European soccer news: Girona stumble, Real win Supercopa

It was a fun Sunday across European soccer, with talking points galore in LaLiga's title race, the Spanish Supercopa final and the Premier League. Girona stumbled to a scoreless draw at bottom-side Almeria but still reclaimed top spot, while Real Madrid thrashed their clasico rivals Barcelona 4-1 to win the first trophy of the year in Spain.

In England, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur battled to a 2-2 draw that doesn't really help either side in the Premier League race. Plus Paris Saint-Germain shrugged off Lens to cement their lead in Ligue 1, and a pair of United States internationals impressed as Borussia Monchengladbach thumped VfB Stuttgart 3-1.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Bayer Leverkusen's dramatic win showed their title credentials, Jadon Sancho marked his second debut for Borussia Dortmund with an assist, Chelsea defeated Fulham, and Manchester City fought from 2-1 down to win 3-2 at Newcastle United.

- Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Here is your look back at yet another roller-coaster weekend in European football.


The lead: Girona stumble

Girona's 0-0 draw at Almeria on Sunday was enough to put them top of LaLiga, but it wasn't the kind of performance you'd expect from a title-chasing team against a side that's on course for the worst season in the competition's history.

With Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid all involved in the Spanish Supercopa in Saudi Arabia this week -- and therefore idle in LaLiga -- Sunday's game was a chance for Girona to put some daylight between themselves and their title rivals. The opposition, on paper, were perfect candidates. Almeria had picked up just five points, and no wins, in the first half of the season. Keep that up and they'll take Sporting Gijon's crown as the worst LaLiga team ever, eclipsing the 13 points they picked up in 1997-98.

Instead, it was Almeria who dominated the game from beginning to end at the Power Horse Stadium, creating 16 chances to Girona's three, and ending the match with an xG (expected goals) of 1.9 to Girona's 0.21. Girona missed flying winger Sávio, who was only fit enough to make the bench, while standout forward Artem Dovbyk was quiet, lacking service, and the introduction of the veteran Cristhian Stuani didn't change much.

Girona were forced to hang on with 10 men for the final 10 minutes, after captain Aleix García was sent off for bringing down Gonzalo Melero when through on goal. Only some poor Almeria finishing -- this was their third 0-0 draw in a row at home -- allowed them to escape with a point. Still, it's enough to edge ahead of Real Madrid at the top of the table, a point clear, having played a game more.

Girona will be hoping this was just a one-off, a bad day, and not a first sign of their title challenge running out of steam. Only time will tell. -- Kirkland

Sunday talking points around the leagues

More questions than answers for Ratcliffe as Ten Hag's Man United draw vs. Spurs

Erik ten Hag knows he is now in the survival phase of his career as Manchester United manager and his reaction to Scott McTominay's miss against Tottenham, deep into stoppage time, was proof of his vulnerability in front of the man who will soon be his boss, Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

Ten Hag threw his hands in the air, and then put his head in them. McTominay was unmarked, 6 yards out, as he jumped to head Alejandro Garnacho's cross into the net to make it 3-2. But the Scotland midfielder didn't make it 3-2. He sent his effort high over Guglielmo Vicario's crossbar, and the win that Ten Hag desperately needed evaporated, leaving United with one point from a game in which they had twice taken the lead.

Was Rashford back to his best for Man United vs. Tottenham?

Janusz Michallik reacts to Marcus Rashford's performance in Man United's 2-2 draw vs. Tottenham.

United and Ten Hag have had plenty of setbacks this season, of course. That's why they sit in seventh position in the Premier League, eight points adrift of the top four. They are 13 points behind leaders Liverpool.

But while all of the previous stumbles were played out to a backdrop of uncertainty about the club's ownership and a punishing injury list, Sunday marked a change of direction for United and Ten Hag. -- Tyler

Read more here from Mark Ogden on Sunday's 2-2 draw.

Women's FA Cup holders, Chelsea, through after extra time stress

No one said life without Sam Kerr would be easy for Chelsea, but the Blues created their own problems against West Ham United in a 3-1 win that puts them into the Round of 16.

Opting to play Lauren James in a false-nine role, Emma Hayes' adjustments left the usually incisive team looking uncharacteristically blunt in attack. Unable to get their own forward momentum in the early exchanges, West Ham took the lead through Viviane Asseyi's well-struck first-half effort, and Chelsea were forced to toil until the hour mark, when the introduction of Mia Fishel, Nathalie Björn and Melanie Leupolz helped turn the tide.

With Fishel occupying a clearer role as the focus up front, the Blues found some cohesion and sure enough, the U.S. international's smart turn-and-shoot pulled them level with 20 minutes remaining. Yet Chelsea again fell flat and the game lumbered into extra time, where the Irons weariness began to show. The hosts took advantage, scoring twice through Erin Cuthbert and Sjoeke Nüsken in the first half of extra time, leaving no return for the battling Hammers.

Getting the job done despite being far from their best, Chelsea will need to rethink their approach ahead of a taxing test vs. Man United at Stamford Bridge next Sunday. Meanwhile, there will be clear positives for West Ham, though coach Rehanne Skinner will know that had her team been more cutthroat with their modest chances, they could have pulled off one of the shocks of the round. -- Lawson

Vinicius, Real Madrid rout hapless Barcelona

Sunday's Clasico between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish Supercopa final offered the potential for high drama, but Carlo Ancelotti's side romped to a 4-1 win over their rivals that will give Xavi & Co. even more headaches to contend with over the remainder of the season.

Read the reaction here from Alex Kirkland (Real Madrid) and Sam Marsden (Barcelona).

PSG extend their lead at the top

Games between Lens and PSG have become quite iconic in Ligue 1 over the past few years. Last season, after two epic encounters, only one point separated them with the Parisians taking the title, and while in this campaign the gap is much bigger -- right now, 17 points separate PSG in first and Lens in eighth -- their clash at the Stade Bollaert on Sunday night didn't disappoint as PSG ran out 2-0 winners.

Bradley Barcola again showed his class, scoring his side's first goal and drawing the foul from Jonathan Gradit for which the Lens defender was sent off just before half-time. There was also a goal for Kylian Mbappé, his 19th of the season (in 17 games), though Lens did play with a lot of heart, courage and talent. They missed a penalty at 0-0 and created some good opportunities even down to 10 men in the second half, with Mbappé's goal not coming until the 89th minute.

All in all, It was a perfect weekend for PSG boss Luis Enrique and his players, another one this season. The Parisians are now eight points clear of Nice in second place, after their defeat at Rennes, and nine above Brest, who overtook Monaco in third place.

Even if the champions still look complacent at times when they lead and don't display the full control that their manager would love them to show, they will definitely be the team to beat in 2024. -- Laurens

Americans abroad: Scally, Pefok feature as Gladbach thumps Stuttgart

Sunday's Bundesliga clash at Borussia-Park was a surprisingly smooth one for a Gladbach side that's struggled to achieve this season. With seven defeats in 16 games heading into their first game after the winter break, setting the tone was important and, in fairness, they hit that mark, winning 3-1 in a game that saw great performances from the club's pair of U.S. internationals.

After Robin Hack converted inside 20 seconds and then curled one home in the 20th minute to give the hosts a two-goal cushion, Joe Scally turned in a strong shift at right-back, tidying up danger and looking composed in possession. Forward Jordan Pefok entered as a second-half sub and put the game beyond doubt in the 91st minute, reflexively converting a rebound after Manu Kone smacked a shot off the post.

So, it's job done for Gladbach and while they're still frustratingly rooted in mid-table, this victory denotes progress and gives them something on which to build. They'll need it, too: their next three opponents are Leipzig (home), league leaders Leverkusen (away) and Bayern Munich (away). -- Tyler

News of the day

  • Sir Jim Ratcliffe expects the Premier League to ratify his move to take charge of Manchester United's football operations by "mid-February," as he spoke for the first time about his investment in the club ahead of Sunday's game against Tottenham.

  • Ajax coach John van 't Schip has confirmed the club's interest in signing former Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson. Sources told ESPN earlier this week that Henderson, who is unsettled in Saudi Arabia, is wanted by Ajax as well as teams from the Premier League and Bundesliga.

  • Newcastle United midfielder Joelinton became the latest Premier League player targeted by burglars when intruders entered his Northumbria home while his team were playing Manchester City at St James' Park on Saturday evening.

And finally on Sunday ...

In a weekend when many contenders for a top-four finish in Serie A lost points, AC Milan got a very important win against Jose Mourinho's AS Roma. It was very much a French party at the San Siro, too, with the Rossoneri's 3-1 win coming thanks to goals from three Bleus stars Yacine Adli, Olivier Giroud and Theo Hernández.

After scoring the second of his team, Giroud also turned provider with the assist of the weekend for Theo, with a back heel amid a lovely one-two between the two France internationals. Adli has never been called up by Didier Deschamps yet, but he is certainly convincing Stefano Pioli to use him more in this No. 6 midfielder position. From being a fringe squad player to a starter, the Paris-born starlet has transformed his season completely.

Milan, who need to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season in order to help their finances, are now solidly positioned in third place, eight points clear of Fiorentina in fourth. They won't catch Juventus or Internazionale, who will battle for the title, but they will probably be happy with a third-place finish, especially if they can go on a great run in the Europa League at the same time.

For Roma and Mourinho, however, the outlook isn't as good. They are ninth in the table, five points adrift from fourth place. They have won only two of their past seven games in all competitions. Despite a good reaction in the second half after the introduction of Lorenzo Pellegrini -- why did he not start? -- they were not good enough again. It has been the case too often already this season. -- Laurens


After the recent round of domestic cup matches across Europe, league soccer returns with exciting performances and surprise results happening in the Premier League, Serie A, LaLiga, Bundesliga and Ligue 1.

On Saturday, we saw Chelsea edge Fulham 1-0 after Cole Palmer put away a penalty while Manchester City delivered a 3-2 comeback victory against Newcastle United. Elsewhere, Bayer Leverkusen beat Augsburg to retain their hold at the top of the German league.

Meanwhile in the Women's FA Cup, Aston Villa's woes continued after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Everton. And finally, in Italy, Napoli won their first game since Dec. 16 and are a far cry from their title-winning heroics last season.

Here's what you missed in European soccer on Saturday.

The lead: Leverkusen win ugly and stay top

The old adage is you need to win ugly in order to win championships. And league leaders Bayer Leverkusen snatched a last-gasp win at FC Augsburg on their return after the Bundesliga restart, retaining their four-point lead over perennial champions Bayern Munich and staying undefeated across all competitions this season.

Leverkusen had received a potentially crushing blow a few days before the resumption with the news that star striker Victor Boniface had suffered a serious adductor injury. Initially expected to be absent for only a few weeks to play at the Africa Cup of Nations, the Nigerian, who has scored 10 goals in 16 league games, will now likely remain on the sidelines until early April.

Manager Xabi Alonso opted for a two-man strikeforce with Czech internationals Patrik Schick and Adam Hložek, while Florian Wirtz remained on the bench until the 62nd minute because of a niggly injury. Following Bayern Munich's comfortable 3-0 win against TSG Hoffenheim on Friday evening, Leverkusen aimed to replicate their success but struggled to find the net despite numerous chances. In the second half, a resolute FC Augsburg nearly capitalized on a break, but Augsburg captain Ermedin Demirović missed a crucial opportunity that could have handed Leverkusen their first loss of the season.

Instead, in the fourth minute of added time, Alejandro Grimaldo found Exequiel Palacios in the box. Palacios, an uncommon presence in that area, capitalized on being unmarked, taking enough time to shift the ball onto his left foot and slot a precious winner past goalkeeper Finn Dahmen. The resounding cheers from the Leverkusen players echoed through Augsburg's WWK Stadion. Alonso's unwavering emphasis on his team's need to perform at their peak to stay atop the Bundesliga table was unquestionably validated by their hard-fought victory in Augsburg. -- Constantin Eckner

Saturday talking points around the leagues

Where would Chelsea be without Cole Palmer?

Chelsea secured their third consecutive Premier League victory on Saturday with an unconvincing 1-0 win over Fulham at Stamford Bridge. No prizes for guessing who made the difference. Cole Palmer's stoppage-time penalty is his 18th goal involvement (11 goals, seven assists) in all competitions this season, the third-highest tally for a player 21 or younger across Europe's top five leagues. Only Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham (22) and Bayer Leverkusen's Wirtz (20) have had a greater influence.

When Palmer misfires, as he did in midweek against Middlesbrough, Chelsea tend to struggle. Here, he was the brightest spark in another largely laborious display which ended with some frantic defending against a team that had not won at Chelsea since 1979. There will be some concern over how reliant the Blues currently are on a 21-year-old, but at the same time, he provides hope a team can yet emerge from Chelsea's expensively-assembled parts.

The game was also notable for a bizarre PR stunt in which seven identically dressed men stood up at various times near the dugout to either read a book, clean their teeth or check their watches. It was all designed to help promote a film involving a company connected to Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly, who was in attendance to watch such strange activity taking place a few yards away from Pochettino. The Chelsea boss afterwards said he was aware of the incident but it didn't detract from the performance. In fact, he wants an invite to the premiere. The lead actor will do well to replicate Palmer's star quality. -- James Olley

Pochettino hopes Chelsea can 'grow' after gritty win

Mauricio Pochettino says Chelsea are "one of the better teams" in the Premier League over the last month following their 1-0 win over Fulham.

Everton first into the hat for fifth-round FA Cup draw

With 9 and 11 points in the Women's Super League respectively, both Aston Villa and Everton welcomed the FA Cup as a much-needed distraction from poor league form, but for hosts Villa it was more of the same sub-standard football. As for the Toffees, who were buoyed with the morning announcements of a loan deal for Arsenal's Katherine Kühl and the signing of Rikke Madsen, there were more reasons to be optimistic coming into the clash.

On the pitch, Villa faded early on, and Everton began to dictate the tie, although they had little to show for it come the deadlocked half-time whistle. After the break, the visitors managed to make their better play count and, just before the hour, Karoline Olesen gave them the lead with a hammered effort off the bar. A seven-minute brace from Katja Snoeijs wrapped up Everton's progression into the fifth round with relative ease and will give Brian Sørensen's team more to build on when the Women's Super League recommences next weekend.

For Villa, it was more disappointment and underwhelming football from a team that rode so high last season and has not just failed to build this campaign, but also has regressed and routinely fallen into a disconnect on the pitch, raising questions about the suitability of its favoured but easily bypassed 4-3-3. -- Sophie Lawson

Napoli clinch late winner win to end dismal run

The Italian champions have had a rotten season so far and for 95 minutes in the derby against Salernitana at the Diego Maradona Stadium, it looked likely it would continue to be a bad one for Napoli. And then out of nowhere Amir Rrahmani scored the winner deep in injury time to gift his team its first win in five matches!

They needed a victory so badly and the celebrations showed it. For now, they won't worry that they were a goal down against the worst team in the league so far. They won't mind that they are still playing pretty average football under Walter Mazzarri whose run before this win was one of the worst in the club's history.

For now, it is all about Saturday's result, which takes them to sixth place in the table for now before Sunday's games. After the humiliation in the Italian Cup against Frosinone (4-0), the battering by Torino last weekend (3-0), Rrahmani is one of the rare sources of joy Napoli can smile about this season.

After four losses (Inter Milan, Juventus, Roma and Torino) and a draw (0-0 against Monza), this is only the Neapolitans' second win in Serie A in their last seven matches! They will gladly take it considering they are without star striker Victor Osimhen who is at the African Cup of Nations. Let's see if they can continue winning when they face Fiorentina in the Italian Super Cup on Thursday in Riyadh and then Lazio in the league on Jan. 28. -- Julien Laurens

Americans abroad: Balogun and Reyna struggle as Dest notches assist

Both Folarin Balogun and Gio Reyna came on as substitutes for their respective sides this weekend, but without making an impact.

Balogun has scored four goals this season for AS Monaco in 15 appearances, an underwhelming sum compared to his 21-goal tally last season for Stade de Reims. The 22-year-old came on for Monaco in the 46th minute on Saturday, but was unable to make an impact as his side lost to Reims 3-1.

In the Bundesliga, Reyna has struggled for minutes this season at Dortmund and came on in the 88th minute, only to come away with a yellow card in his team's 3-0 victory. Reyna is yet to score and assist this season, and a move elsewhere in the January transfer window could be his best option to get into top form before this summer's Copa America.

Finally, Sergiño Dest continues to deliver for PSV, who sit 13 points ahead of second-place Feyenoord in the league, after assisting Luuk de Jong in a 3-1 win over Excelsior. Dest has been brilliant this season for PSV in defence, and has a goal and three assists in 19 appearances.

News of the day

  • Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino has played down suggestions that the club need to sign a striker in January and dismissed rumours about a link to Brighton forward Evan Ferguson. Sources have told ESPN that the Blues are interested in Napoli's Victor Osimhen and Brentford's Ivan Toney, but both deals are viewed as extremely difficult to complete this month. Pochettino responded to these claims by saying: "I never said that we need a centre-forward. No, because after that we create a problem, me with my people. I never said that. The most important thing is this club is ready to act in one or another direction but I never said we need to add another player in the squad."

  • Roma manager Jose Mourinho called himself "Jose 'Harry Potter' Mourinho" and suggested he has raised expectations of what the club can achieve. "The Roma fans are the most incredible I have seen. Their coach is Jose 'Harry Potter' Mourinho and he raises expectations," he said. "I don't know how many derbies I've played, 200, 150, they are always special matches. I've won, I've drawn, I've lost, always with a different experience." Roma are four points off fourth-place Fiorentina in the race for a spot in next season's Champions League and have also qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League.

  • Pep Guardiola hailed Kevin De Bruyne as a "legend" after the midfielder registered a goal and an assist on his Premier League return to help Manchester City to a dramatic 3-2 win over Newcastle United. "He is a legend," said Guardiola. "I had the feeling he is not ready for 90 minutes after five months so we have that situation, impact in the last minutes.The goal and the assist, he is loved by our people and hopefully in the last months he can help us be there to the end."

And finally on Saturday ...

On loan from Manchester United, Jadon Sancho -- on his second debut for Borussia Dortmund -- made an assist in BVB's 3-0 victory over Darmstadt 98. The 23-year-old spent four seasons in the Bundesliga from 2017 to 2021, and after announcing his return to the club with a nod to Michael Jordan, Sancho's start is a happy one after a sour spell at Old Trafford and a public row with manager Erik ten Hag.

Sancho sets up Reus in his return to Borussia Dortmund

Sancho sets up Reus in his return to Borussia Dortmund

Wearing the No. 10 shirt, Sancho came on in the 55th minute before squaring a ball from the right flank for Marco Reus to tap in for the team's second goal after 77 minutes. Will we see more of the Sancho from his prior stint at Dortmund?