WHAT WE LEARNED: City slickers, resurgent Real and bullish Bayern - European leagues round-up

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Sergio Aguero shoots from the penalty spot to score his team's fifth goal, and his hattrick. (AFP)
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Chelsea's Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta (2R) reacts after Manchester City's Argentinian striker Sergio Aguero scored from the penalty spot during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Burnley at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, north west England, on February 10, 2019. (AFP)
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Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri before the match against Manchester City. (Action Images via Reuters)
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Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski celebrates after Schalke's Jeffrey Bruma scored an own goal and Bayern Munich's first. (Reuters)
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PSG's Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani reacts after he gets an injury during the match against Bordeaux at the Parc des Princes stadium, in Paris, on February 9, 2019. (AFP)
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Real Madrid's Spanish defender Sergio Ramos celebrates at the end of the Spanish league football match between Atletico and Real. (AFP)
Updated 12 February 2019
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WHAT WE LEARNED: City slickers, resurgent Real and bullish Bayern - European leagues round-up

  • Aguero’s second hattrick in as many games kept the City title charge a nose ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool
  • Real Madrid overtook city rivals Atletico to become Barcelona’s closest challengers in La Liga

LONDON:Two giants of the Spanish game might have been battling it out in the Madrid derby, but even the pull of a mouthwatering Real vs. Atletico clash was superseded this weekend by the remarkable events at the Etihad Stadium. Arab News examines scintillating City and the rest of European football’s major talking points this weekend.

CITY-LIVERPOOL RACE HOTTING UP
Manchester City’s dismantling of Chelsea has sent huge shockwaves throughout English football, with the rest of Europe feeling the aftershocks. It was a blistering performance from the reigning champions, but also one that led many fans to question if Maurizzio Sarri has lost his fingertip-grip on the Chelsea dressing room.
“I don’t know. You have to ask the club,” the embattled Italian said when asked if he feared being fired just eight months into a three-year contract at Stamford Bridge.
But we have been here before with the west London club, the players seem to have far too much power. To outsiders, it appears that if they dislike a manager or the way he sets up his teams, they collude to get him sacked.
Think Roberto Di Matteo in 2012, months after he won the club’s first — and, to date, only — Champions League trophy. Think Jose Mourinho in the wake of the Eva Caniero scandal. Think Antonio Conte after the Italian led them to an unlikely Premier League title.
Player power is on the rise in Europe’s top leagues — often not for the better — and Chelsea’s squad have recently been at the vanguard of a toxic culture of drastically underperforming to get a manager sacked. Let us hope Chelsea stick by Sarri.
Meanwhile, Aguero’s second hattrick in as many games kept the City title charge a nose ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. Despite a robust performance from Tottenham to beat Leicester at Wembley, it still looks like a battle between Guardiola’s City and Klopp’s Reds for glory come May.


RAMOS TO THE RESCUE
Real Madrid overtook city rivals Atletico to become Barcelona’s closest challengers in La Liga, with the gap down to six points between the bitter old rivals.
For Santiago Solari, who had come under extreme pressure earlier in the season, the 3-1 win was his best yet at the Real helm and it continued their resurgence since claiming the Club World Cup last year. It was also Atletico’s first home defeat of the season.
And a good weekend for the reigning European champions got even better as an injury-hit Barcelona were held to a goalless draw away to Athletic Bilbao.
Lionel Messi played but was not fully fit while the likes of Jordi Alba, Arthur Melo and Ousmane Dembele were also missing from the starting line-up. Barca will be grateful now for five days off, with their Champions League tie against Lyon coming next week. La Liga could be a tighter race than we originally thought.


INJURY STRIKES PSG
Paris Saint-Germain must have been rubbing their hands when, late last year, they were drawn against a woefully out of form Manchester United managed by Jose Mourinho in the Champions League last-16.
But injuries to Neymar, and now Edison Cavani after this weekend’s labored 1-0 win over Bordeaux in Ligue Un, have threatened to derail their European ambitions for yet another season.
The French giants will be without both for Tuesday’s trip to Old Trafford.
And under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, United have gone through a remarkable renaissance, winning 10 of their last 11 games under the Norwegian. In a matter of months, fortunes have changed and many are now backing the Red Devils to go through against the Parisians.

BAYERN HANGING ON
Defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich had Hoffenheim to thank after they trimmed the gap in the table to five points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund.
Dortmund were cruising 3-0 at home with 20 minutes remaining in their game against Hoffenheim, then conspired to blow a three-goal lead, with the visitors scoring three very late goals, in a dramatic 3-3 draw.
It meant that Robert Lewandowski’s 100th home goal for the Bavarian behemoth in a 3-1 win over Schalke 04 was enough for Bayern to hang on to the coattails of their Rhine rivals.
It promises to be a tough week for Dortmund too as they face a trip to Wembley to take on Tottenham in the Champions League, while Bayern can take their foot off the gas for a week, with their trip to Anfield to play Liverpool not until next week. The fat lady is not singing just yet in Germany.

 


NBA, FIBA announce plans for pro league in Africa

Updated 17 February 2019
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NBA, FIBA announce plans for pro league in Africa

  • The Basketball Africa League is a new collaboration between the NBA and the sport’s global governing body FIBA
  • Qualification tournaments will be held to determine those clubs that will take part

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina: The NBA is bringing a pro league to Africa.
The Basketball Africa League, a new collaboration between the NBA and the sport’s global governing body FIBA, was announced Saturday. The initial plan is for the 12-team league to begin play in January, and former President Barack Obama is among those who are expected to have direct involvement with the league’s plan to keep growing the game in Africa through the league and other initiatives.
The scope of what Obama’s involvement will be remains unknown, and it’s yet to be determined which existing club teams will be part of the league. Qualification tournaments will be held later this year to determine those clubs, with teams from Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia expected to be among those taking part. No nation will have more than two teams in the league.
“As we’ve been talking about this concept over the last several months, there’s been a tremendous reception from many of our NBA team owners ... and in addition, several of the partners of the NBA have expressed a strong desire to work with us in Africa,” Silver said.
Silver said Pepsi and Nike’s Jordan Brand — Charlotte owner Michael Jordan was among the owners in the room where Silver made the announcement — are among the partners who have reached out to the NBA and said they want to be part of the Africa league. Silver also said that Obama, an enormous basketball fan, has told him he wants to “be directly involved with these activities in Africa.”
Silver said talks between the NBA and Obama are ongoing. Obama spoke on a video that was shown during the event where Silver announced the league.
“I hope you know through sport, that if you put in effort, you will be rewarded,” Obama said. “I hope you learn through sport what it means to play as a team, and even if you are the best player, your job is not just to show off but your job is to make your teammates better.”
The NBA and FIBA’s involvement will include financial support and resources toward continued growing of the game on the continent, as well as providing training for players, coaches and referees and some infrastructure for the new league. Silver said there are 438 companies in Africa that generate more than $1 billion in revenue annually, but that sport there has not seen the same growth — yet.
“Africa is a huge economic engine,” Silver said. “And one place, though, where we haven’t seen enormous economic growth yet is in the industry of sport. And that’s something that we are all particularly focused on.”
The NBA has held three games in Africa since 2015, all of them selling out — two games in Johannesburg, the other in Pretoria. Many of the league’s current players and coaches, along with several legends and Hall of Famers, have been part of those trips.
“I went with them last year,” Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said. “The NBA reaches out across the world.”
The league has an office in South Africa, has helped create 87 learn-and-play facilities in seven African nations, and 13 players who were born in Africa on opening-night NBA rosters this season. The league also built an academy in Senegal that opened nearly two years ago.
“It’s a huge joy to see our partnership with the NBA enter uncharted territory as we work together for the first time to maximize the potential of professional basketball in Africa,” said Andreas Zagklis, FIBA’s secretary-general.
This marks the first time the NBA has been involved with the operation of a league outside of North America.
“We’re excited to work closely with the NBA to develop and put in a place a professional league like none that we have ever seen in our region before,” said FIBA Africa Executive Director Alphonse Bile. “Through the Basketball Africa League, we can provide the many great clubs and players with the best possible environment to compete for the highest stakes.”
The NBA says more details about the new league will be released in the coming months.