As the final weeks of 2023 come to a close and as we hope to see some more drama and excitement occur into the new year, there is still have some business to get sorted as we wrap up another weekend of the best action across Europe.
On Sunday, Girona sank Barcelona 4-2 in an enthralling game at Olympic Stadium to show that Míchel & Co. are very much in the title race from here, while Manchester City had to fight from behind to get a win at lowly Luton Town. Elsewhere, Arsenal Women downed Chelsea Women in a gripping clash to keep the WSL title race interesting, and how about Everton, eh? Another win for Sean Dyche's side -- this time over Chelsea -- keeps them surging up the table in defiance of their 10-point penalty.
Here is your look back at all the fun from the weekend.
Girona coach Míchel said his team would move into another dimension if they beat Barcelona on Sunday. Well, they just moved into another dimension. LaLiga's surprise package went to the Olympic Stadium and won a thrilling game 4-2, jumping ahead of Real Madrid and topping the table by two points after 16 games. It will be hard for Míchel and his players to play down the fact they are very much in the picture for the Spanish title now.
Girona fans made the trip an hour south to fill the away allocation and take up hundreds more seats in the home end, and they were rewarded when Artem Dovbyk gave them an early lead in this Catalan derby. Out-of-sorts forward Robert Lewandowski equalised for Barça in a lively opening spell, but that did not dampen Girona's spirits. The away side continued to play in the manner that has characterised their rise to the top of the table, keeping the ball well, passing with intent and playing on the front foot. They got their reward when left-back Miguel Gutiérrez fired them into the lead, just minutes after he had fired a warning shot wide of Iñaki Peña's goal.
Barça tried to rally after the break but most of their shots were straight at Paulo Gazzaniga, and when Raphinha was played through by Frenkie de Jong for a particularly clear-cut chance, he stumbled. Girona remained dangerous with the ball and two of Michel's substitutes, Cristhian Stuani and Valery, combined to give them a two-goal cushion. Sávio could have added another before Ilkay Gündogan pulled one back for Barça in stoppage time, teeing up an enthralling final few minutes. Lewandowski missed a header he would score nine times out of 10 and then, on the break, Stuani turned home at the far post to seal the points.
Girona's substitutes tore down the touchline as Stuani jumped the advertising hoardings and sprinted across the running track to celebrate in front of the travelling support. The 37-year-old club legend scored the two goals as they came from behind to beat Valencia last week. This one may even have been even sweeter for all that it meant: a first-ever win over Barça in a Catalan derby, but more importantly, confirmation that Girona are very much in this title race. -- Sam Marsden
Sunday talking points around the leagues
Alarm bells are ringing for Manchester City
Man City looked a little different at Kenilworth Road, and not just because they were without Erling Haaland for the first time in the Premier League this season or playing in the unfamiliar setting of only 11,047 fans. For the first time in a long time, you can make a serious argument for City not looking all that scary.
It can feel foolish to even think it -- Jurgen Klopp, speaking from extensive first-hand experience, said earlier this week that doubting City's title credentials would be "the biggest joke in football history" -- but maybe Pep Guardiola's side just don't have it this season. You'd have been forgiven for thinking that at half-time, when Luton went a goal ahead moments earlier through a Elijah Adebayo header.
City looked out of ideas at times in attack and held on the edge of Luton's penalty area, unable to seamlessly move through them as they routinely have done so often in the past. Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish scored three minutes apart to dispel the crisis talk that would surely have ensued, but those doubts will remain.
Steve Nicol discusses whether Manchester City's 2-1 comeback against Luton shows their desire to win a fourth Premier League title in a row.
On Tuesday, Guardiola broke the mould and predicted that Man City would indeed win the Premier League title. But, five days later, with a comprehensive defeat to Aston Villa and a slightly unconvincing win against Luton, that seems bolder than in years prior. History tells us all this will be proved wrong, that Kevin De Bruyne will return from injury in January, that City will go on a remarkable winning run and an unprecedented fourth consecutive Premier League title will be secured.
Until then, the critics will remain, though Guardiola doesn't seem to mind.
"'Yeah, City is not the same, City is over.' That's nice. Let them prove them wrong," he said. "We want to compete, I want to be there. It's so nice. I said before: We need that." -- Connor O'Halloran
Chelsea continuing to sink
Now 12th in the table with just 19 points after 16 games, boasting a goal difference of zero (26 goals scored, 26 conceded), only five wins all season and an 18-point gap between them and league leaders Liverpool, Sunday brought yet another low point for Chelsea this season. Everton were unforgiving hosts, winning 2-0 to mark Chelsea's seven loss of the season and third defeat in their last four.
After the disaster of last season's 12th-place finish, the nightmare is far from over for Todd Boehly's team. The owner has spent a lot of money, -- over 1 billion so far in 18 months -- changed managers four times already, restructured the club and found new investors, but nothing is yet working on the pitch. The team, as we saw at Goodison Park on Sunday, is still an absolute mess. They have no plan, no ideas, no identity and no structure, with Mauricio Pochettino making weird decisions like benching Raheem Sterling and Levi Colwill against Everton or starting Marc Cucurella at right-back against Manchester United.
Is it right, then, for Pochettino to ask for more investment and more new players in January when he is clearly struggling with what he has? Surely, a team with Enzo Fernández, Moisés Caicedo, Colwill, Sterling, Thiago Silva should be performing at a higher level than they have so far.
Steve Nicol praises Everton's incredible run since being docked 10 points after the side beat Chelsea 2-0 at Goodison Park.
It's true that injuries are not helping and Chelsea have had a lot of them in the last few weeks -- James, Ben Chilwell, Wesley Fofana, Christopher Nkunku, Armando Broja, Malo Gusto, Romeo Lavia and Noni Madueke to name just a few -- but the pressure is intensifying. The next four games are winnable (Sheffield United, Wolves, Crystal Palace and Luton) and have to be won. Otherwise, Pochettino will be in real trouble. -- Julien Laurens
Arsenal keep title fight alive with eye-catching win
Arsenal Women vs. Chelsea Women isn't always a box office fixture, but as two of the three teams who've been grappling for WSL dominance over the last decade, it is one that can yield fireworks. In that respect, Sunday's lunchtime clash in North London lived up to the billing.
In front of a record crowd of just under 60,000, it was Arsenal who impressed and had a meaty 3-1 lead at half-time thanks to goals from Beth Mead, Amanda Ilestedt and Alessia Russo. Although it wasn't a completely one-sided affair, the hosts were the better team across the pitch, transitioning from pressing to counter pressing and back to leave Chelsea off the pace and short on ideas. Even a triple substitution from Emma Hayes at half-time could do little to remedy the direction of the tie.
With the Blues getting lost in their own midfield blob, the Gunners' cleaner shape and clear ideas played into the strengths of those on the pitch with Kim Little's advanced role creating more flow forward and clearer spaces for those around her to attack. Again, Victoria Pelova and Russo proved they were built for a Jonas Eidevall team as they set the pace and ensured Hayes' last trip to the Emirates was not a happy one with Russo adding a fourth for Arsenal from the spot.
The result means a lot in terms of keeping the title race open, with the two London teams now tied for points at the top of the table, leaving just a three-point gap between themselves and chasers, Manchester City. -- Sophie Lawson
Americans abroad: Not much of note today!
News of the day
The LaLiga fixture between Granada and Athletic Bilbao was suspended on Sunday after the death of a fan inside the stadium. Sunday's game had kicked off as planned but was halted early in the first half, with local media later confirming a 64-year-old Granada supporter had passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Callum Wilson has accused Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario of a "lack of respect" after he was caught making faces at the Newcastle United striker towards the end of Spurs' 4-1 win on Sunday.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has urged his players to prove their critics wrong as they came from behind to secure a 2-1 victory at Luton Town on Sunday. "They don't need to prove to me what they are capable of," Guardiola said in a post-match news conference. "This is an extraordinary group of players and characters. But the competition and demand is to prove it again.
And finally, on Sunday...
How about Sean Dyche and Everton, eh? While much of Sunday's 2-0 result will be focused on the losers, Chelsea, it's worth noting just how resolute these Toffees are despite the 10-point deduction for financial irregularities.
Since news of their penalty broke on Dec. 1, Everton have rattled off three straight league wins against Nottingham Forest, Newcastle and Chelsea in a streak of eight games with just one loss (vs. Man United on Nov. 26) in all competitions. Without the 10-point penalty, Everton would be 10th on 23 points, while their seven league wins is more than the bottom three -- Luton Town, Burnley and Sheffield United -- have combined.
For Dyche, adversity is merely an item on the breakfast menu. His team are much better than their league position and with Burnley up next at Goodison Park, you can expect this run to continue. -- Tyler
Jurgen Klopp reacts to Liverpool's 2-1 win over Crystal Palace and praises Mohamed Salah.
The Saturday lead: Elliott winner puts Liverpool top of the Premier League
It's at about this time of year when the cold weather snaps and the midway point nears when the Premier League title race starts to form. Liverpool have so far proved they should be regarded as one of this season's contenders, and they did so again on Saturday, all despite playing a game that, for 76 minutes, Jurgen Klopp said they "deserved nothing" from. In the end, he even called the result "lucky."
A 75th-minute red card for Jordan Ayew changed it all, with Mohamed Salah scoring his 200th Liverpool goal a minute later before substitute Harvey Elliott netted a superb winner in stoppage time. "I am a very happy manager," Klopp said. "If you only win when you're really good then you have no chance of being really successful, that's just how it is."
Saturday's result marked Liverpool's seventh come-from-behind victory in all competitions this season -- the most in Europe's top five leagues alongside LaLiga contenders Girona. There's another stat too: This was the 16th game that Liverpool have won with a stoppage-time winner under Klopp.
The title race is barely in view yet, and maybe it's too soon to judge. But Liverpool earned another three points when they could easily have got none. Given the razor-thin margins, the Premier League title has been defined by in recent seasons, that will always be a perfect antidote to a bad performance. -- Connor O'Halloran
Saturday talking points around the leagues
Frankfurt stun Bayern after scoring five against Bavarians
Ansgar Knauff's shot after 32 seconds looked like it had gone in at first look. Only a replay, and a reminder of physics, helped show it hit the side netting, but it was that ominous moment suggesting Bayern Munich could be in for a rough afternoon. And yet, by full-time, nobody could have predicted just how rough it would be.
Despite Harry Kane in dominant form, the defending Bundesliga champs were rinsed 5-1 away to Eintracht Frankfurt in a driving December rain. Eintracht have needed something to cheer amid a difficult season, which saw them dumped out of the DFB Pokal last week by lower-tier Saarbrucken during a five-game winless streak in all competitions. What a way to rebound, eh? With Bayern in town expecting yet another good result -- Eintracht's last head-to-head win was in February 2021 -- their hosts instead put on a show in front of a delirious Deutsche Bank Park crowd.
After that shot in the opening minute, Eintracht only needed nine minutes more to open the scoring, with Omar Marmoush scoring the rebound after Farès Chaïbi hit the bar. Then, on the half-hour mark after a spell of Bayern pressure, the hosts doubled their lead via Eric Ebimbe, who skipped between three defenders to bundle it past keeper Manuel Neuer from close range after Bayern gave the ball away cheaply in their own half. Hugo Larsson would make it 3-0 five minutes later, calmly slotting into the bottom corner after another quick counterattack by Marmoush.
Joshua Kimmich's impressive first-time shot from the top of the box cut it to 3-1 at the end of the first half, but the break only served to convince Eintracht to keep attacking their fragile foes. Four minutes into the second half, Ebimbe scored his second of the game after another lost Bayern possession in midfield, speeding onto Chaibis' pass and slicing a shot past Neuer at his near post. After VAR review, Knauff was left to complete the rout, slashing beyond Neuer after another slick attack.
Should Bayern panic after a result like this? Perhaps not - one result in isolation is rarely that profound -- but they need to ensure that when they next take the field, against Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday, they are back on track. -- James Tyler
Bayern Munich suffer their first loss of the Bundesliga season after a 5-1 thrashing vs. Frankfurt.
Bellingham scores again as Madrid held by Betis
Jude Bellingham's sixteenth goal in eighteen games wasn't enough for Real Madrid as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Real Betis in LaLiga on Saturday to give Girona the chance to go clear at the top of the table if they can beat Barcelona a day later.
The England midfielder has scored all kinds of goals for Real Madrid so far -- from close-range tap-ins to long-distance screamers -- and his 53rd-minute strike at the Benito Villamarin was yet another showcase for his smart off-the-ball movement and ice-cold finishing. He picked up the ball out on the left wing, played it infield to Brahim Díaz, and set off on a trademark, well-timed run into the box to receive the return pass on his chest and shoot low past goalkeeper Rui Silva.
But Madrid's lead was short-lived. 13 minutes later Betis were level, thanks to an even better goal from Aitor Ruibal, blasting past Andriy Lunin -- rewarded for his good form by keeping his place in goal ahead of the fit-again Kepa Arrizabalaga -- to make it 1-1. It could have been worse for Madrid. Isco came close to a 90th-minute winner against his former team, hitting the post, while substitute Joselu could have given Carlo Ancelotti's team all three points seconds later, shooting wide, and Lunin tipped Chadi Riad's header over the bar in the final seconds.
Isco impressed again, with more of the resurgent form that has seen him picked as MVP in eight of Betis' 16 league games, while Bellingham and Rodrygo starred for the visitors. On the balance of play, a draw felt like a fair result and keeps Madrid top -- for at least 24 hours. -- Alex Kirkland
Juventus earn crucial win over Napoli
If you could make a blueprint of a pure Juventus performance under manager Max Allegri, it would follow exactly what we saw on Friday night against Napoli at the Allianz Stadium. A 1-0 win, already the fifth one of the season with this scoreline, another solid defensive performance with another clean sheet, the ninth one in 15 matches. It was a game that going forward didn't have many big chances created and just the one shot on target which was the goal. It is not pretty but it is effective.
Maybe the player who represents the best this old-school Juventus is Federico Gatti. The 25-year-old centre-back was working as a builder when he was 17 and was playing in Serie C (the Italian 3rd division) until three years ago. Frosinone, then in Serie B, bought him for £120,000 in 2021 and Juventus paid £5.4m for him six months later and loaned him back to Frosinone. Also, he scored the winner against Naples like he did four days before at Monza.
No one will be happier than Allegri with this 1-0 victory against the current Scudetto winners, who have now lost four of their last five games in all competitions despite changing their manager with the arrival of Walter Mazzarri. Allegri loves nothing more than for his team to take the lead and then retreat to a lower bloc to manage their advantage. They do that so well.
Juventus are still two points behind league leaders Inter but they are now on a 10-game unbeaten run (eight wins and two draws against Atalanta and Inter). Their battle with Inter for the title should be very interesting even if their performances won't be. -- Julien Laurens
PSG unconvincing but victorious
Let's be honest, the most important game for this PSG team at the moment was not the one against Nantes on Saturday evening. It is without a doubt the one against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday in the Champions League where qualification for the Round of 16 is at stake.
The Parisians just about did their job on Saturday with a late 2-1 win against the Canaries. Bradley Barcola scored his first goal for the club since his €50m move from Lyon in the summer before Randal Kolo Muani, another summer recruit, got the winner against his former club.
But it was pretty clear that all the players had their minds on Germany more than at the Parc des Princes. PSG lacked motivation, verticality, and rhythm. The fact that Ousmane Dembélé, the main creator usually for this side, started on the bench is one of the reasons why the Champions were playing at a slow pace. Kylian Mbappé, who was a centre forward again, was frustrated by the lack of good service and it was only really when Dembélé came on with 25 minutes to go that Paris had their flair and acceleration back.
Dembélé will be suspended on Wednesday, which is a huge blow and a big problem, but at least Luis Enrique had two piece of good news on Saturday: on their return from injuries, Marquinhos played 60 minutes and Warren Zaïre-Emery a half hour. They looked sharp and should start next week at the Signal Iduna Park where the BVB were beaten 3-2 by RB Leipzig on Saturday. PSG will have to play much better than they did against Nantes. But at least, they will be fully focused and committed to it this time. -- Laurens
Villa up to 12 dropped points from losing positions after loss in Manchester
After the game, Aston Villa manager Carla Ward praised her players and liked the match to the ones they'd against Manchester United and Arsenal, all three losses that had come after Villa had taken the lead.
At the Joie Stadium, the visitors were second best in most aspects, losing possession, struggling for first and second balls, and leaving Lauren Hemp unmarked for both of her goals in their 2-1 loss to Manchester City.
The margins could be argued as fine but it was another case of wondering what had happened to the team from last season who seemed to be knocking on the door of the top four or were at least, on the same street. This season, Villa have consistently struggled to find their best in each third of the pitch, a less than steadfast defence routinely under fire as the midfield is far too easily bypassed allowing less time on the ball for the attack to shine.
Yet, the attack still has plenty of value and not only did the visitors take the lead early in the game but carried an air of danger when they countered in the second half, the biggest problem for Ward's team is staying in games and not just dropping into a defensive shape which invites the pressure that has inevitably been their downfall all season. Last January, the Villainesses were palpably boosted by Ward's smart signings during the transfer window, if Villa are to pull themselves out of their current funk, the manager has no option but to strengthen during the winter window. -- Sophie Lawson
Americans abroad: Balogun shines in win for Monaco
Folarin Balogun stole the headlines yet again in the principality as a 10-man Monaco snatched all three points in a 2-1 win over Rennes thanks to two second-half goals to continue to put their noses in the Ligue 1 title races. Vanderson got the opener in the 51st minute before Youssouf Fofana secured all three points, but it was Balogun who provided the assist for both goals to see Adolf Hutter's side go four points behind league leaders PSG.
In Italy, Christian Pulisic was able to make history with his eighth goal contribution of the campaign for Luka Jovic's second goal for Milan against Atalanta and to pass Weston McKennie's seven in 2020-21 for the most goal contributions by an American in Serie A in a single season. However, it was not enough for the Rossoneri as they fell to a last-minute Luis Muriel goal to lose 3-2 and were unable to close the gap to McKennie's Juventus after their 1-0 win over Napoli on Friday.
And finally, in Germany, Union Berlin picked up an important win against Borussia Monchengladbach winning 3-1 on the day with Brendan Aaronson playing the last 16 minutes. With that win, Nenad Bjelica's men go out of the relegation zone in the Bundesliga for the time being as they move up to 15th place with 10 points and earn their first win since August when they started the season with wins over Mainz and Darmstadt only to fail to get three points for the next four months. -- Roberto Rojas
News of the day
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag slammed his squad's performance labeling them "not good enough to be consistent" after their 3-0 loss to Bournemouth at Old Trafford. "I think, as a squad, we are not good enough to be consistent and we have to work as a squad to improve that," said Ten Hag. "As a group, we have to improve, we have to get tougher, be ready for the game, from the start. I said it can't be in this league if you are not playing on the highest levels, because you get killed."
Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez says that Girona can win LaLiga this season ahead of their big clash on Sunday. "They have surprised many by being so high in the standings, but for us they are not a surprise," Xavi said. "They are a dynamic team with a great coach in Míchel. Their system is similar to ours, they want the ball and they want to press you."
And finally, on Saturday ...
We are right into the Christmas season which also means it is a time to give presents to loved ones. In Spain, Real Betis maintains an appreciative tradition that allows them to give back to their community every year.
At halftime during their 1-1 draw against Real Madrid, Betis fans threw stuffed toys onto the pitch of the Estadio Benito Villamarín resulting in an avalanche of thousands of adorable plush bears, bunnies, and numerous other different stuffed toys. Club staff would then pick it up and donate it to numerous disadvantaged children across the Seville area so that they would be ensured of a gift during the Christmas season.
It has since been something that has always gone viral every year when the Christmas season starts to creep up and just last year, Betis announced that 14,000 soft toys had been donated with the club's foundation. A wonderful story and great thing to see a big European club giving back to its community in such a memorable kind of way. -- Rojas