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Phenomenal Haaland, trouble for Barcelona and PSG: European football talking points

Paris (AFP) – Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain look vulnerable after weekend defeats, while Erling Braut Haaland laid down another marker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic keeps on scoring too, and Norwegian club Bodo/Glimt have a record which will take some beating.

AFP Sport rounds up some of the main talking points from across the continent:

– Barcelona are unrecognisable –

If Barcelona thought keeping Lionel Messi against his will would suffice to make them contenders in La Liga this season, it is not working.

The Argentine was a peripheral figure as Ronald Koeman’s team produced a mediocre performance and lost 1-0 to Atletico Madrid on Saturday, a result which left them 12th in La Liga, nine points behind Diego Simeone’s team in second. They are 12 points behind leaders Real Sociedad, albeit with two games in hand.

The Basque club are flying, having equalled a club record of six straight league wins, while Barcelona have won just once, and lost three times, in the same period.

Atletico are possibly now the title favourites, unbeaten in 24 league games, and it all points to the Catalans facing a fight just to finish in the top four.

All the more so as the injuries are piling up: Against Atletico they saw Gerard Pique go off with a serious knee injury and lost Sergi Roberto to a thigh tear. Both are expected to be out for two months. 

– Haaland is unstoppable –

Erling Braut Haaland keeps on breaking records. On Saturday the Norwegian sensation, aged 20 years and four months, scored four times in the second half in Borussia Dortmund’s 5-2 win at Hertha Berlin, becoming the youngest player to net four in one Bundesliga game.

Named last week as the winner of the Golden Boy for Europe’s best young player, as awarded by Italian sports daily Tuttosport, he has 10 Bundesliga goals for the season and 15 in all competitions. Not to mention six for his country.

Haaland’s figures have been mindblowing since he burst onto the scene last season with Salzburg, and he has now scored a total of 23 goals in 22 Bundesliga matches following his move to Dortmund in January.

That beats the tally of Hamburg legend Uwe Seeler, who scored 20 in his first 22 outings of the first Bundesliga season in 1963/64.

– PSG implode and give hope to rivals –

Kylian Mbappe, that other young striking phenomenon, has now scored 99 goals for Paris Saint-Germain since signing from Monaco in a 180 million-euro deal ($215m) deal in August 2017.

On Friday he grabbed a first-half brace to put PSG 2-0 up away against his old side, but the champions imploded in the second half and ended up losing 3-2, with a late Cesc Fabregas penalty deciding the game.

After eight consecutive Ligue 1 wins, PSG’s momentum has been stalled and they are now just two points clear of Lille at the top.

And their defensive weaknesses may come back to haunt them in a crucial Champions League clash with RB Leipzig this midweek. Presnel Kimpembe is suspended for that match, and Abdou Diallo is in the firing line after his error gifted Monaco the crucial penalty.

The jury remains out on last season’s Champions League finalists.

– Evergreen Zlatan –

Will Haaland and Mbappe still be banging in the goals as they approach 40? Zlatan Ibrahimovic is, and AC Milan are on top of Serie A.

On Sunday the Swede scored twice before limping off with a thigh strain as the Rossoneri won 3-1 at Napoli to stay two points ahead of Sassuolo at the top, and remain unbeaten.

Ibrahimovic is the top scorer in Italy with 10 goals, despite turning 39 last month. Milan coach Stefano Pioli must hope the veteran forward is not missing for too long. The early indications are he will be out for at least 10 days.

– Northern delights –

Milan’s other goal-scorer in Naples was Jens Petter Hauge, the winger signed from Bodo/Glimt at the start of the season.

Hauge’s old club have coped fine since his departure and on Sunday became Norwegian champions for the first time.

From the small town of Bodo, just north of the Arctic Circle and a 16-hour drive from Oslo, Bodo/Glimt are the northernmost top-flight champions ever according to sports data experts Gracenote who say they have stolen that particular prize from KA Akureyri, former Icelandic title winners.

Bodo/Glimt have won the league with five games to spare and will enter next season’s Champions League.

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