Atletico stumble, Ronaldo defiant and PSG unsettled: European talking points

Paris (AFP) – Atletico Madrid dropped more points in pursuit of La Liga glory, Cristiano Ronaldo hit back at detractors with a perfect hat-trick and Inter Milan refused to buckle in Serie A. Meanwhile PSG came unstuck after off-pitch worries.

AFP Sport rounds up some of the main talking points from the weekend’s action across the continent:

– Atletico under threat in Spain –

A second Spanish title in seven years looked to be heading Atletico’s way with a comfortable double-digit gap at the top going into February, but Saturday’s 0-0 draw at 10-man Getafe meant Diego Simeone’s team dropped points for the fifth time in eight games.

“We did everything we could but the ball wouldn’t go in. We have to take a point,” said goalkeeper Jan Oblak. 

“It was the game I expected,” said Simeone. “A point is still a step forwards.”

Barcelona could cut the advantage to four points with victory over bottom side Huesca later on Monday. Ronald Koeman’s men are unbeaten in 16 in La Liga and have won 10 of their last 11 matches.

– Brilliant Benzema bails out Madrid –

Karim Benzema, whose late equaliser against Atletico last weekend kept Real Madrid in touch, rescued the defending champions once more with two late goals in a 2-1 victory over strugglers Elche.

The French striker levelled with 17 minutes left and then drilled home a brilliant winner in stoppage time, hitting 15 league goals for the season as he scored for the fourth game in a row.

Real are six points behind Atletico and face Atalanta on Tuesday in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie. Zinedine Zidane’s side host Barcelona in La Liga on April 11.

– Ronaldo riposte after European heartache –

Days after Juventus crashed out of the Champions League, Cristiano Ronaldo answered back at the critics with a perfect hat-trick in the first half of a 3-1 victory at Cagliari.

Ronaldo’s 57th treble — and second quickest, in 32 minutes — took his career goals tally to 770, drawing congratulations from Brazil great Pele for eclipsing his mark of 767 in official matches.

The Portuguese star bore much of the brunt for Juve’s exit in the last 16 to Porto. He has netted a combined 14 times in three seasons with Juventus in Europe, one fewer than in his final campaign with Real Madrid (15).

– Conte’s Inter grinding out wins –

With no European commitments in the second half of the season, Inter are marching towards a first Serie A crown since Jose Mourinho led the club to the treble in 2010.

Antonio Conte’s strike force of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez has supplied much of the ammunition for the league’s top scorers, and the pair were both on target in a 2-1 win at Torino despite the absence of their coach.

“Victories like these are crucial,” said Inter assistant Cristian Stellini, deputising for Conte who was serving a touchline ban.

Inter have won eight on the bounce and lead AC Milan by nine points. Juve are another point back in third but with a game in hand.

– Off-pitch troubles disrupt PSG –

After watching title rivals Lille and Lyon both draw, the visit of relegation-threatened Nantes presented Paris Saint-Germain with the opportunity to take control in Ligue 1.

However Nantes, revived since the appointment of former PSG coach Antoine Kombouare as the successor to Raymond Domenech, fought back with second-half goals to inflict a second successive home loss on the reigning champions. 

More unsettling than back-to-back home defeats for the first time since 2012 was news of a robbery at the home of Angel Di Maria, who signed a one-year extension 48 hours earlier, and a break-in at a house belonging to Marquinhos’ family.

Di Maria, visibly upset, was substituted on the hour and PSG appeared to be affected by the commotion as they succumbed to a seventh defeat of the season.

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