A fool's guide to an unpredictable weekend across Europe (except for Spain)

By Jonathan Gold

Manchester United’s completely unpredictable 1-0 win over Liverpool – sorry Kevin – and Spurs’ similarly shocking triumph over mighty Charlton were FA Cup fixtures reminding us of how dire the competition can be, but there were a couple of real surprises this weekend in the oldest cup tournament in the world.

Arsenal 1 – 1 Leeds United

While it’s not, you know, outside the realm of possibility for Arsenal to be stumped by lower-level opposition who outwork it and close down aggressively, the Gunners have been on a roll of late, after an important win over Chelsea and a disappointing draw with Manchester City that they nonetheless dominated utterly. However, Leeds led for much of the second half and were denied the win only by a very late penalty from Fabregas.

Manchester City 2 – 2 Leicester City

Anytime the lower-league club pulls it out over a top-flight competitor – particularly one whose team cost approximately 963 times more than the opposition – it’s fun to watch. And, somewhat surprisingly for a game involving Manchester City, it actually was a good one to watch, as Leicester leapt on City’s pallid defense, scoring in the first minute and pulling level again midway through the second half. For a team full of wildly expensive defenders and defensive midfielders, City really was shocking at the back and could easily have lost.

Meanwhile, it’s boring in Spain…

Cristiano Ronaldo recorded a hat-trick and assisted on another goal as Real Madrid spanked Villareal 4-2. Unfortunately, Barcelona continued its seemingly invincible form with a 4-0 win over Deportivo. Perhaps this makes me a spiteful and bitter person, but I do like to see C-Ron tearing it up and not making up any ground on the league leaders. “More complete player” my ass. Espanyol also added another note to its storming-home form this year with a 4-0 kicking of cellar-dwellers Real Zaragoza.

The comparisons to the Scottish Premier League don’t really apply anymore, but one of the few things Spain’s has in common with Scotland is the kind of soccer duopoly that freezes out clubs looking to provide some actual competition. Mock the big four in England all you like, but it’s wide-open this year, and, maybe I’m weird, but I think four potential league winners is more interesting than two.

That said, it’s a lot easier to put up with a dictatorship of two when one of the teams plays such gorgeously entertaining, ooh-la-la soccer.

…and crazy in Italy

Comebacks made a comeback in Serie A, as league leaders AC Milan somehow held on to a point against a desperately unlucky Udinese. A wild 4-4 draw featured numerous missed chances, some brilliant goalkeeping, and noted scorer of high-pressure goals Zlatan Ibrahimovic popping up deep into injury time.

Fiorentina survived being under Brescia at home. The Viola were down 0-2 thanks to what was either a stunningly brilliant strike or a lucky deflection from Diamanti and an impressive free kick from Nicolas Cordova, both of which happened before the half-hour mark. However, with just a quarter of an hour to go, a header from Alberto Gilardino and a lucky tap in on the goalkeeper’s spill from Mario Sanata were followed by an emphatic blast into the top right corner from Adem Ljajic. The young Serb is definitely someone whose name you ought to know, if only to avoid looking like a jerk when trying to spell it.

But the biggest stories had to be Sampdoria – who were down to nine men by the end – erasing a goal deficit to beat 10-man Roma in Genoa and mighty Lazio losing 2-1 at home to relegation fodder Lecce. The manner in which the visitors took the lead – an own goal scored by the mighty back of Muslera – was lucky, but Lecce was still a deserving winner.

Also, Edinson Cavani scored with his head three times as Napoli whipped Juventus like dogs. Good stuff.

…while in Germany – oh, crap that’s right they’re still on break. Can I stop writing in bold now? Fine. Here’s some junk about France. Zut alors, etc, I need a drink.

Pretty much the entire Ligue 1 representation in the Coupe de France – with the exceptions of, I think, Brest and Lyon – crashed out of the competition as the landslide trend in Italy crossed the Mediterranean. While the last shock result I can think of in an amateur-professional clash didn’t happen – Havant and Waterlooville twice led Liverpool at Anfield but eventually lost ? in England, the unthinkable actually happened in France this weekend as Chambery topped AS Monaco.

I sat here for a while trying to write a joke about that, but hell, I’m pretty impressed. A bunch of weekend warriors took on a professional side and won. That’s a couple of steps removed from your company softball team beating the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So that’s that for this admittedly incomplete and biased round-up. Have a good week.

Jonathan Gold is a contributing writer for The Soccer Guys.

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