On Wednesday, fans of soccer the world over watched in horror as Radamel Falcao went down with a knee injury, while playing for Monaco in the French Cup. It mattered little whether fans supported Monaco or Colombia – what seemed clear is that the World Cup would suddenly be without one of the most exciting strikers currently playing.
Colombia fans were hit hardest, of course. The country placed second in CONMEBOL qualification to secure a place in Brazil, scoring 27 goals in 16 matches. By the end of qualification, Colombia were ranked fourth in the world by FIFA. Seeded for the World Cup draw, Los Cafeteros found themselves in a fairly mild group, with Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan.
It would be unfair to the side to say that Falcao carried them to qualification. However, Falcao was the side’s top scorer, with nine goals from just twelve starts. Many of the country’s hopes were pinned on his being in form in Brazil. Suddenly, that hope seemed finished.
Is it cruel, then, that the doctor that performed Falcao’s surgery to suggest there’s still a chance that he’ll make it to the World Cup? The striker went under the knife on Saturday, with the doctor performing the operation stating that “it’s not out of the question” that Falcao will make it to Brazil, and even giving him a better than 50 percent chance.
Even without Falcao, Colombia have plenty of exciting attacking options. Jackson Martínez, and Teó Gutíerrez will be along for the ride, and James Rodríguez can play an advanced role. Fredy Montero, with 13 goals for Sporting Lisbon, could squeeze into the squad. Even Luis Muriel could step up.
But it’s Falcao that has shown the most value at the international level, and Falcao that means the most to this Colombia side. While expectation may be the root of all heartache, in this case, it may be to the supporters’ benefit that they’re allowed to dream of a World Cup with their top scorer leading the line.
Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez led Barcelona back from 2-1 down to take all three points at the Mestalla Stadium and reclaim the top spot in La Liga. There’s lots to unpack here, beginning with the nasty tackle that’ll keep Andres Iniesta (knee ligament damage) out of action for up to two months. Then there was the controversial fashion in which Messi gave Barca an early lead.
Valencia hit back twice before Suarez drew the visitors level again, and Messi converted from the penalty spot in the 93rd minute to seal the victory, at which point Neymar was hit by a bottle thrown onto the field by someone in the stands. In the end, Barca are back on top, until Real Madrid are allowed to have their say on Sunday.
Celta Vigo vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid — 10:15 a.m. ET
Malaga vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Villarreal vs. Las Palmas — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET
AC Milan 1-0 Juventus
The kids are (a whole lot more than) alright at AC Milan. 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli unleashed a stunning strike in the 65th minute, as Milan shocked the world by upsetting the five-time (and six-time, presumably) defending champions, Juventus, at the San Siro. Then it was 17-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s turn to play his part, in the form of a stunning save to deny Sami Khedira an equalizer with the last kick of the game.
Juve remain top of the Serie A table, but it’s Milan who now sit second, just two points behind them.
Udinese vs. Pescara — 6:30 a.m. ET
Torino vs. Lazio — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari vs. Fiorentina — 9 a.m. ET
Crotone vs. Napoli — 9 a.m. ET
Empoli vs. Chievo — 9 a.m. ET
Bologna vs. Sassuoo — 12 p.m. ET
Roma vs. Palermo — 2:45 p.m. ET
Perhaps nothing can seize control of the overall narrative quite like Jose Mourinho returns to face [insert former club here], so it’s fitting that Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures caps off the weekend with the Special One returning to Stamford Bridge 10 short months after being fired.
Manchester City vs. Southampton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Of course, we have to talk about Man City versus Southampton first, because as consuming as the Mourinho narrative is, it’s the blue side of Manchester that will go top of the PL with a win on Sunday. A point is all City need to leapfrog Arsenal and Liverpool and reclaim the top spot, but Pep Guardiola will be aiming for something greater than a draw — to end the Citizens’ four-game winless skid across all competitions. Since drawing with Celtic in the UEFA Champions League on Sept. 28, Guardiola’s side has picked up just a single point from two games in the PL — last week’s come-from-behind draw with Everton. A win would push Saints as high as sixth in the league table at the end of matchday 9.
Chelsea vs. Manchester United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com
Dec. 17, 2015 — Jose Mourinho fired by Chelsea; Dec. 18, 2015 — Jose Mourinho begins plotting his next move, a PL job, to exact his revenge on anyone and everyone who played a part in his downfall.
Finally, 311 days later, the time has come. Mourinho’s Man United away to Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea, with the Red Devils and Blues separated by a measly two points and two places in the league table. If Monday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool taught us anything about the way Mourinho (still) approaches big games, we can expect a United side that’s deployed in a manner that’s difficult to break down, difficult to beat, and in all honesty, difficult to watch. What’s worse for United: that Wayne Rooney can’t get near the starting lineup for PL games, or that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has just one goal in his last seven games played (all competitions) and has been so uninvolved that it’s easy to forget he’s on the field? I’d probably play Marouane Fellaini as the most-advanced midfielder if I were in a predicament similar to that.
As for Chelsea, the goals are flowing in games involving the Blues — for both sides, which has been something of a problem in the early days of Conte’s reign, and could be a major problem on Sunday. For starters, Chelsea have kept just three clean sheets on the season (in 10 games – all competitions), though two of the three were achieved in their last two games. Furthermore, just one game involving Chelsea this season has seen the two sides combine to score fewer than three goals (a 2-0 win over Hull City three weeks ago). Sunday seems a surefire lock to be the tightest contest of Chelsea’s still-young season, and while they’ve little to no experience in grind-it-out games thus far, that just so happens to be the specialty of Sunday’s revenge-obsessed foe.
Liverpool were less than 10 minutes from going top of the league — ahead of Arsenal on goals scored, the second tiebreaker — but Gareth McAuley grabbed a consolation goal in the 81st minute to upset the Reds’ pursuit of the PL summit. Instead, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho‘s first-half goals were only enough to send Liverpool second in the league — behind the Gunners on goal differential.
The door was left wide open by Arsenal, thanks to the Gunners’ disappointing draw with previously-18th-place Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium a couple hours earlier in the day. Arsenal enjoyed a whopping 75 percent of possession, but were nullified in the final third by a dogged defensive performance by Boro. The one time Arsenal found the back of the net, through Mesut Ozil in the final few minutes, the German playmaker’s goal was (correctly) ruled out as offside.
Speaking of underwhelming 0-0 draws featuring a side from north London with title aspirations, let’s talk about Tottenham. If not for back-to-back draws with West Brom and now Bournemouth, Spurs would be top of the league. Alas, the unbeaten start has reached nine games, though Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has been blunted since Harry Kane was lost to injury on Sept. 18. Fortunately for Spurs, Kane is back in full training and expected to return to action in the near future.
That’s more like it from Leicester. The defending champions had won just one point from their last three league games before racing out to a 3-0 lead against Palace. Ahmed Musa, Shinji Okazaki and Christian Fuchs bagged the goals for Claudio Ranieri‘s side before Yohan Cabaye grabbed a late consolation goal in the final few minutes. All is not well for the Foxes, though, as Jamie Vardy is without a goal in his last nine games played (all competitions). Saturday marked just the fourth time this season that Leciester managed to score multiple goals (all competitions).
Bob Bradley’s Swansea earned a point on the American’s PL home debut, a game which the Swans had the upper hand for most of the 90 minutes, but failed to put away a handful of key chances. Still, it’s a clean sheet for a side with one of the worst defensive records in the PL this season, and a massive improvement on the dodgy defending away to Arsenal last weekend.
Scott Arfield scored a 90th-minute winner at Turf Moor, as Burnley dropped Everton to four games without a victory. Sam Vokes put the home side ahead not long before halftime, but Yannick Bolasie‘s first goal for Everton pulled the visitors level just before the hour mark. After starting the season five games unbeaten, Ronald Koeman‘s Toffees have just two points to show for their last four games and have slipped to sixth in the league table, and could finish the weekend as low as eighth.
The West Ham reclamation continues, at a snail’s pace, thanks to Winston Reid‘s 93rd-minute winner against last-place (now just 2 points from 9 games) Sunderland. After an horrific start to the season, the Hammers are unbeaten in three, including back-to-back 1-0 wins, and just two points stand in between themselves, in 15th, and Southampton, in eighth. Slaven Bilic has survived.
If Stoke City are winning games, chances are Xherdan Shaqiri is amongst the goals. On Saturday, Shaqiri was the goals for the Potters, bagging a brace either side of halftime to make it back-to-back wins for Mark Hughes‘ side as the ascent up the league table follows a nearly identical path to that of West Ham.
Paraguay’s Dario Lezcano and the hosts looked prepared to cruise to a 3-1 win when he netted his second goal of the day, but there was still a half-hour left at Audi-Sportpark.
Adrian Ramos scored in the 69th minute, opening the door for the latest big moment for American teenager Christian Pulisic. The diminutive attacker scored his second Bundesliga goal of the season in stoppage time to propel BVB to a point.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had BVB’s other goal.
Hertha Berlin 2-1 Koln
Anthony Modeste and Koln had less than 10 minutes to celebrate their equalizer, as Niklas Stark’s 74th minute goal lifted Hertha to all three points. USMNT center back John Brooks went the distance at center back.
Bayern Munich 2-0 Borussia Monchengladbach
What looked like a potential onslaught in the first half hour settled into a final score line, as Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa goals were enough for Carlo Ancelotti’s crew at the Allianz Arena. Gladbach managed just two shots, none on goal, in the loss. USMNT mid Fabian Johnson went 90 minutes in the loss.
Elsewhere Hamburg 0-3 Eintracht Frankfurt — Another 90 for USMNT’s Chandler
Freiburg 2-1 Augsburg — Nils Petersen nets winner.
Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 Hoffenheim — Early red card for hosts.
Darmstadt 3-1 Wolfsburg — Three different goal scores in win.
RB Leipzig vs. Werder Bremen — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Schalke vs. Mainz — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday