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The sad story of Milan’s title defence, Schreuder sacked & more

We had a week full of exciting and entertaining activities in the football world, so let us go over the best of the action in this edition of This Week In Football:

🇮🇹 Italy: Lazio 4-0 Milan

There was just one midweek Serie A match on Tuesday, but it was a really big one. Defending champions Milan made the trip to the capital to face Lazio, who had the chance to move into the top three with a win here.

They did just that, and in some style too. The visitors were completely outplayed from start to finish, as is evidenced by the final xG scoreline of 3.08-0.73.

Their 4-2-3-1 mid-block was tactically outdone by Lazio’s fluid front line which saw each of its members drop deep to receive, while the two number eights were always happy to get forward.

Both of them got on the scoresheet. Sergej Milinković-Savić opened the scoring just four minutes in. Luis Alberto scored the third goal from the penalty spot in the second half, but only after Mattia Zaccagni made it 2-0 with a few minutes to go until the break. Felipe Anderson was rewarded for a tremendous false nine performance in the form of the match’s fourth goal.

This superb performance is a very good indicator of Lazio’s improvement since the World Cup break, but it also highlights Milan’s troubles.

The Rossoneri are winless in five now, so their gap to the league leaders has widened to 12 points. Their underlying numbers show their drop-off since the World Cup break, after which they have a negative xGD (Expected Goal Difference) in the league.

🇳🇱 Netherlands: Ajax 1-1 FC Voldendam

The second half of the Eredivisie season kicked off in midweek with the 18th round of fixtures, where there were several big matches and results. The most consequential one was the last game of the round, which saw newly-promoted FC Volendam visit defending champions Ajax.

Ajax’s bid to lift their fourth-straight league title is under real threat at this moment. Going into this match, they were on a run of five consecutive draws in the league and had not won an Eredivisie match since October 22 last year.

Alfred Schreuder, who had only joined this summer, was under real pressure, so he needed nothing short of a convincing win against a side that started the match in the relegation zone.

His side’s performance was decent overall, but they simply could not even buy a goal. After attempting 20 shots within an hour, the hosts conceded first to Voldenam’s first effort of the game from a set-piece.

They did manage to pull back level eventually after substitutes Mohammed Kudus and Lorenzo Lucca combined, but a point was all they could earn.

Soon after, Ajax announced they had sacked Schreuder after this terrible run of form. The next head coach will have a tough job on their hands, as they will take over a club in fifth place with a seven-point deficit to the league leaders.

🇪🇸 Spain: Osasuna 2-1 Sevilla (aet)

The Copa del Rey quarter-finals were held in Spain this week, featuring the usual suspects like Barcelona and the two Madrid clubs. Naturally, therefore, our focus is not on any of them.

Instead, we will discuss Osasuna’s first Copa del Rey tie at El Sadar since 2018, up against La Liga strugglers Sevilla.

Jorge Sampaoli’s side are in a real relegation battle as they are only one point above 18th-placed Real Valladolid, so their fans are certainly not happy. By contrast, Osasuna are exceeding expectations as they are challenging for a European spot.

This match between the two sides was quite a close affair with very little to split the two teams. It took 71 minutes for the opening goal to be scored, and it came from Ezequiel Ávila for the hosts.

It looked like they would go on to see out the win, but they were pegged back four minutes into stoppage time by Youssef En-Nesyri.

Extra time was next, and for once, the cup tie was decided in this period. It was En-Nesyri’s international teammate Abdessamad Ezzalzouli who got the winning goal after a nice run and lovely chop inside before a powerful near-post finish.

That set Osasuna up for their first cup semi-final since 2005 when they finished as runners-up to current holders Real Betis.

🇩🇪 Germany: Schalke 1-6 RB Leipzig

There was a full round of midweek Bundesliga fixtures for us to tuck into, and it provided us with lots and lots of drama as there were 30 goals scored in just nine games.

The biggest goal-fest of them all came in Gelsenkirchen, where RB Leipzig hit Schalke for six. They already had four by the half-time break thanks to André Silva (2), Benjamin Henrichs and Timo Werner.

Dani Olmo and Youssouf Poulsen netted late on to widen the margin of victory. Following other results, this leaves Leipzig up in third, just four points behind leaders Bayern Munich.

Schalke are rooted to last place and are seven points from safety. The one positive for them was that Sochirio Kozuki and Michael Frey got their first goal involvements in a blue shirt when the two combined for the Japanese winger’s goal, but apart from that, it was a terrible night.

After six league games in charge of the club, Thomas Reis has only managed to pick up three points for them. They would have hoped that he would have worked on tightening up the league’s worst defence over the course of the World Cup break, but after nine goals conceded in two games, things are not looking good.

After a somewhat decent start to the season, it seems Schalke are on course for heading straight back down to the 2. Bundesliga after all.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland: Darvel FC 1-0 Aberdeen

On Monday night, we witnessed what many are calling one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Scottish Cup.

Premiership side Aberdeen, currently in the top half of the table, made the trip to face sixth-tier amateur outfit Darvel FC, who play in the highest tier of the West of Scotland Football League. Surely, this was going to be the most routine of routine wins for the visitors, or so everyone thought.

Darvel started off pretty well and were helped by a lucky deflection as they opened the scoring 19 minutes in. At most they would have expected to enjoy a moment or two in dreamland before crashing back down to reality, but that pull never came.

The hosts held firm against Aberdeen’s attacks and came away with a win that even opposition manager Jim Goodwin called deserved.

It seemed that at least half the population of the town just about 4,000 people were celebrating this incredible result, and rightly so too.

Their next opponents are Falkirk from the third tier, so they will surely believe that they can extend this historic cup run even further.

Aberdeen are in a tough spot. They have won just one and lost seven of their last nine games — a run which has seen them slip away from Hearts in the battle for the best of the rest spot in the league.

Jim Goodwin’s position must be under real threat after this disastrous performance and result, so this might have been his last match in charge of the club.

👀 What To Watch Next:

The weekend brings various big games with it, so here are a few to watch.

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England: Manchester City vs Arsenal (Friday, 20:00 UTC)
The two chief Premier League title contenders are yet to come face to face in the league this season, but their first meeting is in the FA Cup fourth round. While this match will obviously have no impact on the league table, the psychological impact of this result should not be underestimated.

🇩🇪 Germany: Bayer Leverkusen vs Borussia Dortmund (Sunday, 16:30 UTC)
This weekend’s Bundesliga Topspiel sees Borussia Dortmund make the trip to face Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen. Between them, the two teams have scored 11 goals and conceded seven since the league resumed last weekend, so entertainment is guaranteed.

🇮🇹 Italy: Napoli vs Roma (Sunday, 19:45 UTC)
Two top Serie A sides face off yet again this week. This time, it is fourth-placed Roma who visiting Napoli, who have a two-digit points buffer at the top of the table. If they can win here, they will surely start running away with the title.

Stats courtesy Opta via Fotmob and Fbref.

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