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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

European football talking points: Hot-headed Higuain and Barcelona burned by Betis 

As we head into the international break, Ian Hawkey takes a look at the hot topics from the top European leagues

AC Milan striker Gonzalo Higuain, right, argues with Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini after refusing to leave the field following his red card at the weekend. AFP
AC Milan striker Gonzalo Higuain, right, argues with Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini after refusing to leave the field following his red card at the weekend. AFP

Higuain, moany loanee

No AC Milan-Juventus collisions pass off without sparks, but Sunday’s showdown at San Siro turned into quite the bonfire. Up on the pyre, Gonzalo Higuain, a very explosive Ex.

Higuain is the Juventus striker who in the summer was loaned out to the Italian champions' supposedly fiercest domestic rivals - Milan and Juve may be antagonists on the pitch yet they readily put that aside for business - so Juve could make space in the team, and on the wage-bill, for you-know-who. Nor was that the first time in Higuain’s career than he has been cast in Cristiano Ronaldo's shadow. When the Portuguese went to Real Madrid, the Argentine gradually dropped back in the queue for privileged forward roles.

Pride pricked, Higuain had been serving Milan ably - seven goals in 12 games - and heard his manager, Gennaro Gattuso describe him as “our most important player” ahead of the meeting with his parent club. What he didn’t hear, evidently, was Gattuso’s pre-match advice. “He needs to be calm,” said his boss, knowing the emotional charge the striker would carry into the match.

Juve took an early lead, through Mario Mandzukic. Higuain’s mercury rose when he thought he had been denied a penalty, Mehdi Benatia handling the ball as he marked Higuain. VAR scrutinised the incident and Milan had their spot kick. Higuain took it, Wojciech Szczesny saved it, with a deliberate, committed dive to his right, a leap informed by careful study: the Juve keeper had, after all, trained on a daily basis with Higuain throughout last season. Ronaldo, never away from the spotlight, also had a word, advising Szczesny of what he knew about the Higuain penalty technique from their four years as Madrid colleagues.

Ronaldo then put Juve 2-0 ahead. Less than 200 seconds later, Higuain was being shown a red card, after a foul on Benatia earned a booking and his rant at referee Paolo Mazzoleni guaranteed his expulsion. He did not go quickly, shepherded to the touchline by various colleagues and old Juve allies with his fuse alight. “We are human, and maybe referees should sometimes show more understanding,” said Higuain afterwards, “but I am very sorry.”

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Premier League team of the week: Silva service in midfield after Manchester derby masterclass

Richard Jolly: David Silva highlights Manchester City's dominance in derby victory over United

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Real Betis players celebrate after inflicting a first defeat on Barcelona at Camp Nou in 42 matches. AFP
Real Betis players celebrate after inflicting a first defeat on Barcelona at Camp Nou in 42 matches. AFP

Betis conquer the fortress

It had been 42 matches since Barcelona lost at home. It had been 15 years since their conceded four goals at Camp Nou. It had been more than two decades since Real Betis emerged from Catalan cauldron with three points. That's even longer than Joaquin, the 37-year-old evergreen still wearing his hometown club's green-and-white has been around as a senior player. Fittingly, it was he who scored the second of the seven goals in a dramatic, portentous 4-3 away win.

Barca stay top of La Liga, but there are three clubs just a point behind. And look who’s lurking at a much-improved four points off the lead. Real Madrid have won four out of four under caretaker manager Santigo Solari, who was appointed after the 5-1 thrashing at Camp Nou two weeks back. Solari's case for extending his command beyond the international break looks compelling.

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Barcelona and Lionel Messi stunned by Real Betis at Camp Nou

Real Madrid revival continues at Celta Vigo to reduce Barcelona's lead to four points

Athletic Bilbao in focus: The Basque club on their history, principles and why Lionel Messi is not for them

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Paco Alcacer's goal in the 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich was his eight goal in Borussia Dortmund colours. EPA
Paco Alcacer's goal in the 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich was his eight goal in Borussia Dortmund colours. EPA

Paco Alcacer, Ace in the Pack

Is there a better loanee than Paco Alcacer? The Spain striker, rented from Barcelona by Borussia Dortmund, reached his 400th minute of action for the Bundesliga leaders this weekend. That's not many, but, boy, does he maximise them. Dortmund were trailing 2-1 at home to Bayern Munich when he came on. An Alcacer run opened up space for Marco Reus to equalise. An Alcacer goal sealed the 3-2 win that puts Dortmund seven points clear of fifth-placed Bayern, champions for the last six years. Alcacer, who has started just two of his six league games, now has eight Bundesliga goals, one every 29 minutes on the pitch.

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Bayern Munich's Rafinha apologises over 'Arab bomber' Halloween costume

Lucien Favre’s fledglings have Borussia Dortmund firing on all cylinders

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Thierry Henry has failed to win any of his six games in charge of Monaco since replacing Leonardo Jardim. Reuters
Thierry Henry has failed to win any of his six games in charge of Monaco since replacing Leonardo Jardim. Reuters

Henry’s Horror Show

“Maybe I should register as a player again” sighed Thierry Henry, Monaco’s new but wearied manager, as more injury problems accumulated on top of his team’s second 4-0 home defeat within five days. This one was inflicted by a merciless Paris Saint-Germain, who look down at the Monaco who pipped them to the French title only 18 months ago through a very long telescope. The champions are 13 points clear at the Ligue 1 summit. Henry’s Monaco are joint bottom.

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'He came for the long term': Monaco throw support behind Thierry Henry after heavy defeat to PSG

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