European soccer news: Man City close gap, Bayern stay alive

It’s not quite spring yet, but Europe’s top leagues have been heating up as the title races remain tight and the games are getting that much more intense.

Saturday saw Arsenal exact revenge on Newcastle after losing to them earlier in the season and Manchester United lost to Fulham, raising fresh questions about Erik ten Hag’s leadership. In other Premier League action, Manchester City beat Bournemouth with a defense-first approach, and U.S. men’s national team defender Chris Richards scored his first Premier League goal in Crystal Palace’s win over Burnley.

In the rest of Europe, Barcelona looked like their former selves in a thrashing of Getafe while Bayern Munich still didn’t look like their former selves in a win over RB Leipzig.

There’s plenty to get to talk about, so let’s get to it.

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SATURDAY REVIEW

The Saturday lead: Defensive-first win helps Man City narrow gap with Liverpool

After only two clean sheets in 14 Premier League games, Manchester City have now gone two matches in a row without conceding a goal, and their 1-0 victory at Bournemouth on Saturday brought them back just a point behind Liverpool having played the same number of games now.

For Man City to win Premier League again for the fourth time in a row, amid a thrilling title race with Liverpool and Arsenal, it may come down to defence. Goals will always come for City, but defences are what win trophies. So for manager Pep Guardiola, getting defensive solidity out of his men may be the key.

To that end, the presence and fitness of John Stones has been important. This was only his ninth start of the season in league play, and he showed how indispensable he is for this team, playing as a centre back and a central midfielder, like he did in the second half of last season on the way to the treble.

On the other end, Phil Foden scored the only goal of the game and will rightly get most of the plaudits. The 23-year-old was outstanding again in a central position for City, in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne who was left on the bench by Guardiola. Whether KDB is not fully fit or Foden simply keeps him out of the team doesn’t matter so much — the fact is that Foden is clearly taking another dimension this season.

Saturday’s goal was Foden’s 16th of the season in all competitions (nine in the Premier League), already equalling his best scoring tally season from 2020-2021, and we are only in February. Unless something dramatic happens, he will smash his record. Foden also has 10 assists in all competitions so far in this campaign, just one short of his season best of 11 from 2021-2022.

When Stones is available and at his best, when Foden is in this kind of form — like we saw on Saturday — then the current champions are even harder to play against. And they hold the keys to their success, as much as anyone else, like Erling Haaland, Éderson or De Bruyne. — Julien Laurens

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Why Man City have struggled recently

Steve Nicol and Craig Burley react to Manchester City’s narrow win over Bournemouth.


Saturday talking points around Europe’s leagues

Last-gasp Kane winner over Leipzig keeps Bayern title hopes alive

Four days after the announcement that manager Thomas Tuchel will depart Bayern Munich at the end of this season, the record German champions found themselves with their backs against the wall. Bayer Leverkusen edged past Mainz on Friday, meaning Bayern trailed the league leaders by 11 points on the table going into their clash with RB Leipzig.

Bayern Munich found the much-needed 2-1 win on Saturday over Leipzig, which closes the gap between them and first-placed Leverkusen to eight points.

Tuchel’s side took the lead after Leipzig midfielder Xaver Schlager failed to clear the ball against Jamal Musiala and instead the ball was directed towards Harry Kane, who opened the scoring. Leipzig, however, started to be more proactive and levelled in the 70th minute thanks to skipper Willi Orbán making an appearance in the final third and assisting Dani Olmo and Benjamin Šeško. The Slovenian striker’s shot would probably have not tested Manuel Neuer, but Leon Goretzka deflected the attempt past his goalkeeper.

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Harry Kane scores two as Bayern Munich see off RB Leipzig

Harry Kane scores one of his two goals in the 91st minute as Bayern Munich grab a 2-1 victory over RB Leipzig.

Once again, following a fine assist by Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, it was the prolific Kane who fired into the back of the net in the first minute of added time.

Even though Bayern were facing the fifth-placed team, the game proved one-way traffic for long periods as Leipzig sat deep inside their own half, defending with admirable discipline. The visitors were apparently striving to take the air out of Munich’s Allianz Arena — and were quite successful in doing so.

After halftime, Tuchel took out a metal equipment box and placed it in front of his dugout to sit closer to the action. The 50-year-old coach had decided to employ Joshua Kimmich at right-back because of ongoing injury woes that have significantly weakened Bayern’s options. While Kimmich dislikes playing on the right side instead of central midfield, Tuchel is no longer afraid to hurt anyone’s feelings, as he indicated during his first press conference following the revelation of his departure.

Although they look far off the pace at the moment, Bayern do remain in contention for the title and they could manage a comeback similar to last season — it’s just that they rarely secure victories as convincingly as they used to. — Constantin Eckner


Barça finally look the part of LaLiga contenders — but is it too late?

Barcelona cruised past Getafe at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday, winning 4-0 to move within five points of LaLiga leaders Real Madrid and keep their faint title hopes alive. Raphinha opened the scoring before the break, with João Félix, Frenkie de Jong and Fermín López all on target in the second half as Barça delivered their best performance of 2024.

Barça were far too good for a stubborn Getafe side, who have caused them problems in recent years, including in the first week of the season when the meeting between the two teams ended goalless. Raphinha was sent off in that match, but he gained some revenge here, finishing brilliantly to open the scoring after latching on to Jules Koundé‘s long ball.

Xavi Hernández’s side continued to find joy with long passes, finding Raphinha time and again in behind Getafe’s high line. The Brazilian blazed one chance over the bar and undercooked a pass for Felix on another occasion. Those misses could have made for a nervy second half, but Barça were much more clinical after the break.

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Barcelona keep pressure on Real Madrid with 4-0 win vs. Getafe

Barcelona ease past Getafe to close the gap to Real Madrid at the top of LaLiga.

Felix struck the second from a fine cross from Andreas Christensen, once again playing in midfield, and De Jong added the third. Substitute López completed the scoring after Vitor Roque‘s shot was saved.

It was a display that could foster much needed confidence for the rest of the season. Barça are still alive in the Champions League after drawing 1-1 at Napoli in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie in midweek, while in LaLiga, having played a game more, they are now second, ahead of Girona and just five behind Madrid, who play Sevilla on Sunday.

“We still have time,” Xavi said when asked if this performance arrived too late to resuscitate Barça’s up-and-down campaign. “The Champions League is open. We are in the fight for LaLiga. We have time — not in the [Spanish] Supercopa or the Copa del Rey — but in the other competitions.

“I have said we won’t throw in the towel. That’s 13 points from 15 in LaLiga now, we are in good form. Until it’s mathematically impossible, we will keep trying to put pressure on Girona and Madrid. To do that, we have to do our job, which is to win like we have done today. We needed a big performance like this.” — Sam Marsden


Americans Abroad: Richards’ scores first Premier League goal; Reyna watch continues

An American scored has scored his first goal in the Premier League — sound the USMNT klaxon!

Chris Richards, the 23-year-old centerback from Alabama, nodded the ball into the back of the net for Crystal Palace, scoring what will technically go down as the game-winner against Burnley.

It was a 3-0 rout for Palace after Burnley suffered an early red card before the goals started. Burnley’s Josh Brownhill saw straight red in the 35th minute for a takedown on an obvious goal-scoring opportunity off a poor back-pass in front of goal, before Richards found a breakthrough in the 68th minute.

This goal comes at a pretty great time for Richards — it was the first match for new manager Oliver Glasner, and Richards’ goal undoubtedly made a strong first impression. Richards has yet to establish himself as a lock for the national team — he featured in just six of the USMNT’s 18 matches in 2023, but is widely seen as an important prospect for the future.

Richards wasn’t the only USMNT player who had a good Saturday:

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Jordan Pefok finds the back of the net for Borussia Monchengladbach

Jordan Pefok finds the back of the net for Borussia Monchengladbach

Meanwhile, “Gio Reyna watch” continues — as in, let’s watch and see if he actually plays for new his club, Nottingham Forest. He did play on Saturday, but only as an 81st-minute substitute who didn’t impact the game at all.

Reyna will have another chance to make his first Forest start in the FA Cup on Wednesday when Forest host Manchester United (stream it live on ESPN+, U.S. only). — Caitlin Murray


News of the day


And finally …

Queens Park Rangers confirmed late on Saturday that club icon and former England international Stan Bowles has passed away, aged 75.

Known as “Stan the Man,” Bowles became a cult figure in the 1970s for his maverick tendencies both on and off the pitch. A Manchester City graduate, Bowles joined QPR in 1972 and went on to make 315 league appearances for the club, scoring 97 goals, and narrowly missing out on winning the old First Division in 1975-76, finishing runners-up to Liverpool.

Once implored by then QPR manager Tommy Docherty to “Trust me, Stan!” Bowles famously quipped: “I’d rather trust my chickens with Colonel Sanders.”

Always an individualist, Bowles once signed sponsorship deals with two different boot companies for the same match and proceeded to wear one of each.

Capped five times by England, Bowles’ health deteriorated in his later years after being diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. QPR have said they are planning a “fitting tribute” to “a darling of the Loftus Road terraces [and] undoubtedly one of the greatest players to have ever pulled on the famous blue and white hoops.” — Michael Wise