hodgson’s team to earn a priceless away point.
With this result, Manchester City failed to make up significant ground in the Premier League race over Aston Villa, Arsenal, and the team they’re now three points behind: league leaders Liverpool. Guardiola’s side sit in fourth place in the table and now travel to Saudi Arabia to compete and try to win their first-ever FIFA Club World Cup whereas Palace are in 15th place, eight points above the relegation zone. — Rojas