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European review: Liverpool go top of the league, Bayern left shellshocked

As the final weeks of 2023 come to a close and as we hope to see some more drama and excitement occur into the new year, there is still have some business to get sorted as we wrap up another weekend of the best action across Europe.

On Saturday in the Premier League, a new leader of the pack emerged after Liverpool moved up to the top spot following their 2-1 comeback win over Crystal Palace. In Spain, Jude Bellingham was on the scoresheet again to help Real Madrid salvage a point in a 1-1 draw against Real Betis. And in Germany, we saw Eintracht Frankfurt put five past a stunned Bayern Munich in a 5-1 win.

Here is your look back at all the fun from the weekend.

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SATURDAY REVIEW

The Saturday lead: Elliott winner puts Liverpool top of the Premier League

It's at about this time of year when the cold weather snaps and the midway point nears when the Premier League title race starts to form. Liverpool have so far proved they should be regarded as one of this season's contenders, and they did so again on Saturday, all despite playing a game that, for 76 minutes, Jurgen Klopp said they "deserved nothing" from. In the end, he even called the result "lucky."

A 75th-minute red card for Jordan Ayew changed it all, with Mohamed Salah scoring his 200th Liverpool goal a minute later before substitute Harvey Elliott netted a superb winner in stoppage time. "I am a very happy manager," Klopp said. "If you only win when you're really good then you have no chance of being really successful, that's just how it is."

Saturday's result marked Liverpool's seventh come-from-behind victory in all competitions this season -- the most in Europe's top five leagues alongside LaLiga contenders Girona. There's another stat too: This was the 16th game that Liverpool have won with a stoppage-time winner under Klopp.

The title race is barely in view yet, and maybe it's too soon to judge. But Liverpool earned another three points when they could easily have got none. Given the razor-thin margins, the Premier League title has been defined by in recent seasons, that will always be a perfect antidote to a bad performance. -- Connor O'Halloran

Harvey Elliot snatched a late winner in stoppage time to help Liverpool go top of the Premier League. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

Saturday talking points around the leagues

Frankfurt stun Bayern after scoring five against Bavarians

Ansgar Knauff's shot after 32 seconds looked like it had gone in at first look. Only a replay, and a reminder of physics, helped show it hit the side netting, but it was that ominous moment suggesting Bayern Munich could be in for a rough afternoon. And yet, by full-time, nobody could have predicted just how rough it would be.

Despite Harry Kane in dominant form, the defending Bundesliga champs were rinsed 5-1 away to Eintracht Frankfurt in a driving December rain. Eintracht have needed something to cheer amid a difficult season, which saw them dumped out of the DFB Pokal last week by lower-tier Saarbrucken during a five-game winless streak in all competitions. What a way to rebound, eh? With Bayern in town expecting yet another good result -- Eintracht's last head-to-head win was in February 2021 -- their hosts instead put on a show in front of a delirious Deutsche Bank Park crowd.

After that shot in the opening minute, Eintracht only needed nine minutes more to open the scoring, with Omar Marmoush scoring the rebound after Farès Chaïbi hit the bar. Then, on the half-hour mark after a spell of Bayern pressure, the hosts doubled their lead via Eric Ebimbe, who skipped between three defenders to bundle it past keeper Manuel Neuer from close range after Bayern gave the ball away cheaply in their own half. Hugo Larsson would make it 3-0 five minutes later, calmly slotting into the bottom corner after another quick counterattack by Marmoush.

Joshua Kimmich's impressive first-time shot from the top of the box cut it to 3-1 at the end of the first half, but the break only served to convince Eintracht to keep attacking their fragile foes. Four minutes into the second half, Ebimbe scored his second of the game after another lost Bayern possession in midfield, speeding onto Chaibis' pass and slicing a shot past Neuer at his near post. After VAR review, Knauff was left to complete the rout, slashing beyond Neuer after another slick attack.

Should Bayern panic after a result like this? Perhaps not - one result in isolation is rarely that profound -- but they need to ensure that when they next take the field, against Manchester United in the Champions League on Tuesday, they are back on track. -- James Tyler

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Frankfurt embarrass Bayern Munich in 5-1 thrashing

Bayern Munich suffer their first loss of the Bundesliga season after a 5-1 thrashing vs. Frankfurt.

Bellingham scores again as Madrid held by Betis

Jude Bellingham's sixteenth goal in eighteen games wasn't enough for Real Madrid as they were held to a 1-1 draw at Real Betis in LaLiga on Saturday to give Girona the chance to go clear at the top of the table if they can beat Barcelona a day later.

The England midfielder has scored all kinds of goals for Real Madrid so far -- from close-range tap-ins to long-distance screamers -- and his 53rd-minute strike at the Benito Villamarin was yet another showcase for his smart off-the-ball movement and ice-cold finishing. He picked up the ball out on the left wing, played it infield to Brahim Díaz, and set off on a trademark, well-timed run into the box to receive the return pass on his chest and shoot low past goalkeeper Rui Silva.

But Madrid's lead was short-lived. 13 minutes later Betis were level, thanks to an even better goal from Aitor Ruibal, blasting past Andriy Lunin -- rewarded for his good form by keeping his place in goal ahead of the fit-again Kepa Arrizabalaga -- to make it 1-1. It could have been worse for Madrid. Isco came close to a 90th-minute winner against his former team, hitting the post, while substitute Joselu could have given Carlo Ancelotti's team all three points seconds later, shooting wide, and Lunin tipped Chadi Riad's header over the bar in the final seconds.

Isco impressed again, with more of the resurgent form that has seen him picked as MVP in eight of Betis' 16 league games, while Bellingham and Rodrygo starred for the visitors. On the balance of play, a draw felt like a fair result and keeps Madrid top -- for at least 24 hours. -- Alex Kirkland

Jude Bellingham scored his 12th goal of the LaLiga season to continue to lead the Pichichi race. (Photo by Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Juventus earn crucial win over Napoli

If you could make a blueprint of a pure Juventus performance under manager Max Allegri, it would follow exactly what we saw on Friday night against Napoli at the Allianz Stadium. A 1-0 win, already the fifth one of the season with this scoreline, another solid defensive performance with another clean sheet, the ninth one in 15 matches. It was a game that going forward didn't have many big chances created and just the one shot on target which was the goal. It is not pretty but it is effective.

Maybe the player who represents the best this old-school Juventus is Federico Gatti. The 25-year-old centre-back was working as a builder when he was 17 and was playing in Serie C (the Italian 3rd division) until three years ago. Frosinone, then in Serie B, bought him for £120,000 in 2021 and Juventus paid £5.4m for him six months later and loaned him back to Frosinone. Also, he scored the winner against Naples like he did four days before at Monza.

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No one will be happier than Allegri with this 1-0 victory against the current Scudetto winners, who have now lost four of their last five games in all competitions despite changing their manager with the arrival of Walter Mazzarri. Allegri loves nothing more than for his team to take the lead and then retreat to a lower bloc to manage their advantage. They do that so well.

Juventus are still two points behind league leaders Inter but they are now on a 10-game unbeaten run (eight wins and two draws against Atalanta and Inter). Their battle with Inter for the title should be very interesting even if their performances won't be. -- Julien Laurens

PSG unconvincing but victorious

Let's be honest, the most important game for this PSG team at the moment was not the one against Nantes on Saturday evening. It is without a doubt the one against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday in the Champions League where qualification for the Round of 16 is at stake.

The Parisians just about did their job on Saturday with a late 2-1 win against the Canaries. Bradley Barcola scored his first goal for the club since his €50m move from Lyon in the summer before Randal Kolo Muani, another summer recruit, got the winner against his former club.

But it was pretty clear that all the players had their minds on Germany more than at the Parc des Princes. PSG lacked motivation, verticality, and rhythm. The fact that Ousmane Dembélé, the main creator usually for this side, started on the bench is one of the reasons why the Champions were playing at a slow pace. Kylian Mbappé, who was a centre forward again, was frustrated by the lack of good service and it was only really when Dembélé came on with 25 minutes to go that Paris had their flair and acceleration back.

Dembélé will be suspended on Wednesday, which is a huge blow and a big problem, but at least Luis Enrique had two piece of good news on Saturday: on their return from injuries, Marquinhos played 60 minutes and Warren Zaïre-Emery a half hour. They looked sharp and should start next week at the Signal Iduna Park where the BVB were beaten 3-2 by RB Leipzig on Saturday. PSG will have to play much better than they did against Nantes. But at least, they will be fully focused and committed to it this time. -- Laurens

Villa up to 12 dropped points from losing positions after loss in Manchester

After the game, Aston Villa manager Carla Ward praised her players and liked the match to the ones they'd against Manchester United and Arsenal, all three losses that had come after Villa had taken the lead.

At the Joie Stadium, the visitors were second best in most aspects, losing possession, struggling for first and second balls, and leaving Lauren Hemp unmarked for both of her goals in their 2-1 loss to Manchester City.

The margins could be argued as fine but it was another case of wondering what had happened to the team from last season who seemed to be knocking on the door of the top four or were at least, on the same street. This season, Villa have consistently struggled to find their best in each third of the pitch, a less than steadfast defence routinely under fire as the midfield is far too easily bypassed allowing less time on the ball for the attack to shine.

Yet, the attack still has plenty of value and not only did the visitors take the lead early in the game but carried an air of danger when they countered in the second half, the biggest problem for Ward's team is staying in games and not just dropping into a defensive shape which invites the pressure that has inevitably been their downfall all season. Last January, the Villainesses were palpably boosted by Ward's smart signings during the transfer window, if Villa are to pull themselves out of their current funk, the manager has no option but to strengthen during the winter window. -- Sophie Lawson

Americans abroad: Balogun shines in win for Monaco

Folarin Balogun stole the headlines yet again in the principality as a 10-man Monaco snatched all three points in a 2-1 win over Rennes thanks to two second-half goals to continue to put their noses in the Ligue 1 title races. Vanderson got the opener in the 51st minute before Youssouf Fofana secured all three points, but it was Balogun who provided the assist for both goals to see Adolf Hutter's side go four points behind league leaders PSG.

Folarin Balogun recorded two assists to help AS Monaco defeat Rennes 2-1. (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP) (Photo by SEBASTIEN SALOM-GOMIS/AFP via Getty Images)

In Italy, Christian Pulisic was able to make history with his eighth goal contribution of the campaign for Luka Jovic's second goal for Milan against Atalanta and to pass Weston McKennie's seven in 2020-21 for the most goal contributions by an American in Serie A in a single season. However, it was not enough for the Rossoneri as they fell to a last-minute Luis Muriel goal to lose 3-2 and were unable to close the gap to McKennie's Juventus after their 1-0 win over Napoli on Friday.

And finally, in Germany, Union Berlin picked up an important win against Borussia Monchengladbach winning 3-1 on the day with Brendan Aaronson playing the last 16 minutes. With that win, Nenad Bjelica's men go out of the relegation zone in the Bundesliga for the time being as they move up to 15th place with 10 points and earn their first win since August when they started the season with wins over Mainz and Darmstadt only to fail to get three points for the next four months. -- Roberto Rojas

News of the day

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag slammed his squad's performance labeling them "not good enough to be consistent" after their 3-0 loss to Bournemouth at Old Trafford. "I think, as a squad, we are not good enough to be consistent and we have to work as a squad to improve that," said Ten Hag. "As a group, we have to improve, we have to get tougher, be ready for the game, from the start. I said it can't be in this league if you are not playing on the highest levels, because you get killed."

Barcelona manager Xavi Hernandez says that Girona can win LaLiga this season ahead of their big clash on Sunday. "They have surprised many by being so high in the standings, but for us they are not a surprise," Xavi said. "They are a dynamic team with a great coach in Míchel. Their system is similar to ours, they want the ball and they want to press you."

And finally, on Saturday ...

We are right into the Christmas season which also means it is a time to give presents to loved ones. In Spain, Real Betis maintains an appreciative tradition that allows them to give back to their community every year.

At halftime during their 1-1 draw against Real Madrid, Betis fans threw stuffed toys onto the pitch of the Estadio Benito Villamarín resulting in an avalanche of thousands of adorable plush bears, bunnies, and numerous other different stuffed toys. Club staff would then pick it up and donate it to numerous disadvantaged children across the Seville area so that they would be ensured of a gift during the Christmas season.

It has since been something that has always gone viral every year when the Christmas season starts to creep up and just last year, Betis announced that 14,000 soft toys had been donated with the club's foundation. A wonderful story and great thing to see a big European club giving back to its community in such a memorable kind of way. -- Rojas

    

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